Page 38 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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world life view, Jewish teachings connect with the heady issues
o f the early seventies, the setting o f the novel.
Unlike Portnoy, Ju d ith finds little sexual allure in the exot­
icism o f the non-Jew. H e r sole romantic in te r lude with a non-
Jewish fellow s tuden t is doomed from the start to be short-lived.
“How can Jam es possibly know,” she wonders, abou t the “h u n ­
d reds o f years o f rejoicing and sorrow” (207) tha t comprise Jew ­
ish history and im p rin t the Jewish soul? So far outside the realm
o f h e r own cultural and religious experience, Jam es — fo r all
his sensitivity, intelligence, and good British looks — canno t
compete with the Jewish young men whose sentences Ju d i th
can complete before they do.
Ju d i th ’s withdrawal from Jam es’ cultural foreignness parallels
the distance she maintains from religious foreignness — from
avodah zarah
[lit.: strange o r foreign worship]. While some o f
J u d i th ’s friends gravitate towards exotic forms o f spirituality
— yoga, H induism — to supp lem en t a spiritual com ponen t miss­
ing from the ir quotidian Jewish practice, Ju d i th dem ands tha t
Juda ism measure up to her seeking. “You can ’t tell me tha t
saluting the sun and saying words in Sanskrit harmonizes with
ou r shacharit. It seems awfully close to avodah zarah to me,”
she tells one spiritual rover. “Religions a re n ’t like T ink e r Toys
where the pieces a re interchangeable. I f you feel some th ing’s
missing from Juda ism , it’s in Juda ism tha t you have to look
for the answer” (143).
H er dissatisfaction with the level o f spiritual awareness in ev­
eryday Jewish life leads Ju d ith to see the inequality o f women
as a battle to be fough t within Juda ism , not as a reason for
leaving Juda ism . Empowered by h e r ancestry — “a long line
o f scholars and rabbis” — and her tho rough education , Ju d ith
mounts a powerful and learned critique against the exclusion
o f Jewish women from Jewish practice. “I ’m sick o f being taugh t
how im po rtan t it is to pu t on a tallis and tefillin every morn ing
and then to be told tha t women d o n ’t need concrete symbols
because they have some magical female ability to sanctify them ­
selves” (146). Juda ism , like the narra tive’s English language pep ­
pered liberally with Hebrew, is the medium in which all s trug ­
gles occur, no t the foe against which one struggles. For Ju d ith ,
the language o f Jewish trad ition and texts is the language o f
experience, o f love, o f sensuality. An early sexual encoun te r