Page 40 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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Goodman’s narratives assume a reade r familiar with terms
baal koreh
baruch haShem.
T he adolescent protagonist o f “Onionskin ,” less traditional
than R apopo rt’s Jud ith , similarly moves between the United
States and Israel to “pu t everything on the line fo r religion”
(35). Like Jud ith , Sharon complains no t tha t Juda ism dem ands
too much o f her, bu t tha t it withholds much o f its richness,
its answers to “big questions” and the “big moral concepts” (29).
Wanting to get beyond an approach “over-centered on the e th ­
nic stuff,” Sharon strives to go “beyond tha t.” Reversing the
movement o f Portnoy and his cohorts from the religious milieu
to the secular / intellectual world, Sharon dem ands o f h e r un i­
versity professor, “I want to talk about God.”
Anne Roiphe’s novel
explores the tension be­
tween the secular and the religious world th rough the conflict
between Annie John son and h er daugh ter , Andrea. An academ ­
ic, liberal feminist, Annie John son values the rational, humanist,
intellectual tradition in which she conducts he r life’s work: re ­
search on the life and writings o f New England spinsters.
Andrea, after almost a decade o f aimless wandering across the
Americas and th rough hollow relationships with men who aban­
don her, en ters Rachel Yeshiva in Jerusa lem . A fter years o f
self-destructive behavior — including substance abuse, self-
inflicted burns, and th ree abortions by the time she reached
her early twenties — A nd rea is attracted by a world sa tura ted
with meaning, where “God respects me” (46).
Like Portnoy, Annie moves from the Juda ism o f h e r g rand ­
parents, and refuses to limit erotic o r marital relations to Jewish
partners . As a single mo ther, she teaches h e r d augh te r “tha t
we are Jewish, bu t I never made a fetish o f it” (14). While Annie
sees the Yeshiva world as patriarchal, fascistic, and demeaning ,
And rea finds in it a sense o f o rder , meaning and sanctity, a
feeling o f safety and community. With a feminist edge, Annie
articulates the critique tha t characterizes the generation o f Roth
and Malamud: tha t religious Juda ism constricts one’s ambitions
and aspirations, tha t its parochial practices should no t be taken
seriously, tha t its texts should play second fiddle to the works
o f the Western world now expanded canonically to include writ­
ing by women. But as A nd rea sees it, the allure o f the secular
masks a spiritual and emotional emptiness.
One may read in the dynamics o f this m o the r-daugh ter con­