Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers

An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls

255 pages

August, 2004

ISBN: 9780814751978



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Stephanie Wellen Levine teaches at Tufts University.

All books by Stephanie Wellen Levine

Carol Gilligan is University Professor of Applied Psychology and the Humanities at New York University. She is the author or editor of many books, including In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development and Joining the Resistance.

All books by Carol Gilligan

From the ardently religious young woman who longs for the life of a male scholar to the young rebel who visits a strip club, smokes pot, and agonizes over her loss of faith to the proud Lubavitcher with a desire for a high-powered career, Stephanie Wellen Levine provides a rare glimpse into the inner worlds and daily lives of these Hasidic girls.

Lubavitcher Hasidim are famous for their efforts to inspire secular Jews to become more observant and for their messianic fervor. Strict followers of Orthodox Judaism, they maintain sharp gender-role distinctions.

Levine spent a year living in the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, participating in the rhythms of Hasidic girlhood. Drawing on many intimate hours among Hasidim and over 30 in-depth interviews, Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers offers rich portraits of individual Hasidic young women and how they deal with the conflicts between the regimented society in which they live and the pull of mainstream American life.

This superbly crafted book offers intimate stories from Hasidic teenagers' lives, providing an intriguing twist to a universal theme: the struggle to grow up and define who we are within the context of culture, family, and life-driving beliefs.


  • "In an age that is at times overly concerned with girls' self-destruction, here is a welcome sign of girls' strength and healthy development. Levine teaches an important and seldom taught lesson: we may find resilience where we least expect it. Her unprecedented insight into this hidden culture is an important addition to the growing body of work on girls.”

    —Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out

  • "Lively tales of girls who long for the lives of male scholars, and rebels who visit strip clubs, smoke pot, and dream of high-powered careers."

    Books to Watch out For

  • "Stephanie Levine's book is full of surprises."


  • "In an era seemingly plagued with sex, anorexia and depression among our nation's girls, a page from Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers is a refreshing peek into the possibilities for growth, strength and self."

    The Jewish New Weekly of Northern California

  • "At all times, Levine's genuine respect for the community shines through. The book is eminently readable and undoubtedly fascinating."

    Jewish Chronicle

  • "A vivid portrayal of the Lubavitcher community."

    Library Journal

  • "[Levine's] empathy is palpable in each one of the profiles. Levine has a natural, artful style and writes with a lively and keen vision."

    Moment magazine

  • "Her findings are fascinating."

    Jewish Telegraph

  • "Levine treats all her subjects with respect. At the core, this is a popularly written academic study."


  • "Levine vividly portrays these girls, their hopes and their struggles, as well as her own feelings towards Orthodoxy and the Lubavitch way of life."

    JOFA Book Corner

  • "Levine's portraits provide a cross-section of the very human faces of these ultra-religious girls."

    New Jersey Times

  • "Stephanie Wellen Levine's suggestions are obviously heartfelt and perhaps turns charming and scandalous."

    The Jerusalem Report

  • "Levine takes readers into an unfamiliar world of girls who were raised in the Lubavitcher sect of Hasidim in Crown Heights, Brooklyn...One intriguing paradox she explores is how these girls created distinct personalities while living in a very closed society."


  • "Levine does a splendid job of presenting how the girls cope, and paints vivid pictures of Shabbat around their family tables.”

    The Jerusalem Post Literary Quarterly

  • "Stephanie Wellen Levine has written an intriguing and joyous account of the lives of young adult Hasidic women."

    Jewish Book World

  • "Eminently readable."

    Jewish Journal Book Review

  • "Levine steps back and lets the girls speak for themselves; their voices, layered with determination, yearning, confusion and wonder, emerge clearly."

    Na'amat Woman Book Reviews

  • "This absorbing ethnography acts as one subculture's corrective to Reviving Ophelia, in that it offers a refreshing portrait of adolescent girls who are far from insecure."

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • "A fascinating read for anyone interested in youth culture."

    Youth Today

  • "Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers presents a comprehensive snapshot of women's experience in Crown Heights . . . Levine's personal response to the Lubavitcher way of life weaves itself into each chapter and is one of the book's most engaging aspects."

    —Eric Caplan, CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly