4 out of 4 stars
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Things get messy at the Hebrew Theological Institute in New York when Rabbi Moishe Weinstein is accused of inappropriate behavior by a student. Hannah Wong opens floodgates when she accuses the charismatic seventy-seven-year-old rabbi of sexual misconduct. Women and God, written by Philip Graubart, begins when Miriam, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, asks Rabbi Yael Gold to investigate the allegations. Yael, who was also Moishe’s student, travels from her home in Nevada to investigate the claims.
The book has many positive aspects, and I enjoyed it very much. For starters, it has well-developed, complex characters. Yael, the protagonist, is a multidimensional woman who has to deal with her emotional scars as the investigation progresses. Yael’s father was an adulterer, so the whole thing stirs up deep-seated psychological issues and unwelcome memories from her past. Peter, Yael’s wife, is also a multidimensional character. He had been Moishe’s musical director for a couple of years, and the rabbi introduced them and persuaded Yael to choose him instead of her former boyfriend, Simon.
The plot is also a plus. The author writes well, and there are several interconnected threads. The points of view vary; some chapters have Yael’s point of view, some have Moishe’s, and a few have Peter’s. The author weaves all threads skillfully, and as the investigation moves along, many dark secrets surface.
Above all, I appreciated how the author brings up sociopolitical angles. This aspect was what I liked the most about Women and God. Graubart paints Jewish culture and controversies in bold strokes. For instance, there are references to BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) actions urged against Israel by pro-Palestinian groups. Additionally, the book explores how the issue is not only calling out predatory practices and behaviors but also exposing the power structures that enable and normalize them. Many of us are familiar with the Harvey Weinstein debacle and the #MeToo movement, and there are well-put references to them throughout the story. It left me thinking about Yael and the larger issues of dealing with emotional scars (“Maybe I was investigating men. The whole sloppy species with their wandering hands and pretty lies and incorrigible sex drives.”) and finding the truth (“Or if it’s even possible to know the truth.”)
In closing, I rate the book 4 out of 4 stars. It has the right mix of suspense and drama, and I found no noteworthy negative points. It seems professionally edited, with only a few minor capitalization issues that do not detract from the reading experience. I recommend it to readers who like thrillers. Also, those who are interested in religious (particularly Jewish) issues and sexual misconduct claims should consider reading this book.
Women and God
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