DISTANT SISTERS by Judith Rotem

DISTANT SISTERS

The Women I Left Behind
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A solid but simplistic depiction of the life of ultra-Orthodox Jewish women. Rotem was herself a member of the ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, community in Israel for most of her life, but after 20 years of marriage, she divorced her husband and left the community along with her six daughters. Here Rotem gives the reader a glimpse into the world she abandoned, and into the difficult and restrictive condition of haredi women. As Rotem notes, she is referring specifically to ultra-Orthodox of the misnaged tradition (of Lithuanian descent), not to the somewhat more familiar Hasidic community. The distinction is an important one, because while Hasidic men usually support their wives and families, among the more intellectually oriented misnagdim, the reverse is true. The most respected men of the community study sacred texts all day (for which they receive minimal stipends), while their wives work, take care of the home, and raise their usually large brood of children. They are, as Nessa Rapoport writes in her introduction, ``the female infrastructure that upholds'' the haredi world. Women take great pride in their spouses' accomplishments, and men's learning is valued above material possessions in the community at large. (Women, however, are not encouraged--in fact, not allowed--to study). Rotem talked to a number of these women and tells their stories (anonymously, because they do not want to risk the community's censure or to ruin their children's chances of a good arranged marriage). The accounts are interesting, although most people who are at all familiar with the ultra-Orthodox will find little new here. Also, Rotem's analysis of what she sees is completely banal: She writes that ``anyone who has no choice but to remain trapped in a wretched situation is not free'' and ``social phenomena are never as simple as they appear.'' Rotem offers limited access and little guidance to this unique community.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8276-0583-8
Page count: 240pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1996