cover image Sotah


Naomi Ragen, . . St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99 (490pp) ISBN 978-0-312-57024-8

In Ragen's latest look at the women of Israel's Orthodox communities (after Jephte's Daughter ), a rabbi's daughters deal with love and the fallout of adultery. The story begins as three sisters reach marrying age with limited options due to family finances and the inherited disgrace of an adulterous ancestor. The eldest at 20, Dvorah dutifully accepts the hand of a man who is “short and overweight and slurps his soup.” Meanwhile, independent-minded youngest sister Chaya Leah meets secretly with a Hasid (improper marriage material) about to enter the Israeli army. The saddest of the three, middle child Dina, must give up her first love and marry instead a laconic woodcarver. Eventually, unfulfilled emotional needs and a lecherous neighbor drive her to sin; after the Morals Patrol catches up with her, she's exiled to New York. Detailed descriptions of weddings and sexual politics offer much insight, showing both the strength and limits of the Orthodox code of conduct. The pleasures of Ragen's book arise not so much from her characters or plot but from thought-provoking comparisons of Israeli Orthodox and American Jewish life. (Sept.)