Hidden Heretics: Jewish Doubt in the Digital Age

Princeton Univ. May 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780691169903. $29.95. REL.
While few self-identify as a heretic, the stories in this engaging collection by Fader (anthropology, Fordham Univ.; Mitzvah Girls) document those who openly—albeit, in a covert way—accept this label, and a suffocating system of Jewish religious laws and practices that ultimately fails them. This double life, aided in large measure by the anonymity of social media, is the basis for Fader’s ethnographic study of kofrim (heretics): those who experience cognitive dissonance between their external expression of Orthodox Judaism and the interiority of their dissatisfaction with or complete agnosticism toward the structured and rigid claims of their faith community. Fader writes of lives filled with nuance and challenges to moral convictions. For example, is a lie about extramarital affairs a lesser evil than the hypocrisy of making one’s children pray when one doesn’t believe? Is an observant spouse religiously shamed by an agnostic or openly nonobservant partner? Fader effectively shows how modern apostasy meets hard-line orthodoxy.
VERDICT A compelling work showing the inner lives of those counseled by rabbinic authorities to keep their less-observant practices private while publicly keeping up the fiction of piety. For all interested in the intersection of faith and self-fulfillment.
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