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The Pious Ones
Cover of The Pious Ones
The Pious Ones
The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America
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As the population of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the United States increases to astonishing proportions, veteran New York Times journalist Joseph Berger takes us inside the notoriously insular world of the Hasidim to explore their origins, beliefs, and struggles—and the social and political implications of their expanding presence in America.

Though the Hasidic way of life was nearly extinguished in the Holocaust, today the Hasidim—"the pious ones"—have become one of the most prominent religious subcultures in America. In The Pious Ones, New York Times journalist Joseph Berger traces their origins in eighteenth-century Eastern Europe, illuminating their dynamics and core beliefs that remain so enigmatic to outsiders. He analyzes the Hasidim's codified lifestyle, revealing its fascinating secrets, complexities, and paradoxes, and provides a nuanced and insightful portrayal of how their all-encompassing faith dictates nearly every aspect of life—including work, education, food, sex, clothing, and social relations—sustaining a sense of connection and purpose in a changing world.

From the intense sectarian politics to the conflicts that arise over housing, transportation, schooling, and gender roles, The Pious Ones also chronicles the ways in which the fabric of Hasidic daily life is threatened by exposure to the wider world and also by internal fissures within its growing population.

As the population of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the United States increases to astonishing proportions, veteran New York Times journalist Joseph Berger takes us inside the notoriously insular world of the Hasidim to explore their origins, beliefs, and struggles—and the social and political implications of their expanding presence in America.

Though the Hasidic way of life was nearly extinguished in the Holocaust, today the Hasidim—"the pious ones"—have become one of the most prominent religious subcultures in America. In The Pious Ones, New York Times journalist Joseph Berger traces their origins in eighteenth-century Eastern Europe, illuminating their dynamics and core beliefs that remain so enigmatic to outsiders. He analyzes the Hasidim's codified lifestyle, revealing its fascinating secrets, complexities, and paradoxes, and provides a nuanced and insightful portrayal of how their all-encompassing faith dictates nearly every aspect of life—including work, education, food, sex, clothing, and social relations—sustaining a sense of connection and purpose in a changing world.

From the intense sectarian politics to the conflicts that arise over housing, transportation, schooling, and gender roles, The Pious Ones also chronicles the ways in which the fabric of Hasidic daily life is threatened by exposure to the wider world and also by internal fissures within its growing population.

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About the Author-
  • Joseph Berger has been a New York Times reporter, columnist, and editor for thirty years. He is the author of three books: Displaced Persons: Growing Up American After the Holocaust, which was a New York Times Notable Book; The World in a City: Traveling the Globe Through the Neighborhoods of the New New York; and The Young Scientists: America's Future and the Winning of the Westinghouse. He lives in Westchester County, New York.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    June 15, 2014
    A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the world of Hasidim.Longtime New York Times reporter Berger (Displaced Persons: Growing Up American After the Holocaust, 2001) puts decades of experience in reporting on Hasidim to work in this balanced, intriguing account of the American Hasidic population. Surviving the Holocaust, the Hasidic brand of Judaism managed to flourish again in New York and other American cities, and it is now booming in population. Hasidic characteristics-including strict observance of Jewish laws, modest yet conspicuous dress, limited contact with non-Jews and intersectarian disagreements-provide much fodder for the author, who brings Hasidim to life for lays reader through personal stories based on extensive interviews. Ranging from a Holocaust survivor who managed to leave 2,000 descendants at the time of her death to a Hasidic nonconformist with an underground blog, Berger's work explores a wide spectrum of Hasidic lives and lifestyles. Assuming very little previous knowledge from readers, the author masterfully explains all aspects. Thus, even a reader new to Judaism can learn about the Hasidic world without getting lost. For more expert readers, Berger provides personal depth as well as topical breadth. Filled with plenty of material for further discussion, the book does a service by dispelling many myths, and Berger provides an avenue for wider public understanding and acceptance of Hasidism. The author also points to flaws within the Hasidic community and in their relations with the outside world: deep-seated gender issues, the hushing-up of abuse cases, extortion and intimidation by self-proclaimed modesty police, and the avoidance of certain regulations and zoning laws.Through Berger's solid research and approachable writing, readers will gain a clear, well-rounded understanding of who the Hasidim are, where they came from and where they are going as a people.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    September 1, 2014
    For those who've wondered about the black-hatted men in frock coats with long beards, Berger, a longtime religion reporter for the New York Times, provides many of the answers. He succinctly explains who the Hasidim are, their history, the origins of the different sects, and how they differentiate from each other and from regular ultra-Orthodox Jews. As he introduces various Hasids (a woman with 2,000 descendants, a man who has become a policeman, two brothers fighting over their fathers' rabbinical legacy), it becomes clear how very different their Torah-centered life is from mainstream society, and the lengths they go to keep it that way. No television, jobs but not careers, arranged marriage, isolated communities with modesty squads. Berger maintains an even hand, though he does gloss over some women's issues, including the inability of some women to get a Jewish divorce and the pressure to have very large families. He acknowledges that many people, perhaps especially fellow Jews, dislike the clannish Hasidim, but he also points out that they will soon constitute the majority of Jews in the country, moving Jewish political power from the Left to the Right. An absorbing read.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • Wall Street Journal "Mr. Berger, who has reported on Hasidic communities for 30 years, plays the role of mythbuster.... The Pious Ones is a nice primer on Hasidim. There's so much more to say on this subject, and no one is better placed to do so than Joseph Berger. "
  • Jewish Week "Fascinating..., Although sympathetic, Berger does not romanticize the chasidim.... His book takes us on a remarkable journey into the complexities of their lives."
  • New York Times Book Review "The most intriguing sections in Berger's book discuss the conflicts between Hasidim and the more secular, often Jewish, neighbors with whom they butt heads over issues of property, pluralism and women's rights."
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The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America
Joseph Berger
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