Friday, March 23, 2007

Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels

Hella Winston, Beacon Press, 2005

This is a disturbing book, in which a sociologist examines the lives of people breaking away from rigid Charedi communities, sometimes finding extreme alternatives. The book consists mainly of case-studies of members of the Satmar and Lubavitch communities who are living double lives: in their Jewish world they are normal members of society, but outside they live wild, often immoral lives. The studies are fascinating and engaging, but portray tortured, damaged individuals, who will never really be comfortable with themselves and are unable to find a happy balance in their lives. Sometimes the two worlds cross, with potentially explosive results for the one living the double life and the insular community to which the contradiction has been exposed. The book is well-written and researched and a good read, but is quite unbalanced. Many of those who go astray eventually return to Jewish observance, albeit not quite to the same style life from which they broke away.