by C. Devorah Hammer

Traditional Jewish and Catholic Mothers Caught in a Bind

Appropriately Subversive: Modern Mothers in Traditional Religions (Harvard University Press, 2003, $35.00) is a wonderful exploration of the lives of several Orthodox Jewish women and traditional Catholic women who share many attributes. They are all feminists, religious educators, and mothers of teenage girls. The Jewish women were in Jerusalem; the Catholic ones in Chicago. Tova Hartman Halbertal is careful to avoid finding facile similarities between the two groups, but overwhelmingly, beyond the din of the specific struggles these women fight within their traditions, we hear a common voice. Both groups of women are choosing their orthodoxies, and want to pass on to their daughters a sense of rootedness, of legacy. But in doing so, they have to hide part of themselves, the part that is ambivalent about the sexism in their religions, and its impact on their daughters. At the end of the book, Hartman leaves us with the question: How will the daughters view their mothers, meta-representatives of women in their religion, if they see them only through this veil? And how, indeed, will the daughters interpret their own religions?

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