Chosen by God: A Brother's Journey


Written with sensitivity and insight, Chosen by God makes for compelling reading. -The Jewish Week

This 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Award Finalist tells the extraordinary story of Joshua Hammer search to reconnect with his brother, Tony and his new existence as an ultra-orthodox Jew renamed Tuvia. Growing up in a non-religious household in Manhattan, Josh never conceived that Tony would end up in an arranged marriage and devoting his life to the Torah in a closed, cloistered ...

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Written with sensitivity and insight, Chosen by God makes for compelling reading. -The Jewish Week

This 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Award Finalist tells the extraordinary story of Joshua Hammer search to reconnect with his brother, Tony and his new existence as an ultra-orthodox Jew renamed Tuvia. Growing up in a non-religious household in Manhattan, Josh never conceived that Tony would end up in an arranged marriage and devoting his life to the Torah in a closed, cloistered world in which outsiders were not welcome. As Josh follows his brother metamorphic path from a life-changing stay in Jerusalem through Tuvia newfound religious fervor, he grows to better understand his brother, as well as the most frightening and exotic territory for a foreign correspondent: his own family" -(Dani Shapiro).

"A wonderful debut by a superb journalist." -James McBride

"A clear-eyed reckoning with the spirits of alienation and belonging that haunt our relations to our blood kin and to God." -Philip Gourevitch

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
What happens when two brothers' paths deviate because one becomes a religious fundamentalist? This question is sensitively explored in this absorbing and deeply felt memoir. Hammer is a successful journalist, having written articles for several national magazines and served as foreign correspondent and Los Angeles Bureau Chief for Newsweek. In this, his first book, his journalistic experience is evidenced by a well-written, accessible account and easy-to-read prose. Hammer focuses on his relationship with his younger brother, Tony (now called Tuvia, "the Blessed One of God"), four years his junior. Originally a liberal Jew, Tony was involved in politics as a youth and aspired to an acting career. On a trip to Israel, he became attracted to a Hasidic yeshiva, and on his return sought out a counterpart in Monsey, N.Y., home to several pious sects. He accepted an arranged marriage, produced a large family and devoted himself to full-time study of the Torah and the Talmud. After 16 years of practically no contact, Hammer visited his brother and his family eight times during the course of a year, attempting to understand his brother's decision to renounce the secular world. Hammer scrutinizes the impact of Tuvia's ultra-Orthodox beliefs and practices on their nonobservant parents. He pulls no punches in describing Tuvia's life, including what he sees as his brother's religious extremism and racism, but admires his devotion and wishes him success. This perceptive narrative warmly recounts how, in one case, tolerant acceptance gradually replaced suspicious mistrust. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In his first book, Newsweek correspondent Hammer writes about his troubled younger brother, Tony. The two brothers, children of divorce, had always taken different paths. Joshua, the older, more responsible son, had followed in his father's footsteps and become a noted journalist. Tony, always unsure of himself, found certainty and guidance during a trip to Israel, where he became an orthodox Jew. His lifestyle alienated his family, and Joshua lost contact with Tony, now Tuyve, for many years. In this book, Hammer insightfully details their reunion, recounting the time he spent with Tuyve and his large family in an orthodox suburb of New York. We see that Tuyve remains a troubled figure--he still has difficulty holding down a job--but spirtuality provides meaning for him and his family. An insightful look at modern orthodox Jewish life from the inside, this book can be enjoyed by Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike. It is interesting to compare this book to a film on a similar transformation, The Return: The Story of a Young Jewish Couple's Journey to Orthodoxy (Video Reviews, LJ 5/15/99). Recommended for large general libraries and all libraries serving a Jewish clientele.--Paul M. Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 ofanger, 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."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786864287
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 11/10/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.62 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2004


    The Writer had a difficult youth life, thus views many aspects negatively. He puts drama and emphasis on the disapproving side. The lack of detail accuracy and loath towards religion glares out of every page. 1) Interesting how the writer himself admits his equanimity over his brother -his struggles or even skilled advantages and success- when they were young, yet can¿t accept him with his religious ¿fanaticism¿ Claiming at same time that he is concerned for his welfare. Although his brother seems to have found a caring tight-knit community where one could rely for assistance at a moments notice, Hammer spews venom toward their leaders. 2) His brother¿s life struggles are elaborated in full color and detail and point a finger toward his poverty and lack of profession, whereas his father¿s life struggles are placidly mentioned (although he¿s what others would call a self-made success). 3) Coincidentally I read the book Bias just before reading this book and its clear that the journalist within the writer purposely omits or smoothes over many a happy family life¿s moments, or the security that his nephews and nieces enjoy more than he did.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2000

    Don't Know Author, Loved Book

    I have absolutely no acquaintance with the author of this book, but found it fascinating and unputdownable. Since I do know intimately the ultra-Orthodox world he describes, I can attest that Hammer has got the ambience and the atmosphere just right. Unfortunately, his memory fails him on a lot of the details of halachic observance. An expert should have carefully reviewed this book before publication. But these flaws do not detract from the compelling story. The psychological implications are telling; the more sensitive brother is drawn to ultra-Orthodoxy, seeking the warmth of family and the acceptance he never knew growing up. He finds a substitute father in a charismatic Hasidic rabbi. The book also reveals the economic underpinnings of a society where men are not expected to earn a living, yet father large families. The families live in poverty, supported by the pittance wives can earn and by a small stipend from the yeshiva. Friends do favors, give to those less well off than themselves. But the major economic support of these families is the well-off secular parents who pay for housing, tuition, and everything else their children and grandchildren need. It is a cynical system indeed, and the compassion of parents is fully exploited. The wives shoulder a disproportionate burden, and they, too, are fully exploited. Hammer does not go beyond reportage, but the facts speak for themselves. One would have liked deeper analysis and thoughtfulness. But the book is well worth reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 1999


    I couldn't put this book down. I liked it a lot because it explained clearly and in detail how a modern young boy grew up and became a holy man, and how his brother, with acts of love and kindness, helped him. I learned a lot about a life style seemingly mysterious and alien and discovered how people are not as different as they sometimes think. I admired the honesty and courage in reporting and found the ending hopeful.

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