An Obser­vant Wife: A Novel

September 1, 2020

In this rich and com­pas­sion­ate new nov­el, Nao­mi Ragen con­tin­ues the love sto­ry between new­ly obser­vant Cal­i­for­nia-girl Leah and ultra-Ortho­dox wid­ow­er Yaakov from An Unortho­dox Match.

From the joy of their wed­ding day sur­round­ed by sup­port­ive friends and fam­i­ly, Yaakov and Leah are soon plunged into the com­plex real­i­ty of their new lives togeth­er as Yaakov leaves his beloved yeshi­va to work in the city, and Leah con­fronts the often-ago­niz­ing restric­tions imposed by reli­gious laws gov­ern­ing even the most inti­mate moments of their mar­ried lives. Adding to their dif­fi­cul­ties is the hos­til­i­ty of some in the com­mu­ni­ty who con­tin­ue to view Leah as a dan­ger­ous inter­lop­er, ques­tion­ing her sin­cer­i­ty and adher­ence to reli­gious laws and spread­ing out­ra­geous rumors. In the midst of their heart­felt attempts to reach a bal­ance between their human needs and their spir­i­tu­al oblig­a­tions, the dis­cov­ery of a secret, for­bid­den rela­tion­ship between trou­bled teenage daugh­ter Shain­dele and a local boy pre­cip­i­tates a mael­strom of life-chang­ing con­se­quences for all.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of St. Mar­t­in’s Press

  1. All three main char­ac­ters, Yaakov, Leah, and Shain­dele, under­go trans­for­ma­tions that change their life’s tra­jec­to­ry. When think­ing of each character’s jour­ney, in your opin­ion, who faced the most dif­fi­cult challenges?

  2. How would you describe Shaindele’s tran­si­tion from trou­bled teenag­er to young adult? What spe­cial fac­tors aris­ing from her com­mu­ni­ty and reli­gious beliefs com­pli­cat­ed this development?

  3. Did Leah make a mis­take when she left behind her sec­u­lar life to join the Ortho­dox Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty? Or did she make the best deci­sion of her life? Please explain.

  4. How does Yaakov’s life change when he is forced to leave yeshi­va and earn a liv­ing? Describe the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive aspects. In your opin­ion, was his life enriched by these chal­lenges, or impoverished?

  5. Describe Shaindele’s romance” with Duvie. Was she a victim?

  6. If you were writ­ing the life sto­ry of Duvie Halpern, how would it end?

  7. What fac­tors helped Shain­dele to defy Yoel Grub that his oth­er vic­tims lacked?

  8. Was Rav Alter’s response to Yoel Grub and the attacks on the Lehmans appro­pri­ate, inad­e­quate, or genius? Giv­en the soci­ety, what do you think he could, or should, have done differently?

  9. What aspects of the hare­di com­mu­ni­ty allow sex­u­al abuse to go unchal­lenged? What steps could be tak­en to strength­en the community’s response to sex­u­al crimes?

  10. Yaakov has a moment of pan­ic when approached by a female work col­league at a bar. What does his reac­tion reveal about him? Did it make you view him in a more pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive light?

  11. Do you think reli­gion has a place in the bed­room? In what way can reli­gious stric­tures be help­ful in encour­ag­ing inti­ma­cy and in what way destruc­tive? In the long run, do you think the forced sep­a­ra­tions between Yaakov and Leah helped their rela­tion­ship, or hurt it?

  12. Did you find the romance between Rav Alter and Fru­ma Esther sur­pris­ing, or inevitable? Was it real­is­tic? In your opin­ion, does the need for romance and con­nec­tion have an age limit?

  13. While Folke­stone is a fic­tion­al place, towns just like it exist all over the Unit­ed States. In what way is Folke­stone dif­fer­ent from Boro Park? Why were these dif­fer­ences so vital to Leah and Yaakov?

  14. How does Leah’s rela­tion­ship with her moth­er grow and trans­form over the years? What are the fac­tors that allow or deter inti­ma­cy between par­ents and chil­dren who have cho­sen rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent lifestyles?

  15. What was the moment of truth in Leah and Yaakov’s rela­tion­ship? How did they resolve it? Could it have gone very differently?

  16. The Obser­vant Wife is a sequel. If you read the first book, An Unortho­dox Match, are you hap­py or unhap­py with how the sto­ry unfold­ed? If you were the author, what would you have done dif­fer­ent­ly, and what would you have left the same?