Have you ever had this happen: you know a mom from your neighborhood, or from shul, or from the park, and you have no idea what she does besides being a mom and then you find out she has a really neat job?
This happened to me recently. A woman I know from a shul I go to once in a while–a very funky egalitarian but very religiously and spiritually committed community–approached me about a book she wrote and asked if the Kveller audience might be interested in hearing about it.
“She wrote a book?” I’m thinking. “I had no idea she was a writer.”
Turns out this nice quiet mom of three girls is a professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion! (These are all neat things!)
Her specialty, it turns out, is sociolinguistics (a field I am extremely interested in), Jewish languages (also something I am super interested in), and Orthodox Jews (also interesting since I like halacha (Jewish law) and observe Judaism in a way many Modern Orthodox people do). This woman is neat, right?
Her book is called
, and while it’s not a light novel to read at the beach this summer, it’s really interesting and very well-written. What Professor Benor does (I still prefer to call her Sarah) is immerse herself in a community of Orthodox and newly-Orthodox Jews (also knows as Baalei Teshuva, or BTs) and scientifically measure linguistic, cultural, and social patterns and trends and biases and all of the goings-on in this community over time. She’s looking for linguistic shifts in BTs that reflect their changing identities and their changing roles in religious society.
What I found especially intriguing were her personal reflections; what is was like for her to live in an Orthodox community when she herself is not Orthodox, what the challenges were, how it challenged her beliefs and practices. The book is primarily academic and not personal, but it is a very thorough and very thought-provoking book from both an academic and introspective angle.
For anyone becoming more observant or interested in the social and linguistic parameters of this transition, check out