Home » JLife

Chosen To Write: Chaim Potok

Submitted by

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestled with an angel and emerged as Israel, “He who struggles.” In the 20th-21st century, Western Jews spend a great amount of energy wrestling with the world of tradition and the demands of the modern world. Few writers have portrayed this inner conflict of the American Jewish community as engagingly as Chaim Potok (1929-2002), a man who lived this struggle himself.

Herman Harold Potok was born in The Bronx, NY. His family was not-quite Chassidic and Chaim Tzvi, as he was called, spent his childhood learning in Yeshiva. As a boy, Potok was interested in art, particularly painting. Hearing only discouraging words from his family, however, he turned his creativity to words.

Potok graduated suma cum laude with a B.A. in English Literature from Yeshiva University (1950), received rabbinic ordination and a Masters in Chassidic Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1954) and a PhD in Philosophy from University of Pennsylvania (1965). Although he never held a rabbinic post, he served as a U.S. Combat Chaplain in Korea.

The Chosen, Potok’s first and best-known novel, was published in 1967. It spent 39 weeks on the bestseller list. The Chosen, which was made into a major motion picture in 1981, is the story of a friendship that develops between two Jewish youth, one Chassidic and one Modern Orthodox.  Each boy is drawn to the other’s world. The majority of his other novels continued to draw on similar Jewish themes. His other well-known works are: The Promise, My Name is Asher Lev, The Gift of Asher Lev, and Davita’s Harp.

In addition to his writing, Potok served as the editor of the Jewish Publication Society of America for eight years before taking on a different role there as the special-projects editor. Potok taught at numerous colleges and universities.

Chaim Potok died on July 23, 2002-14 Av 5762.

Email this post Email this post
Bookmark and Share

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.

2 + = 8

Jmag Search
Search now! »
Please enter a zip code.


  • What costume do you find most attractive on a potential date?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...