The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America Info

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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
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 by telling the story of some of its
followers, revealing the religion’s fascinating secrets,
complexities, and paradoxes. Berger 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

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Reviews for The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America:


October 29, 2014

He's not Samuel Heilman, but he is worthwhile just the same.

This book is a journalistic (and not sociological) study of the lives of Haredi Jews. It's very eclectic in that it tries to give us a broad sampling of Hasidic groups. Berger spent a lot of time with the largest groups (especially the Satmar), although there were other groups mentioned (Lubavitch, Vishnitiz, Ger, Belz, Bobover).

There was, mercifully, for people who may not know these terms, a glossary. There was not, however, an index (that would have been useful).

This book does not have the careful discipline/ sociological bent of a similar book by Samuel Heilman (Defenders of the Faith: Inside Ultra-Orthodox Jewry). It comes across as a series of vignettes and articles that the author has written for the New York Times spliced into some other prose to make a full book. The vignettes were, for the most part, interesting.

What did we learn? A bit about the legal strategies that the Hasidim have that allow them to live in the way that they want. (That was actually only about the last 1/3 of the book, in spite of the title. The first 2/3 were taken up with aforementioned vignettes.)

Verdict: I don't recommend this book at the new price. It is fine for about $5. It only takes about 3 afternoons to read.

September 19, 2014

Do not waste your money & time. Nobody will, nor should, read this book!
Bad, lazy, boring, apologetic, tedious, missionary style infomercial book, based on some very partisan Hasidic activists, mainly Alexander Rappaport, who runs 2 soup kitchens for the poor called Masbia which is financed mainly by secular Jewish organisations.

The book just tries to romanticize an archaic old fashioned Shtetl lifestyle. it gives no objective view and it even condemns & accuses western modern civilization.

As a Hasid I am horrified of a writer like Joe Berger, who acts simply out of Jewish guilt, as he doesn't hide his Hasidic parents, who left their traditional path of old eastern European Hasidic Judaism, and tries to right their wrong - by regurgitating Hasidic self sanctimonious BS.

I can bore you with thousands of detailed rebuttals, but it will suffice to say that Berger starts his book openly with this statement about his nostalgia for his parents Hasidic roots and biases. And ends with it, simply by quoting some Satmar school principal, that Hasidim are alive and main stream Jews are dead dead dead dead!

March 29, 2015

Paints a nice picture, BUT it's not the reality.
The author may have had good intentions.

But, as someone who was born into and still living this lifestyle, I can tell you that the book is NOT a true picture of the reality.

Mr. Berger got the picture -and the facts- from the people he interviewed.
Those people have their interest to paint a rosy picture. The ill parts were barely mentioned or barely mentioned.

I would go on and on, but I'm not sure that anyone will read it.

December 24, 2016

Overly admiring and rosy-colored view of a fundamentalist society
Overly admiring and rosy-colored view of a fundamentalist society. Sure, some people thrive in a tightly controlled environment with few choices, but many do not. This author's fawning treatment of the joy of Hasidic life is a warm fuzzy but he brushes right past the darker aspects of this insular world (.e.g., child sexual abuse swept under the rug, families threatened with financial ruin and violence because of minor transgressions, arranged marriages between strangers that, if you believe the author, never ever turn out badly for the participants, etc.) The info and facts about Hasidic history and customs in this book is good, but take it with a grain of salt. You should also balance this book by reading some of the many, many memoirs of people who escaped these communities.

December 20, 2015

Opening the door to a very different culture
Learning about a fascinating yet different culture broadens my appreciation for America and all its glorious diversity. As the oldest in a large Irish clan, I can appreciate the challenges of the large Hasidic families detailed in this book. However the description of the lives of women and girls in this culture, their lack of education and, more importantly, their lack of life choices was disturbing. The author's attempts to explain the reasoning behind this culture's philosophy and deeply held religious beliefs allowed those of us on the outside to appreciate the deep faith of these people.

October 7, 2016

I hope they are not the future of Judaism
The more I read this book, the more I was reminded of one time when I was in Jerusalem with a friend of mine. The day was very hot, and we were dressed in shorts and sandals. Standing nearby, motionless, as if he was waiting for someone, was a Chassidic man in full regalia and undoubtedly very uncomfortable. I said to my friend, "Don't you feel sorry for that poor guy?" My friend, a fairly observant Conservative Jew, said, "No, I do not feel sorry for him. I think he is a jerk," using a certain Yiddish word that roughly means jerk but which Amazon might not like me to print. He was a jerk, according to my friend, because he confused sterile ritual with true spirituality. Despite the many sympathetic portraits of certain individuals in the book, I keep coming back to my friend's words.

I was initially a bit put off by the hagiography of an elderly grandmother who now has around 2000 descendants. She implicitly makes the point, spelled out in an epilogue, incidentally, that the population of Chassidim is mushrooming, while non-Orthodox Jews are assimilating and wisely practicing birth control. Chassidim, the epilogue suggests, are the future of Judaism. At any rate, the book eventually dispensed with the elderly grandmother, got down to business, and presented sympathetic portraits of people who left the fold and people who remain, as well as one or two who remain but maintain connections to the secular world, sometimes secretly. I thought it was telling that Chassidim who want to watch television have to do so in the utmost secrecy.

A goodly portion of the book describes the strong-arm tactics that some Chassidim have used to acquire land or power as their community outgrew their territory in New York City and they moved to other parts of New York and New Jersey. Chassidim, it turns out, despite their apparent piety, are statistically about as guilty of various crimes as anyone else. I got a little bored with some of the anecdotes, possibly because I was vaguely familiar with them, but the book certainly fleshed them out. Indeed, I learned more than I want to know about the Chassidim and their activities.

My attention to the book was interrupted once or twice, so my reading was a little disjointed. Nevertheless, I was left with the impression that it was a collection of articles that were stitched together with insufficient editing, so (if I remember correctly) certain terms or subjects were introduced more than once, as if they were new. I suppose such redundancy is better than not introducing them at all.

Do I recommend the book? Yes, if you want to know about the Chassidim and their activities, though not as much about their beliefs or their theology, this book will be a good primer.

December 16, 2016

I remember reading Buber on the great masters and find today's Hasidim rather sad
I find the Hasidim endlessly fascinating and thebook was eminently readable. I remember reading Buber on the great masters and find today's Hasidim rather sad. I can't help wondering how much brilliance perished in the Shoa.

January 12, 2016

Joseph Berger is a very good writer. He gives an accurate unbiased understanding of ...
Joseph Berger is a very good writer. He gives an accurate unbiased understanding of the inner workings of the Hasidic community.

I really enjoyed it. And gained a lot of insight.

December 1, 2016

Extremely intetesting

April 9, 2015

Interesting but somehow dissapointing
Very interesting, but somehow dissapointing as it seems more a collection of anecdotes than one single book.

November 12, 2014

I found the 1st section of the book very good. Which delt more with the lifestyle and personal ...
I found the 1st section of the book very good. Which delt more with the lifestyle and personal stories. Later, detailing out issues of how sexual abusers, idelogical splits to be less interesting. This is from a viewpoint of a non Jew. I would have prefered to explore the beliefs, etc. Overall, a good read. From the perspective of an "insider"??

December 7, 2018

The book seemed balanced to me.
To respond to some other reviews --
There's plenty said in the book that is positive about Hasidim, and plenty that's negative. I don't know enough about them to know whether the writer landed in the right spot but it did not appear that he had an ax to grind or a particular viewpoint he wanted to push when the evidence didn't support it.

Yes, sometimes the subject changed from chapter to chapter but that didn't make the book choppy. It's not a novel, after all.

February 26, 2016

I am fascinated with this religion!
I just started reading this book so it is hard to say how good it is. I will say though it has held my interest every time I pick it up! I have to force myself to go back to work after reading it at lunch.

November 24, 2015

Four Stars
interesting and informative

May 14, 2018

Excellent look into the Hasidim
Very well written. Excellent look into the Hasidim, especially their history in Brooklyn.

June 13, 2017

Shows how strange And cultish This Ultra orthodox sect are
Just what I wanted great info about that group

October 29, 2016

Five Stars
Good read!

July 13, 2016

Five Stars
very fast pace reading.

March 13, 2016

Five Stars

January 20, 2016

Fascinating, unbiased view of the world in Kiryat Joel ...
Fascinating, unbiased view of the world in Kiryat Joel, Williamsburg. Not only their daily lives, rituals, role of women, but their battles with the government and its laws ,many of which they manipulate and circumvent.

November 22, 2015

I've enjoyed what I have read this far
It's most enlightening . I've enjoyed what I have read this far. I had to put it down to read a library book. Looking forward to picking it up shortly.

November 21, 2015

well worth reading
well written. fascinating insight into the chasidik lifestyles and groups.

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 ...Full Review

June 6, 2018

Middle of the Road
Many recent books, particularly memoirs, have taken aim at modern Hasidism, and with great justification. An often hostile and insular world, many Hasidic communities stifle freedom of expression, use economic and social pressures to force conformity, abuse government social services, fail to punish sex offenders in their midst, among other things.

Certainly, this is all true. But in The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America, by Joseph Berger, the author tries a middle road in his treatment of the many branches of Hasidism. Unlike the recent, harsh memoirs, or the idealized portraits of Hasidism by the likes of Elie Wiesel, Berger treats Hasids as real people, warts and all.

The biographical portraits he presents are of people who more or less "fit" into the Hasidic; for some Jews, Hasidism works. Berger tells their stories with compassion and understanding.

November 27, 2016

Very interesting and informative. I am an assimilated Jewish woman who does not practice any form of religion.
I was astonished by the success of the Hasidim in keeping their children so ignorant of American life and customs. I wish the author had delved more deeply into the thoughts and emotions of the Hassidic women who face no choices in their lives' directions. If the Hassidic growth rate continues so rapidly I think there will be much greater backlash from society against having to accommodate their customs. There are some similarities to current backlash against Muslim immigrants who maintain their dress and other non-assimilation customs.

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