Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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HOROWITZ / PORTNOY’S SISTER
35
a world where all actions have meaning in eyes o f God. T hough
some envision a transfo rm ed Judaism , they consent to the gen­
dering o f ritual practices. On the o the r hand , the na r ra to r revels
in h e r freedom to th ink and dress as she chooses. But he r warm,
“aesthetic” Juda ism and “ethnic activities” do not help h e r con­
template God, adversity, death . Indeed , this lack motivates h er
forays into O rthodox Jerusa lem societies. Thus, both narratives
suggest, to th ink Jewishly — tha t is, to find in Juda ism spiritual
resources — one must tu rn to O rthodox Judaism . And, the n a r ­
ratives imply, it is a package deal: along with Jewish meaning
come Jewish patriarchal restrictions.
TRADITION AND MODERNITY
In both narratives the dichotimization o f worldly liberation
and Juda ic constraint, o r secular rootlessness and Jewish mem­
ory, measures O rthodoxy against modernity with no mediation.
Excluded from Roiphe’s narrative and not p rom inen t in Ochs’s
are o the r options — options which, in fact, exist in the real
world outside the narratives, for example in the Havurah move­
ment, and o th e r women’s o r egalitarian communities. And writ­
ings by feminist theologians, theorists, and talmudic scholars
complicate ou r notion o f what it means to be a Jewish woman.
In Roiphe’s novel, one must choose between the archaic restric­
tions o f the Yeshiva and the ineffectual emptiness o f Annie’s
desacrilized world. Confron ted with the yearnings o f her
ba’altshuvah,
[sic] daugh ter , Annie tu rns to h er feminist academic
friends, h e r male psychotherapist, even the male rabbi o f her
childhood Temple. T h e spaces created by Jewish feminists are
simply no t rep resen ted in this novel,
In Ochs’s book, the limitations tha t Orthodoxy proscribes on
women’s behavior mesh with the n a r ra to r ’s own limitations in
Juda ism — limitations due more to education, family history,
and personal interest than to patriarchal exclusion. T h e n a r ­
ra to r ’s deferra l to he r husband ’s authority on matters o f God,
ritual practices, and death , resonates (perhaps unintentionally)
with the hasidic woman who cannot accept the evidence o f a
biblical proo ftex t fo r the origin o f the name o f her neighbor­
hood,
Me’ah Shearim,
without her husband ’s authorizing it. I r ­
onically, the n a r ra to r ’s husband urges h er to a fuller partici­
pation in Judaism . Ultimately, the dichotomy between O rthodox