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A breath of life : feminism in the American Jewish community /

Main Author: Fishman, Sylvia Barack, 1942-
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York, N.Y. : Toronto : New York : Free Press ; 1993
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Review by Choice Review

Fishman offers readers a good summary of the uneasy marriage between feminism and Judaism. Jewish women, who are the subject of this study, have been leaders and followers of feminism since the movement gained momentum in the 1960s. For many Jewish women, the challenge has been to reconcile the individualistic goals of liberal feminism with the social ideals of Judaism. Clearly, there are factors, other than feminism, that have contributed to the growth of interfaith marriage among Jewish women and men, the rise in the single population, and the decrease in the size of the Jewish family. But feminism has affected the way Jewish women view themselves and their adult destinies. Fishman has summarized the discussion effectively and deserves a large audience. All communities that try to harmonize traditions born in other times with all modernisms, including feminism, can learn from this study. General; undergraduate; graduate; faculty. J. Sochen; Northeastern Illinois University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this broad, balanced survey, Brandeis University researcher Fishman assesses the challenges facing Jewish women and the various ways to resolve them. Based on interviews with 120 women, scholarly works, popular literature and other sources, the book offers useful background on the development of Jewish feminism and nuanced looks at dilemmas and debates about marriage, parenthood, work and sexuality. Fishman describes the emergence and growing popularity of new rituals--female equivalents of the celebrations surrounding circumcision and the bar mitzvah. Proposing that feminism must sometimes bow to tradition, Fishman argues that Jewish religion and culture require some measure of hierarchy. Sympathetic to the movements within Judaism--Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox--she suggests that each branch has led the way in at least one area of feminist progress. ``Feminism is bringing newly ardent Jews--women--into the fold,'' she concludes. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

After conducting scores of interviews and analyzing the 1990 National Jewish Population Study along with other demographic data and Jewish American literature, Fishman, a research associate at Brandeis, has created a scholarly and panoramic view of the impact of feminism on the lives of American Jewish women today. ``These years have been stirring ones for traditional Jewish women and their daughters,'' Fishman observes, concluding that ``feminism in general and Jewish feminism in particular have influenced demographic, educational, occupational, sexual, social, and religious trends . . . and have given women unprecedented choices and control over their own destiny.'' A timely and important work that will bring a shock of recognition to American Jewish women--and men--much as Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique did to America 30 years ago. Highly recommended.-- Marcia Welsh, Guilford Free Lib., Ct. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An uneven analysis by Fishman (a senior research associate at Brandeis), who argues here--only sometimes convincingly--that feminism has brought a "breath of life" into a faltering American Jewish community. Perhaps the best statistical evidence of this phenomenon are the 280 women who have been ordained as rabbis by Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative Jewish seminaries in the 20 years since the gender line was broken in 1972. In these seminaries, the number of women cantorial candidates exceeds that of men, even though only 30 years ago it was forbidden for women even to study Talmud. Fishman also introduces us to a wide range of female life-cycle ceremonies that modern Jews have begun to practice (one of those at which a woman rabbi might officiate is the shalom bat--welcoming the daughter--ceremony, paralleling the longstanding rites welcoming male Jewish babies to the community), and the author successfully renders the ongoing tension between feminism and traditional, especially Orthodox, Judaism. But the statistics and conclusions that support the thesis here sometimes appear suspect. Fishman states, for instance, that 70% of married women affiliated with the rigorously orthodox Agudah sect practice birth control after the arrival of their first child--even though this group's continued proclivity for large families is well documented. Similarly puzzling is the statement that ``recent surveys show that even highly educated, ambitious young women--but not men--say that they would rather be thin than be successful and happy.'' The author is most appealing when she abandons sociological data for first-person accounts. Her account of American and Israeli women trying to hold prayer services at Jerusalem's Western Wall, despite violent opposition, is riveting. Fishman attempts to examine feminism's impact on too many aspects of Jewish life, and the subsequent lack of focus weakens her thesis--which, in any case, will appeal most strongly to those already committed to both feminism and traditional Judaism.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.