cover image Jephte's Daughter

Jephte's Daughter

Naomi Ragen. Warner Books, $18.45 (436pp) ISBN 978-0-446-51486-6

Abraham Ha-Levi, a wealthy Los Angeles businessman, is the sole heir to a 300-year-old Hasidic dynasty. Believing himself unworthy to take on the mantle of leadership, he makes a solemn vow to God to continue the distinguished lineage through his only child, Batsheva. When he marries her off at 18 to a young Talmudic scholar, Isaac Harshen, they live in the ultra-fanatic religious quarters of Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. Beautiful and intelligent, Batsheva struggles valiantly to be a true daughter of Israel, obedient to her husband and the laws of Hasidic life. But her inquisitive nature and desire for secular knowledge (her favorite books are Anna Karenina and Women in Love ) challenge Isaac's narrow view of her role as wife and mother. When his abusiveness threatens their young son's well-being, she makes a dramatic escape, winding up in London, where she falls in love with a man studying for the priesthood. Batsheva's Jewish faith survives her spiritual and intellectual quests, and she returns to Jerusalem to confront Isaac, demanding freedom for herself and her child. Ragen's impeccable knowledge of Jewish law and lore allows us a deep understanding of orthodox Jewish life from a woman's point of view. Despite eloquent writing and vivid characters, however, her first novel falters under convenient plot machinations that compromise the full development of its religious and emotional themes. 100,000 first printing. (Jan . )