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By Yael Mishaly
Yediot Aharonot Books and Chemed Books
Yael Mishaly's newest novel She'asani Kirtzono has created debates within the country's secular and religious communities. Then again, Mishaly is used to provoking her audiences. The mother of seven writes a regular column "Shoveret Masoret" on NRG Internet site and is happy to note in her press material that it "aggravates everyone equally." She is a former settler from Efrat and a member of Meretz.
Mishaly's book is titled after the controversial morning prayer in which women convey thankfulness to God for making them by His will, while men thank God for not making them a woman. It tells the stories of three women - Bruria, wife of the abusive Rabbi Meir who finds out what has been going on behind her back; a journalist named Or, who was formerly known as Oriya; and Tiferet, one of the rabbi's victims who identifies herself as an Orthodox lesbian. The plot unfolds as the three reunite 25 years after not seeing one another. They meet to jointly expose Rabbi Meir, as well as make sense of the choices in life they've made along the way.
Some religious critics have called Mishaly's parable shameful, as it insults the real stories of Rabbi Meir and his wife Bruria, the only woman quoted as a sage in the Talmud. In her press material, Mishaly notes that her character Rabbi Meir is actually based on Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who five years ago was charged by two women with "sexual harassment." Those who remember the case will recall that the religious community cleared Aviner of all misconduct charges, while the women were ostracized. Back then Mishaly wrote a column about the issue and stressed the need for a directive that rabbis not deal with women's issues. Such an edict was issued, but it is not always implemented.
Overall, Mishaly's novel is a tale of ignorance, fear and stigmas. As the title suggests, the novel tries to reform the notion that women are victims of themselves and of the religious world in which they grew up. She'asani Kirtzono was honored with this year's Prime Minister's Award for Hebrew Literature.
Yetzer Lev Ha'adama (The Book of Creation)
By Sarah Blau
Sarah Blau's debut novel, Yetzer Lev Ha'adama, also spotlights a woman.
This tale revolves around Talma, a 30-something, broken-hearted religious woman who despises her life, and who decides to create a golem who is the perfect man. In Blau's rendition of the famous Jewish myth, her character only partially succeeds in her mission. Blau seems to show that the golem is an expression of oneself. The golem is indeed a handsome man, but Talma cannot get it to love her just as she does not love herself. The 33-year-old modern Orthodox Blau offers an intimate and courageous romantic story.
Yetzer Lev Ha'adama tests the strength of the creator and ponders the essence of the creation. This is a story of a woman's power to create and destroy.
Blau works as a journalist and educator of Holocaust studies. She is currently developing a children's program about the weekly Torah portion for one of the TV stations.
Gibora Bamilim (Fragile Heroine)
By Smadar Shir Sidi
Yediot Aharonot Books and Chemed Books
Rounding out this column on women protagonists is Sharona, the star of author Smadar Shir Sidi's latest book, Gibora Bamilim.
Its story is told from the perspective of a mother whose daughter is serving in the air force during the Second Lebanon War and is based on the author's experiences in last summer's fighting, when her real-life daughter passed an IAF training course. The book outlines the reality of living surrounded by enemy states and the home front during a time of battle.
Sharona is a radio announcer who presents a daily program of songs and games for children in bomb shelters. When not on air in happy-go-lucky mode, she breaks down and worries about her daughter's safety. While the narrative focuses on this mother's torment, it also includes a variety of characters in a difficult time. Everyone who was here during the war will be able to identify with this novel.
Gibora Bamilim is a contemporary romance packed with emotion. Shir Sidi was awarded a 2007 Acum prize for this novel.