Kids Going Off the Derech: Don’t Blame it On Being Yeshivish


off-the-derechBy Elisha Ferber,

I address this to readers for their thoughts on the ever disturbing trend of kids in our communities going off the derech.

There is a misnomer, I believe, when it comes to analyzing the trend of kids going off the derech. I have heard many people, including so-called educators and some commenters on, claim that the more sheltered children are, the more prone they are to go off the derech. I agree that there are people who are driving kids off the derech. These are the people – to take one recent example – who are telling girls not to wear makeup on their wedding day (see the story from yesterday here on These are the people who prefer to forbid everything in sight, as opposed to presenting Yiddishkeit as the beautiful lifestyle it is. There are people and yeshivos that aren’t recognizing the needs of our kids and responding appropriately to them. There are those who just don’t get it.

But then there are those who do. We do have people who are sterling role models and can imbue our kids with the right message and attitude. My nephew was fortunate to attend the Philadelphia Yeshiva where he witnessed the hanhagos of the rosh hayeshiva, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, and his son, Rav Shalom Kamenetsky. His father always told him, “Watch Rav Shmuel, and watch Rav Shalom. These are the people you should try to emulate. They are true representations of Torah and what Hashem wants us to be.”

But I digress, dear readers.

Getting back to kids going off the derech… I have heard so many times that it’s the “yeshivishe” kids who go off the derech. (Others say it’s the chassidishe kids, but I will not comment on that, because, being Litvish myself, I have limited knowledge of the trends in the chassidishe kehillos.)

To be clear, the claim that yeshivishe kids go off the derech more than, say, Modern Orthodox kids do is simply misleading for numerous reasons. The main reason is because those who go off the derech do what any Modern Orthodox kid does “beheter.”     

A good friend of mine, a social worker of our community, attended a conference of Orthodox therapists. She was surprised to learn that problems with off-the-derech kids are much, much worse in Modern Orthodox communities. Whereas our unhappy boys mostly rebel by wearing colored shirts and sneakers, or even going to the malls or the movies, the Modern Orthodox kids aren’t satisfied until they’ve sunken into drugs and more. And you know what those kids, who were raised on TV, unlimited internet, etc., say to their therapists? That their parents were so terribly restrictive, so fanatical and old-fashioned, that they had no choice but to rebel.

Of the very few yeshivish or chassidish off-the-derech kids who went all the way, so to speak, with chillul Shabbos and tarfos r”l and other aveiros chamuros, most did teshuvah after a few years and settled down on a Modern Orthodox level or came back all the way. One reason is because they’re unequipped to deal with the world out there. I’d say that at least 90% of them are kids from broken homes or boys with learning disabilities that weren’t adequately addressed. Their secular education is almost non-existent and they’re not smart enough to get ahead. So they come back to our communities.

A smart kid from a good home in our communities going off-the-derech is almost unheard of. Can it happen? Yes. But it is rare. The overall off-the-derech rate is a small percentage. Granted, every boy who leaves our path is one too many, but in the vast majority of cases, their rebellion stemmed from a family problem, a learning disability, abuse, or something of that sort.

So when we discuss the issue of teens at risk and kids going off the derech, let’s keep this all in perspective.

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  1. I myself know many Yeshivishe kids who went off the derech and are far from coming back. I don not know what you are basing your facts on. Obviously you have your head in the sand.

  2. I’m one of the people you say is unheard of. I come from an ultra-yeshivish family. I was completely OTD – chillul Shabbos, no kosher, etc.
    I came back and settled at a MO level. I don’t come from a broken home, and I don’t have a learning disability – I have a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics.
    You’re just basing your article on what you’ve heard from a few people. You really don’t know what the scene is like out there, believe me.

  3. Sorry to disagree. I see plenty of OTD kids from super Yeshivish homes that are doing drugs and worse. The problem is that we have equated wearing a colored shit with the worst of aveiros. Masseh Avos Siman Labonim. We have done the same thing that Adam Harishon did with Chavah, set the bar to somewhere that Hakadosh Baruch Hu did not demand and the result is awful.

    I heard a very smart person say “If the Derech is only a milimeter wide, it is really easy to fall off”.

    Let’s go back to what is important, a love of Hashem and His Torah and forget these stupid chumrahs.

    This is a very timely post with the news that a Seminary is trying to stop their Kallas from wearing makeup, a Women’s basic right under the Halacha.

  4. ” A smart kid from a good home in our communities going off-the-derech is almost unheard of. ”

    Care to back up this ‘throwaway’ statement with some hard facts? Saying it doesn’t make it so, sir.

    This article is full of statements made forcefully that are not fact based at all…..

  5. should label this “article” as opinion. There are no statistics cited, no facts backing this up and seems like a letter that uses the medium of the internet as method of making a point. This self-serving article contains numerous unsubstantiated statements and should simply be taken down until the author provides some sort of proven facts rather than hearsay and speculation. It is articles such as these that prove dangerous as people simply ignore potential issues.

  6. Um….

    I never really understood what is the point of figuring out whose kids go off the derech more.

    I went to a Charedi yeshiva but dind’t feel comfortable with the level of being isolated from the world at large. I told my rosh hayeshiva that I wanted to go to a more open yeshiva and the only reason he told me that I shouldn’t go is because its better for the kids, because of course Modern Orthdox kids go off more.

    Then, when I would speak to the Modern Orthodox families, they would say the exact opposite.

    Just so you know, besides Chabad, I think Chassidishe kids go off the derech the least because they are raised with a happy yiddishkeit.

  7. Sorry, but telling girls not to wear makeup on their wedding day does NOT drive them OTD. If anything, it keeps them even better on the parents’ path, because this is even closer to the truth. (I never did get an answer to my question where the hetter is for a woman to wear noticeable, not natural-looking makeup outdoors other than choshuva rebitzins doing it.)

    Being chassidish, I cannot speak for the Yeshivishe velt, but I suspect the OTD rate is somewhat higher there than in my very insular, “extremist” chassidic circle, simply because their walls are somewhat lower than ours. Their boys do know English quite well (which makes them more successful in the outside world) and their girls wouldn’t break their parents’ heart by wearing noticeable makeup. So the unhappy kids have to go a step further to “get back” at their parents.

    Judging by the facts on the ground, I’m convinced that the OTD rate is in reverse proportion to the walls surounding the family or community, provided: A. The parents are sincere and good people; B. The kids are proud to be part of their family/community.

    Our kids know in their hearts that for their parents, even the dysfunctional ones, being ehrliche Yidden is the greatest nachas and going OTD the greatest pain. If parents have two children, one hugely successful but irreligious, the other a real nebach (poor, stupid, emotionally unstable, divorced 3 times) but frum, whom would they be more ashamed of? I don’t know about others, but in our community it’s the former. No success, not even success in learning torah, could compensate for the shame and pain of having a child OTD, or just significantly more modern than the parents.

    One can argue that this attitude is faulty, and they may even be correct, but don’t tell me it drives kids OTD. Perhaps we can say on a spiritual level that H’ sees the sincerity of the parents too, and this is why he gives them syaata d’shmaya in this area, even though they have other faults that could easily drive kids OTD r”l.

    I know a few families who are so extreme, they didn’t send their girls to school because no school was frum enough for them. I was sure some of them would end up OTD, but by now they’re into their second or third generation and not a single one of them did. This derech has many risks and problems, but going OTD is not one of them. I am myself astonished by their relative success though I still wouldn’t recommend it for anyone. Many of their offspring are complexed, socially inept, and some are resentful of their parents. The healthy ones veered a tiny bit from their parents’ derech, sending their girls to school etc. But all are still what you would surely call extremely frum – and most do have basically normal and happy families.

    After much thought and experience I’ve come to the conclusion that blaming the OTD crisis on the high walls is like those sea-farers whose ship started sinking and the first thing they threw into the ocean was their talis and tefilin.

  8. Besides for failing to support your article with any facts, you simply have failed to tell the truth. I know of many “chareidi” bochurim who have gone off the derech and have gotten tattoos, experimented with numerous drugs, and have gone on to live completely irreligious lifestyles. Your understanding of “Modern Orthodox” kids is competely bent and your journalism is very immature. Maybe you should have gone to a MO school where you could have received an education and learn how to write better.

  9. Gave A Get:
    While I agree with what you wrote, the term “Masseh Avos Siman Labonim” is reserved for the Avos. The Gemara says “ayn Avos ela Shelosha”. Adam was not one of them.

  10. I really think that everyone has hardships and nisyonos in life, and each person has desires at these times to throw away the yiddishkeit out of anger to Hashem… obviously some pple have more difficult nisyonos then others so “al tadin es chavercha ad shetagiya limkomo” but everyone has bechira and people make bad choices! people that go off the derech R”L made bad choices they had bechira!we cant always blame it on their parents and teachers! tho i cant judge them, we cant justify them either. and as parents we should ask sheilos and daven for siyatta dishmaya NOT knock down other derachem Chas veshalom that will only destroy our children! and as the saying goes ” we are so openminded when it comes to people less frum then us but so intolerant and judgemental when they are more frum” hence the making fun of yeshivish and chasidish….

  11. I recently had a long talk (actually a series of talks) with a teenager I know well who is teetering on and off the derech. The girl told me that her OTD friends the common denominator is that they are hurting about something. Although often it is something at home, she said even children from the most loving, nurturing, and having a good balance of strictness and leniency can still go off if they are upset about something else in their life (they weren’t good students or they just met up with the wrong friends and found the new lifestyle fun and exciting).
    It’s not fair to only blame families, I could give examples of kids from rich/poor/yeshivish/non yeshivish/ living in any community in Israel or America who are also at-risk.
    And about the makeup on the girl’s wedding day- first of all optional, and secondly if the girl is ok with it, who are we to say it’ll drive her off? I wouldn’t do it to my child since I know my child couldn’t handle it. But how many chassidishe girls go off when they have to shave their heads or the Meah She’arim ladies who only wear black tichels? If that is part of their upbringing and they are happy with it, then fine. However if they are upset with it, then don’t push. You have to know what your child could handle and that’s the real rule.
    Just like not all children should marry into a kollel lifestyle and the good parent will know which children to push into it and which to lay off, based on their children’s needs.

    Yisroel, I hate to say this- but where do you get the statistics that Chabad kids go off less? They have their own nisyonos, especially raising their children in many midbarim across the world and some other challenges too, such as feeling that Klal Yisroel doesn’t accept their beliefs about their rebbe (I taught at Chabad school so I got to meet the children personally). Chabad and Chassidishe kids probably don’t have any better success rate than the others.
    Rav Matisyahu Solomon said at the Agudah Convention last year that it’s the nisayon of our generation. It’s not only the schools, parents, or name-your-own-reason.
    Stop the blaming, but rather come up with positive solutions.
    One of the best pieces of advice, although not fool-proof (since nothing is) is to give your children unconditional love, even when they are not robots and doing everything you want them to. Let them know you love them even if you disagree with them and you might have to be firm too, but talk to them, and validate their feelings. And daven a lot!!!

  12. With all due respect to the other posters, I think you are missing the main point. I have been involved with kids at risk and I can vouch for what is written here. In the VAST majority of cases, the kids who become at risk do so for any number of reasons, including a learning disability, not being smart, divorces, abusive parents, other abuse, lack of money, etc., etc. But in no case was it solely because the kid came from a yeshivishe family. I too have been told by a number of people that it is the fact that So and So is too yeshivish that his kid had to go off. That is simply not true. It is not the yeshivishness (for lack of a better word) that drives people off. It is the otehr things mentioned.

  13. This is one of the worst things I’ve read on a frum blog. And I read them all.

    I could list item for item what is wrong with this letter/op-ed/article/drivel.. but it’s too exhausting, there’s just so much.

    The author has managed to offend “so-called educators”, the modern Orthodox community, the Yeshivish community and the Chasidish community… something that usually takes a few well written articles was done in just a few poorly chosen words.

  14. I loooooove, and have commented many times in defense of the editorial board’s positions. But, with all due respect, right off the bat, without even thinking, I can name you a couple of dozen execptions the rule put forth in the article here. Kids from good homes, smart kids, with many maaalos and oportunites go off for a wide variety of reasons.
    My moniker is Midwesterner, I am out here in the Midwest, and I have a pretty good handle on what is doing “out of town”. This problem is not just here. Many of these kids that I know about are from out in the Midwest, and they go East looking for the high life. Others are from some very choshuve families back East, and they come out to the Midwest looking to get away. I know others from Lakewood, Brooklyn, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Har Nof, Ramot, and even Bnai Brak! NO ONE IS IMMUNE to this mageifa!!
    The only segula that works is the one from the Brisker Rav, zt”l, when asked how he had such success with his children, he responded, “Tehillim mit treren!”

  15. I think the author of this piece hit the nail on the head. Of course we need to get real and start listening to our teens and start realizing what they need. Etc. But it seems that everyone, including thoise who are yeshivish, love to point to the yeshivish lifestyle as the cause of why a boy goes off or goes to explore things. That is not true and I believe that is the point that (rabbi/mr.) ferber is making.
    Well said.

  16. The message coming from that “conference of Orthodox therapists” is that there is a sort of linear progression of behaviors, starting with colored shirts, sneakers, malls and movies and progressing to drug use “and more”, as if there is some methodical approach to rebellion.

    People use whatever is at their disposal to express their frustration. The issue isn’t so much about what they do, but rather why they do it.

    The real key is that if verbal expression – my theory of “stage one” – is suppressed or ignored, the next step is to find a means of expression one can better control or use to gain the attention one craves.

    Perhaps, a more open environment for at-risk adolescents to address what’s bothering them (be it open discussion with parents, teachers, counselors, organizers of youth programs, etc.) would lessen these self-destructive behaviors.

  17. Okay, question for the author: How do you fit all your chidushim in with girls? It seems as though your talking strictly about boys.

    Just curious.

  18. #17 -> You’re on the money.

    People rebel and are turned off, why? what they do is not the key issue. We have made a significant error in continually focusing on narrowing the ‘outlets’ for our youth under a false pretense of keeping them On The Derech.

    They glide over the REAL reasons for why the kids push back. Here are a few:
    1) Corruption (Money and Power)
    2) Looking at photos and hearing stories from our parents (one generation ago) about those things they could wear, those things they could do, those places that they could attend and now all these things are Assur -> Why?
    3) Everyone is being forced into doing exactly the same thing. There is no opportunity for self expression. ALL boys MUST learn the same thing for the same number of hours, regardless of the fact that some of them may be more scientific in their abilities, artistic, imaginative etc…. Doesn’t make sense

  19. “unhappy boys mostly rebel by wearing colored shirts and sneakers, or even going to the malls”

    OH MY GOSH, how deviant those colored shirts, sneakers and Mall walkers. Are you sane mister?

    Have we created the “SUPER BOCHUR” who is running on low battery and ready to explode? & BTW you are clueless about the MO community as to be expected.

  20. to #24
    I’m not sure if I’m understanding you correctly, but if I am, I’d like to ask if you meant to teach a child who is not shomer Shabbos self control? You obviously know very little about psychology and kids at risk, in particular! Once they get to that point, they need unconditional love and encouragement that they can make their way back. They are hurting and have hearts which are bleeding (even if self-inflicted). May you never know from those tzoros. I know quite a few of these children and yelling at them or forcing them into a box is the last thing they need.

  21. It’s a big problem when kids are taught that wearing colored shirts and sneakers is being OTD. If they get to that stage (which there’s nothing wrong with), they’re convinced that they’re already gone, and it quickly leads them to worse things.

  22. I attended Philly in the 90’s. I did not come from a Yeshivishe background although I would not call my background “modern”. Maybe “out of town” would be a better term. Numerous other bochurim in yeshiva also would not have been classified yeshivish by today’s standards. I kept my eyes peeled on R’ Elya and R’Shmuel for 6+ years and learned much about mentchlichkeit and what it meant to be kulo torah. The chumros of today (re: white shirt for example) were not as important (in fact, I recall a number of bochurim wearing coloured or striped shirts and there wasn’t a big deal made). I found that what helped us stay on the straight and narrow was the guidance from the actions of the roshei yeshiva. Oh to listen once more to R’Elya ztl’s niggun during mussar seder!! There was very little talk while we were in HS from the hanhalla about college/university and the perils of attending. Numerous friends of mine planned on obtaining and ultimately obtained post HS education and a number of them are prominent professionals today. All are frum and fine bnai torah. It is a shame that today’s children have such little opportunity to observe and interact with people who experienced life in pre-war Europe. I feel that today’s children are more liable to go OTD because they do not see the “real deal” and only see people who are hung up by chumros at best and narishkeit at worse.

  23. None of our kids think wearing colored shirts is an aveira, but they know they’ll break their parents’ hearts if they do. So the successful, happy, good kids would never do it while the frustrated, mistreated, difficult ones are satisfied with this “radical” step.

    About girls: The overwhelming majority of OTD kids in our communities are boys. Learning disabilities & personality disorders are much more common in boys, and most learning-disabled girls do fine.

  24. Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky stated many times that one of the main problems today is the chumras.

    Rabbi Kaminetsky was extremely strong in his words and had very distate for people that impose chumras on others.

    If you want to be makpid and have all the chumras for yourself it is wonderful but not advisable. When you shove chumras down peoples throat it’s not yiddishkeit but vildkeit.

    These are the words out of a godol almost verbatim. Who would dare argue with the rosh yeshiva?

    Rabbi Kaminetsky is not only right but the only godol that is not scared to tell people the way it is. All the comments he made on this particular issue is on tape and one of the places he mentioned some of this was at an irgun shiur. Irgun Shiurim are all on tape and cd.

  25. While the OTD syndrome is tragic, it is NOT unique to our generation. There has been no time in our history when the OTD rate was less than 10-15%. This includes Europe, the notion that everyone born frum would remain frum is preposterous. Even 100 years ago, yeshiva students, of which there were few relative to the Jewish populations were decimated by the haskallah. Let’s battle the disease amongst all of our brothere without assuming that our derechis the best. There are 70 best derochim.

  26. History Buff – you are very, very right. (I read history too 🙂 The only difference is now we expect our children to be 100% what we want them to be, and if something doesn’t turn out the way we want, then it becomes a terrible tragedy, even if the kid still stays shomer Shabbos.

    Yes, the “blue shirt” problem is real. If a young person is shamed in front of his or her class for a minor difference in dress, that young person is not going to differentiate later between that and halachic issues such as not smoking on Shabbos. Indeed, as one poster pointed out, if the derech is only one millimeter wide, it is very very difficult not to fall off. If the yeshiva then talks about middos and such-like, while doing such things, it leaves them open to the charge of hypocrisy, and kids pick up on that instantaneously. And unfortunately, many of those who stay only stay in appearance, because they don’t want to cut ties with their families.

    One of the best treatments of the problem I’ve seen is Faranak Margolese’s book “Off the Derech” which is based on many interviews with those who have gone “off” (and some who have come back). It shows the complexity of the issues which can push a young person away. A second resource is the website of Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, the head of Project YES ( which has many articles on aspects of education and parenting which can help anyone in contact with young people.

    And yes, OTD is an “equal opportunity” problem. Trying to prove who has the most OTD kids is playing a game. We all have the problem, and we all need to look for solutions.

  27. The OTD rate in chassidishe kehilos is much lower than 10-15%. After asking around many times, I’d put it at less than 1% (counting only those really OTD, not just modern).

  28. 31, that’s tragic that the kids feel that way. None of my boys feel that they’ll break our hearts if they opt out of white shirts, meanwhile, it’s well within their comfort levels.

  29. bottom line is that there are alsmost always other factors. of course the gashmiyus and the yeitzer are a pull, but even if kids commit things and go places, they won’t go totally off the derech unless there is an underlying reason. and not just becuase they are very frum or yeshivishe families.

  30. #36 Why is it tragic? If the kids have good parents, they’ll never do it. If the parents are abusive or neglecting the child’s needs, that’s tragic in itself. But at least he feels rebellious enough putting on a colored shirt. The parents get the shock of their lives and often try to mend their ways. They don’t wait for chillul shabbos or worse.

    Rabosai, you can’t argue with success. If OTD rates are equal all over, why are they so much higher in the Conservative community, and even higher in the Reform? The Xtian “OTD” rate (cited by xtians) is 2 out of 3 – 66%! The further from the truth, the less the mesiras nefesh or sincerity of the parents, the higher the OTD rates. If you disagree, do the research and prove me wrong. Don’t just tell me it’s the same all over.

  31. BTW, if the numbers were reversed, would you also say OTD is an “equal opportunity” problem? Oh no. You’d all be ranting about the horrors of frumkeit ad nauseam.

  32. To AA, I’m not sure where you get your statistics from- about Chassidishe kids being less?
    And to AA again (#38) pray tell- how can a Conservative or Reform kid go off the derech if they were never on it to begin with? Am I missing something?????

  33. I never claimed official statistics or absolute certainty. I wrote: “After asking around many times, I’d put it at less than 1%.”

    Conservative, Reform, and (l’havdil) Xtian kids go off THEIR “derech”.

  34. AA, my husband wears colored and striped shirts to work now that casual day is every day. Guess he’s a crummy role model. Hope we’re not corrupting your kids.

  35. No, Tzippi, not at all. And I don’t think it’s necessary to explain why. Now if he’ll try to talk my kids into shucking their levush, or make fun of white shirts or of any aspect of frumkeit in their presence, or tell them that their parents are fanatic extremists, or that our feelings about levush are tragic, that would be a problem.

  36. AA, there is a difference between a long mesorah of levush, and the wearing of white shirts, or wool or specific rayon blend trousers, etc. in yeshivas these days. The latter is what I have an issue with. I didn’t realize what you had in mind.

    I’m sure that if a child would change from the mesorah levush, there would be some feeling of loss, possibly cause for concern, etc. But for most of the rest of us, we have to recognize just how much our kids need breathing room and we should chill a bit.

  37. AA, the only reason perhaps that less kids go “Off the Derech” in Chassidishe communities is that they are from the very start, wayyy more insulated than MO or even Yeshivish children/families. Even if they feel stuck, many feel like they have no where to go to get away. They know they will “break their parents hearts” (sad but true) and if it doesnt work out for them, then what??? Sleeping on park benches aint that fun. I know. Besides the fact that their English, and lack of college education (girls definitely, boys I dont know what they learn in those “machonim) wouldnt serve them well in the big bad world.
    so flaunt your little unsupported statistics.
    No one really cares.

  38. I have two children OTD. We have a pretty good relationship with them- most of the time. It’s mostly when Shabbos and YT come around when things get sticky. They don’t ever go to shul, often come up to eat the seuda in their weekday clothes in front of my two younger children, then disappear shortly after, supposedly to spend the night at the park, and don’t show up till late Motzei Shabbos. Shabbos has no meaning to them. They do feel as we are angry at them for not having any feelings for davening, Shabbos, or even Hashem. But how can I just pretend it doesn’t at all bother me when it actually kills me? So after reading everyone’s comments, what encouraging suggestions can anyone give me? By the way, they put most of the blame for the way they are, on the yeshivas they went to. Better yet, on the way their menahilim treated them when they were not as good as they would have liked.

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