Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
As Jewish-American women construct the ir multiple iden ti­
ties, the Shoah — historical atrocity pred icated on racial o r re ­
ligious difference — comes to rep resen t by m e tapho r o r analogy
o the r atrocities, pred icated on gende r difference, as in the writ­
ings o f Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz.2 As women develop th eo re t­
ical and pragmatic approaches to specifically Jewish feminism,
they claim the historical experience o f Jewish victimization as
the ir own, and utilize it to acknowledge, define, and resist o the r
victimizations.
Implied in this is a critique both o f the Jewish male literary
tradition , and o f liberal feminism. T he fascination with O r tho ­
doxy suggests tha t feminism has failed Jewish women — failed
to address the ir particu lar places in history and culture. Roiphe’s
Annie John son and her colleagues bemoan the ir daugh te rs’ lack
o f ambition and political purpose. But A nd rea sees in feminism
a desperate loneliness and a sterility whose emblem is h e r m o th ­
e r ’s New England spinsters. Instead —r in reaction — she em ­
braces the literal and symbolic fecundity o f the Yeshiva wives
who eschew careers and h igher education. She accuses her
mo ther o f buying into the values o f the dom inan t cu lture, which
devalues Judaism . In Ochs’s more complicated portra it, the n a r ­
ra to r meets women who are doctors o r holds doctorates, and
— in an uneasy melding o r compartmentalization — nonetheless
choose the ritual exclusions o f O rthodox Juda ism , even as o th ­
ers repud ia te the secular horizons opened by feminism.
Jewish-American women’s writing tu rn s increasingly (al­
though no t uncritically) to O rthodox ra th e r than liberal J u d a ­
ism. Liberal Juda ism shares with liberal feminism a confidence
in the progress o f modernity, in the en ligh tenm en t project, in
the eventual tr ium ph o f science and reason over faith, supe r­
stition, prejudice, and parochialism. But the liberal “universal-
ist” vision erases the particularity o f ethnicities and cultures.
FEMINISM AND JUDAISM
In a recen t column, Ruth Wisse criticized the growing aca­
demic preoccupation with women and “feminist issues” in Jew ­
ish Studies. While I disagree with Wisse’s conclusions, h e r cri­
2. See, for example,
The Issue is Power: Essays on Women, Jews, Violence and
Resistance
(San Francisco: Aunt Lute books, 1992).