Mitzvah Girls

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This past week, I have been reading Mitzvah Girls – Bringing Up the Next Generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn by Ayala Fader. While Boychiks in the Hood reads like a travelogue with author Robert Eisenberg traveling around the United States and across the world to visit Hasidic communities and describing them rather briefly as he moves along, Mitzvah Girls is an in-depth ethnographic study of how Hasidic parents and communities educate girls so that they become “women responsible for rearing the next generation of nonliberal Jewish believers. ”

Ayala Fader did not concentrate on rituals and prayers, instead she listened to everyday talks between women and girls in homes, classrooms and other places where Hasidic interact. Sometimes she even recorded them. She thus primarily focuses on socialization through language and shows how it enforces strict gender roles.

I hope to find the time to review particular aspects of this book; for instance how girls are encouraged to “fit in” and how mothers and teachers deal with “defiance”. I was also very interested in the fact that men and women and thus boys and girls use different languages in their everyday lives – Hasidic Yiddish and Hasidic English respectively. The way these women see themselves and want to be perceived by the outside world is also quite fascinating.

The book is one which readers with an interest in Hasidic life, Jewish women and even gender studies will find riveting. Fader’s study is always respectful of the people she observes and she never guides our judgement, even when the attitudes she uncovers shed a negative light on Hasidic Jews.

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24 thoughts on “Mitzvah Girls

  1. Sounds like a fascinating read!

    Fader’s study is always respectful of the people she observes and she never guides our judgement
    I’m very glad to hear this, because often, these types of books and articles tend to drip with disapproval and condescension.

  2. I liked Mrs. S.’s comment. I also don’t envy the girls who have something to say but those comments are tagged as “defiance.” Not a world I could live in, by any means.

    • You would also very much resent how much “creativity” is framed. The children often cut and paste rather than draw, in case the drawings are not true to life. Something which would be deemed as a criticism of creation.

  3. Looks like an interesting read. Yeah my relatives in Bnei Brak are Viznitz Chassisim. the boys mostly speak Yiddish to each other and the girls mostly Hebrew (lucky for me! My Yiddish sucks.) tho they can both speak both.

  4. I’ve been interested to read this one (my library doesn’t have it) so I’m glad to see your review! Have you read Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers by Stephanie Levine, on the same topic? I found it fascinating, also in large part because the author did not have an agenda beside curiosity, which allowed for a real window to open.

    • No, I haven’t read it (yet) but having read Mitzvah Girls and Boychiks in the Hood I am tempted to try this one, even though the group studied here is Lubavitcher which I find are quite different from the other Hasidic groups.

    • You will find that Mitzvah Girls is much more “serious and in-depth than Boychiks in the Hood as the aproach is different. Ayala Fader stayed in the same place and studied the communities for several years while Robert Eisenberg hopped from one place to another.

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