CHOSEN BY GOD by Joshua Hammer


A Brother's Journey
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A deeply affecting family memoir about the author’s brother, who, within a matter of months, changed from a kind of hippie lost soul in Jerusalem to a baal teshuva (literally, “master of repentance”)—a newly pious Jew. For many years Hammer, an international correspondent for Newsweek, had been horrified by the increasing fervor of his brother, Tuvia (originally Tony). He was astonished and dismayed by Tuvia’s “humorless certainty,— as well as his hermetic existence in the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Monsey, New York, where Tuvia and his wife, Ahuva (another —BT—), had settled to raise a large family in near-poverty, surrounded by like-minded Jews whose ignorance of and disdain for modern culture was sometimes accompanied by ethnic chauvinism and racism. Hammer also watched his brother evolve into a “stern unbending moralist” when it came to even the faintest allusion to sex or having fun. Almost all the family income was provided by Ahuva, as Tuvia spent most of his time praying and studying Talmud. Now, Hammer struggles to understand his brother’s leap into absolute faith and an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle against the background of their parents— divorce, their father’s professional crises, and the deaths, all within a year, of their half-sister and two of Tuvia’s closest friends. During eight visits to Monsey, he talks at length to Tuvia and immerses himself deeply in Tuvia’s communal life and rituals even as he persists in his own atheism. He thus slowly comes to appreciate the striving for holiness and family that attracted Tuvia and now provide the guidelines for his life. Near the end of the book, he acknowledges that “my own impressions of him had evolved through shades of anger, frustration, empathy, and acceptance.— Hammer’s achievement in this first book is to render a deft, well-written of his brother’s ultrapietistic life with a fine balance of journalistic objectivity and the nuanced understanding of a man whose struggle to know his brother has made him something of an “insider.”

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1999
ISBN: 0-7868-6428-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999


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