Judaism A Way of Being.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The idealized housewife is a rather archaic concept. Indeed, when Rabbi Dov Lior
of Kiryat Arba recently ruled that women should not seek public office and
should not even work outside the home, his remarks were greeted with astonished
horror by most, even within some Orthodox circles. It was therefore rather
surprising for me to read, in a book published in 2010 by no less than Yale
University Press, this outmoded image of an idealized housewife.
the stage again,” writes David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at
Yale University, in Judaism: A Way of Being, attempting dramatic effect. “But
let Moses with his veiled luminous face return. Moses is there before you, but
his face is covered. Superimpose the image of a housewife lighting Sabbath
candles near dusk on Friday evening. The candles are set on a table and she
stands behind, facing you.” The idea that the housewife is a symbolic
reincarnation of Moses coming down from Sinai would be hilarious if Gelernter
weren’t trying to be serious.
But there is an even deeper problem with
this passage, a problem consistent throughout the book: Who is “you”? It is
clear that Gelernter’s entire visualized audience is men – preferably married,
The purpose of this book, as laid out by the author, is to
present what he believes to be the “truth” about Judaism, or its “essence,” in a
series of four “themes” that he hopes will somehow transform Jewish thinking.
His grandiose aim is to create a book on the level of “Torah she’bichtav”
(Written Law) and “Torah she’b’al peh” (Oral Law), what he calls “Torah
she’ba’lev” (“Torah of the Mind and Heart”), that “will appear routinely in
every Jewish library” and comprise “Judaism seen whole.”
writing lacks nuance, sophistication and diversity. The monolithic
question-and-answer style that suggests that there is one correct answer
every question about “why?” is grating – after all, even Rashi offers
possible answers. He says in the Preface that the book “amounts in many
an explanation of Orthodoxy,” but even within Orthodoxy multiple
Moreover, many of Gelernter’s ideas are simplistic and
melodramatic and offer strange and convoluted explanations for a myriad
practices. For example, he tries to connect the use of a partition in
with commandments forbidding paganism, he touches on the idea that
on a level of animals, he seems to inadvertently advocate extreme
separatism and makes the utterly bizarre suggestion that the problem
Nazis was idol worship.
Perhaps this book would provide some interesting
reading for newly Orthodox men struggling to find meaning, although I
would not recommend it. For those seeking an honest, complex and
exploration of Judaism, there are much better options out there.The
writer, who has a PhD in education, has been working in Jewish communal
the past 15 years.