Out in the Open

'They ordered me out': What happens when you break the rules in a strict, religious sect

Shulem Deen was pushed out of his community, his home and then, his family
Shulem Deen before and after he was formally expelled from a Hasidic sect called the Skverers. (Provided by Shulem Deen)

Shulem Deen grew up in an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community. Religious rules — and religious leaders — governed every aspect of life.

Deen married at 18 because the local rabbi advised him to. He had five children.

It's a very uplifting environment when you are an adherent and when you are a conformist, when you don't show any signs of being a dissident.- Shulem Deen

Deen's curiosity about the outside world was sparked by listening to the radio, a forbidden act in the community, and soon he began reading newspapers and going to the public library. 

One night, Deen was summoned before a tribunal of rabbis and community leaders.

"I was out. I was exiled," he said. "This was not like they were revoking my synagogue membership. I knew there would be a threat of physical violence if I didn't comply."

Ultimately, he was pushed out of not just his community, but also his family.

When they pushed me out...it was like them saying 'You don't have the guts to do it on your own. We'll do it for you.- Shulem Deen

Losing contact with his children has been devastating for Deen, but he lives in hope that he'll one day see them again.

Until then, he's found a way to be happy.

Deen tells Piya he never would have chosen this path if he knew it would mean total disconnection from his children.

"I'm happy that I didn't know then what I know now."

Deen's a writer — author of the widely praised memoir All Who Go Do Not Return — and he says he's living the life he'd dreamed of living.

It's hard for those of us on the outside to understand why a small, tight-knit group would do something as drastic as expelling one of their own, so we also talked to Rabbi Ysoscher Katz to help us get a better understanding of why this might happen.

These days, he's a leader in New York's progressive Jewish community, but much like Shulem Deen, he grew up ultra-Orthodox.

He says he understands the view from inside of a community where religion informs every aspect of your life.

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