THE JEWISH SOUL ON FIRE by Esther Jungreis


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Simple answers to complex questions. Rebbetzin Jungreis, descendant of a long and illustrious line of (Hungarian) Orthodox rabbis, surveys the spiritual troubles afflicting American Jews-materialism, secular values, intermarriage, assimilation in all its forms--and prescribes an infallible cure: tradition, tradition, and more tradition. The idea that tradition might be as much a problem as a panacea, or that modernity could be more than a communicable disease, seems never to enter her mind. As a survivor of the Holocaust (she graphically describes the nightmare of being torn from her home in Szeged and shipped to Bergen-Belsen), Jungreis was understandably appalled when she came to New York (1947) and witnessed the cultural ravages of the melting pot. Eventually she embarked on a career as an impassioned preacher of biblical faith and old-fashioned Jewishness that has won her a good deal of publicity; in Time magazine, she was labeled ""the Jewish Billy Graham."" Jungreis sounds utterly sincere, but fervor is no substitute for hard thinking. When a young woman doctor comes to her for help with the tensions between professional and married life, Jungreis flatly declares: ""The raising of children 'takes priority over all else. That is the essence of the Jewish woman."" Other absolutes: no premarital sex, the family comes first, children must respect their elders, there is no such thing as the domineering Jewish mother (a figment of Philip Roth's poisoned imagination), etc. Jews looking for uncritical inspiration will get it here in warm, wholesome, home-made abundance. But those who lack Jungreis' rich personal heritage or have reservations about Zionism, the Bible, or patriarchal ways are liable to find the Rebbetzin unacceptably naive.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1982
Publisher: Morrow