What Happens When Ex-Orthodox Jews Need To Learn How To Date?

Dating is hard enough. But what about dating when you’ve recently left an insular religious community that pretty much forbade interaction with the opposite sex?

Such is the problem faced by ex-Orthodox Jews who are “Off the Derech” (derech is Hebrew for path), or OTD, and assimilating into secular society. Hasidic communities separate boys and girls while young; girls often marry around 18 or 19, while boys tie the knot in their early 20s, having children shortly after. Touching members of the opposite sex to whom you are not related is forbidden and interaction is generally discouraged.  Is it any wonder ex-Orthodox Jews are utterly bamboozled when it comes to l’amour?

That’s where dating coach Israel Irenstein comes in.

In a profile on Slate.com, Irenstein explains how he uses his own status as an ex-Orthodox Jew to help teach OTD guys how to date in secular society. He left the lifestyle after he was married with two kids when he became concerned about how Hasidic teachings were affecting his young children. Not surprisingly, he says, after his divorce he had “no idea how to talk to women.” It’s likely that parents and/or a matchmaker were involved in any marriages in the Hasidic community, so men need to learn basic dating skills, like how to flirt and how to get a woman’s number. Then they need assistance with more high-level queries, Irenstein explained, like whether it’s acceptable to pay a woman for a date, what to wear on dates, and how to handle the splitting of the check. 

Oftentimes I turn a critical eye towards dating coaches and their douchier cousins, pick-up artists, for enforcing outdated gender roles (instead of encouraging people to just be who they are) and boiling down romance to “tricks.”  But I think nothing but good things can come from helping people who were formerly blocked off from a huge swath of the modern Western human experience get acclimated. Being close friends with an ex-Hasid myself (who recommended that I link to the nonprofit support network Footsteps for anyone in similar straights),  I know it’s a lonely, confusing road. And — I mean this with affection and respect — they deserve all the assistance they can get. 


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