APPROPRIATELY SUBVERSIVE: Modern Mothers in Traditional Religions

Tova Hartman Halbertal, Author, Tova Hartman Halbertal, Author
Tova Hartman Halbertal, Author, Tova Hartman Halbertal, Author . Harvard $29.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-674-00886-1
Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
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Halbertal, a protégé of Carol Gilligan, asks in this book how feminists in traditional religions balance and blend their roles as mothers and believers. She first interviewed a series of Orthodox Jewish women in Israel, all of whom are feminists, teachers and mothers of daughters. Using the ethnographic technique of asking open-ended questions designed to elicit long, wide-ranging responses, she asked, for example, "How do you speak to your daughter?" Next, Halbertal interviewed a number of American Catholic feminist mothers, sharing with them what the Jewish women had said, and then asking for a response. Not surprisingly, the Catholic women identified closely with their Jewish counterparts. While each of Halbertal's informants is insightful and articulate, Halbertal responds to these interviews with little more than a one-note analysis. Early and often, she repeats her thesis that these religious feminists have two equally difficult options: either go along with sexist and other objectionable practices and beliefs in their faith communities, or risk the consequences of resistance. Halbertal's interviews reveal that, in most cases, her informants make safe, orthodox choices, especially when it comes to raising their daughters, for whom they fear the cost of resistance would be too great. While their stories are poignant, these women's actions and views are not nearly as surprising as Halbertal seems to think. While she flirts with theorizing a third way for these women to escape the age-old submit-or-resist dilemma, she stops short, leaving readers with just one more version of a too-familiar story. (Jan.)

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