Biography of Chaim Potok (1929-)
Chaim Potok, born Herman Harold Potok, was the son of Polish immigrants and was reared in an Orthodox Jewish home. He was born in February of 1929 in New York City, where he attended religious schools. However, as a young man he became fascinated by less restrictive Jewish doctrines, particularly the Conservative side of Judaism. He attended Yeshiva University and graduated summa cum laude in English literature in 1950 before moving on to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he was ordained a Conservative rabbi. Potok then taught at several Jewish colleges, including the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, before moving on to become the managing editor of Conservative Judaism in 1964.
Potok spent a year in Israel completing his doctoral dissertation on philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965 and the following year he became the editor of the Jewish Publication Society of America, which he remained for eight years before becoming a special-projects editor of the publication in 1974. Throughout his career in publishing, Dr. Potok wrote numerous popular articles and reviews.
Potok began his career as an author and novelist in 1967 with the publication of The Chosen, which stands as the first book from a major publisher to portray Orthodox Judaism in the United States. With its story about the friendship between the son of a Hasidic rabbi and a more secularly-minded Jewish boy in Brooklyn, The Chosen established Potok?s reputation. Critics praised the book for its vivid rendering of the closed Hasidic community, while many considered it to be an allegory about the survival of Judaism. Potok followed The Chosen with a sequel two years later called The Promise. Potok returned to the subject of Hasidism for a third time with the 1972 novel My Name is Asher Lev, the story of a young artist and his conflict with the traditions of his family and community. Potok followed this novel with a sequel, as well, publishing The Gift of Asher Lev eighteen years later in 1990.
Potok continued to examine the conflict between secular and religious interests in his other novels as well, which include In the Beginning in 1975, The Book of Lights in 1981, and Davita?s Harp in 1985. His most recent works include I am the Clay, published in 1992, The Tree of Here in 1993, and the 1995 novel The Sky of Now. Potok also published several major non-fiction works, including Wanderings: Chaim Potok?s History of the Jews (1978) and
Potok's next four novels, the autobiographical In the Beginning (1975), The Book of Lights (1981), Davita's Harp (1985), and The Gift of Asher Lev (1990), also examine the conflict between religious and secular interests. I Am the Clay appeared in 1992, the illustrated The Tree of Here in 1993, and The Sky of Now in 1995. Notable among Potok's nonfiction writings are Wanderings: Chaim Potok's History of the Jews (1978), in which the author combines impressive scholarship with dramatic narrative, and The Gates of November, a 1996 chronicle of a Jewish family in the Soviet Union.