Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

Basic HTML Version

many o f the argum en ts articulated by Roiphe’s Andrea. While
noting the distance from the ir world to hers, Ochs’s n a r ra to r
quotes them extensively, allowing the ir voices to be hea rd ra th e r
than caricaturized. Like Roiphe — and unlike the earlier male
narratives — Ochs’s book presents O rthodox Juda ism as com­
pelling, in contemplation if not in practice, even fo r feminists.
Roiphe’s novel sharply dichotomizes the religious and the sec­
u lar worlds (secularism conflated he re with feminism). In An­
nie’s view, the democratic prom ise o f modernity offers infinite
choice, and the religious world, none at all. Annie’s spiritual
ancestors — the New England spinsters with the ir newly-won
place in the Western tradition — rep resen t en ligh tenm en t val­
ues which o ffer women empowermen t and dignity. By contrast,
Juda ism rep resen ts exclusionary practices which consign women
to ignorance and domestic servitude. T h e religious practices
tha t h er daugh te r devoutly embraces, Annie dismisses as pa­
triarchal, overde term ined , and cumbersome. She sees her
d augh te r ’s fascination with O rthodoxy as pa r t o f a global slouch­
ing towards fundamentalism . “Has someone done a lobotomy
on you?” she wonders (27).
For Annie, A nd rea’s new Jewish name “Sarai” evokes the im­
age o f “barren old ladies” (16), symbolizing the sterility o f the
Jewish tradition . But A nd rea sees her m o the r’s work on New
England spinsters as empty, a symbol o f the sterility o f the sec­
ular world, o f feminism. In A nd rea ’s view, the detailed domestic
duties betoken not servitude bu t a world sa tu ra ted with m ean ­
ing. She explains,
Jews make distinctions, mark things o f f cleanly and clearly....
tangles and piles are not for G od ’s p eop le .... W hen I spon g e
the table and the crumbs are gon e and the board is again honey -
co lored and the patches o f light from the w indow sh ine on my
part o f the floor, the O ne Above is p leased with me. (48)
I f A nd rea ’s rhapsodic rend ition o f domestic duties resonates
parodically with a floor-wax commercial, it also succeeds in
b reaking the chain o f self-inflicted abuse and destructive rela­
tionships. Ironically, she learns from the Yeshiva what she did
not learn from h er m o th e r’s feminism: tha t “a man does no t
save a woman” (51).
Ochs’s narrative similarly pits O rthodoxy against modernity .
On the one hand are O rthodox women scholars who inhab it