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Book Club: Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home by Leah Lax

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"In Uncovered, Leah Lax tells a personal story that millions of women can recognize. All over the world are women whose bodies are covered, not by their own decision, but by one of the many patriarchal religions that by definition rule their wombs. Leah Lax lived that life, yet has the spirit, courage and honesty to tell her story. It’s been said that, if one woman told the truth, the world would split open. If others follow her, it just might." -Gloria Steinem


Your purchase on Amazon Smile can benefit FaithTrust Institute by using this link:

Rev. Marie M. Fortune's Review of Uncovered:

Leah Lax's memoir describing her journey into and out of Hasidic Judaism is painful to witness yet told with great respect.  Life is endlessly complicated.  Yet Lax's story is not only hers but also for Everywoman who faces patriarchy in whatever form.


Date of book club discussion: March 2, 2016

Discussion Participants: Leah Lax, Author, Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune of FaithTrust Institute, and Toby Myers, known as "the mother of the Texas battered women's movement."














This highly celebrated memoir, included in the 2015 Best Books by Women by Redbook Magazine and Good Housekeeping, tells the story of a young woman who, in her search for faith, joins a Hasidic Jewish community. She spends thirty years, has seven children, and slowly realizes she's meant for a very different life.

Beautifully written, Lax explores the secret heart of a woman living in a fundamentalist community where she isn't allowed a voice. This memoir is dedicated "...for covered women everywhere."




Code of Jewish Law:


A voluminous centuries-old code, originally derived from the Talmud, that governs and thus ritualizes every imaginable aspect of personal life and commerce, considered for centuries to be the revealed Will of God. Mainstream orthodox Jews consider the Law flexible and subject to new interpretation in each generation and situation, much like the Constitution. More liberal modern-day movements (that today comprise a large majority of American Jews) either reject the code’s authority, but not its moral value, or maintain the right to re-interpret creatively in order to accommodate evolving values and new knowledge.


A member of an offshoot sect of ultraorthodox Jews that began in eighteenth century Russia. Hasidim today profess complete subjugation to what they believe to be an unchanged and unchanging code of law stemming back to Sinai and received orally alongside the written Torah. Hasidim emphasize ecstatic song, dance, and meditation, although in reality these are not daily practice among average members, while strict and outmoded adjerence to the Code of Jewish Law is. They venerate a rebbe/leader deemed a saint as an important element of their faith. The men wear a costume that identifies membership, although the costume differs according to the particular group of Hasidim. Women are enjoined to modest clothing, hair covering at all times, no public voice, arranged marriage at a young age, no birth control, maintenance of a kosher home, and acceptance of strictly assigned gendered roles.

Hasidic communities in Europe were largely destroyed in WWII, but a few survivors post-war managed to re-create communities that thrive today in Israel, the U.S., the UK, and in a few cities in Western Europe. The Holocaust is a vital part of the Hasidic identity today, used to emphasize victimhood, the threat of the outer non-Jewish society, and the moral obligation to rebuild and replenish the Hasidic way of life.

Most Hasidic communities are isolationist and often do not converse in English. The children are educated only in Hasidic schools, which teach religion almost exclusively. Many remain illiterate in the vernacular.

Lubavitch Hasidim*:


Considered a maverick offshoot by other Hasidic groups, this particular group was founded by Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liadi and led by a dynasty in fairly direct succession through seven generations until Rabbi Menachem Schneurson, who left no successors. Schneerson escaped Nazi Europe and assumed leadership in 1950, in Brooklyn.

Unlike other Hasidic groups, Lubavitch is strongly evangelical, a thrust originally stemming from the post-Holocaust sense of obligation to rebuild and replenish. They send out emissaries to settle with their families all over the world and each is charged with building a community. Today, those born into the movement plus those converted through outreach, together with acolytes, admirers, and supporters, number in the millions. The outreach branch utilizes sophisticated technology and strong social media. I wrote this because the movement has commandeered every glossary or history I could find online, including related articles in Wikipedia, so that they contain no mention of strict subjugation to the Code of Jewish Law, the word “orthodox,” restrictions on women, their opposition to advanced secular education or online access for anyone under adulthood, ongoing political influence, or problems with crime and abuse in the community.

They have worked at developing relations with politicians and judges, both local and national, usually offering themselves as representatives of the Jewish people, although the vast majority of mainstream Jews distance themselves strongly from this movement**. In Russia, for example, in the earliest days of Putin’s position, Rabbi Berel Lazar, a Lubavitch hasid, offered himself as Chief Rabbi, a position that did not yet exist: In the U.S., Lubavitch emissaries maintain an outpost near Capitol Hill and have had formal visits with every president since Reagan. They are proud of getting Congress to designate the final rebbe’s birthdate as Education Day, choosing not to disclose their use of the word “education” as a term designating study of Torah, Jewish Law, and Hasidic philosophy.

* This movement represents a tiny fringe of the general U.S. Jewish population, which is overwhelmingly secular, educated, mainstream, and often stands in opposition to them.

** It was my experience that those not involved in outreach (long-term members and those who have already made their complete commitment) have a distinctly different standard of openness and tolerance to difference of any kind than the emissaries espouse.




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Questions? Ideas? Responses to Uncovered?

Posted by Sarah Butler at Jan 11, 2016 07:10 PM
You can submit your questions or reflections about UNCOVERED here! We'd love to know what aspects of the book you'd like to discuss.


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