‘Off-The-Derech’ Issues


I admire The Jewish Week for its front-page coverage of mental health issues in the Orthodox community (“Communal Response on Mental Health,” Sept. 22; the two-part series began Sept. 15 with a story on how millennials are spurring a new openness around the issue).

While it may not constitute mental illness, the issue of social or intellectual maladjustment is a problem, and the community’s virtual rejection of young people not destined to be fluent Torah learners urgently needs to be addressed. The student who has questions he cannot raise for fear of rejection, even in private with his teacher, and who could stay within the observant community if given a respectful chance, needs equal attention and sensitivity.

Alongside those with psychological disorders, substance abuse issues and sexual activity beyond accepted norms, the young person who is about to go “off the derech” [no longer observant] may hide signs of rejection that must be dealt with in a positive way. Funds spent on outreach for newcomers are a worthy gamble, but the maintenance of those already inside the community must be a priority.

I propose this issue be bundled with all questions of intolerance and exclusion. The embrace of those with imperfect faith, who would stay if given space, needs support.

Beachwood, Ohio