Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Seat at the Table: A Novel of Forbidden Choices” as Want to Read:
A Seat at the Table: A Novel of Forbidden Choices
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Seat at the Table: A Novel of Forbidden Choices

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  169 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Lust - Tradition - Love - Faith - Self - Family

Elisha walks through Brooklyn with side curls tucked behind his ears and an oversized black hat on his head. He is a Chassidic Orthodox Jew and the son of a revered rabbi in whose footsteps he's expected to follow. When he leaves his insular world to take classes at a secular college, he vows to remain unchanged...

Praise for A
Paperback, 299 pages
Published March 1st 2009 by Sourcebooks Landmark (first published January 1st 2009)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Seat at the Table, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A Seat at the Table

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.73  · 
Rating details
 ·  169 ratings  ·  34 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Dec 20, 2009 rated it liked it
We may assert that what distinguishes man from other animals is the soul. Is it? I don't pretend to know. I have a much warmer attitude toward the view that, unlike animals, man tells stories.

In his novel A SEAT AT THE TABLE, Joshua Halberstam emphasizes the power of stories: the ones we begin, the ones we finish -- or don't, the ones we fix(284), the ones that were told to us -- to connect us to the past and to help us shape the future. Here's the story about my "relationship" with Halberstam'
Dec 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
I can't remember the last time a book made me cry. And so, despite notable flaws, this is getting four stars.
A Seat at the Table is a book of contradictions, both in function and in form. Primarily, obviously, the plot explores the contradictions stirring within Elisha, a Chassid who is curious for the world outside of his, and the contradictory feelings he has, being pulled toward the intellectually honest and more stimulating world of Columbia University, and then the emotional ties he feels t
Okay. It's better than With All My Heart, With All My Soul, though that isn't saying much. The story's been written many times -- sheltered religious (in this case Hasidic) young man finds himself attending college and struggling with religious observance, complicated by his love for the beautiful non-Jewish woman. And here, it's not written particularly well. The dialogue is convenient and contrived; the developments feel rushed; the characters are pretty one-dimensional with the arguable excep ...more
Rebecca Huston
I enjoyed this one, filled with Jewish lore and recreating the UltraOrthodox world of New York City in detail. Elisha, on the brink of adulthood, and expected to follow his father as a rabbi, is lured by the outside, secular world. With the encouragement of his Uncle Shaya he enters a secular college in Manhattan and meets a lovely young woman by the name of Katrina -- who just happens to be not Jewish. Not certain whether to step forward into the greater world, or remain a Hassid, Elisha questi ...more
Pamela Laskin
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A SEAT AT THE TABLE by Joshua Halberstam was a story I had heard before about the Orthodox son who discovers life outside the confines of his community. However, because the author is a journalist, you get a much more expansive view of the Orthodox community and the struggles of the son and the father who has invested so much in his son's religious upbringing. His son has decided to take a journey in the secular world. This in no way diminishes the son's love for family-or for his Orthodox commu ...more
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

A well written story. It was also a pleasing way to learn about another culture. Judaism is often misunderstood and I think this story helps to explain why.
Mar 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010-reads
****1/2 (Why can't we give half star ratings on GoodReads? Boo!)

Loved this book and I can't recommend it enough. It's a beautiful story, not unlike My Name is Asher Lev, about a young man trying to find his way in the world, torn between Chassidism and secular society. The characters are well-developed, as is the plot, and I loved all of the stories--storytelling is such an important thing in Judaism and readers will definitely get that sense from this book. My only (small) complaint is that the
Mar 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This coming of age story is set in the traditional chassidic world but its themes are universal -- the love between a father and son, the conflicting pulls of tradition and freedom, the excitement of intellectual exploration and the comfort of community. But the setting provides yet another element -- it provides a window into this interesting and insular community. The chassidic tales that are sprinkled through the novel are another delightful touch. Well-written and touching, this book is a gr ...more
Catherine Goetschel
May 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I thought that A Seat At The Table was a terrific read. It is personal without being sentimental, it gives an honest picture of the conflict that any intelligent and curious young person might be exposed to growing up. It's about Chassidism, but it might just as well be about any other religious setting with strict rules of observance and little tolerance for deviating souls. The relationship between father and son is deep and touching, and it shows the profound love and generosity of mind of th ...more
Daniel Stern
Nov 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
"A poignant depiction of a deeply loving father and a no less loving son desperate to find his own very different path without shattering the connection to his family, to his father."

It is so hard to find books like this, which deal with important questions every person who has grown up has dealt with: to what degree and in what form one adopts the beliefs of one's beloved parents, family and friends

The main character's conflict between his love for his father and his straining at the confines
Chana Billet
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
This thoughtfully written book reads like a modern fable. Set in Brooklyn after World War II, Elisha, scion of a hasidic dynasty, tries to reconcile his orthodox upbringing with the enticing, secular world he discovers in college. Not wanting to destroy the tender relationship he has with his father, Elisha tries to adopt a new lifestyle while simultaneously leading a hasidic life. Whether he is successful or not is for the reader to judge.

Halberstam uniquely weaves classic hasidic tales throug
Mar 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
In this book, Elisha, a Chassidic young man, struggles to navigate the secular and sacred worlds. For me, the book raises interesting questions about curiosity (Is it a blessing or a curse in the context of religious strictures?), the purpose of religious rules (Do they exist to keep an adherent captive within a religious sect or to make the religious experience more meaningful?) and the relationship between hope and acceptance (To achieve full acceptance, must one abandon all hope?).
Sara  Liebman
May 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I very much enjoyed A Seat at the Table by Joshua Halberstam. To follow Elisha from an innocent peek from inside his talis to the broader world is a treat. As a Chassidic Jew, Elisha has trouble reconciling his family identity with his own and his Jewish identity with a forbidden secular one. As much as Elisha groups apart from his family and his father in particular, he very much values his upbringing and takes joy in Chassidic storytelling and Torah study.
Jul 25, 2011 added it
This book was a pleasure to read. It accurately depicts human curiosity, the conflict of wanting to belong and needing to leave, the importance of family, the consequences of our choices. Additionally, the chassidic fables are beautifully woven into the narrative throughout. The book provides great empathy for all the characters, no matter which side they're on in regard to the choices made by the protagonist. The work is fiction, but is the story of many people I know.
Jan 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
I rather enjoyed this story of a young Chassid in New York of the late 60s/early 70s. Elisha struggles to reconcile his tradition and his surroundings, mixing traditional stories and wisdom with modern literature and ideas. Maybe it's just because of my wars with my own Catholic upbringing, but this one worked well for me. And rabbinical stories, many of which are interpolated, are always fun to read.
Feb 01, 2013 rated it liked it
The difference in writing quality between the Chassidic stories and the overall plot portions of this novel is striking. The former were beautifully rendered and resolved in meaningful, poetic conclusions. The latter was stiffly written and clumsily resolved. In general, the book was enjoyable, but mostly it made me curious to read more Chassidic tales.
Feb 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
I haven't finished this yet, but I'm close. I really like it. It takes place in NYC during a time when I lived there, too, AND went to City College! I like how the author weaves the traditional Chasidic stories into the plot. It's a fast read, but manages to draw you in and make you care about the characters.
Rebecca Katz
Nov 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The story depicts the struggles of so any people who are trying to forge their own identity but must reconcile that with the traditions of their family.

Beautifully woven between the Chasidic and secular communities. The insight into all of the characters perspectives is thought provoking.

Truly enjoyed this novel.
Janet Heettner
Apr 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A Seat at the Table is my idea of an ideal book in that it is both substantial and a great read. The main character's conflict between his love for his father and his straining at the confines of his community is portrayed with warmth and charm. The book creates an honest and totally believable portrait of the Brooklyn Chassidic world. I couldn't put it down.
Sep 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religious
A Seat At The Table was an excellent read. It really drew me in and kept me reading in a way that I find rare, even in books that I have really enjoyed. Halberstam is a storyteller on par with Chaim Potok, in my opinion. I am left hoping that there is a sequel to Elisha's story.
May 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
A little sad/melancholy for me - but I'd reread all the Chasidic tales and sayings anyway. A very interesting look into Chasidic life and about all father/son relationships. I was a little sad at the main character's ultimate choice. A little more joyousness wouldn't have hurt the book.
Feb 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: jewish-fiction
I liked the weaving of this book into the Vietnam era and all of the Chasidic tales, but I wasn't crazy about the outcome or the female lead character, who I thought was somewhat one dimensional... "the idea of her" rather than a deep character.
Michael Lewyn
Apr 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
This little book took me about an hour and a half to read. It is a pleasant, though not extremely deep, story of a young man born into Hasidic Judaism who moves towards a more secular life while trying to get along with his family.
Dec 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Interesting, with great imbedded stories, but not a fully fleshed-out novel. And the only developed female character is quirky and charming and unpredictable and oh, so irritating. However, Halberstam is enough of a writer that I finished the book and don't regret reading it.
Fida Amran
Apr 08, 2013 rated it liked it
I was hesitant to read this one and has been shelved for years. I forced myself to read it by bringing it along to my recent vacation. Surprisingly it's bearable and I learn a lot about Jewish traditions and culture. I did get lost for about 20% of the time but it's ok. Good read!
Nov 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: americana
un giovane ebreo ortodosso, il fascino della vita al di fuori delle regole e della comunità, le contraddizioni e le paure, gli anni della contestazione, l'affetto familiare che vince su tutto. interessante e colto.
Jan 08, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: jewish
Teenage Chassid, Elisha struggles between love for his family & traditions and wanting to be part of the outside world as well. Nice coming-of-age story. Many Chassidic tales are interwoven throughout the story-- something of an artificial device, but the tales are worth reading in their own right.
Sara Goldenberg
Oct 28, 2015 rated it liked it
It wasn't good and I didn't enjoy it. And I was so looking forward to it!

It reads just like any other OTD story. Nothing special and nothing different.
Nancy Greenfield
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Although I found the plot predictable, I enjoyed its execution. I enjoyed all the quotes at the beginning of the chapters and the many Chasidic stories within.
May 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sue by: via DAVAR
Shelves: jewish-themes
A familiar tale, but freshly told & unexpectedly moving. The interspersed Hassidic stories add to the book.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Shadows on the Hudson
  • The Rabbi's Daughter
  • Surprised by God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion
  • The Good People of New York
  • The Family Markowitz
  • Daughters of Iraq
  • In the Land of Israel
  • How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household
  • The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah
  • Songs for the Butcher's Daughter
  • The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch
  • Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust
  • To Pray As A Jew: A Guide To The Prayer Book And The Synagogue Service
  • Seven Blessings
  • The Genizah at the House of Shepher
  • My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew
  • Mr. Mani
  • The River Midnight
See similar books…
“Panic isn’t the fear of danger, but the fear you can’t control your fear, and” 0 likes
“What terrible secret could he disclose? That he stole a look at the kohanim during the priestly blessing?” 0 likes
More quotes…