Word of the Day Datlash

For Israelis who were raised religious and later became secular, a special term applies.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Datlash.
Datlash.Credit: AP
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

In practice, many Israeli Jews who consider themselves secular (“hiloni”) are involved in some form of religious observance throughout the year – 82 percent of self-defined secular Israelis participate in a Passover seder, for instance, according to Central Bureau of Statistics data released last year – yet the religious categories that Israeli society holds so dear often seem far more rigid than the reality they are supposed to reflect.

Becoming religious is known as “hazara b’teshuva,” returning to repentance. In a play on the fact that “teshuva" also means “answer,” going in the opposite direction is known as “hazara b’she’elah,” with “she’elah” meaning “question.” Someone who was raised “dati,” which means “religious” but refers to religious Zionists rather than the ultra-Orthodox, and drops religion later in life is known as a “datlash” (daht-LAHSH), a popular acronym that stands for “dati leshe’avar,” or “formerly religious.”

And what about someone who has left religion, only to return to it later on? Why, that would, of course, make the person a “datlashlash” – a “dati leshe’aver leshe’avar,” or someone who used to be formerly religious.

In an article that appeared in the newspaper Maariv last year, Poriya Gal Gatz, who became a datlashit (the feminine form of "datlash") 20 years ago and recently wrote a book about the phenomenon called “Hadatlashim,” said it was significant that words like these are necessary.

“What causes us to seek out datlashim like us, and sometimes marry each other?” she asks. “What causes us to spot datlashim a mile away, even after years, and activate a ‘datlash radar’ that finds people like us and creates an almost immediate bond and camaraderie? And most importantly, why do we insist on calling ourselves this, in a label that preserves the past within the present, rather than simply becoming ‘hilonim,’ even 10 or 20 years afterward?”

Perhaps the reason that those who leave the religious world continue to consider themselves datlashim rather than mentally checking the “secular” box instead of the “religious” one is that “the datlash pathology is always to see everything with two hats,” she writes. “It stems from the need to translate yourself constantly, to speak Tel Avivian on the outside, to speak religious Zionism in the heart.”

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