Tag Archives: Jewish traditions

Book Review – Unorthodox

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman, is an interesting study on the Satmar Hasidic community, and its all-encompassing grasp on those within its foundation.

Feldman writes from her heart, that is clear, but also writes from a childhood perspective, in my opinion. Much of the book is written about her childhood, and the reader doesn’t really see much insight from that point of view. What we do see is a child who rebels against her religion and its standards and adherences.

She constantly equates varied commands and foundations with religious hypocrisy, and is constantly questioning the edicts forced on the followers within the Satmar world. What we see is a restrictive environment, one filled with darkness, whereas other Hasidic sects are more apt to be filled with a richer and more happy foundation.

The reader also sees a child who disagrees with much of the repressive demands of the Satmar community. When she marries at the age of 17, she brings much of her innocence and childhood thoughts and feelings with her, which encompass the pages. We read of her disillusionment and her unsatisfying life with the Satmar environment. We are told of her feelings of repression and dissatisfaction. Marriage was an end result for the women, and a means to an end, so to speak.

Marriage did not offer her any freedom, according to her, and it only fostered her feelings of forced subjection. She felt confined, unable to make her own choices and decisions. The males of her world were the ones in control, the ones who were the dominant force. The ultra strict laws and restrictions were enforced by them.

There are some disturbing aspects within the pages, including the murder of a son by his father. Accordingly, it appears from Feldman’s writing, that it was kept secret and the father did not get arrested for his actions. Whether this is true, or an exaggerated incident, or whether it is not entirely clear from the eyes of a child, the reader is not sure.

There is little content written from a mature perspective. How could there be, as Feldman was a child trapped in a woman’s body as she went through her teenage years. She had no knowledge of what expected of her, or what was outside her confined and restrained world until she gained employment teaching. This is what caused her to see outside the boundaries of her Satmar life.

There is little written which describes how Feldman actually left her husband, and how she seemingly gained custody of her young son (the reader doesn’t know for sure that she has legal custody). The “scandalous” factor, in the title, leaves me unfulfilled. The reader, in my opinion, does not read of scandal, of how her actions affected those around her, or of how the Satmar community reacted to her leaving. We are more or less told it was scandalous, but there are no details to support that in the memoir. There is nothing written in depth about her moving away, nothing supportive with concrete facts. We are given a brief glimpse of her leaving, a few pages detailing her move from the communal hold. It is almost as if Feldman was coming to the end of her story, and didn’t know how to finish it, so she filled in a few pages to complete the memoir.

Feldman depicts a world of repressed women, a world where the outside society clashes with the Satmar community in every aspect. She demonstrates, from her young perspective, the harshness and strictness of daily life. It is an eye-opener in that respect. The cultural implications are strong. Readers of every religion can gain some insight into the cultural dimensions of the Satmar community. In fact, readers of any religion, or nonreligious individuals will learn of the practices and ideals of the Satmar world. And, they might even compare it to their own world, and not only see the differences, but also a similarity or two.

Overall, I think Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman will appeal to young Hasidic women, and feel that they might be able to relate to, and identify with, some of Deborah Feldman’s issues and life experiences in today’s modern world.

November 23, 2012 – 9 Kislev, 5773

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Filed under Book Reviews, Judaism, Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Jewaicious Book Review – The Jewish Body

A God without a body. From the beginning, this peculiar, even crazy notion anchored the faith of the Jews and made them objects of ridicule and suspicion among their neighbors“. So are the opening words of The Jewish Body, by Melvin Konner. The book is an intriguing book, detailing so many events and issues that are relevant to the Jewish body. By body, I mean the body of an individual, and the body of a people, all-encompassing.

From Jewish holidays and celebrations to birth and circumcision, menstruation, death and burial, Jewish boxers, and Jews obsessed with the idea of changing their physical appearance, The Jewish Body holds a wealth of theories and thought-provoking content. Some of it isn’t necessarily what readers might want to see, such as how Konner includes those Jews who were thugs, street smart Jews, those who ran prostitution rings. “Networks of thieves, pickpockets, fences, pimps, enforcers, and arsonists staked out the Lower East Side, a lot of them Jews”.

Physical appearance and strength are major issues within the pages. Konner addresses the holidays and celebrations, the drinking and festivities. Konner gives the reader a lot to ponder, as they read the pages. He touches on genetics (similarities between Jews and non-Jews in certain areas of the world), habits, fertility, and sex.

He writes in depth about fertility and man’s perception of women. He elaborates as to why men prefer women who don’t necessarily look Jewish. Those women have smaller noses, might have blond hair, might look more youthful, etc. Konner sees this as being intertwined with the issue of fertility. The younger the woman, the more she is able to conceive and bear children. Many women had nose surgery in order to alter their appearance, and because smaller noses were more appealing to men. The way others view Jews has had an affect on the way they want to present themselves to the world, in Konner’s view.

Konner believes that the Holocaust did a lot for the resulting identity crisis and the physical assimilation of Jews. From his perspective, Jews wanted to change their physical appearance in order to blend in and fit better with their environment. This is especially true of Jews who emigrated to America.

There is a chronology at the back of the book that is informative. The book is infused with illustrations and pen and ink examples. Much of the text is written from a philosophical perspective, with scientific examples included. From head to toe, the external Jewish body is verbally examined. The internal body is examined as far as the organs go. The soul is illuminated, and the contrasts of the physical Jewish body with the spiritual body is compared.

I like Konner’s biblical references to the Jewish body, and the pride they have in their bodies and faith. He compares the respect they had for “physical prowess” to that of the Greeks. From Abraham to David, etc., he infuses the strength of the Jews within the book, but also the pitfalls of strength and power. According to Konner: “So even ignoring persecution, being “chosen” isn’t always good”. He references that statement to the individuals who are handicapped by genetic diseases, such as Tay-Sachs.

The Jewish Body is a fantastic in glimpse into the physical aspect of Jews. The Jewish body of one individual, and the Jewish body of a group of people is written about with extreme clarity. The book delves into the relationship between strength and the people (both as individuals and as a historical group of people) and the fortitude and ideals that were necessary in order to create a homeland for Jewish people.

Konner is an anthropologist, and it shows in his writing, and in the word imagery he presents the reader in order to support his theories. His thoughts on genetics are fascinating, although he doesn’t necessarily have definitive or affirmative answers to the subject discussed. He is articulate, precise and vivid in his details. The Jewish Body is an extremely intriguing book, giving the reader a look at Jewish individuals from a unique perspective. The book enthralled me, held me from the first page. I could go on and on with my thoughts, but I will stop here, other than to say this: I highly recommend The Jewish Body, by Melvin Konner to everyone.
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I personally own and have read this book. I have read similar books, before, and each one offers a different perspective regarding the physical body and religion.

© Copyright 2012 – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.

June 4, 2012 – 14 Sivan, 5772

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Filed under Book Reviews, Judaism, Non-Fiction

Jewaicious Re Purim and International Women’s Day

Today is Purim! May it be a day of celebratory happiness, and a day of thoughtfulness.

Enjoy your celebration. Chag Sameach!

Purim Guide

Six things you might not know about Purim

Purim in the U.S.

Israel Purim

Purim
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Today is also International Women’s Day!

More links relating to women and their contributions:

10 Ways to Celebrate International Women’s Day


Women and War, International Committee of the Red Cross

International Museum of Women


International Women’s Day Celebration


Worldwide Stamps Released on International Women’s Day

The Measure of a Woman

The Women of Sudan

Women

All photography, writing, poetry, etc. is my copyright and may not be reproduced without my express written permission.

March 8, 2012 – 14 Adar I, 5772

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Filed under Judaism, Photography

Jewaicious Re Kiddush

When saying kiddush (a blessing), many people use a silver cup or goblet, some use gold or even glass.  One can use any cup.  I personally own a silver goblet that I treasure (shown in the photograph above).  It is only used for kiddush.  Reciting kiddush is a mitzvah.

It is a Torah commandment to recite kiddush before the evening meal on Shabbat eve and on Jewish holidays.

For those of you that do not understand the significance of kiddush, why not visit Judaism 101, and read about the Shabbat ritual of kiddush and other traditions regarding Shabbat.  The entire kiddush is shown in both Hebrew and English.

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