Houses of Study: A Jewish Woman among Books
Book: Houses of Study: A Jewish Woman among Books , by Ilana M. Blumberg, ISBN10: 0803224494, ISBN13: 9780803224490, University of Nebraska Press, March 2009, Paperback
Ilana M. Blumberg is an assistant professor of humanities, culture, and writing at James Madison College, Michigan State University.
To learn was to live, and to learn well was to live well. This was the lesson of both cultures of the Modern Orthodox Jewish world in which Ilana Blumberg was educated, with its commitment to traditional Jewish practice and ideas alongside an appreciation for modern, secular wisdom. But when the paths of Jewish tradition and secular wisdom inevitably diverge, applying this lesson can become extraordinarily tricky, especially for a woman. Blumberg’s memoir of negotiating these two worlds is the story of how a Jewish woman’s life was shaped by a passion for learning; it is also a rare look into the life of Modern Orthodoxy, the twentieth-century movement of Judaism that tries to reconcile modernity with tradition.
Blumberg traces her own path from a childhood immersed in Hebrew and classical Judaic texts as well as Anglo-American novels and biographies, to a womanhood where the two literatures suddenly represent mutually exclusive possibilities for life. Set in houses of study,” from a Jewish grammar school and high school to a Jerusalem yeshiva for women to a secular American university, her memoir asks, in an intimate and poignant manner: what happens when the traditional Jewish ideal of learning asserts itself in a body that is femalea body directed by that same tradition toward a life of modesty, early marriage, and motherhood?
Tension wraps around the pages of Blumberg's memoir, an ardent intellectual autobiography by a woman in love with both Jewish texts and secular literature. Yet even more than the religious-secular divide symbolized by the beit midrash(Jewish house of learning) and the university, the struggle over a woman's place in Judaism tears at her soul. The granddaughter of a Hebrew scholar, as a child Blumberg juggled an Orthodox education with participation in an egalitarian Conservative synagogue. She details at length a depressing year in Israel at a women's michlalah(yeshiva), and then her introduction to university life, where she steeped herself in literature. Today, she has found a balance of sorts as a professor of English literature and Judaic studies at Michigan State University, but admits to still feeling a "sense of deep conflict" between tradition and secular ideas. Blumberg tries too hard to be poetic, and she risks losing some readers with assumptions of familiarity with Hebrew and Jewish texts. What her memoir elucidates, however, is the passion for study no matter what a person's gender: "If we studied we might come to see what... was truly important and what was trivial... we might come to see how God saw the world." (Mar. 15)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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