4.16.2007

Cornering the Market on Datlash

I wanted to use the word datlash (acronym for דתי לשעבר, one who used to be religious but no longer is, sort of like "post-Orthodox" as I used it here) in an e-mail, and I wanted to point my correspondent to a website with a definition of the term. However, when I Googled "datlash" there were only eight hits, none of them particularly useful for my purposes.

Aha
! A niche where AbacaxiMamao can make herself famous at last! (Pardon the slippage into third person. I understand that it comes with the inflated ego that I'm about to acquire as a result of my newfound fame after cornering the datlash Google market.)

At first, I was surprised that there were only eight hits for "datlash," but then, brilliant woman that I am, I decided that Googling it in Hebrew (דתל"ש) would be a lot more sensible since it is fairly recent Hebrew slang. Ah, yes! 571 hits, including one pointing to the Hebrew Wiktionary (Vikimilon! how cute is that?), which may prove to be useful for other things as well. I also discovered, through my superior Googling skills, that when datlash is written in English, it is sometimes written as "dat-lash," or "dat'lash," and, indeed, Googling "dat-lash" (which also returns "dat lash" and "dat'lash" hits), produced 26 results, which is much better than eight.

So, what does datlash/דתל"ש mean? Why did the phrase arise? What are its socio-cultural connotations?

A 1999 article ("Let My Kippa Go") from the Jerusalem Post, reposted here, says:
While hard data are difficult to come by, the phenomenon is marked
enough to have spawned its own lingo; a lapsed religious youth is called
"datlash," the Hebrew acronym for "formerly religious." Fisherman found
fully 23 percent of those he surveyed to be "datlashim." Others place
the figure closer to 10% or 15%.

One recent study found that fully 12% of graduates of yeshiva high
schools define themselves as "not so religious" and 4% define themselves
as "not religious."

Regardless of the precise numbers, the phenomenon is sufficiently
widespread for national religious leaders, parents and educators to be
reexamining the way they are raising and teaching their youth.

Conferences and study days are devoted to the topic. Academics are
publishing studies. Yeshivot are shifting their emphasis from rote
observance of the commandments to a deeper exploration of the
wellsprings of faith - and allowing young people to question what they
are learning without being made to feel they are pushing the edge of
blasphemy.
Well, it's about time, I say. This should be done in the US, too. As noted at the end of this post, I think people are finally starting to think more seriously about Orthodox Jewish day school education in the US (and all that ails it), but it might be a matter of too little, too late for some people and some institutions. The rest of the article was interesting, but it might be dated at this point, being almost eight years old in a rapidly-changing society.

What else can I say about datlash/דתל"ש?
  • This Hebrew Wikipedia entry (on the topic of "יציאה בשאלה," with a big honking image of Spinoza on top) notes that this phrase is used mostly in National Religious and Masorti circles in Israel, not in Hareidi circles: " ביטוי שנפוץ כיום, לרוב בקרב החברה הדתית-לאומיתביטוי שנפוץ כיום, לרוב בקרב החברה הדתית-לאומית והמסורתית ולא לגבי החברה החרדית." Surely there are many lapsed hareidim. I wonder if they use a different phrase or if they just avoid talking about people who have left the faith.
מהו דתל"ש? דתי לשעבר. לכאורה, מי שגדל בבית דתי והפך לחילוני. בפועל מדובר במי שמזדהה עם מקורותיו, שאם לא כן, היה קורא לעצמו פשוט 'חילוני', כפי שעושים רבים הדומים לו. הוא אינו טיפוס של 'אנטי' ואפשר אף לתפוס אותו בקלקלתו, כאשר הוא משמש עשירי למניין. אין לו קושי להשתלב באירוע דתי, ואין לו התנגדות לכך.

The author, משה חזני, interestingly points out that a דתל"ש is a person who still identifies with their religious past. If he did not, he would just call himself secular (חילוני) and be done with it. The claim in this article is that a דתל"ש identifies with his/her religious upbringing in a positive way, the implication being that such people are "ripe" for re-religiousification (there has to be a better word than that, but I don't know what it is). (It sounds okay to say secularization and therefore resecularization--why does the opposite sound so terribly clumsy? Did I put an extra syllabul in by mistake?) I think it's probably true that a דתל"ש person identifies with his religious past, but I'm not sure it's always a positive identification as much as a "Thank God I'm not religious anymore!" I used the pronoun "he" throughout this paragraph because it was hard enough with the right-left-right English/Hebrew without also scattering s/he and him/herselves around willy nilly.
  • Minor linguistic aside: There is a discussion on this online Ben Gurion University-hosted forum (it seems to be for people who find themselves between the religious and secular world) about דתל"ש and from that, I learned that the way to say "thread" (as in one topic in an online forum) in Hebrew is שרשור, which I think literally means "chain." At least, שרשרת is how you say "necklace" in Hebrew.

  • On this forum (at Lifshiz College in Israel), someone jokingly suggests an alternative definition of דתל"ש which would be דעת תורה לא שוכחים. Clever.
I think that's all I've got now.


Related phrases

I heard the phrase "חוזר בשאלה" at least a few years before I ever heard דתל"ש. I wonder if it's actually older or if all of these phrases arose at the same time and I just heard them at different times depending on which Israelis I was speaking to when. Maybe different groups of Israelis (i.e., secular, religious, apathetic) use different phrases.

This one page Bnei Akiva article introduced me to a new phrase that I'd never heard before: דשמ"ש. It stands for "דתי שעושה מה שבא," which translates as "a religious person who does whatever he wants." I think it's funny. I wonder if anyone actually really uses it? It seems that such acronyms have proliferated in Israel over the past 5 years or so.

I miss Israel. I was in Starbucks tonight and two (to all appearances chiloni) Israeli guys sitting next to me were trying to figure out if Yom HaShoah was Saturday night-Sunday or Sunday night-Monday. I explained to them that it was Saturday night-Sunday in chu"l and Sunday night-Monday in Israel, because the rabbanut had moved it so it wouldn't start on motzai Shabbat, but they didn't get it. It is strange to move holidays like this, although I guess we do it to get three day weekends in the US all the time. One of them started giving me a hard time about my neon green rain boots (in a very Israeli way, i.e., we're all family so it's okay to comment about the apparel of a total stranger), and then his friend got embarrassed and said that they were just messing with me. I said I knew that they were and was fine. Then two of their friends showed up and suddenly it was four loud Israeli lads having a grand old time. One of them kept looking around with some embarrassment, trying to shush his boisterous friends, which reminded me of what I once saw printed on the outside of an El-Al plane. Something along the line of "Let's change the world's opinion so they no longer think we're the rudest tourists ever," only much more eloquent than that. It didn't help much. Once they left I started getting actual work done.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I used to hear the phrase "chozer b'sh'eila" from secular Israelis as the opposite of "chozer bitshuva." MLG

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I think where it talked about the national-religious and the MSVRTY communities, it meant mesorati i.e. "traditional" not Masorti. I doubt Masorti has enough of a 'footprint' on the Israeli consciousness to merit a mention.

ALG said...

You know, Steg, I was wondering about that. And you're right. Thanks!

BZ said...

I explained to them that it was Saturday night-Sunday in chu"l and Sunday night-Monday in Israel, because the rabbanut had moved it so it wouldn't start on motzai Shabbat, but they didn't get it.

Who decides when it is in chu"l? The Knesset established the holiday, and it hasn't become a "religious" holiday, so all communities that observe Yom Hashoah are following the Knesset. I think that communities that observed it on Saturday night / Sunday were simply looking at calendars that were printed before the Knesset moved the date, and didn't get the memo that it had been changed.

ALG said...

Yes, but many places in chu"l (or, to be more precise, in NYC) observed it on Sunday, so it was de facto observed on two different days in chu"l and Israel. The Knesset doesn't change it very much ahead of time, do they? I think this might be one of those things that they vote on every time it lands on a Saturday night (as with Yom Ha'Atzmaut), rather than just automating the law. Rather inefficient, I would think. I think the Knesset also votes on when Daylight Savings Times starts and ends each year, too, depending at least a little bit on when the chagim fall on the Gregorian calendar.

alg's mother said...

A couple of comments:
1. I'm pretty sure that "chozer b'she'elah" predates "datlash."
2. The literal English definition of "shirshur" is "chaining, linking together."

I am glad you miss Israel--Come on over--To heck with getting work done!

Anonymous said...

Maybe instead of being ripe for "religification," they like and connect to the culture of Orthodoxy, if not the beliefs.

Anonymous said...

try "off the derech"