Rabbi-turned-author Chaim Potok, whose Orthodox Jewish upbringing inspired his book — and later a movie and play — “The Chosen” as well as almost 20 other books exploring the clash between religious and secular life, died Tuesday July 23 of brain cancer in his suburban Philadelphia home. He was 73.
“The Chosen,” published in 1967 and Potok’s first and best-known novel, was made into a 1981 movie starring Robby Bensonand also became an Off Broadway play.
“The Chosen” earned the Edward Lewis Wallant Award, and its sequel, “The Promise,” published in 1969, won the Athenaem Prize. His 1972 novel, “My Name Is Asher Lev,” explored the conflicts faced by an Orthodox Jew who becomes a painter.
Potok also wrote plays, children’s literature, nonfiction, and short stories. In 1999, he received an O. Henry Award for the short story “Moon.”
After five novels, Potok researched and wrote his first nonfiction book, “Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews.” He also assisted the late violinist Isaac Stern with his autobiography, “My First Seventy-nine Years.”
Herman Harold Potok was born in the Bronx, eldest son of Jewish immigrants from Poland. Raised in the Orthodox tradition, he embraced Conservative Judaism as a young adult and was eventually ordained a Conservative rabbi in 1954 after English at Yeshiva U. and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He served as an Army chaplain during the Korean War and later received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the U. of Pennsylvania.
He also was editor in chief of the Jewish Publication Society of America and taught at Penn, Bryn Mawr College and Johns Hopkins U.
He is survived by Adena, his wife of 44 years; two daughters; and a son.