This week’s Jewish Home L.A. contains my review of Circle, Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism, recently published by Mekor Press and distributed by Menucha Publishers.
Miriam Kosman‘s new book appears at a pivotal point in Jewish history. The role of women in Judaism has dominated the headlines of Jewish media outlets in recent years. Usually, Hareidim are made out to be the bad guys: according to most writers, Hareidi men bully women, look down on us, and short change us in any way humanly possible.
For someone like me — a feminist who willingly joined the ranks of those observant Jews who lean to the right — this kind of “news” makes us want to bang our heads into the wall in frustration. Not only do we perceive the Jewish world differently, many of us chose Orthodoxy in some part because mainstream feminism had failed us. Frankly, we felt more supported and appreciated as human beings, as Jews, and as women within our new community than we did in in our former, non-Orthodox world. We feel respected by the vast majority of Hareidi men, including by our husbands, sons, and rabbis. And while we do see plenty of areas in which our community can and should improve, many of the issues targeted by reporters and crusaders hold completely different meanings for us than for secular people.
Many of the recent books about Judaism written by Modern Orthodox authors have compounded the problem. They report on our world as outsiders (sometimes trumpeting all along how because they are, loosely-speaking, “Orthodox” they therefore have an insider view), and often articulate outrage while playing fast and loose with facts. Yet, until now, few books for the English speaking world have expressed the genuine insider perspective as to why Orthodox women don’t participate in many time-bound positive commandments, are excluded from certain communal rules, and so on.