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Houses of Study

A Jewish Woman among Books

Ilana M. Blumberg

Publication Year: 2007

To learn was to live, and to learn well was to live well. This was the lesson of both cultures of the Modern Orthodox Jewish world in which Ilana Blumberg was educated, with its commitment to traditional Jewish practice and ideas alongside an appreciation for modern, secular wisdom. But when the paths of Jewish tradition and secular wisdom inevitably diverge, applying this lesson can become extraordinarily tricky, especially for a woman. Blumberg’s memoir of negotiating these two worlds is the story of how a Jewish woman’s life was shaped by a passion for learning; it is also a rare look into the life of Modern Orthodoxy, the twentieth-century movement of Judaism that tries to reconcile modernity with tradition.
Blumberg traces her own path from a childhood immersed in Hebrew and classical Judaic texts as well as Anglo-American novels and biographies, to a womanhood where the two literatures suddenly represent mutually exclusive possibilities for life. Set in “houses of study,” from a Jewish grammar school and high school to a Jerusalem yeshiva for women to a secular American university, her memoir asks, in an intimate and poignant manner: what happens when the traditional Jewish ideal of learning asserts itself in a body that is female—a body directed by that same tradition toward a life of modesty, early marriage, and motherhood?

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xvii

When I was a child in the 1970s, I always imagined that I went to school twice as long as the other children on my block. By the time I was a teenager, my school day extended from eight in the morning until five-thirty in the afternoon. In the harsh Chicago winters, I arrived in the ...

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pp. 1-34

The path is a narrow one. Though we are free, we will travel it as if we have no choice. We will labor to become all that we have been taught to be, all that we are supposed to be. We will reach for heaven from this earth; we will be eighteen; we will be young and bright, earnest and pious, ...

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Houses of Study

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pp. 35-68

It was my paternal grandfather who wore glasses. In 1933 in the European libraries that had allowed her in, Grandma Ann held a ruler for him beneath one faint line of manuscript, then another, and painstakingly he copied what he saw. Sometimes she held one manuscript and he another, and ...

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If They Be Two

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pp. 69-146

From the time I was a child I knew books were objects as well as voices. Things of which I was momentarily master, I took them off my bookshelves and laid them on the floor. I covered the carpet with them. They would all return to shelves (how would I walk otherwise?), but when they did, they would possess a new order and new identities. One week I ...

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Tree, Light, Fruit

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pp. 147-174

We're into new books now, books of a different sort. All have pictures. Some are made of paper, others of cloth and plastic and cardboard. Books for eating as well as reading. When I go into the bookstore now—Afterwords, on Main Street—I head for the back room, where it's all pleasure. ...


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pp. 175-177

E-ISBN-13: 9780803205987
E-ISBN-10: 0803205988

Publication Year: 2007