Although the cover of Chanah’s Voice describes Haviva Ner-David as the “author of Life on the Fringes,” those expecting a simple next installment or continuation of Ner- David’s earlier memoir are in for a surprise. While Ner-David is certainly the author of both books, in Chanah’s Voice she presents as a woman who has undergone a tremendously empowering, and completely transformative, spiritual and political journey.
Chanah’s Voice is divided into three parts, each revolving around Ner-David’s study of a single Jewish commandment that was traditionally considered to be a woman’s ritual. As Ner-David explains, the ChaNaH of the title refers both the acronym for these observances (Challah, Nidah, and Hadlakat Ha-ner) and the biblical personage of Chanah, who Ner-David presents as a religious model. Each section is filled, almost to bursting, with Jewish texts, history, and legal sources, as Ner-David takes her readers on a thorough, if sometimes breathless, tour of these practices. Intermingled with these sources, which Ner-David studied as part of her curriculum for the rabbinate, Ner-David describes how her experience of studying and practicing each of these rituals has evolved.
It is in these personal stories and reflections that Ner-David’s authority is most pronounced. Her theological conclusions, radical for the Modern Orthodox community in which Ner-David began her journey, are embedded in the impact of the practical application of Jewish law on her life, and in the most intimate ways. With raw emotion and great attention to detail, Ner-David does not shy away from either the deep pain or transcendent joy that life and learning have brought her way. In Chanah’s Voice she grabs hold of her power as a learned Jewish woman, an activist and leader more determined than ever to bring change to the systemic foundations that undermine the equality of all Jews, working to create a non-hierarchical and non-gendered Jewish society.
While some readers may recoil at the strength of Ner-David’s convictions, others may find themselves nodding along and jumping up to join her call to arms. Some may appreciate the author’s breadth of sources and the ease with which she presents them, or find solace or inspiration in Ner-David’s individual anecdotes and creative rituals. Just as Ner-David’s life has shaped her evocation of Chanah’s Voice so too must the reader necessarily appreciate it through his or her own spiritual journey.