BEYOND THE SYNAGOGUE GALLERY

FINDING A PLACE FOR WOMEN IN AMERICAN JUDAISM

A thorough survey of the innovations introduced into the American synagogue in the 19th century by the Reform movement, focusing on the Jewish woman’s gradual religious emancipation.

Traditional Judaism delineates the woman’s specific place in public worship, in particular prescribing the separation of the sexes during the service, proscribing female voices from joining in prayer, and, with a few exceptions, omitting any requirement that women attend the synagogue at all. These centuries-old arrangements did not jibe with the progressive ideas of gender equality espoused by the nascent Reform movement. Legitimizing a female presence in the synagogue was part of a larger project of the Reformist Jews, who wished to acquire a new American identity by making their public religious observance conform externally to the ways of their Protestant neighbors. Separate women’s galleries were first replaced by mixed seating in 1851 (in an Albany synagogue), and a decade later many other temples introduced family pews, mirroring the custom of Christian churches. Men were relieved of the obligation to wear a prayer shawl and head covering, and a mixed choir and organ music were brought in, ostensibly for the sake of decorum. Other aspects of the reform included the use of vernacular instead of Hebrew, omission of the prayer for a messianic return to Zion, and even moving the holy day from Saturday to Sunday. By the end of the century, women were admitted as full members of the congregation, which first allowed their participation in synagogue administration and then in leading the worship itself. This process eventually led to the ordination of the first woman rabbi in 1972. Goldman’s well-researched book highlights one important premise: that the original steps on the road to women’s religious liberation were initially taken by acculturated male Jews, who often indiscriminately copied Christian politics and aesthetics. An interesting and well-written study.

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Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-674-00221-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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