A Seat at the Table: A Nov­el of For­bid­den Choices

  • Review
By – December 20, 2011

This enjoy­able book tells the sto­ry of Elisha, son of a Holo­caust sur­vivor and beloved rab­bi in a Chas­sidic com­mu­ni­ty in Brook­lyn, who wants much more than to study Tal­mud in the yeshi­va. He emu­lates his uncle Shaya by read­ing sec­u­lar lit­er­a­ture, attend­ing uni­ver­si­ty, and tast­ing the out­side world, slow­ly mov­ing away phys­i­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly from his strict­ly reli­gious home life and iso­lat­ed community. 

This is an updat­ed vari­a­tion of Chaim Potok’s clas­sic The Cho­sen, although in this sto­ry the father is open and lov­ing and Elisha’s rebel­lion is more extreme. Elisha’s father tells his son Chas­sidic tales to reach out to him; Elisha repeats the old para­bles to his Gen­tile friends, demon­strat­ing how attached he real­ly is to his roots. 

Chas­sidic social and reli­gious life is vivid­ly described by the author, who knows what he’s talk­ing about; Hal­ber­stam, a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy, is the grand­son of the first Chas­sidic Rebbe who moved to Bor­ough Park after World War II, and both his par­ents come from unbro­ken gen­er­a­tions of illus­tri­ous rab­bis trac­ing back to the six­teenth century.

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams is a Cuban-born, Brook­lyn-raised, Long Island-resid­ing mom. She is Hadas­sah Nas­sau’s One Region One Book chair­la­dy, a free­lance essay­ist, and a cer­ti­fied yoga instruc­tor who has loved review­ing books for the JBC for the past ten years.

Discussion Questions