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Chicken Soup with Chopsticks: A Jew's Struggle for Truth in an Interfaith Relationship Paperback – October 1, 2006
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I spite of the glib title, this is really a serious, often self-indulgent work of a young man's religious journey. While one might expect the focus of the work to be on secular Belinda (Hang-Yee) and her transformation into Orthodox Bina Esther, Jack concentrates on himself, making only occasional references to her interior struggles and studies. So much is she the catalyst, that one must conclude Jack would have become orthodox even if she had not converted, permitting their ultimate wedding.
We see the exterior of Bina's struggle, through Jack's eyes, while dissecting each step he takes. The result is a work too much about Jack and far too little about Bina, whose voice is finally heard in a far-too-brief, three-page afterward.
This is a journey I've taken myself, so can definitely relate to the themes in the book... and the settings, too, are familiar from my own hours across the table from the central Bais Din which oversees conversions here in Toronto.
Botwinik is honest to the extreme, and the book is written with great clarity, which sometimes gives it an overly introspective (read: navelgazing) tone.
Nevertheless, this would be a helpful book for anyone thinking they may land on on either side of the interdating-to-frum-Jew (frum = religious) or non-Jew-to-frum-Jew coin.
This is NOT the book I would give to somebody in an interfaith relationship to convince a partner to convert (what would I offer? Maybe Dennis Prager's Nine Questions or Kelemen's Permission to Believe). This is not even a book I would suggest giving to non-Jewish or non-religious friends or family to explain religious transitions in one's own life (for that, I'd recommend a heartfelt personal letter!).
This book presupposes a level of understanding and agreement on the part of the reader which makes it just right for exactly the right audience... and kinda wrong for the wrong audience. Hard to describe, but if you suspect yourself are on the derech (way, ie towards Torah observance), this book may prove very helpful, in part for its glimpses of the nitty gritty of the bais din conversion process.
I would have been happier with more chopsticks and less chicken soup - as a born-Jewish Baalas Teshuvah, I already *know* the chicken soup stuff! :-) But this book still has its place on many bookshelves... I hope it finds its way to yours.
Yet for all his claims of open exploration, one gets the sense that his journey had a predetermined destination. While this is Mr. Botwinik's life story, and how he chooses to live is his own concern, there would be more revelatory power in the story if he had started life as a secular Jew and arrived after his examination of world religions as a devout Sikh (for example) rather than an orthodox Jew. The claims that Belinda resolutely insisted that her conversion to Judaism was similarly the result of internal conviction, born not of a relationship with a Jew undergoing a journey toward orthodoxy, but rather due to her own research and introspection, similarly begs credulity.
My criticism is not to take anything away from the sincerity with which Mr. & Mrs. Botwinik conduct their lives as orthodox Jews. Rather, it has to do with the suspect self-delusional claims that they undertook a totally open-ended journey of religious exploration and arrived not too far from where they started, convinced that they had discovered the ultimate expression of religious conviction. I'm Jewish myself, so my incredulity is not because they may have disrespected my faith.
I do not ascribe to the multi-culturalist, moral relativist belief that every social structure and belief system carries equal value. Nonetheless, I don't accept the implicit claims of ultimate ethical superiority of the Jewish tradition, that Jews cannot be informed by the experiences of other faiths. And that, to my mind, is the conclusion that Mr. Botwinik must have made, in choosing an absolute adherence to Jewish orthodoxy to the exclusion of other faiths.
Most recent customer reviews
The author could have presented the story in a more flowing manner.Read more