Words On Fire / Edition 1

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When Vanessa Ochs begins to suspect her various physical ailments are due to her leading an ”unsanctified life,” she decides to travel to Jerusalem with her family to explore the sacred books of Judaism. Armed with a list of institutions and the names of women who specialize in teaching these sacred texts, Ochs sets out on a journey of discovery. She forges a personal relationship with her mentors, women who are determined to disprove the claim of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus: ”The words of the Torah should be burnt rather than taught to women.” As her year in Jerusalem draws to a close, Ochs begins to find a way to reconcile her feminist views with her quest to live a life according to laws shaped by the ”sexist” views of traditional Judaism.Part scholarly investigation, part anecdotal memoir, Words on Fire is an accessible portrait of a remote world and a fascinating, firsthand account of the clash between feminism and Judaism.

When Vanessa Ochs began to suspect her various ailments were due to her leading an "unsanctified life, " she decided to use her husband's sabbatical year in Jerusalem to explore the sacred books of Judaism. Armed with the names of women who teach these sacred texts, she set out on a journey of discovery, eventually reconciling her feminist views with the "sexist" views of traditional Judaism. A National Jewish Book Award nominee.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Believing she was living an ``unsanctified life'' that might be the underlying cause of her numerous physical ailments, Ochs went to Jerusalem to study sacred Jewish texts. A feminist who had taught writing at Yale, she approached her odyssey with ambivalence, troubled by the sexist bias in traditional, male-dominated Torah studies. But female scholars and seekers became her role models in Israel, making her realize that women can play an active role in Jewish learning and observance if they ``open Torah wide and seize it for themselves.'' As Ochs forged an emotional connection to the Torah and the Talmud, her illnesses vanished and her faith deepened. Her observations on Israel's nascent feminist movement, and the personal narratives of the women she encountered, are interwoven into this deeply felt spiritual journey. (May)
Library Journal
Ochs's spiritual odyssey into the study of Jewish sacred texts with other women in Jerusalem provides the framework of this extraordinary book. Accompanying her husband and two young children on a sabbatical year in Jerusalem, the author--an academic from New York--decided to explore the written teachings of her religion. Her scholarly investigations led to her becoming part of the learning process, taking on a study partner, and grappling with the ``Portion of the Week'' (the section read in the synagogue from the Torah on a given week). She then ascended to the more difficult Talmud or biblical commentary study. Ochs presents a ``hands-on'' approach to learning, mixing textual exegesis with colorful portraits of her mentors. How does she reconcile her feminist views with a learning system that is male-dominated? Ochs does some strenuous wrestling on her journey into the sacred. A powerful and important book.-- Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Md.
In seeking a sanctified Jewish life within Israel's nascent feminist movement in this personal anthropology, Ochs (Judaism, U. of Virginia) struggles with a sage's admonition that: "The word of the Torah should be burnt rather than be taught to women." Includes a new introduction and afterword, and a list of US and Israeli Torah study sites. No date is given for the original publication. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813367187
  • Publisher: Westview Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/1999
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 372
  • Lexile: 1020L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 0.83 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Vanessa L. Ochs author of Safe and Sound, has written as well for the New York Times, New York Newsday, Tikkun Magazine, Lilith, and numerous other publications. A recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, she teaches Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and is the editor of the Sacred Day series of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
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