Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels
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Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  471 ratings  ·  78 reviews
When Hella Winston began talking with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn for her doctoral dissertation in sociology, she was surprised to be covertly introduced to Hasidim unhappy with their highly restrictive way of life and sometimes desperately struggling to escape it. Unchosen tells the stories of these "rebel" Hasidim, serious questioners who long for greater personal and intel...more
Paperback, 216 pages
Published November 15th 2006 by Beacon Press (first published 2005)
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Riveting. Engrossing. More a collection of anecdotes than an academic, formal sociological study, Winston tells the story of Hasids, ex-Hasids, and soon-to-be-ex-Hasids who for one reason or another could not live within the rules of the Satmar community (usually because they wanted to watch movies, wear different clothes, read secular books and newspapers, etc). In a review of a book called "A Hope in the Unseen" about an affirmative-action student who struggles and then succeeds at Brown Unive...more
The two major blunders Hella Winston commits in the writing of "Unchosen" have deprived her of any respectable following. The first error concerns her research design; the second, her failure to compensate for what is clearly a lack of knowledge about the concepts she chooses to discuss. In opting to exclusively interview a community's malcontents (really, several communities, whose relationship to each other is never explained, save they are all somehow "Hasidic"), one would expect to find a we...more
I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot from this study of a particular subset of Jewish Hasidic communities in New York.

Not long ago, after reading Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman, I learned that Feldman's memoir is riddled with timeline distortions and omissions that bring her full credibility under suspicion. With help from Hella Winston's fair, loving and critical research into the same communities and under a similar historical timeframe, I...more
This book was full of inconsistencies and it seems to me that the author never fully understood the people or the community that she was writing about. She tried, I give her credit for that, but the writing was naive, and not very good either.
Sep 08, 2008 Cheski rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: anyone interested in the subject of kids at risk or the chassidic world.
Recommended to Cheski by: Amazon ;)
The book Unchosen is a lucid and interesting read about Hassidic youth on the fringe. A lot is still to be learnt by the parents who obviously are so unaware of the world around them as to have no clue how to deal with this matter.

Intimadation and suppression often ensues, driving the person away even more. The emotional turmoil drips from every page.

Positive points:

- An important book that should be read by all who deal with kids at risk (I can also recommend the book "Off the Derech")
- Pleasa...more
Rebecca Coleman
A very good insight into the lives of a group rarely investigated by the outside world, the Satmar Hasids.
Because nearly every Jew I know is college educated, Ms. Winston's descriptions of Hasidic communities seem closer to to the lives of some Christian Fundamentalists neighbors and distant relatives. The requirement to avoid learning about the outside world through reading, television or radio is much closer to the lives of Mormon youth while on their missions than to the lives of the my intellectually curious Jewish friends.

Many books about fundamentalist communities are written by those who left...more
UPDATED! I finished this and didn't change my original opinion of this book. The content is really interesting but the writing is AWFUL. It's written as if for a "tween" audience, or like the author wants to create a story in her writing style when the content is quite interesting enough. The writing style is actually distracting from the content. I had high hopes for this book--it seemed like the subject matter would be so interesting. Maybe someone else will tackle this topic someday.
Knowing many of the people in this book, I can say that Winston oversimplified their stories and folded them into a mind-numbingly dumb account of what *some* ex-Hasidim go through after they leave their ultra-orthodox communities behind. A good book for the Orthodox Jewish neophyte in theory, but anyone with half a brain will be too distracted by the awful writing to soak up the little substance the book has to offer.
Like some other reviewers, I agree that the writing style left me confused. The material was riveting, but I couldn't seem to understand who the intended audience was. I think I expected something more academic. While I applaud the level of primary research, I think the result ultimately fell flat and turned into a character study of a few people. It was an interesting read, but I expected something far more dense.
Mary Leonard
Fascinating book about the lives of some Hasidics who leave their sheltered Brooklyn sects and try to navigate the freedoms offered in the big city. The book highlights the ignorance about sex and education, and also discusses the history of this culture. I would highly recommend this sensitively written book to anyone interested in learning more about Hasidic life.
I feel very confused. I want to hate this book and yet I don't.
Jackie Griffin
These are stories of people who are struggling to live in ultra-orthodox communities. Women and men who want to live their lives a little more fully, a little less rigidly. However, they love their religion and they love the families that they may well lose if they leave. And, in ultra-orthodox communities, a rebel may well cause their siblings to lose their chance at marriage, the most important event in their lives.
The book was interesting but felt thin as if the author couldn't quite get unde...more
Jenny Brown
What an interesting look at people who choose to leave the Hasidic lifestyle. I found this book quite compelling and it brought up situations that never would have occurred to me. I had no idea that in my Hasidic communities in the U.S. people spoke Yiddish primarily and that English is very much a second language. The problems people face when they try to leave seem almost insurmountable, so it's amazing that anyone does leave.

Winston follows a handful of people as they try to leave their Hasid...more
In this book, Hella tells the story of Yossi, a 25 year old Hassidic Jewish man who rejects the Hassidic lifestyle along with the stories of several other men and women who have also left the insular communites and/or lifestyles of the Hassidic Jews living in New York. As she met more and more people from that community she learned how their belief in separation from the world and their own religious educational system leaves people emotionally scarred and lacking in knowledge of the outside wor...more
The subject matter of this book was absolutely fascinating, but I found the constant jumping about from one person/topic to another very disconcerting.

All the various threads - and really, they were extremely interesting - they just weren't woven together very logically or efficiently, I felt. It was all over the place which was quite distracting.

It would also have been good to have more direct quotes from all the people she interviewed. There was too much of "this happens" and "that happens" i...more
I don't usually like "losing my religion" stories; but since devout, contented Hasidim aren't writing too many books about their lives, I read "Unchosen" to gain some insight. I was impressed with the objectivity and respect shown by this admitted non-observant Jewish author. I was also surprised by a few Goodreads reviews that criticized her for poor writing. I am extremely critical of poor writing, and I found her writing to be fine. I took the book for what it was: an account of the personal...more
A fascinating look a the very closed society of Hasidic Jews and those who question the rules. The author writes with great respect for these people and shares the stories of several who chose in one way or another to reconcile what they feel, with what is taught in the community. The Hasids are a group of VERY Orthodox Jews. Much of what I read was not new to me, but there was some new information. (Who knew it mattered what shoe was put on first?)

Overall there was very much the concern of it w...more
Based on Ms. Winston's doctoral research, Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels, gives a more scholarly look into the environment that also yielded Hush. The collection of anecdotes, provides an introduction to the important tropes in an approachable manner. While I understand the need to protect her sources, overall Unchosen, felt unfinished and lacking the opposing viewpoint as more than just a "straw man"
Alison Dellit
Reads more like a whirlwind tour of a few individuals lives than a comprehensive text, but still useful for understanding the largely hidden world. Winston is clearly moved by the plight of those who feel trapped inside Hasidism - lacking the job skills, the education, the money and often even the english language skills to easily build any life away from a community which demands high levels of social compliance.

It was incidental to most of the book, but this book made me very glad to live in a...more
This was a great book! It was about the hidden world of the Hasidic community and profiled people who challenge that community in various ways. It is structured in a case-study format with one story per chapter, but there is one person who recurs throughout the book, which was a nice way to link it together.

The author makes some well-thought conclusions, as well, about the irony of a group that arose as an after-effect of the persecution they suffered from the outside world responding to those...more
not bad- though clearly biased as the author, a secular Jew, reviews the lives of many disenchanted Hasidim. I would have appreciated more of an attempt to follow those happy with their life, but I guess that was outside her research. Still, from this book, I found it interesting how Hasidic tradition differs so strongly from other Orthodox traditions. And how much this tradition had in common with sects from other religions; the themes of marginalization of women, poverty from too large of fami...more
Unchosen explores the lives of people who have left/are thinking about leaving Hasidism. I don't think it had enough background for someone unfamiliar with judaism, but for someone who has already read a few books about hasidism, it was perfect. Better than Boychiks in the Hood or Holy Days, two books that I think have gotten a lot more attention, and definitely inspired the WTF feeling I get from reading about any super-insular religion (when you get down to it, fundamentalist mormons and ortho...more
Amy Wolf
A very worthwhile read: the story of Yossi in particular was really gripping. I did find _Unorthodox_ by Deborah Feldman to be more compelling, simply by virtue of it being a first-person memoir. That said, it was interesting to discover the differences between the various Hasidic sects and their reaction to the "rebels" in their midst. I applaud the courage of all profiled in Winston's study who had the courage to walk away from what is, to all intents and purposes, a cult. When one of the lead...more
Enjoyed feeding my all-things-orthodox addiction with this book. Light, easy read, mostly anecdotal.
This book gives an insight into the closed community of Hasidic sect. The world behind its walls is full of repressions, regulations and strict rules. There are people who never lived in a modern society, who did not study or work in the outside world. There are some who are happy to be part of this religious community and there are others who are divided by doubts, want to understand the world as it is today, to be free, to have choices. It was interesting to read about community that chosen to...more
Alli Inouye
Sep 30, 2007 Alli Inouye rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: jews and chasid obsessors
unlike other books about chasidim that i have read, Unchosen is specifically about a few who struggle with maintaining their faith... some struggle with their faith in god, but all struggle with their faith in the community.

what makes it especially interesting is that several of the characters are Satmar, allowing a rare glimpse into their especially insular community.

i know i sound all national geographic, but i can't help but to be fascinated by their devotion to such a rigid way of life...
Another eye-opener. Interesting but sometimes felt a little disjointed.
Abigail Schwartz
I found this book very interesting and hard to put down but do wish the author had presented a bit more background into Hasidic theology and what differentiates it from other branches of Orthodox Judaism. Also I would have liked to hear the perspective of some of the friends and family of the rebels. Perhaps it was impossible for the author to gain access to these people but I felt the story was incomplete without their point of view.
It was an interesting look into a closed culture, but I felt like it was sometimes light on the details that would really let me feel like I knew what it was like in the Hasidic world and therefore give me greater understanding of the people wanting to leave.

As an aside, using the Nook edition, the glossary at the back was almost useless so sometimes I felt loss in the Yiddish. this might have been different in a paper version.
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