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Doubting the Devout

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

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  • Book Info
    Doubting the Devout
    Book Description:

    Before 1985, depictions of ultra-Orthodox Jews in popular American culture were rare, and if they did appear, in films such as Fiddler on the Roof or within the novels of Chaim Potok, they evoked a nostalgic vision of Old World tradition. Yet the ordination of women into positions of religious leadership and other controversial issues have sparked an increasingly visible and voluble culture war between America's ultra-Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews, one that has found a particularly creative voice in literature, media, and film.

    Unpacking the work of Allegra Goodman, Tova Mirvis, Pearl Abraham, Erich Segal, Anne Roiphe, and others, as well as television shows and films such as A Price Above Rubies, Nora L. Rubel investigates the choices non-haredi Jews have made as they represent the character and characters of ultra-Orthodox Jews. In these artistic and aesthetic acts, Rubel recasts the war over gender and family and the anxieties over acculturation, Americanization, and continuity. More than just a study of Jewishness and Jewish self-consciousness, Doubting the Devout will speak to any reader who has struggled to balance religion, family, and culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51258-9
    Subjects: Religion, Language & Literature, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-22)

    Like many domestic disputes, it began with the sharing of a bathroom. In the late 1990s, a group of Orthodox Jewish students filed a lawsuit against Yale University. Yale’s housing policy requires that all unmarried undergraduates live on campus for their first two years; the school has a longstanding mission to create not just dormitories but college communities. There are single-sex floors for first-year students, but anyone of any gender can visit, sleep over, or use the bathroom. In 1998, several Jewish students, subsequently known as the “Yale Five,” protested the policy, claiming that Yale’s accommodations compromised their modesty.


    (pp. 23-45)

    In Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall (1977), Diane Keaton, the quintessential WASP, tells Allen, the classic neurotic Jew, that he is what her Grammy would call “a real Jew.” Later in the film, Allen attends an Easter dinner at Keaton’s family home. While passing around the “dynamite ham,” he imagines the family sees him as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, sporting a black hat, black coat, payess (side-locks), and a long beard. Regardless of what Granny Hall may or may not mean by a “real Jew,”¹ Allen uses this ultra-Orthodox Jew as a parody of the “real Jew,” For Allen—and many...

  6. 2 REBBES’ DAUGHTERS: The New Chosen
    (pp. 46-79)

    While Judaism has hardly remained a static entity since its conception, the last century has seen a remarkable revolution in Jewish practice. Most significant in this upheaval is the rapidly changing position of women in contemporary Jewish movements. Today’s American Jews are divided over gender issues such as the ordination of women (and, recently, homosexuals), reconciliation with patriarchal practices, and the creation of new rituals and liturgy. And while current Jewish perspectives on women span a wide spectrum, from radical egalitarianism to reactionary traditionalism, all have been affected by this question of the Jewish woman’s position.

    As earlier generations of...

    (pp. 80-108)

    So begins Boaz Yakin’s 1998 film, A Price Above Rubies. In what is later discovered to be a flashback, Yossi—a hasidic boy—is telling this story to his younger sister, Sonia. The meaning of this apocryphal tale is clear: don’t rock the boat, listen to your parents, and marry a scholar. Conform, or this could happen to you.

    Even at this young age, the boy is instructing his sister on how to behave, advocating conformity and submission for her future choices. This compliance would ensure her success within the haredi movement. The most pressing and visible difference between the...

    (pp. 109-146)

    America has long been touted as a land of great opportunity, a place where class can be transcended and anything can be achieved. Given these convictions, parents want to present America as an exciting array of possibilities: their children can have anything, beanything, as long as that “anything” conforms to certain middleclass, professional aspirations. But some kids have surveyed the buffet laid out for them and concluded that it’s not to their liking, and their parents don’t know how to react. This chapter addresses the literary evidence of American Jewish anxiety over the growing visibility of the haredim, particularly within...

    (pp. 147-152)

    An ultra-Orthodox rabbi is riding a train when he notices a woman angrily staring at him. He could tell that she was Jewish, albeit “modern.” Eventually, she starts speaking to him quietly, “I don’t know who you are Mister, but I just want you to know how embarrassed I get whenever I see Jews dressed like you from another century. You make the rest of us look ridiculous. If you have to dress like that, the least you could do is stay home.” The rabbi is mortified, but when he recovers he explains to the woman that she has made...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 153-174)
    (pp. 175-200)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 201-210)