cover image Sotah


Naomi Ragen. Crown Publishers, $22 (457pp) ISBN 978-0-517-58977-9

Ragen's second novel (after Jephte's Daughter ) revisits the insular world of ultrareligious Jews, focusing on the Reich family's three daughters and how they fare in the elemental rite of passage--marriage. In the Haredi community (made up of Jews who observe ``the tiniest dictate of law'' and have ``boundless contempt'' for all things secular), a matchmaker handles--and sometimes mishandles--nuptials based on dowry, piety and family ties, and only incidentally on love or compatibility. Harsh as these customs may seem, Ragen's detailed and thoughtful evocations of daily life in such an enclave offer insights into its members' beliefs. The drama centers on the Reichs' devout middle daughter, Dina, who tries to reconcile her desires and dreams within the confines of her narrow world. How she becomes a sotah (a woman suspected of adultery), her banishment from see ing her husband and young child, and the ultimate reconciliation of her strict faith with the meaningful aspects of a secular society form the heart of this very readable, but at times simplistic novel. Ragen is most successful when she tells the story from the vantage point of the haredi world, less so when her characters are secular Jews. A stronger work of fiction than Jephte's Daughter , the narrative holds the reader's attention throughout. (Oct.)