Jews and Feminism: The Ambivalent Search for Home

Jews and Feminism: The Ambivalent Search for Home by Laura Levitt Routledge, $18.99 

This is not a book about all Jews and feminism, but about one Jewish feminist in her personal and academic attempt to “reconcile the relationship between rabbinic Judaism and [the] liberalism” out of which, she presumes, modern feminism has grown. The book documents Levitt’s search for both literal and metaphoric homes; literal because she was raped in her apartment when she was a graduate student in religion at Emory University, and metaphoric as she forges an academic career while “letting go of liberalism.”

Jews and Feminism reminds me of the pleasure of leaving the Ivory Tower, filed as as it is with talk of “the identificatory logic of sameness within liberalism,” “signifiers,” and “oppositional logic.” (To be fair, keep reading—you will eventually understand what Levitt is talking about.) Though packaged for general consumption, this volume can be interesting and comprehensible to only a small audience.

Still, one doesn’t often see a book index with the following consecutive entries: “Their Eyes Were Watching God (Hurston)117” and ‘‘Tosephta [a Talmudic term] 38-39.” If you can wade through the litcrit speak, you will find moments of reflections about the pain and discomfort of living within the academic feminist world, where Judaism and Jewishness are at times suspect. In the final section of the book, Levitt raises questions “about [her] own faith in this country’s liberal vision of emancipation for Jews and for women.” Levitt’s unusual perspective invited this reader to question her own assumptions about these issues, and to remember when she too felt uncomfortable as a Jew in the world of women’s studies.