What is Off the Derech?

What is off the derech? Off the derech means “off the path” in Hebrew. It is understood in the orthodox Jewish community as someone who has left the path of traditional observance. Rather than seeing this as a pejorative term, we OTDers embrace the notion that there is no one true Derech. Rather, we are each on our own self-determined path.

Off the Derech is a growing group of formerly devout Jews, who have a lot in common with liberal Jews, but also have quite a unique background, which makes it hard to fit ourselves into the current Jewish denominations.

On the one hand we are exceptionally knowledgeable with regard to traditional Judaism, we know Hebrew, we can lead prayer services, give sermons, in short, we could be teachers and leaders in the Jewish community.

On the other hand, we are seeing our upbringing with a more critical eye and our beliefs and observances no longer fit in with a particular form of organized Judaism. Many of us drift off of the Jewish map entirely, after years of trying to find our place within organized Judaism.

We do not want to leave, but many feel pushed away because our experience is de-legitimized by both our former orthodox communities and the liberal communities that simply ignore our existence. We are constantly told, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, but what is the baby for us?

A form of Jewish expression that meets our needs must be given a legitimate foothold in the Jewish community. We feel that we are experiencing a renaissance of what was called the Haskalah or Jewish enlightenment, when the first Maskilim of the 18th century began to break from traditional modes in response to the age of Enlightenment.

We have already begun this process of discussing what our off the derech values are and why we need an off the derech branch of Judaism. We do not agree on theology or ritual, but we all agree that we need a form of Jewish life that supports our individual choices and expressions. Off the derech means to us: on our own path of self-determination. This does not mean that we have nihilistic values, quite the contrary, we see ourselves as being connected to one other, responsible for one another, driven to stand up for our brothers and sisters.

We want to provide a home base for social action and a central platform for sharing our experiences. We want to be able to stand proud as off the derech Jews, on our own path of renewing the Jewish world.


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