Schneur Zalman Newfield grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, in the heart of the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch Jewish community. He was steeped in its educational system, which teaches boys only Jewish texts and traditions, its communal structures, including rigorous prayer, study, and Jewish outreach activities, and a loving family life with 8 siblings. In his early twenties he left this community, seeking out secular education and a broader life than the Lubavitch community offered him. Over the course of the following decade and a half, he earned a GED, a BA in psychology, and finally a PhD in sociology. He met and married his wife with whom he became the parent of two daughters and a member of a progressive Jewish community in New Jersey. He remains close with his family, and draws on his own intimate knowledge of ultra-Orthodox Judaism in his sociological research.
Newfield’s book, Degrees of Separation: Identity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Temple University Press, April 2020), explores the lives of over 70 other individuals raised in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities who decided as young adults to leave that way of life. The book is based on his graduate studies at New York University, which focused on cultural sociology and the study of identity, narrative, and resocialization. Newfield continues to research and publish on these topics, in relation both to ultra-Orthodox religious exiters and to other themes.
After completing his PhD in 2016, Newfield taught sociology courses for two years in six medium- and maximum-security New Jersey state prisons through Rutgers University-Newark’s New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ-STEP) consortium. This work was meaningful and transformative for him. It gave him an opportunity to assist in the education of a truly marginalized population of students as well as an opportunity to learn from his students about the criminal justice system and the myriad ways that race influences the system. His work in prison also informs some of the directions of his current and future research and writing.
Since 2018, Zalman Newfield has been an Assistant Professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY. He lives in Hoboken, NJ, with his wife and children.
photo credit: Shulamit Seidler-Feller