Magazine article Tablet Magazine

On the Bookshelf

Magazine article Tablet Magazine

On the Bookshelf

Article excerpt

Next time you're sitting under an incandescent light bulb, think about this: In 1911, Thomas Edison asked, "Do you want to know my definition of a successful invention? It is something that is so practical that a Polish Jew will buy it." The Quotable Edison (University Press of Florida, March), edited by Michele Wehrwein Albion, includes that tidbit along with a few other of the inventor's musings on the chosen people. The Wiz of Menlo Park had a fascinating explanation for what he described as "the almost supernatural business instinct of the Jew": "Women have, from the beginning, taken part in Jewish councils; Jewish women have shared, always, in the pursuits of Jewish men; especially have they been permitted to play their part in business management. The result is that the Jewish child receives commercial acumen not only from the father's but from the mother's side."

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It's not clear where exactly Edison was getting his information, but he may have had a point in the limited sense that at least since the time of Gluckel of Hameln, some Jewish women have had opportunities to be breadwinners for their families. Does this undermine the claim Rabbi Elyse Goldstein makes, in her essay "The Pink Tallit," that until recently "the patriarchy has defined us"Jewish women, that is"as child bearers, child rearers, caregivers"? Not much. The new paperback edition of a collection of essays Goldstein edited in 2008titled New Jewish Feminism: Probing the Past, Forging the Future (Jewish Lights, March), its contributors include such religious leaders as Tirzah Firestone, Jill Jacobs, and Danya Ruttenbergreminds us just how far Jewish women have come. As Goldstein phrases it in her introduction, "Growing up in the 1960s, the notion of a woman rabbi, a woman Israeli Supreme Court judge, or an Orthodox synagogue where women read the Torah from their side of the mechitzah were impossible dreams, even ridiculous scenarios."

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Something else that would've been unimaginable, most places, before the women's movement: a woman not taking her husband's name when they married. Now keeping one's name has become socially acceptable, but the practice of taking one's husband's name still hasn't become the sort of comic anachronism giddily exploited by Mad Men. Israeli sociologists Orly Benjamin and Michal Rom set out to understand what factors contribute to Israeli women's decisions about taking and keeping names today, in view of the particular gender dynamics of their nation, in Feminism, Family, and Identity in Israel: Women's Marital Names (Palgrave, May).

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In some areas, Jewish men and women have achieved something like equality: When Leah Koenig remarks that her focus in The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen (Universe, March) is not on "bubbe food," part of what she seems to meangiven the gender neutral language with which she refers to her readersis that zaydes, and potential zaydes of the future, should also get in on the action. …

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