COMING HOME: A Woman's Story of Conversion to Judaism

Linda M. Shires, Author . Westview $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8133-6596-1

In 1999 at age 48, Shires, daughter of a prominent Episcopalian and granddaughter of a devout Greek Orthodox Christian, did what she had been contemplating for nearly 20 years, ever since falling in love with the Jewish man who would become her husband: she immersed herself three times in a ritual mikvah and officially became a Jew. Her experience could have led her to write a memoir exploring why she felt an intense "desire to belong to the Jewish prayer community," as she puts it. Instead Shires, professor of English and textual studies at Syracuse University, devotes two-thirds of the book to a thoroughly referenced scholarly pondering of aspects of Judaism that continue to discomfit her, such as Conservative and Orthodox attitudes toward women and homosexuals; and to commentaries on the parshiot (weekly Torah portions) related to her chapters. Still conflicted after converting, she writes: "My identity as a Jew was not only far from whole but also riven with contradictions," including "my feminism and my deep love of Torah" and "my strong belief in upholding traditions and my belief in questioning legalisms." Too many conversion memoirs limit their purview to the convert's personal experience and feelings; by contrast, Shires accords deservedly major roles to intellectual struggle and religious tradition. Readers, however, will need a considerable knowledge of Judaism and tolerance for academese to stay with her through her often labyrinthine scholarly explorations. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/15/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
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