Coming and Going: Movements in-and-out of Orthodox Judaism

Jessica January Behr, Pace University


Movements in-and-out of Orthodox Judaism are poorly understood. Religious change occurs when someone increases or decreases their level of religious observance and community involvement. The existing literature suggests that religious change happens in conjunction with significant psychological processes. In this qualitative grounded theory study, 31 participants (13 Ba'alei Teshuva and 18 Off the Derech) were interviewed in order to elucidate the motivations and experiences of those who enter the world of Jewish Orthodoxy and those who leave it. Open coding procedures were conducted to determine themes and concepts within the data. For both returnees and defectors of Orthodox Judaism, attachment theory and theories on identity formation are heavily implicated. Mental health implications and the long-term effects of abuse are discussed. A grounded theory emerged from the data, suggesting that a search for truth and purpose is the driving motivator for individuals belonging to both groups. When the two groups were compared, containment emerged as the primary motivating and experiential factor for Ba'alei Teshuva , while for Off the Derech participant's freedom and liberation were the main motivating and experiential factors. As clinicians engage with these individuals in psychotherapy it is crucial that they understand the developmental processes at play and consider the ways in which their approach to the therapeutic alliance may effect the treatment. Suggestions are provided to clinicians in regards to conceptualization and treatment of Ba'alei Teshuva and those who have gone Off the Derech.

Subject Area

Religion|Social research|Psychology

Recommended Citation

Behr, Jessica January, "Coming and Going: Movements in-and-out of Orthodox Judaism" (2018). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI13804468.



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