Keep Your Wives Away from Them: Orthodox Women, Unorthodox Desires

Image of Keep Your Wives Away from Them: Orthodox Women, Unorthodox Desires (Io Series)
Release Date: 
May 10, 2010
North Atlantic Books
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Keep Your Wives Away from Them is a must-have addition to any feminist scholar of religion’s bookshelf.

Editor Miryam Kabakov has brought together a diverse group of authors who bring to the essays in this volume both their scholarly expertise and their life experiences. While a number of the authors identify as lesbian, Keep Your Wives Away from Them also incorporates transgender and gender queer authors. In this way, Keep Your Wives Away from Them builds on the tradition of queer Jewish literature marked by classics such as Nice Jewish Girls.

This engaging, touching, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes heart-breaking anthology brings together the voices of queer Jewish women from across the gender spectrum. Experienced scholars of Judaism and relative neophytes alike will come away with a deeper understanding of Jewish tradition, Jewish law, Jewish gender construction, and the interaction of gender and religiosity.

Judith Plaskow, perhaps the best-known author of feminist Jewish spirituality, provides an insightful foreword that sets Keep Your Wives Away in the larger context of Jewish feminism. She couches the articles in this volume in the larger questions that have driven Jewish feminist inquiry.

The essays in this volume strike a nice balance between personal, confessional narrative, and scholarly discourse on Judaism and rabbinic law. Some authors take the approach simply of telling their story within the larger context of living a Jewish life. Others choose a scholarly question and body of discourse and situated their own experience within that.

The result is a collection of essays that both enlighten the reader on important matters of gender and sexuality with Judaism while also conveying a sense of what it means and looks like to live as an Orthodox woman—whether lesbian, trans, or somewhere else on the gender spectrum.

These authors do an excellent job of conveying the tension that exists between a queer identity and a Jewish one—as exemplified in the title. It is also satisfying to read that not all the authors come to a comfortable resolution of these tensions. Some find a way to reconcile their Jewish and queer identities, to find a home within their families and religious communities. Others experience rejection and find new homes and communities, and still others are clearly continuing to search for a balance point between Orthodoxy and queerness. In this, Keep Your Wives Away manages to stay real, grounded, and believable. The reader will likely laugh at their jokes and ache with them in their sense of estrangement and disorientation.

While well researched and informative, Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert’s “Regulating the Human Body: Rabbinic Legal Discourse and the Making of Jewish Gender” is perhaps the one questionable inclusion in the volume. A detailed, thoughtful, and enlightening discussion the creation of gender in Judaism, this essay nonetheless lacks the personal touch of the other pieces in Keep Your Wives Away from Them. Fonrobert does start the story off with some personal anecdotes, but the essay itself reads more like a research paper and less like a confessional essay or personal narrative. It is an excellent piece of work on its own, but in the company of the much more personal contributions from the other authors, it comes across as somewhat dry and stuffy. It may have read better had it been included earlier in the volume, but coming as it does toward the end of the book, after the reader has been immersed in women’s personal stories and experiences, the contrast is somewhat jarring.

The inclusion of a glossary in Keep Your Wives Away is a welcome stroke of genius. For readers who have at best a working knowledge of Judaism—and next to no knowledge of Hebrew or Yiddish—the glossary is a valuable tool, providing a larger understanding of Jewish tradition and ritual. The authors and editor clearly kept in mind that they were talking to an audience of Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike, and worked to keep the book approachable.

The writers in Keep Your Wives Away from Them are to be commended for their willingness to share their personal stories and struggles. Their openness has produced a book that helps broaden the cannon of feminist Jewish literature while bringing up important questions about identity, religion, gender, and tradition.