naomiandruth: Antique calligraphy pen resting on boxed inks (Default)
[personal profile] naomiandruth
(I know I know I've mostly forgotten this space exists. Oops.)

ANYWAYS I finished another Jewish book finally so I'm gonna go ahead and try and review it decently here.

It was, overall, a very good read. Published in 1981, this is of course abundantly obvious in the content of the book. Given that my study of both historical feminism and Jewish cultural developments is poor, I can’t comment on how well it reflects these movements at the time, but based on what little I know I expect it impacts the content in many ways.

The book is organized by chapters that talk about the feminist movement, the author’s journey to becoming a feminist, and then detailed arguments on halakhic precedents for ways to make Orthodox Judaism more inclusive and egalitarian. These address things like coming of age ceremonies, women and prayer, family purity laws (which I’ve discussed elsewhere,) divorce and agunah, abortion, and looking towards a Jewish future.

The author is honest about the fact that she is writing about her opinions, experiences, and her sincere desire to reconcile feminism and Jewish law. In some ways it reads like a personal journal in which she’s talking herself through the arguments as much as addressing an audience. From what I’ve learned of Jewish theory and learning, it’s almost exactly that: a great deal of ground covered to establish the problem, the existing precedent, and then knitting those into several options for solutions without attempting to specify which one is “best.”

In this, it’s an incredibly useful book that I can see myself referring to again and again in spite of its age. I’d be very curious to look into the different branches of Judaism to see whether some of her conclusions have since been implemented. Her suggestions are almost entirely ones I find little fault in, which is a little surprising for reasons I’ll mention later. At one point, discussing abortion, she suggests that a helpful innovation would be “to support research on earlier and self-implemented methods of pregnancy detection […] the morning-after detection and antidote kit” - which sounds to me like it’s fulfilled in part by the advent of Plan B as a pill.

Other conclusions she draws tend to be things like changing women’s exclusion from prayer obligations to apply only during the years one has young children (and to apply to men or women in those instances,) and to allowing women to deliver a get to a court themselves to prevent the abuse of leaving a woman agunah.

The fact that the book is mostly opinions leads directly into my main issue with her writing: she is very pointedly “pro-family,” talking about the “plague of divorce” and the “tragedy” that is women not marrying or having children or having enough children. I suspect, in part, this comes from the feminism of her time combined with her social background - of which she is honest about the influence of, which mitigates her opinions slightly as you can anticipate them in most cases.

However, if you have problems with books that push the narrative of traditional family, gender roles, and procreation as an obligation, this will make it an uncomfortable book to read. While she comes to good egalitarian conclusions in every case and admits that the social structures she so admires will only persist if social services support them (ie child care options must be provided for families to have more children comfortably) she spends a great deal of time defending their value while she gets there. At times, it reads like many of the conservative deliberate misunderstandings of feminism are at play.

Ironically, her ‘getting there’ includes undermining her own insistence that the genders have distinctive roles and values, which is part of what makes her opinions less frustrating to read. If you take the book as one half of a conversation, it reads very well as food for the thought and provides a great deal of information one might not otherwise have without the same kind of “Yeshiva girl” education she grew up with.

(For those who need to avoid certain triggers in books, her stance on abortion includes both a discussion of genetic disorders and her belief that the Jewish community “must” reproduce to replace population loss to the shoah. While most of this occurs in that particular chapter, it also comes up in the introduction and the conclusion in brief.)

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naomiandruth: Antique calligraphy pen resting on boxed inks (Default)
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