cover image Houses of Study: A Jewish Woman Among Books

Houses of Study: A Jewish Woman Among Books

Ilana M. Blumberg, . . Univ. of Nebraska, $24.95 (177pp) ISBN 978-0-8032-1367-8

Tension wraps around the pages of Blumberg's memoir, an ardent intellectual autobiography by a woman in love with both Jewish texts and secular literature. Yet even more than the religious-secular divide symbolized by the beit midrash (Jewish house of learning) and the university, the struggle over a woman's place in Judaism tears at her soul. The granddaughter of a Hebrew scholar, as a child Blumberg juggled an Orthodox education with participation in an egalitarian Conservative synagogue. She details at length a depressing year in Israel at a women's michlalah (yeshiva), and then her introduction to university life, where she steeped herself in literature. Today, she has found a balance of sorts as a professor of English literature and Judaic studies at Michigan State University, but admits to still feeling a "sense of deep conflict" between tradition and secular ideas. Blumberg tries too hard to be poetic, and she risks losing some readers with assumptions of familiarity with Hebrew and Jewish texts. What her memoir elucidates, however, is the passion for study no matter what a person's gender: "If we studied we might come to see what... was truly important and what was trivial... we might come to see how God saw the world." (Mar. 15)