Author Accused of Distorting Facts in Tell-All Memoir About Hasidic Sect

Deborah Feldman has been accused of spinning events in her bestselling memoir. (The Jewish Week)

The author of a tell-all memoir about leaving a Hasidic sect has been accused by a Jewish publication of making up details in her bestseller.

According to The Jewish Week, Deborah Feldman put a misleading spin on events in her novel, “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.”

The memoir chronicles the author’s struggles to live by the codes of the Satmar sect in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Jewish Week reported that many of the book’s claims about her family, as well as several incidents, including a murder, are incorrect.

Among the findings: Feldman misstates the timing of various news events within the Satmar community and falsely claims that the first Satmar rebbe’s daughter was pushed down the stairs while pregnant (the synagogue where this supposedly happened was not yet built at the time of her death). Feldman, despite claims that her mother abandoned her as a toddler, was apparently in contact with her mother throughout much of her childhood; her parents divorced considerably later than she indicates; she has a younger sister, now 17, whom she neglects to mention in the book; she attended Bais Yakov on the Lower East Side and another non-Satmar but Orthodox school until sixth grade. (Feldman was allegedly expelled from Bais Yakov for telling classmates about sex, a topic that, according to her memoir, she was completely ignorant about until shortly before her wedding.) In addition, Feldman falsely claims that her mother is listed in the closing credits of the 2001 documentary about gay Orthodox Jews, “Trembling Before G-d.”

The Jewish Week is not the only entity questioning Feldman’s account, The Jewish Week reported.

The book has also spurred a cottage industry devoted to dispelling its inaccuracies. Soon after the book came out, this newspaper’s Hella Winston found various holes in Feldman’s allegations of a brutal murder and cover-up in the upstate town of Kiryas Joel. (The coroner ruled the death a suicide, The Jewish Week learned.) Meanwhile, an anonymous blog — “Deborah Feldman Exposed” — has sprung up to respond to the book’s claims (and Feldman’s comments in interviews) about the Satmar world and the author’s family history and childhood.

Aiding in the research — digging up everything from family photos, Feldman’s old blog posts, school photos and Facebook posts of Feldman’s mother, Shoshana Berkovic — is Shmarya Rosenberg’s “Failed Messiah,” a blog that usually focuses on exposing scandals within the haredi community.

Feldman staunchly defended her version of the events in a statement on her blog. Some of her defenders have accused her critics of trying to smear her.

Feldman, who declined to be interviewed by The Jewish Week for this article, posted a statement last week on her blog noting that in the book she has “offered the reader experiences that were most important to me, all the while trying my best to protect the privacy of people I cared about. There are those who object to my decision to omit certain aspects of my life. In response, I can only say that there are matters about which I am not confident I know the whole truth, and I prefer to avoid further speculating on the personal lives of people who have not invited the kind of public scrutiny I am allowing for myself.”

Despite these questions about Feldman’s credibility, her popularity continues to soar. Her memoir is currently Amazon’s 52nd top seller and Feldman has appeared on TV show including ABC’s The View, and been written about in The New York Times, The New York Post, Salon and many other publications.


  1. Abe A (a non-Hasid) says:

    In this book are Deborah’s thoughts, opinions, feelings, etc. which in a society encouraging freedom of speech is a noble venture.

    Unfortunately, from the book and media hype surrounding the book UnOrthodox, outsiders might be inclined to think that the percentage of those who choose to leave Hasidism is much greater than it is.

    The hundreds or so members of Footsteps, where those who leave Hasidism, and who are totally free to do so, frequent in New York, is less than 1% of Hasidim in New York. The case is similar throughout the world. Less than 1% want to leave. That’s no news. Its always been that way. Hasidim gain in numbers of members, other than by birth, way more rapidly than they lose, as is evidenced by some of those who range from totally secular environments to lesser Orthodox backgrounds, embracing Hasidism and a greater degree of Orthodox life and practice. Way way way less numbers are leaving than embracing.

    From my knowledge of the stats, I can say that for every single member leaving Hasidism, parenthetically, among them, a great portion of those, similar to Deborah, who didn’t do well academically, (Deborah was kicked out of a more moderate Hasidic school and a totally non Hasidic school, because of behavior issues), there are about one hundred returnees to observance and faith, embracing a greater degree of Orthodox practice, most of them intellectuals with advanced secular degrees.

    You would never fathom that from the book Unorthodox.

  2. Jacob Einhorn says:

    Sadly, mental illness runs in Deborah’s family. Her untrue and bizarre claims and behavior makes you wonder if she is sufering from said illness.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *