Is there a difference between any family system and the Orthodox Jewish community described in “Unorthodox”?

The path of the protagonist of Unorthodox provides for a release from the unique mind of the familiar ego, which in her case could be defined as “community ego”, in order not to suffocate one’s needs and one’s self.


This article, summarizing the description of the Orthodox Jewish community of the Unorthodox series, follows the similarities in the characteristics and in the process of release that exist in this type of community and in any other family system, through the citation of the systemic – relational authors Murray Bowen and Salvador Minuchin.

One of the latest series produced by Netflix has the title of Unorthodox and is based on the autobiography of Deborah Feldman. The direction focuses on the description of some of the typical customs in the Orthodox Jewish community in New York.

From what can be seen through the show, this community is as if it were a large family where all the members are undifferentiated from each other, taking up Bowen, author of a systemic-relational imprint of the book From family to the individual.

The description of passages in the history of the couple in the community is interesting, starting from the choice of the partner up to the marriage and the conception of the children. Already from the choice of the spouse the decision becomes of the whole family: the boy’s mother must approve the daughter-in-law before she becomes such; the marriage ceremony involves all members of the community in the different phases; the same sexual relations do not enjoy freedom of movement, as they need to follow a protocol that preserves the husband’s self-esteem and at the same time has only the goal of conception, and privacy is not respected either, since all family members are at current of what happens or will happen in the bedroom.

Indifferentiation, understood by Bowen as a single common mind belonging to all members of the family, can be found not only in the history of the couple, but also in the values, myths and thoughts of each component of the Orthodox community, since they are unequivocal, accepted and absorbed by everyone, enough to suffocate their individual needs.

The difference between an Orthodox family and any other family would seem almost nil if we note that in both cases the self cancels itself to maintain the stability of the undifferentiated mass of the family ego.

Also in the history of the couple there are characteristics similar to those of many other couples, in that in the choice of the partner unconsciously converge motives, beliefs, ideals and expectations that belong to the undifferentiated mass of the family ego and that allow to respect loyalty bonds with the relationships in the family of origin; the marriage ceremony often sees the active participation of other family members other than the couple itself; finally it happens that the same sexual life is not lived freely, but always according to the beliefs belonging to the undifferentiated mass of the ego.

The path of the protagonist foresees a release from this unique mind of the familiar ego, which in her case could be defined as “community ego”, in order not to suffocate one’s needs and one’s self and, therefore, to renounce its role sacrificial, which allowed the stability of the system. The same process of release occurs for each individual who allows himself to face adolescence in his own family.

Each family is characterized by its own convictions, values, expectations and implicit loyalty constraints that bind the members in a network that is difficult to untangle but not impossible, even if the moment you pull a thread, the fate of the various joints is unpredictable. In the same way, when the protagonist of the series, or any teenager, begins the release from the mass of undifferentiated ego, to discover her own self, she does not know what will happen to her family relationships. Some families will accept this process in small steps, while others, with more rigid boundaries, as Minuchin would describe them in Families and family therapy, will not be able to accept it and the individual will risk being expelled, in order to maintain the homeostasis of the system. .

Therefore, the Orthodox community is not so much different from many other families or communities, which base their stability and continuity on implicit or explicit beliefs, customs, values ​​and bonds of loyalty, asking members to sacrifice their self, and consequently their needs, in order not to incur an unpredictable change.