The “Hidden Heretics” Who Remain Part of the Orthodox World

July 9, 2020 | Michal Leibowitz
About the author: Michal Leibowitz is a Krauthammer fellow at the Jewish Review of Books.

In Hidden Heretics, Ayala Fader explores the lives of ultra-Orthodox American Jews who have lost faith but choose not to leave their communities, instead leading double lives. Thanks to the Internet, not only have these “double-lifers” found each other, but Fader was able to find and interview them. Michal Leibowitz writes in her review:

In [the book’s many vignettes], we hear from Blimi and Moishy, double-life lovers who carry on a years-long affair, at one point even conspiring to spend [the same] weekend at a kosher hotel with their families so they can steal a few minutes alone. We learn the story of Avi, a double-life father who keeps his secrets from his wife and four daughters but includes his nine-year-old son in his private world.

It is as though Fader began . . . with the question, why do people stay if they don’t believe? But upon finding that answer too simple (family, fear), she changed it to, how do they bear it? Unfortunately, her explanation here falters. [The book’s] later chapters are full of fascinating glimpses of double lives, but they jump so frequently from subject to subject, from theme to theme (even the Internet drops out), and remain so often on the surface that they sometimes feel more voyeuristic than scholarly. Fader accepts without question, for example, Blimi’s blithe rationalization that her extramarital affair is just “a lie, and liars are not as bad as hypocrites in my book.” Hypocrisy, on her account, would be if she told her children to pray when she did not herself.

Nevertheless, there is one area in which Fader’s inquiry excels: her discussion of how double lifers navigate the tensions inherent to raising children with values they have privately rejected.

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