Page 37 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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HOROWITZ / PORTNOY’S SISTER
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ou t ambivalence, the female protagonists o f both fictional and
non-fictional narratives reverse the movement o f the ir male p re ­
cursors, seeking en tree into the off-limits spiritual practices
from which they’ve been barred (by ignorance, by lack o f ed ­
ucation, o r by traditional norms). Portnoy’s sister, as it were,
moves from secularism into Judaism , into Jewish texts, legend,
culture, and history. Some works explore alternative and non-
traditional possibilities fo r Jewish women’s spirituality, while
o thers exhibit a grudg ing fascination with Orthodoxy which is
figured in opposition to e ither secularism (rejection o f Judaism)
o r disenfranchisement within Juda ism (rejection by Judaism).
In these works, feminism and Juda ism form a strained bu t cre­
ative alliance.
T h a t women’s writing, more than men’s, turns seriously to
Juda ism seems curious. T h e highly gendered world o f O rtho ­
dox Juda ism holds ou t to men a privileged position character­
ized by ritual agency and legalistic empowerment, and to wom­
en, a sharply restricted domain characterized by strict dress
codes and halakhic disenfranchisement. This serious engage­
ment with Juda ism fea tu red in recent writing by Jewish-
American women is exemplified in the works o f fou r very dif­
feren t writers — Nessa Rapoport, Allegra Goodman, Anne
Roiphe, and Vanessa Ochs.
INNER CONFLICT
T he young protagonist o f Nessa R apoport’s
Preparingfor Sab­
bath
struggles not against but within Judaism . This coming-of-
age novel charts the development o f Jud ith , a To ron to Yeshiva
(or day school) girl from an “observant” home. In her jou rney
from childhood to young adulthood , Ju d ith strives to come to
terms with the powerful pulls o f romance, eros, spirituality and
intellect. As she confronts the life crises o f a sensitive and spir­
itually searching adolescent, Jud ith thinks th rough her opinions
and values with reference to Jewish ideals, which remain p a r ­
amount. For example, in college she argues for a life o f political
commitments because “You know what Juda ism says, we’re sup ­
posed to seek justice, it’s ou r responsibility, to guard and keep
the earth , which means not abusing anything with life in it”
(138). Ra ther than connecting with a sweet bu t out-moded old-