I really enjoyed Degrees of Separation, which examines the experience of leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (specifically the Lubavitch and Satmar communities) and how those who leave form their identities during and afterwards, as well as the long-term ramifications. This is an academic text and so there is a lot of sociology terminology to work through, but Newfield did this study based on interviews so there are a lot of quotes from his subjects and he is a straight forward writer. I didn’t have to push myself to keep going as much with this book as I have with some other academic texts I’ve read. That’s probably partially because I’m very interested in the subject, but I also think it’s a testament to Newfield’s skill at clearly and cogently laying out his argument.
Newfield argues that when leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, there is not a clear before and after as portrayed in popular culture renditions of this experience. He also finds that families on the whole do not shun their children and relationships continue between parents and their children who leave. He points out the existence of a liminality that exists post-leaving. This liminality could include ingrained habits (of action or thought) and means that those who leave are always in the process of exiting. I thought this was a really interesting point and made a lot of sense. I appreciated that he complicated the easy narrative of someone leaving a community and just catapulting wholesale into a new life with nothing lingering or influencing them moving forwards. I also liked the amount of evidence he provided from the interviews he did, as well as a well-sourced and well-noted References section. I’ve already read a lot of the stuff that he cited but it’s always nice to find some new suggestions in the references. The book benefits from his having left the Ultra-Orthodox community himself, as it doesn’t have the condescending or clueless air similar books about the subject can have when they are from an outside perspective. Overall, this one is definitely recommended for those interested in the topic who want a good look into the psychology and effects of leaving Satmar or Lubavitch.
Warnings for: sexual abuse, physical abuse, violence, racism