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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Story of Isaac
It seems some members of London's Orthodox Jewish community didn't like The Marrying of Chani Kaufman. I'm guessing they weren't meant to.

This is a (mostly) very funny novel that is, literally, about the marriage of Chani Kaufman to her approved fiancé Baruch Levy. Chani is excited about the wedding but in fear of the wedding night. She has led a...
Published 16 months ago by MisterHobgoblin

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ) and I do not claim to have achieved a better understanding through reading the book
It is, I think, important to remember that this is a novel and as such a work of fiction and should be judged accordingly. I do not know if Eve Harris misrepresents conservative judaism as some reviewers have stated (I believe Harris is a secular jew?) and I do not claim to have achieved a better understanding through reading the book. I do agree, however, that the...
Published 3 months ago by peggysue23


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ) and I do not claim to have achieved a better understanding through reading the book, 29 Sep 2014
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This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman: Longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2013 (Kindle Edition)
It is, I think, important to remember that this is a novel and as such a work of fiction and should be judged accordingly. I do not know if Eve Harris misrepresents conservative judaism as some reviewers have stated (I believe Harris is a secular jew?) and I do not claim to have achieved a better understanding through reading the book. I do agree, however, that the characters - both men and women- are , generally, unsympathetically portrayed which is a weakness in the book. The main theme of the novel is the need for young women in a certain section of society to marry young and preferably well- nothing new here! Chani has turned down - and been turned down by - various suitors so there is pressure on her to accept the offer of Baruch. Pride and Prejudice sprang to mind: Mr Kaufman has 8 daughters of whom to dispose; Mrs levy's opposition to the match is a weak reflection of Lady Catherine De Bourgh and Chani is said to be 'spirited'. So Chani marries Baruch and, after a fairly disastrous wedding night, we are left to ponder the outcome. A secondary theme of the book is the story of the conservative Rabbi and his wife, Rebecca. They are portrayed as being an 'ordinary' couple in their youth but change as he becomes conservative and orthodox in his views and more obviously after they leave Jerusalem to return to the UK.The relationship is also about the power that Chaim has over Rebecca in decisions regarding their life together. A miscarriage triggers long pent up feelings and their lives change irrevocably. I felt that this was, potentially, a more interesting story that was sidetracked by the narrative of the wedding and would have liked a couple more chapters to explore her decisions and their consequences.
Overall it was an easy and undemanding read - ideal for passing time on a long journey or on a beach!
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Story of Isaac, 15 Aug 2013
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman: Longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2013 (Kindle Edition)
It seems some members of London's Orthodox Jewish community didn't like The Marrying of Chani Kaufman. I'm guessing they weren't meant to.

This is a (mostly) very funny novel that is, literally, about the marriage of Chani Kaufman to her approved fiancé Baruch Levy. Chani is excited about the wedding but in fear of the wedding night. She has led a sheltered life, the daughter of a Rabbi in a strict Orthodox community. No television; no boys; no trendy clothes; no university.

The novel then pans back and we see how Chani came to be getting married; we see into the lives of her family and the Levys; we see into the life of Baruch's best friend Avromi and his family - and his father just happens to be the rabbi who is going to officiate at Chani and Baruch's wedding.

What we find does not make for happy reading. There are layers of ritual - depicted by Eve Harris as pointless and even damaging. There is denial of reality. There is hypocrisy. And overwhelmingly, there is sweet food. Life is a constant and arduous preparation for the Sabbath, the day the Jewish community will be busily resting. Everything is a constant rush to be ready for the start of Sabbath, the moment at which all tools must be downed, all activities ceased, and everyone will have fun. Yes, through gritted teeth, they *will* have fun.

Eve Harris portrays a community leading dull lives, plenty of privations, and generally levels of tat and decay. Plus very sweet food. Nothing seems to be new and shiny apart from the honey glaze on assorted cakes. Even the wealthy Levys seem to have a Spartan quality to their palatal, leather-suited living spaces. There is an eternal feel to their world. This, of course, turns out to be a bit of a sham. It seems that many of the ultra-pious couples are denying their own children the fun that they themselves had enjoyed in more debauched times. Like in the story of Isaac, they are willing to sacrifice their children on the altar of a guilty past.

The story is not unfamiliar. Fans of Fiddler on the Roof will recognise many of the set plays. What sets The Marrying of Chani Kaufman apart is the wit. Eve Harris has a talent for pithy one liners; piercingly sarcastic lines and put downs. Obviously, Ms Harris has a particular viewpoint that colours everything she writes, but she does it so well. Her characters may seem to be cartoony stereotypes, but they are endearing and thoughtful. They are allowed conflicting emotions, frailties. And there are real questions posed by this racial group that chooses a life of isolation and separation from mainstream society. Would London be as accommodating if it were a different religious or racial group seeking to live in such an enclave?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just about okay, 26 May 2014
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I. Picornell (Channel Islands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman: Longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2013 (Kindle Edition)
I won't go into a summary of the story and that has already been done lots of times. I read this book as we chose it as a book club read because of all the good reviews it received, but I was very disappointed. I struggled through the book thinking it had to get better and merit all the rave reviews but, instead, I became increasingly bored. Don't get me wrong, it provides interesting insight into the lives and thinking of a modern day ultra-orthodox Jewish sect, but had I wanted to find that out, I would have consulted an authoritative text, and not a novel. The characters were wooden and the timeline was confusing, so quite a few times I wasn't sure who was who and where and when. The language was unimaginative and I struggled to paint a picture in my mind about how the characters and their surroundings looked like, and I was therefore unable to empathise or sympathise with them.
I've given it 3 stars because it possibly a good holiday book if you want an easy read and skim through, but how it got longlisted for the Man Booker prize is beyond me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Really not very good, 17 Sep 2013
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I have only given this book two stars because I did actually finish it . I was waiting for something thing interesting to happen . It didn't . The plot , if you can call it that ,is boy sees girl ,fancies her ,meets her marries her despite his mother thinking she is not good enough . The characters are stereotypes and I don't think it's very well written .In particular the device of jumping backwards and forwards mostly through a very short time span I found rather irritating and a poor substitute for a decent plot and characters. A while ago Naomi Alderman wrote a book called Disobedience which was about the same community . I didn't exactly love it but it was beautifully written and she had a far better understanding of the subject matter .
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Charedi Jew's Response, 27 April 2014
By 
K. G. Keet (Gateshead, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman: Longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2013 (Kindle Edition)
I am utterly dismayed that so many people read this book and feel that it has given them an insight in to the world of Charedi Judaism.

The book depicts this community as a dirty, sweaty miserable bunch of people who feel fettered by the traditions that bind them. There was not one character who displayed real knowledge of Jewish wisdom, not one character who was motivated by Jewish faith in it's genuine guise, and not one character who was actually HAPPY! The author, an outsider to this world, has created characters who are secular in mindset, clothed them in drab, frumpy wigs and costumes she perceives as the norm (insulting and inaccurate), spattered their dialogue with 'Baruch Hashem's' and so on, and propped them up for the unknowing reader as Torah Jews. Basically, if she placed her secular self in this world, with her exceedingly superficial knowledge, this is how she would feel. But it is not how the real people of this world feel! In fact, most feel fulfilled, most are living lives rich with meaning and purpose, even, believe it or not, enhanced by their large families! Most feel that freedom only comes with adherence to Torah Judaism, and would see the Rebbetzin's final actions are in fact a descent FROM freedom. I know this to be true because this is my life and this is how I feel. Eve Harris just doesn't have a clue.
And why does she feel the need to comment on the size of every female character's bottom? She sees herself as a feminist I'm sure, but her continued observations about the bodies' of these women seems almost misogynistic at times. Or perhaps this animosity is only reserved for overweight religious women.
She also makes myriad mistakes about Jewish Law, and I feel I must underline the most outrageous ones as it incenses me to think that people might believe these to be true:
1) A marriage does not have to be consummated on the first night.
2) The Sheva Brachot are not to keep the couple apart - they are a series of festive meals to celebrate with the couple and shower them with blessing. The couple are in fact supposed not to work during these days, and must spend time together celebrating, and they share the same bedroom, so clearly this is a ridiculous claim.
3) The bride and groom are taught before their marriage exactly what sex involves. Chani and Baruch's wonderings about what they are supposed to do is entirely imaginary. Harris clearly came to her own conclusions about this without researching what is actually taught in the one-to-one classes that brides and grooms attend.
4) The use of musical instruments is forbidden on the Sabbath - this is pretty basic so I don't know how Harris came to depict a synagogue full of supposedly religious people playing instruments on the Sabbath. Such a glaring error emphasizes Harris' utter ignorance.
There are many many more mistakes - see the other reviews written by Orthodox people on this site.

Harris clearly despises religious Jews (who would include a mention of stone throwing in a definition of Hassidim? Is this a fundamental of Chaissidic Judaism? Would anyone dare to mention Islamic terrorisism in defining a major stream of Islam? [the first part of the definition is anyway inaccurate - she has confused Chassidism with the Luthuanian tradition]) but her apparent fascination with the sex lives of Charedi Jews propelled her to set herself up as an authority on this community and produce this book.

If you are genuinely interested in learning about the Torah approach to relationships, read 'The Magic Touch' by Gila Manolson, an easy but comprehensive read. If you are interested in learning about Jewish philosophy, read 'The Thinking Jewish Teenager's Guide to Life' by Akiva Tatz. If you would like to know about Jewish life and faith, read 'The Committed Life' by Esther Jungreis.

Do not read The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, it is nonsense.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars She doesn't really understand the world she is writing about, 31 Dec 2013
This book stands and falls on how well the author knows her subject. There is little plot and the entire novelty of the book depends on its depiction of the ultra-orthodox Jewish Community.

The author knows a great deal about the community but she doesn't understand the community and there are numerous basic errors. A simple perusal of the glossary shows this. For instance:

In most synagogues sermons are not given from a bimah.
broiges does not mean "sulky, moody" but usually refers to a quarrel.
B'esrat Hashem (not B'srat hashem) means 'with the help of God
No ultra-orthodox Jew would use the pronounciation 'chollah' for 'challoh'
Yeshiva bocher is not a talented yeshiva scholar but merely a boy at Yeshiva.

One could go on.

The author seems to be generally ignorant of what is Hebrew and what is Yiddish. Has she confused the Yiddish bocher (boy) for Hebrew bocher (choose)?

It is not only in Hebrew and Yiddish where she is lexically challenged. On would have thought that an editor would have corrected her English, 'slither' is used several times for 'sliver'. And where does 'thin as a pickle' come from?

A major problem with these cardboard cutout characters is that they do not appear to be defined by anything other than being as ultra-orthodox. But what ultra-orthodox? Several times the author suggests that they are Hassidim. They look for marriages with nice Hassidisher families. They have dreams about the Baal Shem Tov. One even has a photograph of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the wall! But nothing about the way the families behave otherwise fits with them being Hassidic. What we are told about there rituals, lifestyle and attitudes is quite definitely not Hassidic and the English transliteration of the Hebrew and Yiddish is cerainly not Hassidic. This is because ultimately the author is clueless about ultra-orthodoxy and does not really have a feel for it. She has picked up a great deal of knowledge on the fringe but no real understanding.

If she understood the community she would have realised that Chaim Zilberman after becoming Orthodox at 23 would not be able to acquire the depth of background knowledge to serve or be accepted as an ultra-orthodox Rabbi. She would know that unlikely as it would be that such a Rabbi would allow his son to study at University this would only be after he had been at Yeshiva for many years.

Given the author's lack of comprehension of the superficial aspects of the community that she is writing about it would be unreasonable to expect that has any understanding of what goes on in their bedrooms.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Oi Vey!, 12 Aug 2013
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Amazon Customer (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman: Longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2013 (Kindle Edition)
I picked up this book after seeing it feature on the Man Booker Prize Long List for 2013.

Born to Israeli-Polish parents, author Eve Harris has spent most of her professional life teaching most recently in an all girls' ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in North West London as well as a three year stint in Tel Aviv. She is married and has a daughter. Her insight in 'The Marrying of Chani Kaufman' is evidently borne out of her experiences within this community; the characters likely to be manifestations of her own musings.

This book gives the reader access into the bell-jar of life growing up in the Jewish community in North London. What is it like inside this bell-jar? And how does the outside world look from within? These are questions that are intricately answered throughout this book. More importantly however how does the key value of freedom hold up in the rigidity of religious and cultural obligations? What role does the individual have when the authority of religion governs?

Whilst most of the book is dedicated to introspective examinations of the various characters, Harris actually excels in her vivid descriptions of the surroundings; her ability to capture the excitement and passion of the pre-Shabbes preparations are some of the more enjoyable moments of the book.

It is a delightful story of the regimented nuances of the most pious. In particular Harris addresses arranged marriages. Whilst this is by no means an original concept for a book Eve Harris' writing is so honest and believable that it resonates on a personal level regardless of your ethnic background (but I do think Jewish people may find the book slightly more amusing). Beyond the spiritual and theological reflections the book remains a short story of love, family and responsibility - something that everyone should be able to relate to; a book that enhances your level of empathy in an increasingly secularised world. It is not an entirely accurate description of orthodox Jewish culture - but i don't think the book should be judged on these merits.

[A special mention must go to the inclusion of the Yiddish-English glossary at the end for all you 'Goyim'!]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Was hoping for more, 19 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman: Longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2013 (Kindle Edition)
Enjoyed it but not as good as all the hype around it wish there had been one more chapter felt like it just stopped!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars If you think you have understood the Orthodox Jewish community from this book, you are quite mistaken, 27 July 2014
Finally read this book. What a disappointment. The writing is not particularly sophisticated, which I can handle, although I was surprised to see the Man Booker people thought it was worthy of the longlist.

But the important point: I find it interesting that most of the reviews are positive. But looking through them they seem to be from people (Jews or otherwise) who have had no exposure to orthodox Jews, and are grateful for the book having "opened a window on this closed community". I am sorry to say that if you read this book and think you got an accurate picture of the community, you are quite mistaken. (I write as a member of the orthodox Jewish community of Hendon.) Many of the practices and rituals described are partially accurate, and there is a basis in truth. But it is riddled with inaccuracies, some subtle but many so obvious it is quite clear they are figments of the author's imagination. It is being charitable to say that she has been lax in her research. One year's teaching in a Jewish secondary school hardly qualifies her as an expert on our community's intimate practices. And the crude stereotypes. Why is there not one happy, contented Jewish character?

Please don't think you have come away with an accurate understanding of what everyday life is really like for the people you see on the streets of Golders Green, Hendon, Stamford Hill, Prestwich (Manchester) and Bensham (Gateshead). If you do, then like the author you are quite mistaken.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, thought-provoking and an excellent read, 31 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman: Longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2013 (Kindle Edition)
Above all, an excellent read, with believable characters leading believable lives and with whom you sympathised. So good to read a book that is not based on the chase for money, fame and Prince Charming - unlike the standard chicklit heroine ending up with the rich, handsome rockstar. It reminded me of Vickram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy'. I can see why some of the Jewish readers would dislike the book and it does seem rather ambitious for an outsider to write about a very private community, but I thought that Eve Harris did a good job of sharing the spirituality and sense of community with the readers as well as detailing some of the less appealing aspects. I should say, less appealing to those of us who stand outside them; I imagine that all cultures have elements that appear unpleasant to others. There is certainly plenty to despise in today's 'free' world. So, in the end, a well written, fascinating and thought-provoking book.
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