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February 17: Chaim Potok

February 17, 2014

imagesRabbi Chaim Potok, whose novels The Chosen (1967) and My Name Is Asher Lev (1972) introduced America to the inner worlds and contradictions of Orthodox Jews, was born in the Bronx on this date in 1929. Raised Orthodox, he began writing fiction at age 16, became a Conservative rabbi, and then spent two years as a U.S. Army chaplain in South Korea — where his understanding of religious diversity, he later wrote, was greatly expanded, not only by the soldiers he served, but by Korean civilization, which had its own, non-Western religious fervency. In the 1960s Potok served as managing editor of Conservative Judaism, joined the faculty of the Teachers’ Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary, became editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia, and earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. His illustrated non-fiction survey of Jewish history, Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews, was published in 1978. In all, Potok published twenty books before succumbing to cancer at age 73.

“Two hundred or more years ago most people on the planet were never aware of any reality other than the one into which they were brought up.” -Chaim Potok