The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America
The Hasidim are a fascinating subset. Obsessed with rules for living that approach obsessive-compulsive, they eschew television, formal upper education, books about anything but their cults/tribes/religion. Deliberate, chosen ignorance; while at the same time they engage in lifelong learning, within the fences of Torah and Talmud.
Largely derived and expanded from the Eastern European rabbinic subcults of personality that came so close to extermination during the holocaust, they remain in their culturally curtailed ranks with enthusiasm and energy. Each affiliation has its own particular (highly uncomfortable) fashion dictates, so cognoscenti can differentiate between Lubavitchers and Satmar and the thirty or so other sects.
The Hasidim preserve and indeed cling desperately to Jewish tradition and the Yiddish language, and attempt to isolate themselves from the secular and other-religious world. They form insular communities, “take in each other’s laundry.” Often disregarding municipal regulations, lobbying for special considerations, they are quite effective in getting their way in the face of opposition.
Mr. Berger has done this exploration with sympathy, empathy, and in often very personal points of view. He does show the effervescence possible within lives spent totally convinced of the attention of a deity, ensconced in a richly detailed, even labyrinthine religious life.