Thursday, December 28, 2006

Orthodox Judaism

Pearl Abraham's 'The Romance Reader' (unhelpfully translated into German as 'The Novel Reader') describes the life of a young girl/woman between the ages of about 12 and 18, somewhere in America. Her father is an orthodox Jewish rabbi who is trying to build a synagogue in a former holiday village. There are 6 younger brothers and sisters.

Life is extremely restricted, and the children are not allowed to do anything. The oldest girl, sometimes together with her nearest sister, tries to fight for more freedoms, such as the freedom to read books from the local library, to wear stockings without seams or even see-through stockings, to take part in a life-saving course to become a pool attendant - the subsequent discovery of her parents that she sits by the poolside in a swimming costume causes major ructions. Of course she goes to an orthodox Jewish school (where the lessons might even be in Yiddish), and then goes straight into teaching at the age of 17 - which says a lot for the quality of education.... Her brothers enter a Yeshivah and become ultra-orthodox. Finally she marries the first guy introduced to her (much against her better judgement) who turns out a bit of a waste of space. I had not appreciated that orthodox Jewish ladies have to shave their own hair before wearing a wig, and then covering up that wig.....this creates rather strange links to the holocaust.

The book is very readable, written from a growing child's point of view, and gives some appalling insights into the world of very orthodox Judaism - which in some ways does not seem to be that distant from orthodox Islam. But perhaps I don't understand anything about it....