October 30, 2014

Becoming Un-Orthodox: A Review

I received this book from Oxford University Press via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
This has freaked some people out apparently.

So Davidman is a professor of Modern Jewish Studies, Sociology, and Religion at Kansas University.  She researched Ex-Hasidic Jews- people who chose to leave the enclosed group of Orthodoxy.  This is a book written for an academic audience.  Davidman used anecdotes from the ex-Hasidic Jews via in-depth interviews to research  the changes and adjustment to the changes in the daily routines and personal habits after leaving.

The book was readable but I have to say it took me right back to graduate school.  It is that dry.  I've read many academic papers and I am reading another academic book from Oxford University Press right now, and not all of them are as dull and lifeless as this book was.  I learned a couple of interesting things about the daily habits and rituals of Hasidic Jews, and how those who left began their process by slowly eliminating these daily rituals one by one to see if God would harm them for not performing them.  I found this interesting.  It was not, however, 200+ pages of interesting.

Davidman was extremely repetitious, saying the same thing in a different way.  She is a bit long-winded.  Academic papers should be succinct and to the point.  Share the information, move on.  This was like reading a college student's paper.  Her findings were intriguing but her sharing of the findings left something to be desired, needless to say.

After I finished reading the book I rated it three stars - it was okay, I learned something, but it had it's problems.  It was not great.  Five days later along comes OJPAC on Twitter, cautioning me against believing anything I just read.

OJPAC is  the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council.  They were eager to tell me that Davidman is a well documented false prophet. However, they did not have any documentation on that to share, and on top of that they had not actually read the book.  OJPAC found me on their own and here are the tweets:


Here is the link they sent me in that first tweet.

So, yeah, why are you telling me not to believe someone's book - a research book put out by a prestigious university press - when you haven't read the book?  Got something to hide, perhaps?  It felt very much like they were freaking out and trying to recover their reputation that Lynn Davidman has butchered, in their eyes. I am fascinated that their PR is so aggrieved over this book that they feel the need to write a press release and then share it with her reviewers.

The thing is, Davidman's book didn't reveal any crazy top-shelf secrets in this book.  I've read more damaging material to the Orthodoxy in several other places.  Not sure why OJPAC is worried.  Perhaps Davidman has been on their radar for a long time with her other two books.  I have no proof whether or not Davidman falsified or exaggerated her findings, nor if she takes quotes out of context.  It just seems very fishy to me how OJPAC responded.  Kansas University and Oxford Academic were included in the tweet OJPAC sent, they did not comment on the accusations.

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