Shulem Deen had been a devout Hasidic Jew until he had a "faith crisis" that eventually forced him away from both the religion and his family, he told HuffPost Live on Tuesday. The feelings of isolation and depression he subsequently experienced highlight the pain one can endure when abandoning an organized religion's strict indoctrination.
Deen, author of the memoir All Who Go Do Not Return, explained to host Karamo Brown that after he became interested in comparative religion and biblical archeology, the "foundational dogmas" could no longer be sustained to his satisfaction and he lost his faith.
"That lifestyle is premised on certain ideas, certain truth claims, and if you don't buy into those claims, if you can't accept them, it is very difficult to live that kind of life," Deen said.
A "dramatic process" ensued, Deen explained, when he was summoned to a rabbinic tribunal within his "insular" Skver Hasidim community and accused of being a "heretic."
"[The tribunal's rabbinic authorities] were very explicit with what threats they made to me about really damaging my life, and I knew that I would be at risk of physical violence and vandalism," Deen said, "I owned a home within that community and I knew that I had no choice but to pack up my things and leave."
He tried to create a new life with his family, but two years later, Deen and his still-faithful wife split because of their belief differences. He said his five children were taught he was "wicked" and "evil" for having left the religion. It's been about eight years since he's had a "meaningful relationship" with them.
"It was absolutely devastating. It’s probably the most devastating thing that I can imagine," Deen said. "You know, we have rituals to grieve when we lose loved ones to death. But we don’t have a mourning process, culturally, we don’t have an awareness of how to deal with the grief of losing people who are still alive, but have chosen, or have been indoctrinated by the people around them, to cut ties from you."
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