Women of Val­or: Ortho­dox Jew­ish Troll Fight­ers, Crime Writ­ers, and Rock Stars in Con­tem­po­rary Lit­er­a­ture and Culture

Karen E. H. Skinazi

  • Review
By – January 14, 2019

Once depict­ed as back­ward, oppressed, over­cov­ered, pow­er­less and dourly unat­trac­tive,” Ortho­dox Jew­ish women – and Ortho­dox Jews more gen­er­al­ly – have moved away from the side­lines of lit­er­a­ture and pop­u­lar cul­ture. In Women of Val­or, Karen E. Ski­nazi shows how Ortho­dox women — through film, music, and oth­er art forms — have intro­duced the dis­tinc­tive ele­ments of Ortho­dox life to a broad­er public.

Draw­ing on a broad array of pub­li­ca­tions and cul­tur­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions, Ski­nazi unrav­els how the var­i­ous facets of Ortho­dox women’s lives mir­ror the prayer Eshet Chay­il” (“Woman of Val­or”). Far from being sub­or­di­nate and home­bound, this paragon of wom­an­hood excels both in the pri­vate and pub­lic spheres and is an active par­tic­i­pant in the mar­ket economy.

Cul­tur­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Ortho­dox Jew­ry in gen­er­al, and Ortho­dox women in par­tic­u­lar have become more famil­iar and less anachro­nis­tic than in the past. One impor­tant exam­ple is the emer­gence of mem­oirs by for­mer Hasidim who have left Ortho­doxy and gone off the derech.” Fic­tion­al accounts depict the diver­si­ty of Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ties, from the Los Ange­les-based hus­band-wife detec­tive team of Rena Lazarus and Peter Deck­er to com­mu­ni­ties like Mem­phis, Mon­tre­al, Stam­ford Hill and Crown Heights. Recent films like the award-win­ning Fill the Void and tele­vi­sion shows like Shtisel explore both the par­tic­u­lar dimen­sions of Ortho­dox life and the uni­ver­sal chal­lenges Ortho­dox Jews face. Much of this work is main­ly con­sumed by oth­er Ortho­dox Jews but some of it has reached a larg­er audience.

Ski­nazi serves as a knowl­edge­able guide for both the gen­er­al read­er and the schol­ar inter­est­ed in con­tem­po­rary cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion that reflects the diver­si­ty and com­plex­i­ty of Ortho­dox women’s lives.

Susan M. Cham­bré, Pro­fes­sor Emeri­ta of Soci­ol­o­gy at Baruch Col­lege, stud­ies Jew­ish phil­an­thropy, social and cul­tur­al influ­ences on vol­un­teer­ing, and health advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions. She is the author of Fight­ing for Our Lives: New York’s AIDS Com­mu­ni­ty and the Pol­i­tics of Dis­ease and edit­ed Patients, Con­sumers and Civ­il Soci­ety.

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