SOTAH by Naomi Ragen


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 Love-conquers-all genre takes on deep philosophical questions as Ragen (Jephte's Daughter, 1989) continues her exploration of orthodox Jewish life in this story of a woman accused of adultery- -the sotah. The setting is the ultraorthodox milieu of Jerusalem, where the men study the Torah in yeshivas while their wives bear numerous children, clean and cook, and find outside work to supplement their meager incomes. Here, heroine Dina's struggle to be independent and still religiously observant provides the more profound concerns of a story that, despite its religious background, is basically your typically rosy fade-out into a technicolor sunset, with all problems--and they are not insubstantial--wrapped up in the last chapter. Dina Reich, the beautiful and dutiful daughter of Rabbi Reich and his remarkably energetic and saintly wife, yearns for love, for knowledge of a wider world than the narrow one she is confined to. A brief romance, ended because her family could not pay the requisite dowry, means that Dina must accept a husband chosen by the sect's matchmaker and approved by her parents. She marries good but painfully inarticulate Judah, a carpenter; bears a child; then, bored and lonely, begins a relationship with a more worldly neighbor. Though it's not consummated, religious vigilantes threaten her, and at their behest she flees to New York, where she works as a maid for a wonderful family, who, when she breaks down, do all they can to bring about the inevitable happy ending. Not only is Dina reunited with Judah, whose virtues she now appreciates, but she also finds a satisfactory compromise between the comforting security of religion and tradition and the more fulfilling aspects of sectarian life. Richness of faith and family lovingly evoked, with the other side--religious and cultural intolerance--equally given its due, but it all seems too easy. Philosophy lite.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1992
ISBN: 0-517-58977-X
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1992


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