Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin Courtesy
Note: Off the Derech (OTD) is an expression meaning 'off the path of Torah observance,' as is Yotsei Bishe'ela which literally means 'leaving with questions'.but is simply the word-for-word opposite of "chozer biteshuva", repentance.

It's a generational thing that older people don't really relate to: online dating using internet websites and apps for dating purposes by all types of singles. A currently famous one is "Tinder" and it has recently given rise to a new moniker relating to an Israeli Jew in an online Netflix documentary movie called "The Tinder Swindler": As Wikipedia puts it: "The documentary tells the story of the Israeli conman Simon Leviev (born Shimon Hayut) who used the dating application Tinder to connect with individuals who he then emotionally manipulated into financially supporting his lavish lifestyle on the pretense he needed the money to escape his 'enemies.' An Israeli man, born Shimon Hayut, he travelled around Europe, presenting himself as the son of Russian-Israeli diamond mogul Lev Leviev. He used the dating app Tinder to contact women as Simon Leviev [Hayut], and tricked them into lending him money that he never repaid."

A clear violation of the laws against stealing in the Torah (Vayikra 19:13 "... thou shalt not steal.")

This movie is currently trending online and is a popular story on talk-shows and interviews on TV, radio and on the web all over the world. As I was thinking about this I realized that an underlying trope here is that it's a new version of the literary "conniving Jew" that both streams from and feeds on latent anti-Semitism. Thanks to someone's documented swindles we have a modern hip version of Shakespeare's fictional "Shylock" the Jew in the play "The Merchant of Venice" and of the fictional "Fagin" the Jew in Charles Dickens' play "Oliver Twist", and now 2022's "The Tinder Swindler" with Simon Hayut Leviev as the live protagonist with no need for fictional inventions.

Wow! What a Chillul Hashem (Desecration of God's name)!

Of course it goes deeper than that because in Christianity there is the figure of Judas Iscariot who, as Wikipedia succinctly puts it: "His name is often used synonymously with betrayal or treason." And this is what lingers in the ongoing Christian psyche of the "untrustworthy Jew," never mind all the other major contributions of the Jewish People to the world's religions, culture and sciences.

Stereotypes are stereotypes in people's minds and they are hard, if not impossible to eradicate, and that's why it's so dangerous for people identified as Jews to go wrong in their dealings and relationships with each other and the outside world.

The Torah teaches the Jewish People "Kedoshim Tiheyu" (Leviticus 19), to be holy, and the classical commentators ask, how is one to be "holy"? And the answer they give speaks to us directly: "Perushim Min Ha'arayot" - "separate yourselves from sexual immorality"! So to be both a crook and lascivious is a double affront to not just Judaism but to all human beings who try to abide by a basic moral code, especially the Torah's.

Anyhow, there is no predicting what will happen once a formerly religious Jewish person starts to unravel in terms of Torah and Mitzvot observance and starts to spiral in all sorts of scary unpredictable directions. Why and how one decides to leave Yiddishkeit (Judaism) in modern times has been analysed to death and there is still no consensus as to why it happens and how to stop it.

Assimilation in our times started with Jews dropping out of their religious lifestyle and adopting the ways of the gentiles, ultimately leading to intermarriage and even the adoption of other religions (apostasy). But the very modern day phenomenon of "OTD" or "Off The Derech," those called Yotzim Bishe'eala in Israel - "Those who drop the religious way of life"- is something different because it happens among those successful and thriving religious communities who seemingly have already overcome the lures of assimilation. Despite a strong hold on Judaism, a growing percentage, no one knows exactly how large or small, decide to drop out of Torah life and living and suddenly adopt a non-Jewish or secular lifestyle, sometimes going so far as becoming atheists or even anti-Judaism activists.

Moment Magazine published a well-researched article about "The Bnei Brak Bochur Who Became the Tindler Swindler" telling us that "It turns out Hayut/Leviev was born to an ultra-Orthodox family living in a modest apartment in Bnei Brak...[his father] is a rabbi..." and that his fraudulent activities go way beyond just seducing Scandinavian women on Tinder and robbing them of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He has also enraged the original prestigious diamond billionaire Leviev family whose name he took for himself, with his financial deceptions running into the millions. The original Lev Leviev family has gone on a publicity counter-offensive breaking their normally reticent PR stance: "How Chagit Leviev Discovered The Tindler Swindler Was Using Her Family's Name and Fortune" (Forbes); "LLD Diamonds Responds to 'Tinder Swindler' Simon Leviev's Lies" (Newsweek); "'Tinder Swindler' Simon Leviev sued by diamond magnate's family over impersonation" (Yahoo!)

Going from "Off the Derech" to thief, impersonator and huge, mass-scale identity theft reminds me of one of my own rabbi's favorite warnings, quoting the Jewish Sages to his students: "Sof Ganev Letliah" -- "the end for the thief is the gallows" which does not augur well for any subject of this kind of unfortunate situation.

Lately Netflix and other media outlets have been spewing out these kinds of "reality television" type of spectacles featuring OTD types of families and individuals such as "My Unorthodox Life" featuring a previously religious Jewish woman, Julia Haart, who went openly and publicly Off the Derech abandoning her religious community in Monsey, New York and then marrying a non-Jewish man, whom she's now divorcing, and along with her own abandonment of religious Judaism, that she brands as "fundamentalism", she took down her children as well. Netflix also put out "a mini-series called "Unorthodox" about how a Hasidic woman left her community and religion and went to live in Germany. Not pretty stories, but again dramatic examples of how OTD people become grist for the mill of anti-religious and anti-Judaism and anti-Semitic stereotypes in the media as they put their bad behavior on public display.

In New York there is actually an organization called "Footsteps" founded in 2003 and funded by wealthy secular foundations that helps Haredim seeking to go OTD and they have had hundreds of customers. There have been studies and books about the Off the Derech movement such as noted in the Off the Derech Wikipedia article's section on "Reasons for leaving" with tough to swallow reasons for anyone concerned.

Therefore we must conclude that it's a complex situation and analyze it, if it is ever to improve so that people will be happy remaining in the religious community into which they were born. Those who go OTD need to be aware that they can and are playing into the hands of people who oftentimes just want to make a buck off them. Sometimes, like the Tindler Swindler case, it's the protagonists themselves who are to blame for their own misdeeds, while many OTD cases are just innocent people caught up in complicated psychological and spiritual problems that they try to solve by running away from Yiddishkeit.

As far as the rest of the Frum, Dati, religiously observant Jewish world, there is a need to pay more attention to the problems and even though there may not be an instantaneous solution or "cure" to this problem, much can still be done to improve, so that OTD will become a thing of the past. Maybe it's just another sign of the upheavals we have to go through, like the singles crisis, the divorce crisis, wars, social dislocation, assimilation, intermarriage, ignorance, disbelief and just a general breakdown of the world as we know it, before the arrival of the true Jewish Mashiach who will usher in an era of peace and human happiness. May it happen soon in our days when all human and Jewish evils and problems such as war and suffering, darkness and ignorance will be banished forever.

Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at izakrudomin@gmail.com