Hella Winston, author of Unchosen

When sociologist Hella Winston began to study the Satmar Hasidim in Brooklyn, her focus was on the spiritual life of women in a community known for its insularity, even compared to other Hasidic groups. Then a few of the women she was following confessed to a profound unhappiness with their restrictive lives. They longed for some kind of escape; some secretly watched videos or went on the internet.

These conversations led Winston to other women and men in several Hasidic communities who were also struggling with the strictures of Orthodoxy, or who had abandoned it altogether. These people would become the subject of Winston’s book, Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels.

Some observant bloggers have criticized Winston’s book, fueling a lively debate. And one of Winston’s subjects founded Footsteps, an organization that helps people who are considering leaving the Hasidic world.