This review of my book Circle, Arrow, Spiral was published in the latest edition of The Jewish Home, a local Los Angeles publication. Check it out here on page 20. It was written by veteran Jewish writer Rebecca Klempner.
The role of women in the Torah world often appears in the headlines, leaving Orthodox Jews feeling misunderstood. Certain complaints, such as those about *agunot*, appear justified even to those of us who identify as Hareidi. Other complaints reveal more about the bias of reporters and mainstream feminists than about supposed misogyny in traditional Judaism.
Many in the secular community lack any meaningful understanding of *Halacha* and Jewish culture, and even observant Jews can lack the verbal skills to best explain the meaningful role that women play in the community.
In her new book, *Circle, Arrow, Spiral* (Mekor Press 2014), Miriam Kosman steps up with a perspective that readers will find unique among Jewish feminists. Kosman is a doctoral candidate at Bar Ilan University, a lecturer to university students through Nefesh Yehudi, and a columnist with *Mishpacha Magazine*. Showing fluency with varied sources (ranging from *mussar* giant Rav Eliyahu Dessler to maverick feminist Camille Paglia,) she investigates how Judaism views gender, both through the lens of an academic and through that of a Haredi Jew. In the latter role, Kosman presents a perspective that has rarely been expressed in print.
Kosman proposes that the tension between women and men is only the most visible manifestation of a struggle that exists throughout Hashem’s creation, one that exists inside each person, no matter their gender, and in every society. Kosman asserts that today, at the threshold of the Final Redemption, a spiritual drama is playing out on a global scale between “masculine” and “feminine” influences, and “[O]n the great cosmic stage, it is the woman who plays the starring role (p. 146).”
*Circle, Arrow, Spiral* begins with a kabalistic and *mussar*-based analysis of the symbiotic relationship between male and female. Despite the dense material, readers will not find it difficult reading: Kosman possesses a clear writing style that offers information slowly and recaps the lessons contained in each chapter at its end.
Perhaps Kosman could have interwoven the theoretical sections of *Circle, Arrow, Spiral *with chapters that offered practical examples. Instead, she turns to the *halachic* concerns of mainstream feminists only after she completes her philosophical introduction. Analyzing hot button issues such as the blessing “*Shelo asani isha*,” laws of divorce and marriage, and the role of women in synagogue worship, she neither dismisses the outrage of mainstream feminists, nor hides from the less politically correct comments contained in rabbinic literature.
Kosman’s central critique of mainstream women’s rights advocates is that they identify genuine problems but offer the wrong solutions by pulling women towards masculine ways of being and doing (p. 152). On the other hand, the Torah view esteems feminine values and often prioritizes them. She points out a number of ways in which *Halacha* cultivates the feminine within both men and women, and indicates that during the time of Moshiach, society will return to a balance of power between the sexes.
*Circle, Arrow, Spiral* carefully avoids politically charged subjects, and Kosman doesn’t propose her own prescriptions for balance in the lives of individual women. If the book has a shortcoming, it’s that many readers *are* indeed looking for specific guidance in tricky areas such as divorce, women’s Torah learning, and modest dress, and Kosman offers little. Readers will find no decisive rulings on whether a Halachic Pre-Nup is *halachic* or not; nor will they find direction for women who want to wear *tefillin*. Moreover, she never maligns Open Orthodoxy or other liberal Jewish
movements who embrace more mainstream feminism.
Even if some readers will be frustrated by Kosman’s apolitical approach, it broadens her book’s appeal. Both people within the fold of Orthodoxy and those who are less observant will find it meaningful, and both groups will find it approachable.
Learn more about Circle, Arrow, Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism
Esther Moskovitz says
I think this review describes an intellectual honesty that Miriam Kosman brings to her writing and to her teachings. I find this honesty absolutely refreshing, and makes Ms. Kosman into one of the few writers today whom I actually trust. No propoganda, no agenda… I find this book respectful, and I find myself willing to learn something new in this book, because of the intellectual honesty of the author. I appreciate this reviewer’s description of that rare quality.