Books by Judith A. Kates

Released: Sept. 15, 1997

Fascinating essays on Jewish women, holidays, and conception, as seen through the eyes of feminist thinkers. This elegant series of articles focuses on the relationships of the Jewish matriarchs to the women around them. The book opens with the Bible passage describing the events between Abraham, Sarah, Hagar (Sarah's handmaid and Abraham's concubine), and the sons both women bear. These writers go beyond the inherent cruelty of the story (Hagar is twice cast out into the desert) and try to grasp the feelings of the real women involved. Rosellen Brown beautifully describes a friendship between Sarah and Hagar, and envisions Ishmael and Isaac growing up as brothers. Others seek to understand Sarah's anger and imagine her fury at her barrenness, which is God's will, and at Abraham's willingness to conceive a child with another woman. Several writers point towards the concept of teshuva (repentance, or literally ``turning around'') to portray Sarah as a woman with passion and regret, not simply as a spiteful harridan, and point out that when God remembers Sarah, it implies that at some point she had been forgotten. Barren women give birth to heroes, writes Francine Klagsbrun in her brilliant essay on Hannah, and they always conceive on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Hannah's strength is her ability to pray silently to God for a son. Her silent method of prayer becomes not only the standard for Jewish prayer but is answered by the opening of her womb by God. Hannah's sacrifice of her son, Samuel, to the temple priests is rendered both moving and awful by these writers. One even warns of Samuel's future nemesis by noting how closely his name is tred to the root for Saul's name. The essays are surprisingly modern given the subjects, and the writing is uniformly excellent. Insightful, thought-provoking, and wise—a treasure for all Jewish women seeking insights for the New Year. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1994

A generally superb collection of both traditional and unorthodox readings of the Book of Ruth. The biblical story of Ruth—the young Moabite widow who followed her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi, to the Land of Israel, married her husband's kinsman, and became mother of the messianic line through her descendant, King David—is an intriguing one, especially for women, who find few active female role models in the Bible. Kates, and Reimer, both teachers of Jewish texts with doctorates in literature, have assembled 30 essays, poems, stories, and dramatic narratives by contemporary female scholars, authors, psychiatrists, rabbis, and poets. All the contributors bring their professional and personal experiences to their interpretations of the Ruth story: Some are subjective accounts, such as the joint effort (``Feminine Plurals'') of psychiatrists Roberta Apfel and Lise Grondahl—an older Jewish supervisor and her young Christian supervisee—who use the relationship between Naomi and Ruth to understand and enrich their own; others, like Tamar Frankiel's kabbalistic approach to the messianic lineage in Ruth (``Ruth and the Messiah''), are more strictly scholarly. Often the two aspects are combined: Cynthia Ozick's ``Ruth'' is one part personal reminiscence, three parts textual analysis. These autobiographical and scholarly pieces are nearly always more interesting than the vanilla literary retellings of the story that add little to the conventional understanding of the text, although Gloria Goldreich's inclusion of Ruth's sister-in-law, Orpah, in her ``Ruth, Naomi, and Orpah: A Parable of Friendship'' adds a beautiful dimension to the relationship of Ruth and Naomi. Aviva Zornberg's shiur, or oral lesson, ``The Concealed Alternative,'' stands out as the most unusual; she draws on ancient commentaries as well as on Kafka, Nietzsche, and Buber to present a compelling understanding of the concept of redemption in Ruth. Despite occasional redundancies—only natural given the 400 pages of commentary on a brief text—this book is absorbing and provocative. Read full book review >