Recovering the Kerchief: Returning to Judaism in Contemporary Israeli Religious Women’s Fiction

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This essay looks at three novels by contemporary Israeli female novel-ists from different religious backgrounds who describe the process of women’s repentance and return to religion [teshuvah]. The novels I will discuss by Noa Yaron-Dayan, Mekimi [ Raise Me Up] (2007), Michal Govrin, Hashem (1995; The Name, 1998), and Emunah Elon, Simkhah gedolah bashamayim [ If You Awaken Love] (2004), track a journey from the secular world to rediscovery of Jewish traditional lifestyles and renewed faith in the covenantal narrative between God and the people of Israel. Along the way, these novels expose the modern or progressive values of the secular world as superficial and shallow. But these texts also engage in frank discussions about sex and sexuality. A persistent motif is modest clothing, and the kerchief in particular functions as an outer sign of the inner struggle in a return to Judaism in search of inner spirituality and femininity from an empowered position of personal choice. I conclude with a novel by Natanella Schlesinger, Akharei hama’asim [ When the Deed Was Done] (2017), about two sisters who face the choices between secular and religious worlds. In contrast to the confessional mode of teshuvah, Schlesinger’s novel shows that the journey does not always end, and that the destination is not always known. These novels express women’s voices demanding to be heard in Israel’s ongoing culture wars.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-190
Number of pages28
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • Feminism
  • Hebrew literature
  • Israel
  • Judaism
  • Religion
  • Women’s writing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies


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