Chaim Potok (1929-2002)

Presented by Ritta Vladut to the Calgary Women’s Literary Club
October 13, 2020

Chaim Potok was born in New York City in the Bronx, the son of Polish immigrants. He received a primary education in Jewish schools where he studied secular subjects and the Talmud. His father wanted him to become a rabbi, however Potok did not have the inclination to live in a Hasidic community. This subject is very common in his writings, the confrontation between the Hasidic community’s education of children versus more modern Orthodox communities.

Potok received his M.A. in Hebrew literature. At the age of 25 he was ordained a Conservative rabbi. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965. In 1983 Potok was a visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.

His first book published was The Chosen, the story of two young boys, the rivalry and friendship between a progressive Orthodox Jewish scholar and a young Hasid. The Chosen was a bestseller for more than six months and was nominated for the National Book Award. His next book was The Promise which follows the same characters.

In his writings, Potok was trying to explain young people’s wish for their own life, their struggle to learn and to be religious at the same time.

In 1972 he published My Name is Asher Lev which also discusses a young artist’s conflicts with tradition, family and community. Potok’s following works are about conflict between religious and secular philosophy.

Potok also wrote nonfiction, such as Wanderings, Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews (1978) and The Gates of November (1996) which chronicles the life of a Soviet Jewish family.

Selected works:

The Chosen, 1967
The Promise, 1969
My Name is Asher Lev, 1972
In the Beginning, 1975
The Book of Lights, 1981
Davita’s Harp, 1985
I am the Clay, 1992