The first time Lynn Davidman bit into a cheeseburger, she was worried for her life. “I was afraid some punishment by God might be imminent,” she recalls. She wasn’t sure what form his retribution for eating a non-kosher burger would take; she probably wouldn’t be hit by lighting in a restaurant, she figured, but perhaps she would be struck to the ground.
A junior at Ramaz, a modern Orthodox Jewish day school in New York, Davidman had begun questioning the strict laws she’d been raised with years earlier. Davidman, now a (secular) professor of sociology at the University of Kansas, has spent much of her career studying communities like the one she grew up in. In her first book, Tradition in a Rootless World, she profiled American Jewish women who grew up irreligious and chose Orthodoxy as adults. For her latest book, Becoming Un-Orthodox: Stories of Ex-Hasidic Jews, Davidman got to know a very different group of people: 40 men and women born into ultra-Orthodox Hasidic communities who had, against all odds, broken away and joined the secular world.