Page 44 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
and secular makes things too easy, and Roiphe’s novel sidesteps
difficulties tha t Jewish texts and contexts pose fo r women deeply
engaged in Juda ism . In both these works, O rthodoxy emerges
as
the
compelling form o f Juda ism , the site o f struggle and re ­
tu rn despite the real presence o f o the r options.
Why this privileged trea tm en t o f O rthodoxy in narratives by
and about non -O rthodox Jewish feminists? Even when equivo­
cating the possibility o f O rthodoxy as a personal choice, the
narratives acknowledge its attraction. O rthodox (and Ultra-
O rthodox) Juda ism is figured as “au then tic” Juda ism , its texts
and practices a wellspring o f Jewish meaning, a foun t o f living
waters for all who d rink o f it.
Rabbinic Juda ism repeatedly sees women as objects o f male
desire. Much o f the gende ring in ritual practices connects in
some way with the need to shield men from the distracting allure
o f the female body. In both Roiphe’s and Ochs’s works, the
narra to rs agree to dress themselves in unaccustomed clothing
which covers the female form. And
tseniyut
no t only protects
men from female sexuality; it also — the narra to rs are told
— protects women from male desire. For example, only in the
Yeshiva — and not in feminism — does And rea own h e r own
body. U nde r the influence o f the Rabbi, she ends the pa tte rn
o f self-mutilation and abusive affairs. In Roiphe’s narrative,
tseniyut
also (re)invests the women with special erotic power,
while protecting them from sexual harassment. At home,
m iddle-aged Annie Johnson finds herse lf outside the in te r ­
secting lines o f desire by the time And rea is a teenager. She
acquiesces to her own desexualization — the price paid fo r free­
dom o f movement — as symbolized by her association with he r
“New England spinsters.” T h e O rthodox injunctions about
dress rem ind her tha t her body has the power to arouse men.
Beneath the wig o f the O rthodox ma tron , Annie discerns the
“innocen t” eroticism o f the Rabbi’s wife, who rem inds h e r o f
an Ingres painting; h e r own d augh te r suddenly suggests a
Botticelli. T h e novel repeatedly insists tha t A nd rea’s earlier u n ­
veiled eroticism and sexual agency has b rough t h e r only aban ­
donm en t and self-destruction. When sexually active, she thinks
o f h er body as unloved, a locus o f shame and pun ishm en t.
Both the eroticization o f O rthodoxy in Roiphe’s novel and
the exploration o f sexuality within the specifically Jewish con­
texts o f R apopo rt’s novel and Goodman’s sho rt stories stand