Doubt­ing the Devout: The Ultra-Ortho­dox in the Jew­ish Amer­i­can Imagination

Nora L. Rubel
  • Review
By – September 7, 2011

Nora Rubel starts with the propo­si­tion that main­stream Jews in Amer­i­ca feel threat­ened by an inva­sion” of the ultra-Ortho­dox, and she looks to lit­er­a­ture and film as a way of under­stand­ing those fears. She finds that the writ­ing and films on the top­ic over the past 25 years often fit into arche­typ­al narratives. 

In her chap­ter Rebbes’ Daugh­ters,” Rubel cites books by Erich Segal, Pearl Abra­ham, and Anne Roiphe that see gen­der equal­i­ty as a nec­es­sary release from a stul­ti­fy­ing, egre­gious­ly unfair tra­di­tion. A sec­ond group of sto­ries, includ­ing the 1999 Israeli film Kadosh, fol­lows the clas­sic form of the goth­ic cap­tiv­i­ty tale, about women trapped in threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions by sus­pect minori­ties like Indi­ans or Catholics. In the Jew­ish con­text the impris­on­ment and oppres­sion are per­pe­trat­ed by men­ac­ing hare­di men. 

A third arche­type reflects anx­i­ety about the growth of ultra-Ortho­doxy expressed through the kid­nap­ping” or defec­tion of young Jews. In books by Tova Reich and Anne Roiphe, par­ents feel that their chil­dren have been ensnared by a cult and brain­washed into giv­ing up the free choic­es of Amer­i­can life. As Rubel observes, the real fear is that the hared­im have kid­napped Judaism in gen­er­al.” By trac­ing that fear through recent works of fic­tion, her smart and per­cep­tive book illu­mi­nates the phe­nom­e­non in a way that mere facts can­not. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes.

Read Nora Rubel’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

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Jew­ste­ria Lane

Based on a True” Story

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