It's a book that is being called "riveting;" "harrowing;" "a page-turner;" "a testimony to one woman's courage;" and "frightening."
It's also being called "an insult to all Jews;" "lies;" and "libel."
The book is Deborah Feldman's Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots published Tuesday by Simon and Schuster (available on Amazon). Unorthodox is the story of Feldman's life, travails, and finally escape from Williamsburg's insular Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism -- what she calls "a foreign world right here inside New York City."
In the book, Feldman describes being raised in Williamsburg by her oppressively religious grandparents, Bubby and Zeidy, and a vindictive aunt.
Her mother had been married off to a mentally disturbed man with an IQ of 63. Rejected by her in-laws, her mother fled, leaving young Feldman behind with her husband's parents.
Feldman was told what she could wear, to whom she could speak, and what she could read. She spoke little English. Her schooling was limited to learning the laws of modesty, keeping kosher, sewing, and the rudiments of reading and writing (to roughly the 4th-grade level).
At 17 her marriage was arranged; she spoke to her husband, a stranger, for only 30 minutes before they became engaged. She experienced a year of sexual humiliation. When her son was born she realized she had to make a change. She moved out of Williamsburg, went to college, and wrote this book.
Now a noisy controversy has broken out between non-Satmars, who describe Feldman with words like "strong, determined, and gifted;" and "courageous;" and Satmars, who say she is "not right in the head" and "a conniving little bitter girl who lies just about anything."
Critics have fastened onto an incident that Feldman describes second- (or third-) hand: the alleged murder of a young man in the upstate Orthodox town of Kiryas Joel. Contrary to the story Feldman says she was told by relatives, a death certificate obtained by The Jewish Week states that the death was ruled a suicide.
Comment from the Failed Messiah blog: "She is a conniving little bitter girl who lies just about anything. Besides what she is mocking Judaism in general and those things are true she is also making up almost everything." In Hebrew, another commenter called her a "worthless whore."
Review in Library Journal: "Feldman gives us special insight into a closed and repressive world. . . . her memoir is fresh and tart and utterly absorbing."
Comment in The Jewish Week: "And I thought Simon and Shuster, with a reputation to hold dear, would do some research on a story like this! They both, S&S and Feldman ought to apologize."
Review in Booklist: "Feldman’s evolution as well as her look inside a closed community make for fascinating reading … her storyteller’s sense and a keen eye for details give readers a you-are-there sense of what it is like to be different when everyone else is the same."
From I'm A Mother forum: "Having this woman on Yahoo news made me feel compelled to give a lengthy comment, this is just so sad and pathetic and a terrible kiddush Hashem. I'm embarrassed for my non Jewish neighbors to read this!"
Jewish Journal called Unorthodox "painfully good," and described Feldman's narrative voice as "almost hypnotic."
From Jewcy: "Feldman speaks intelligently, almost in a lamenting tone about the price necessary to pay to sell books, mainly the sensationalist tone adopted in the latter part of the book title . . . or the title of an ABC News piece: Hasidic Hell. For the most part I choose to assume that her publicist desired to create a public persona of Feldman as some kind of forward thinking, independent woman/sex symbol."
Her family wants her to commit suicide. "They’ve got my grave ready." Email from a family member: “R U ready to CROKE"and “We are most definitely going to rejoice in your misery.”
The video above features Feldman appearing on The View, where she tells Barbara Walters what an inspiration she has been.
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