Nora Rubel is the author of the recently-published Doubting the Devout: The Ultra-Orthodox in the Jewish American Imagination. In her last posts, she wrote about kosher and ethical food and Jewsteria Lane.
I love television, I love movies, and I read too (when I can squeeze in time between my regularly scheduled programming). I have always been interested in how popular culture attempts to warn us about the dangerous influences of our time. Such literary and cinematic narratives warn us about the consequences of certain behaviors. Sometimes they warn us about the influence of alcohol or drugs as in the 1980s afterschool specials Angel Dusted and Desperate Lives (both of which feature Helen Hunt). Sometimes, we can learn to fear the influence of certain types of people and religious beliefs (think about Iranians and Islam in the 1991 film
Not Without My Daughter
). If we examine the context of such films, however, we can see that they tell us more about ourselves and our times than they do of the chosen subject matter.
When I was in college, my mother gave me the Naomi Ragen novel Sotah. While I ravenously devoured it, enjoying the sneak peek into the hidden world of ultra-Orthodox (haredi) Jews, I imagine that I (embarrassingly uncritically) swallowed the content as completely true. Ragenâ€™s booksâ€”and there are quite a fewâ€”on the haredi community are an entertaining mix of Jewish Harlequin-style romance novel and quasi-feminist theological critique. The heroines awaken to their own oppression and find love and happiness in what is essentially a Modern Orthodox lifestyle. As a grad student in American religion, I began to notice a pattern of such â€œsneak peekâ€ narratives, beginning with the seventeenth-century Indian captivity narrative giving way over time to anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon, and anti-Muslim stories. Such fictions employed manipulative tactics in order to rouse the passions of the reader; a dominant theme is that of the oppression of women.