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Mitzvah Girls: Bringing Up the Next Generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn

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ISBN-13: 978-0691139173
ISBN-10: 0691139172
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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2009 New York City Book Award, New York Society Library

Winner of the 2009 National Jewish Book Award in Women's Studies

Highly Commended 2010 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion, Society for the Anthropology of Religion

"Mitzvah Girls is a rigorous ethnographic study of the education of Hasidic girls in Brooklyn. It is entertaining and engaging, combining personal accounts and subjective prose with critical analysis. . . . [Fader] analyses the use of language in contexts such as the classroom, playtimes and mealtimes to demonstrate how notions of Hasidic femininity are inscribed and transmitted through ordinary linguistic discourse."--Giulia Miller, Times Higher Education

"A compelling and intimate picture of a society largely closed to outsiders, tracing the girls' upbringing from early childhood until marriage."--Miriam Shaviv, Jewish Chronicle

"As a monitor of socialization in the very personal, private worlds of Hasidic women, this book is fascinating. Although it focuses on this very special group, it opens many avenues of thought for readers not generally familiar with Hasidic women and their lives."--Sybil Kaplan, National Jewish Post and Opinion

"For a window into the rarely seen and little understood (at least by secular Jews) world of Hasidim, read Mitzvah Girls. . . . Fader, an anthropologist, focuses on girls and how they view their lives. . . . She captures their voices, their dreams, their moral vision."--Sandee Brawarsky, Jewish Woman

"Fader relies on years of ethnographic fieldwork in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn during which she delved deeply into girls' everyday life and what she terms 'Hasidic English,' a Yiddish-inflected hybrid evolving among these women."--Josh Lambert, Tablet

"Fascinating. . . . The work maintains a scholarly character and possesses the intellectual nature of a scientific exploration, while remaining a pleasurable casual read."--Jewish Book World

"Fader in effect presses the pause button and allows the reader to observe the moment girls become Jewish women. . . . Fader explores words themselves to illustrate how meaning shifts in relationship to religion and gender. . . . An extraordinarily fascinating read."--Jeanne Vaccaro, Feminist Review

"Reveals how through everyday talk Hasidic women teach their daughters to discipline their bodies and their minds to serve God. . . . Fader's reflections on fieldwork, such as when she agonizes over whether or not to wear a bathing suit with a group of Hasidic women and girls at a pool with gender-segregated hours, or how her young daughter peppered her with challenging questions when they visited Bora Park ('Why are the these girls wearing skirts?' 'What's modesty?' 'Do we follow what's in the Bible?'), personalize the fairly academic tone of the book, inviting us further into the world it explores."--Susan Sapiro, Lilith Magazine

"Clear, crisp, and compelling. . . . Mitzvah Girls is a thoughtful look at the world of Jewish girls who grow up in 21st-century America, but don't really."--David Wolpe, Commentary

"She breaks new ground by examining the formal and informal education of girls and the effort to enculturate them into the appropriate roles acceptable to their society. As a participant-observer with special capabilities in ethnolinguistics, the author is acutely sensitive to subtle variations in mother-daughter and teacher-pupil communication. . . . A brief review cannot do justice to the breadth and depth of insight that this exceptional study provides about ultra-orthodox Jewish American life."--Choice

"Ayala Fader opens up new possibilities of dialogue between different fields of anthropological knowledge. She also provides an excellent demonstration of the enduring and compelling nature of ethnography which remains one of anthropology's most significant defining features."--Emma Tarlo, Anthropology of this Century

From the Back Cover

"This is a superb book. All manner of readers will find themselves moved by this beautifully rendered portrait of the process by which Hasidic girls become Hasidic women. Scholars of language, gender, and religion will find something more--a theoretically innovative synthesis of work on language socialization and the anthropology of morality that points toward whole new areas of study. Put simply, it is one of the most exciting works on religion I have read in some years."--Joel Robbins, University of California, San Diego

"Mitzvah Girls is impressive in its sweep, tackling the considerable topic of how religious communities are sustained and changed. Ayala Fader transcends simple language and culture alignments to bring readers into the usually inaccessible private worlds of Hasidic families. I know of no other book that monitors socialization into gender from childhood to adulthood, while examining how language frames the formation of secular antipathies, adherence to divine legitimacy, self-control, and nostalgia for a lost Hasidic past."--Elinor Ochs, University of California, Los Angeles

"Mitzvah Girls is fresh and fascinating. It is exemplary not only because of the exceptionally fine ethnographic research, but also because of the highly original approach to language, body, and culture. Fader illuminates aspects of contemporary Hasidic life that have never been explored before in ways that speak to larger questions: the place of women in male-centered religions, the gendering of language, and the forms that modernity takes in a world that values tradition."--Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, author of Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage

"With insightful and carefully drawn analysis, Mitzvah Girls challenges how Hasidim and other fundamentalist communities are often regarded from the outside. Fader presents a nuanced look at how both Yiddish and English are gendered in the daily lives of American Hasidic girls and women. This book makes a valuable contribution to the scholarship on American Hasidism, American Judaism more generally, contemporary Jewish language use, women's religious life, and religious fundamentalism."--Jeffrey Shandler, author of Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691139172
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691139173
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #384,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By hmf22 on October 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mitzvah Girls is an anthropological study of Hasidic girls, somewhat in the spirit of Liz Harris's Holy Days and Stephanie Levine's Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers. It offers an intimate peek into several of Brooklyn's Hasidic communities, especially into girls' elementary schools and the home lives of mothers and children. Ayala Fader has a strong background in linguistics, and much of the study focuses on the roles of Hasidic English and Hasidic Yiddish in the community. Another intriguing thread of the study examines Hasidic women's striving to be "with it, not modern." I was fascinated to read about the manner in which Hasidic mothers and teachers blend mainstream child psychology with traditional approaches and prescriptions. Overall, Mitzvah Girls provides a rich portrait of the values that inform Hasidic child-rearing.

Though I learned a lot from the book, I was frustrated by some of Fader's omissions. She mentions Hasidic children's literature, games, and summer camps only to brush them off; I would have loved to learn more. In writing about the school curriculum, she focuses overwhelmingly on grades K-2 and gives little sense of what the curriculum is like in later years. And while Fader writes at length about modesty and courtship, she never addresses the topic of menstruation. Fader indicates that some Hasidic girls are more or less unaware of the facts of life until they become engaged, but that simply begs the question of what mothers, teachers, and other adult women tell them about their changing bodies in the years between puberty and marriage. Though there is plenty of human interest in the book, the anthropological framework is sometimes heavy-handed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 27, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For my anthropology class we were given a choice of books to read; I selected this one (living in Brooklyn I was somewhat familiar with the subject of the book). For an assignment book this one provided many interesting insights into the Hasidic community. The author uses interviews, and what is referred to as being a "participant-observer."

While their was an occasional slow spot or two I found it an altogether engaging reading.
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By Miki on August 31, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Subject matter was very interesting but writing was much too dry and academic. I found the bits where the author discussed her personal feelings and conflict about her subjects to be fascinating. I wish that she could have included more along this vein.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Oren on September 3, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A truly excellent book. A fascinating look into the Hasidic culture, unknown to many Americans. Fader helps us understand how girls are educated and what is expected of them in this unique community.
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