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

3.8 out of 5 stars 102 customer reviews

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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.)
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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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; First Edition edition (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: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #983,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The title is intriguing, and the book is written in an easy literary style. However, the book focused on one or two rather oddball characters that were outcasts in their community. They would have been outcasts in any situation, not necessarily Orthodox Judaism. There were glimmers of hope for them to find an authentic Jewish experience that they could relate to, and that was the most interesting part of the book. I found the book to be a bit one-sided, portraying Hasidix, Orthodx Judaism as a negative, but at the same time, the author was a bit "nostalgic" for "the good old days".
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Format: Hardcover
In this attractively-written little book we learn something that may but should not surprise us: not all of these black-clad Hasidim that we encounter in the streets of Williamsburg, Crown Heights, or Borough Park are happy in their skins. Some seem to be desperately unhappy, wishing, somehow, to escape into the larger American (or American Jewish) landscape . But, not surprisingly, such an escape is not easy for someone who has spent all his life in the closeted, chaperoned, cosseted world of Hasidism.

Hella Winston calls these escapers or would-be escapers "Hasidic rebels." She has talked to quite a few such people, and their stories make interesting enough reading. And these stories are no doubt important. But there is a question that needs elucidation: important for what ?

Winston's book is based on research that she did for her dissertation in sociology, but the book is not the dissertation itself. That work, it appears, remains to be completed. When it is, she will no doubt give us social and historical context, and it is such context that will clarify how and why these "Hasidic rebels" have something important to teach us.

A consideration of context can take any of a number of forms:

1) Hasidism has a long history. These current "rebels" are not the first in this history. How do they compare (or contrast) with earlier ones ?

2) As Winston points out, there are a number of Hasidic groups -- the Satmar and the Lubavitch are two of many. How do the "rebels" fit into the internal politics of each ? How, in other words, do the different groups differ (or resemble one another) in the treatment of such dissidents ? This question could give us important information into the variety that is today's Hasidism.
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