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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An education wrapped up in a fascinating Jewish wedding story
4.5 stars.

A read I couldn't resist, as a secular Jew who knows nothing of my cultural heritage.

I wasn't at all disappointed. I can see some very critical reviews of this but I loved it. It's a real education into a hidden world for those not of the community.

19-year-old Jewish girl Chani is about to marry Baruch, another observant Jew...
Published 9 months ago by K. J. Noyes

versus
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Charedi Jew's Response
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...
Published 3 months ago by K. G. Keet


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An education wrapped up in a fascinating Jewish wedding story, 5 Oct 2013
By 
K. J. Noyes "Katy Noyes" (Derbyshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
4.5 stars.

A read I couldn't resist, as a secular Jew who knows nothing of my cultural heritage.

I wasn't at all disappointed. I can see some very critical reviews of this but I loved it. It's a real education into a hidden world for those not of the community.

19-year-old Jewish girl Chani is about to marry Baruch, another observant Jew from London. We see their courtship, their family lives, their customs. And through the Rabbi's wife, Rivka, who is teaching Chani the wifely duties, we see another generation's perspective and young life and how marriage to a Rabbi changes her life.

I found it a real eye-opener. I really appreciated just how dedicated the Jewish people are, constantly, in everything they do, to their beliefs. I loved the insight into the customs (ritual baths, wigs, not touching until marriage).

The wedding bookends worked well, with Chani's wedding returned to again with more knowledge of the trials of her courtship and fleshing out of her character and that of her groom. It helped to complete the picture having Baruch's voice as part of the novel, a young man struggling to follow traditions but also to fit them into his more modern world.

Very good book, with a highly useful glossary of Hebrew-English terminology at the back that I referred to constantly.
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39 of 42 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 (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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6 of 7 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
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read and a wonderful insight into a hidden world, 24 Oct 2013
By 
SK (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (Kindle Edition)
This is a great read populated by warm, complex, beautifully described characters that you really care about. A wonderful insight into a hidden world but with universal resonance.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immersion into the world of the ultra-orthodox, 18 Oct 2013
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (Kindle Edition)
The two opening chapters, set in November 2008, show ultra-orthodox Judaism in some of its most inhibiting manifestations: in the first, Chani Kaufman and Baruch Levy, aged 20 and 19, are about to be married. They have scarcely known each other; neither of them had as much as touched the other; each is ignorant and terrified of what lay ahead of them on their wedding night. In the second chapter, Rivka, the 44 year old wife of Rabbi Chaim Zilberman, has a miscarriage and Chaim is lamed while he tries to decide between the two Laws, one forbidding contact with a woman who is bleeding, another saying that the saving of life is imperative; and when the ambulance arrives, he is distressed that her hair is uncovered.

And more inhibitions continue for much of the rest of the book as it darts backwards (and then forwards again) for the events leading up to the wedding and the miscarriage. Yes, most of the characters in the book experience spiritual rewards in the rituals - and in fact, whereas Chani and Baruch had been born into ultra-orthodoxy, the Rabbi and his wife had not: aged 23 and 18 respectively, they had been drawn to it and had voluntarily embraced it back in the early 1980s. But now, a quarter of a century on, the Rebbetzin found the orthodoxy stifling and formalistic; her husband had become harsh and intolerant; and "the drug of spiritual bliss had worn off and she had little appetite for the next fix".

What is the author's attitude towards all this? There is humour in many of her descriptions: sometimes it is indulgent; sometimes compassionate; quite often mocking, especially in her portrayal of Baruch's wealthy and snobbish mother (one of the delights of the book is how the spirited young Chani stands up to her), and of the ghastly Mrs Gelbmann, the professional shadchan (match-maker). And at times Eve Harris seems really angry, when she describes how lives have been blighted. So some orthodox readers will be hostile, while secular readers who have not known anything about this life-style may be intrigued and possibly repelled by it.

The book is full of atmosphere and very well written.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the fascination of the unfamiliar, 8 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (Kindle Edition)
Aren't we all fascinated by the unfamiliar? We are curious about people who live in a world that seems strange and closed in, keeping centuries-old customs and laws. Most of all we are perturbed by they way they cut themselves off from modern life.

The appeal of Eve Harris' debut novel - longlisted for the Man Booker prize - is that it speaks to those who know something of the Charedi world, and those who know nothing. The Marrying of Chani Kaufman tells the story of a young woman in her late teens who is preparing to enter an arranged marriage. After only four dates the fate of Chani and her prospective bridegroom Baruch is sealed. They know little about each other, still less about sex. But they do know what is expected of them by their families, their Rabbi, their community, and most of all by God (HaShem).

The author tells the story with humour and compassion, making it hard for the reader to put the book down. We know what is going to happen to Chani and Baruch, but we are eager for details - and this is what we get: an insight into the fraught wedding preparations, the interactions of two sets of incompatible parents and the turbulent life of an onlooker, the Rebbetzin (the wife of the Rabbi who is to perform the ceremony.)

Eve Harris leads us into a world of families with many children ("even the love Chani received was of the hand-me-down kind"). She explains the expectations of marriage ("A good Yiddisher girl to stir the cholent and light their Shabbos candles. An instant wife - just add water.") She has got under the skin of these Jews, understanding not only their customs but their social motivation. She writes warmly and without judgement, though at times her characters reveal some of her own opinions (I'll leave it to other readers to guess where her sympathies lie in the male-centred world of ultra-orthodox Judaism.)

One word of advice: don't hesitate to check the glossary at the end if you find some of the Jewish/Hebrew/Yiddish terms confusing. For example HaShem means God, Baruch Hashem is an expression meaning 'thank God', but Baruch happens to be the name of the bridegroom.

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman is a good read. I finished it in a couple of days, enjoying Harris' acid wit and deep understanding of the Charedi world. Next time we encounter black-hatted Jews with young wives, trailing many children, we may stop to think. They may not see us, as we are outside 'their world', but thanks to Harris' book we now have a greater insight into their hopes and fears, and the strength of character that makes them continue in a tradition that has lasted for centuries.
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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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An attack on Orthodox Judaism, 6 April 2014
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All the characters portrayed as being orthodox jews were unsympathetic at best, or down right mean, avaricious and hypocritical at worst. It seems that the authoress has some kind of vendetta against orthodox Judaism. She does not hesitate to tell outight lies about the sex education given to Orthodox young people. At the conclusion of her book, the one and only likeable orthodox character (Chani) decides that her fulfilment lies in pursuing maths and sciences. Her religion is depicted as outdated, archaic, superstitious, and something better abandoned. IN the opinion of this reviewer, her book is better abandoned.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frum in Golders Green/Hendon LONDON, 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (Kindle Edition)
A tender, and at times frank peak behind the Scheitel (wig) culture of the Ultra-Orthodox community in the Golders Green/Hendon area of London.

It is a brave thing that a non-Haredi chooses to write about a culture that keeps its doors firmly closed to the outside world of modern Western culture. But I think the author has really achieved a good balance of insight, empathy and reality (as far as one can tell, of course), and for this she was rewarded by being included on the Man Booker Longlist of 2013.

Chani, in her late teens, is waiting to be approached by the shadchan (the matchmaker) with a proposition from a potential husband, just to meet and spend a little time together. Her suitor is Baruch who espied her at a wild wedding celebration.

The story line is interwoven with the stories of others, all of whom have a connection to the couple, and through their eyes we glimpse a little of what life can be like in the Orthodox community. Like any of us, the individuals are trying to find their way through life, deflecting the bad, and embracing the good. There are a huge amount of strictures to observe in everyday life for those who aspire to be frum (religious/observant) - from food preparation, to interaction between the sexes, attire, you name it. There seems to be an overriding sense of monochrome 'colouring' their lives, a touch lacklustre, and a depressing lack of information when it comes to sex (so it was interesting to see such a brightly coloured cover on this book). But who are any of us to judge a choice of lifestyle, one which clearly becomes deeply ingrained in each new baby that arrives, and is clearly based on a very strong sense of community.

If you are not familiar with the ways of the Ultra Orthodox community, it will certainly be a revelation. It is beautifully written, well observed and for the most part sensitively written.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye opener!, 8 Jan 2014
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Great book. Sympathetic and well written. Shows the "other culture" within British society - ultra Orthodox Jews in modern life. Chani is a super character. Really worth the read. Brilliant for book groups. We have recommended it to all our friends.
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