Living a very traditional life has challenges

Uncovered is Leah Lax’s story of how she became an Hasidic Jew and how, later she left the faith and community in which she had spent most of her life.

Leah was a Jew but her family were not particularly observant. She had a difficult childhood with parents who were both emotionally detached and lived chaotically. It seems that she was confused by many things and looked for certainty in her life. For her, strict Judaism provided that certainty. Her life became full of rules about how she lived, what she wore, how she spoke and how she interacted with other people. She could no longer make decisions for herself as her faith had all the answers or the wiser members of the community would make choices for her. She found this attractive and, I think, restful and eventually she allowed a marriage to be arranged for her.

It was obvious from the beginning that Leah found some aspects of her faith rewarding and others much harder. She liked the fellowship and belonging she felt with other women. She enjoyed many of the ceremonies and the feeling of spirituality. She found the marriage difficult. The Hasidic tradition separated the roles of men and women so she was responsible for everything to do with her increasing number of children and the house with no help from her husband. She seemed never to be able to be good enough and felt that she was doing all the work while her husband was allowed to worship and study. Gradually all the things she valued had no place in her new life, she lost her ability to play her cello, she was forced into teaching which she didn’t enjoy and she lost connection with her family. Eventually Leah felt that she could no longer continue and left her husband and the Hasidic community. She has found a new life as a writer and with a new partner.

This book is a fascinating insight into one woman’s experience with a strict religious tradition. I realise it is written with hindsight but there were definitely times in her story when I wondered why she hadn’t left her husband much earlier – obviously I have no right to second guess her decisions and the book makes it clear that quite soon she lost all ability to think for herself. Bits of the story are sad but she also got a lot of pleasure from her spiritual life and from her children. She is not critical of the Hasidic tradition itself but tells the story of how it affected her and what she felt about it – the book tells us that some of her children remain in the faith. An interesting read.

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