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Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels Hardcover – November 16, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (November 16, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807036269
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807036266
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,249,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. While other excellent studies by Sue Fishkoff, Stephanie Wellen-Levine and Lis Harris have examined the inner lives of Lubavitcher Hasidim in a mostly positive way, this account distinguishes itself by focusing on the "rebels," not just among the Lubavitch but in other Hasidic communities as well, including the insular and right-wing Satmar sect. Winston, a doctoral candidate in sociology at CUNY, unfolds a world-within-a-world, where some young Hasidim sneak televisions into their apartments in garbage bags, change clothes on the subway to frequent bars in Manhattan and blog about their double lives online. She builds fascinating case studies, inviting readers into her interviewees' conflicted, and often painful, lives. One chapter profiles a famous Hasidic teacher who in fact no longer believes; another offers a walking tour of a Hasidic 'chood (slang for neighborhood); and another chronicles the hopeful and inspiring story of Malkie, a college-age woman who is building a sort of halfway house for others, like her, who have chosen to leave Hasidism. Winston shows us a Hasidic underworld where large families and a lack of secular education have resulted in extreme poverty and some serious at-risk behavior among youth. Her story of courage and intellectual rebellion will inspire anyone who has ever felt like a religious outcast. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The Jews that are this book's subjects are members of the extremely insular Satmar in Brooklyn, one of the largest Hasidic groups in the U.S. Responsible for bearing and raising as many children as possible to husbands they have met only once or twice before marriage, the women are expected to focus on maintaining a Jewish home. The men are obligated to study, and they must pray three times daily. The author, a secular Jew whose mother is a Holocaust survivor, wanted to talk to them for her doctoral dissertation in sociology. Some of these people, Winston found, are able to cope fairly easily with the compartmentalization required of such a life. Others suffer terribly, and often alone, not wanting to live as hypocrites, but also knowing that making the decision to abandon the community's way of life would likely cause rejection by their families and community, and guilt about bringing shame on their relatives and abandoning their traditions. An important work of scholarship and an absorbing account of these Hasidic Jews. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

Don't let this be the only book you read!
orgo student
Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels gives good insight into this insular community.
Gail Apfel
I found this book to be a very compelling read.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Gil Yehuda on November 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an easy to read book, with important true-life stories. Told well and honestly. I recognize many of the characters from my own experiences in the litvishe yeshiva world. If you want to gain insight into the complexity of a wonderful but imperfect community -- read this book. It is not condemning, and it does not mean that all Hasidim are sad and wanting more. The author is quite matter-of-factly about what she found. And many of the accounts and stories made me laugh. Although the topic as a whole is challenging. There is a good story here, one that is hopeful, especially with people like Malkie, and others who humanize these people. Read it, think, hope, and maybe even help out. See others as people, real people with real issues. Don't be fooled by the garb. There are real people in the black coat, some happy, some sad, and many are quite wonderful.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By sarah voss on June 15, 2008
Format: Paperback
Unchosen is interesting, just because it takes on a subject no one else has thought of, but the author doesn't actually come to a conclusion. The writing is good enough, and what she writes is interesting, but she leaves out any sort of analysis. She stumbled upon a fascinating subject, but she didn't do anyting with it. All she does is record the stories of half a dozen rebels and then drop it. She can't even say the extent of the phenomenon, because of course there's no way to find that out. So there's not much to get out of this, besides encouragement to doante to Footsteps, a charity organization she profiles. It was interesting, and worth reading I guess, but I was pretty let down at how little she did with the material. She didn't write any of her own ideas.

For something better, I reccomend "Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers" by Stephanie Levine. She interviews and analyzes Lubavitch girls, and comes up with some fascinating insights. And she includes some "rebels" in the girls she profiles, and I think does it a lot better.

And by the way, all you idiots out there saying Unchosen is just an excuse to critisize Judaism, she says like ten times that of course this isn't how most people feel about the religion, and even the rebels she interviews have things they loved about it. And I'm Orthodox Jewish, and I didn't think it was biased at all. So there.
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49 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Bradley T. Appell on October 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
For a modern-day tale of the triumph of the individual in the face of a closed society that demands conformity, please read this book! This book documents the hidden stories of people, mostly young, who struggle to find their own identities within the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities of Brooklyn. As the author points out, these communities demand strict adherence to their perceived concept of Jewish Law. But as we see, this embodies much more than just religious practices; this adherence affects every single aspect of these Jews' lives, from the bedroom to the bathroom to eating to shopping to who one can talk to, who one can marry, in short - everything.

If one thing stands out from this outstanding book is that so much of the survival of insular religious communities depends on an unspoken fear of 'standing out' and not being accepted. This fear is enforced by a group mentality that is instilled by community leaders, rabbis, teachers and parents. Any challenging of the rules results in sharp condemnation and a rebuke to 'get back in line.'

The heroes and heroines of this book refuse to live by medieval ways of living. They want to explore scientific ways of thinking , they want women to have equal rights as men, they want to find their friends and partners on their own, they want to engage with the society in which they live, they want to see the world outside of their protective cocoons. In short, they want to be individuals!

Thank you Ms. Winston for telling their stories, and I hope the romaticized view we have of such communities will become more nuanced as we are exposed to the silent suffering of good and decent people who are struggling to find themselves. After reading this book the old saying which resonated with me so strongly was 'to thine own self be true.'
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37 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Chossid on October 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Reading Unchosen made me think that even a non-Jew could cook an

authentic Cholent, something I never believed possible. What is

sometimes referred to as a homogeneous body, "Chassidic Jewry" is in

fact splintered into many different factions. At times, these

factions are indistinguishable from each other, and at other times

they are unrecognizable as belonging to the same religion. Sadly,

most Chassidim--especially those descended from Hungary--live as a

close-knit community and have little or nothing to do with the

outside world, not even with their Jewish bretheren, as the Lubavitch

Chassidim do. Lubavtichers are extremely different in their outlook

and interaction with the "outside."

Hella Winston chose to write about this less well-known majority of

Chassidim, focusing on the "unchosen," or rebles. A hard, laborious

task considering the closeness of the community and the tight-lipped

members of Satmar and other lesser-known branches of Chassidism.

Unchosen will make an excellent read for Jews who are not affiliated

with Orthodoxy--which, today, is most Jews. Every secular, Reform or

Conservative Jew descends from an Orthodox ancestor not too far down

the line and this is a fascinating way to re-live a great

grandfather's quandary, an ancestor's pain and misery in leaving a

tradition or way of life, or to understand the love/hate relationship

with anything sacred of a beloved grandmother.
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