How Do Religious Kids Rebel?

How do Orthodox Jewish teens rebel while staying within the Orthodox community? They do things they can hide, such as texting or watching TV on Shabbos, porn, sex, alcohol and drug abuse…or the more intellectually inclined might study forbidden books or write their own gemara or become more religious than their parents, start wearing a black hat. They might seek out a different form of prayer and religious practice that they enjoy or fills them with meaning or connects them to God in a way that the old one did not.

When I was a Seventh-Day Adventist teen, the way we acted out was by driving fast, listening to rock music, reading forbidden books and magazines, talking through church and Sabbath school, getting rowdy in hot tubs with girls. My peers and I, however, stayed virgins into college. No matter how rowdy we got, we lived completely different from the non-Adventists around us who went to parties filled with alcohol and drugs. I didn’t touch alcohol until the night I graduated from high school. I hated it.

When Mormon and Adventist teens act out, they consume sugar and dry-hump but often shun the forbidden caffeine.

How come there’s little talk about “rabbi’s kids” as opposed to “preacher’s kids”? How come there’s little expectation that rabbi’s kids will rebel any more than their peers while with preacher’s kids, substantial rebellion is almost taken for granted. I think it boils down to community. If you’re part of a community you love and it is filled with your friends, then how rebellious are you going to get? I grew up with close community in Seventh-Day Adventism but it doesn’t touch the connection common in Orthodox Judaism. Once you’ve gotten used to such interconnection, it is inconceivable for most to live without it. There are lots of quiet ways you can go off and rebel against Orthodox Judaism without jeopardizing your place in the community. There’s nothing in Orthodox Judaism similar to the accepted rebellion among Amish teens.

There’s a keen sense in Orthodox Judaism that you can do a prodigious amount of learning in your teens and early twenties that you’ll never be able to do again. Orthodox Jewish leaders don’t want to waste this by sanctioning goofing off. There’s also a push to get the kids married young. When Orthodox Jews (or any religious group) don’t marry young, they drift away from the fold.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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