Once depicted as “backward, oppressed, overcovered, powerless and dourly unattractive,” Orthodox Jewish women – and Orthodox Jews more generally – have moved away from the sidelines of literature and popular culture. In Women of Valor, Karen E. Skinazi shows how Orthodox women — through film, music, and other art forms — have introduced the distinctive elements of Orthodox life to a broader public.
Drawing on a broad array of publications and cultural representations, Skinazi unravels how the various facets of Orthodox women’s lives mirror the prayer “Eshet Chayil” (“Woman of Valor”). Far from being subordinate and homebound, this paragon of womanhood excels both in the private and public spheres and is an active participant in the market economy.
Cultural representations of Orthodox Jewry in general, and Orthodox women in particular have become more familiar and less anachronistic than in the past. One important example is the emergence of memoirs by former Hasidim who have left Orthodoxy and gone “off the derech.” Fictional accounts depict the diversity of Orthodox communities, from the Los Angeles-based husband-wife detective team of Rena Lazarus and Peter Decker to communities like Memphis, Montréal, Stamford Hill and Crown Heights. Recent films like the award-winning Fill the Void and television shows like Shtisel explore both the particular dimensions of Orthodox life and the universal challenges Orthodox Jews face. Much of this work is mainly consumed by other Orthodox Jews but some of it has reached a larger audience.
Skinazi serves as a knowledgeable guide for both the general reader and the scholar interested in contemporary cultural production that reflects the diversity and complexity of Orthodox women’s lives.