- Educated and Ignorant: Ultraorthodox Jewish Women and Their World (review)
- Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
- Purdue University Press
- Volume 13, Number 4, Summer 1995
- p. pp. 126-128
- View Citation
126 SHOFAR Summer 1995 Vol. 13, No.4 to democracy. Soft authoritarians (e.g., Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco) are flexible with respect to freedoms of expression and competition for political office, and use tools of inducement and co-optation to control those opposed to the regime. They also employ censorship, incarceration, and force against opponents, but not so readily as the harsh authoritarians. The harsh authoritarians (e.g., Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq) move quickly to force against dissidents, and may employ it in a wholesale fashion with little concern for ancillary damage to innocent individuals. Perhaps a third type is Lebanon: so beset with internal conflict and regime weakness that it loses control of its own fate. Where to place Palestine with respect to these categories is an issue left unresolved by this book or recent events. Israelis may prefer to live alongside countries that approach its own accomplishments as a democracy, but they may have to be satisfied with peace of acceptable quality: i.e., open borders and the opportunity to live at home and travel in Arab countries with reasonable assurances of safety. Ira Sharkansky Department of Political Science Hebrew University of Jerusalem Educated and Ignorant: Ultraorthodox Jewish WOlDen and Their World, by Tamar El-Or. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1993. 227 pp. $39.95 (c)j $17.95 (P). This book is not just about the Gur Hasidic women living in a development community just outside of Tel Aviv. It also reveals the paradoxes all women living under patriarchal religious law experience and how they both adhere to and in some ways refashion that patriarchal rule. Tamar EI-Or deftly portrays how these educated, twentieth-century women reconstruct the past so that they might be properly "ignorant" for their lives as contemporary traditional Jewish women. EI-Or's book is a timely addition to the burgeoning interest, both scholarly and popular, in ultraorthodoxJewish communities. Not only does she maintain a focus on these women, but she reveals their agency in the creation and maintenance of the orthodox communities of which they are a part. In most studies of such communities, ultraorthodox women are either relegated to the margins or viewed primarily through their domestic roles as wives and mothers within the home. EI-Or focuses on women in the public arena of education, tracing the ways they find meaning under the "rule of the Book Reviews 127 fathers." Ifone of the goals offeminism is to make women's voices audible and their lives visible, El-Or has admirably achieved this. Moreover, she captures one of the main paradoxes of educating orthodox women when she writes: "On the one hand they know how to experience this world as ignorant and simple women and accept the rule of the male world; but on the other hand they are sufficiently literate to be aware of the situation they are in and to find meaning in it" (p. 202). Ultraorthodox males have constructed an educational system based on the principle that women need not study. Yet the ultraorthodox women in ElOr 's sample want classes and consider them to be an important feature of a good community life. El-Or calls those classes which the women most frequently request "practical," classes which contain nothing new for them, but which repeat the same materials and explanations. Yet, El-Or also observes how these women move from the practical to the abstract, often using their scholarly abilities to do so and to find meaning for contemporary life. Most important, they do so without challenging the male dictum that women need not study. Not only do the women cite their husbands or other male scholars when they make their presentations in classes, but as one woman puts it: "We are learning in. order to know what to ask and not to know what to answer" (p. 127). The unintended consequences of such learning, however, results in a form of female agency which frames the questions to be answered. Although El-Or focuses primarily on education, she also captures the ways in which these women use the curriculum simultaneously to create and validate their world-view as Hasidic women. Here, too, her book moves beyond...