Page 34 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

Basic HTML Version

Portnoy’s Sister
Contemporary Jewish-American Women’s Writing
on Judaism
A t
t h e
e n d
o f B e rnard Malamud’s “T h e Magic Barre l,” a short
story published in the early 1950’s, a young New York rabbinical
studen t waits nervously to meet the woman whose pho tog raph
has cap tu red his heart. T he stirring o f eros draws Leo Finkle
ou t o f the predictable world o f arranged marriages and into
the chaos o f modernity where one marries for “love.” While
Stella’s fa ther — an old-world-style matchmaker — “chant[s]
the p rayer for the dead ,” Leo rushes towards his beloved, he r
eyes “filled with desperate innocence” (214) h e r body garbed
“white with red shoes” (213).
T he red shoes reapp ea r in Anne Roiphe’s
novel about the conflict between a m odern feminist m o ther and
h e r newly-Orthodox,
[sic] daugh ter . Annie Johnson
and h er academic, feminist friends envision a glorious new
world where the ir daugh ters — independen t and free-thinking
doctors and lawyers — would save the world and rem ap its con­
tours. But A nd rea John son is ne ither free no r independen t.
She abandons a life o f drugs and abusive relationships only to
en te r an u ltra-O rthodox Yeshiva in Jerusa lem , much to her
m o the r’s dismay. As Andrea, garbed in the body-concealing
clothing o f Yeshiva women, progresses towards the arranged
marriage with which the novel culminates, Annie mou rns the
And rea o f the punk days, the A nd rea o f spiked ha ir and red
spike shoes.
In Malamud’s story, the fa th e r ’s
mourns his d augh ­
te r ’s passage from Jewish tradition into a new American life.