An insider’s look at the lives of ten ultra-Orthodox women and how their religion permeates their daily routine.
Sarah’s Table is an actual women’s study group that meets weekly to discuss the Torah commentaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Menachem Mendel Schneerson—over a nice kosher lunch. Zakutinsky and Gottlieb, Brooklynites who acknowledge Schneerson as their “mentor and guide,” are uniquely positioned to pilot the reader through the lives of the women who belong to this insular community. Beginning each chapter with a weekly “parsha,” or torah portion, the authors then introduce a Hasidic woman whose life relates to the lesson therein. We are first introduced to Shaina, a “ba’al t’shuva” (or “returnee” to orthodox Judaism) and an excellent springboard into the Hasidic world; explaining her spiritual transition allows the authors to address immediately the reader’s puzzlement as to why a woman would choose such an extravagantly religious life, one circumscribed by laws of modesty, and regulated by prayer schedules. “The Hasid’s constant goal is to elevate the physical and actualize the spiritual by making this physical world a Godly place,” they explain. This can be taken to mean that even washing the dishes can be a godly act, and that homemaking and child-rearing are equal in spiritual significant to Torah study—a point significant to those who attend the “lunch and learn” at Sarah’s every week. Zakutinsky and Gottlieb do an excellent job of illustrating the allure of having one’s every action carry meaning and the comfort of having the unquestioned spiritual guidance of a trusted Rebbe willing to decide whether people should marry, start a business, or adopt a child. In fact, the authors are quite convincing in their argument that the regulars at Sarah’s Table have a good deal in common with most American women.
An engaging work that remains likable despite a certain preachiness and a good bit of schmaltz.