Media portrayals of Orthodox Jewish women frequently depict powerless, silent individuals who are at best naive to live an Orthodox lifestyle, and who are at worst, coerced into it.
In Women of Valor: Orthodox Jewish Troll Fighters, Crime Writers, and Rock Stars in Contemporary Literature and Culture
(Rutgers University Press, 2018), Karen E. H. Skinazi delves beyond this stereotype to identify a powerful tradition of feminist literary portrayals of Orthodox women, often created by Orthodox women themselves. She examines Orthodox women as they appear in memoirs, comics, novels, and movies, and speaks with the authors, filmmakers, and musicians who create these representations. Throughout the work, Skinazi threads lines from the poem “Eshes Chayil,” the Biblical description of an Orthodox “Woman of Valor.” This proverb unites Orthodoxy and feminism in a complex relationship, where Orthodox women continuously question, challenge, and negotiate Orthodox and feminist values. Ultimately, these women create paths that unite their work, passions, and families under the framework of an “Eshes Chayil,” a woman who situates religious conviction within her own power.
Dr. Karen E. H. Skinazi is a Senior Lecturer (associate professor) and the Director of Liberal Arts at the University of Bristol in the UK. She published a critical edition of the 1916 novel Marion: The Story of an Artist’s Model
(McGill-Queen’s UP, 2012) by Winnifred Eaton/Onoto Watanna, the first Asian North American novelist. She is currently working on a project examining the productive interface between Muslim and Jewish women’s lives, literature, and activism.
Schneur Zalman Newfield is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, and the author of Degrees of Separation: Identity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism
(Temple University Press, 2020). Visit him online at ZalmanNewfield.com.