Susan Reimer-Torn

Susan Reimer-Torn is a contributing writer to Jewish Currents and the author of Maybe Not Such a Nice Girl: A Memoir of Rupture and Return, published by our Blue Thread Books.
  • Essay

    Unrequited Love: When Women Study the Talmud

    December 11, 2018

    Women Talmud scholars find different paths through a patriarchal text.

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  • Articles

    Orthodox Women, Escaping

    April 2, 2016

    by Susan Reimer-Torn From the Spring 2016 issue of Jewish Currents FAIGY MEYER BECAME a tabloid headline last July when she leapt to her death from a Manhattan rooftop bar. Faige (shown below) was not a fictional character, nor did she write a memoir. She was a 30-year-old woman who had left behind her ultra-Orthodox upbringing for a secular life some six years before. Friends said she carried a darkness within that she could not dispel. Since I, too, broke with the Orthodox world of my childh...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    The Dancing Grandmothers of Jewish Jackson Heights

    December 2, 2015

    by Susan Reimer-Torn Discussed in this essay: In Jackson Heights, a film by Frederick Wiseman. Zipporah Films, 2015, 190 minutes. GROWING UP AS AN ORTHODOX JEW in Jackson Heights, back in the 1950s and '60s, I knew we had been sidelined, as if a piece of the borough had broken off, lying forlorn and fallow, while other parts grew ever-more prosperous. I’m told that “the downward slide” began when Jackson Heights was overlooked as a site for the new Orthodox day school that was instead built i...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    From the West Bank to the Upper West Side

    June 9, 2015

    On the Anniversary of the Murder of Three Jewish Boys by Susan Reimer-Torn I DON'T REALLY listen, not with a truly open mind, to those who hold views that are, politically or religiously, opposed to my own. My progressive principles are liberally laced with intolerance. I’m prejudiced, even close-minded, against the arguments of whole groups of people whom I consider to be the less-evolved. Here is my intransigent point of view: Highly evolved individuals (and I have no idea how we get to be th...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Mirror and Enigma: The Sages and the Slut Walk

    June 3, 2015

    More Tales from the Talmud by Susan Reimer-Torn "His (Rabbi Hanina b.Teradion’s) daughter was consigned to a brothel, for R. Johanan related that once that daughter of his was walking in front of some great men of Rome who remarked, 'How beautiful are the steps of the maiden.' Whereupon, she took particular care of her step. Which confirms the following words of R. Simeon b. Lakish: 'What is the meaning of the verse, the iniquity of my heel compasseth me about?' — Sins which one treads under he...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Mirror and Enigma: My Obsession with Bruriah

    April 18, 2015

    Tales from the Talmud by Susan Reimer-Torn I'M OBSESSED with a woman from the Talmud named Bruriah. She is the only woman mentioned several times by name in the Talmud. She was a woman singled out for her perspicacious mind. She was a noted female scholar of the turbulent 2nd century, a time when the Jews of Palestine struggled under the might of the brutally repressive Roman Empire. According to Rashi, she came to a bad end. Her despair, after being cruelly betrayed not by the Romans but by ...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Mirror and Enigma: The Talmud's Sisters and Their Sotah Ordeal

    March 23, 2015

    by Susan Reimer-Torn A STORY IS TOLD of two sisters who resembled one another. One sister was married and lived in one city. And the other sister was married and lived in another city. The husband of one of them grew jealous of his wife and wanted to bring her to Jerusalem to drink the bitter waters. That sister went to the city where her sister lived with her husband.   Her sister said to her: Why did you see fit to come here? She said to her: My husband wants me to drink the bitter waters. ...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Mirror and Enigma: Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the Yetzer Hara

    February 23, 2015

    by Susan Reimer-Torn Rabbi Ila'i said: If a person is tempted to do evil he should go to a city where he is not known, dress in black clothes, cover his head in black, and do what his heart desires so that God's name will not be desecrated. —Mo’ed Kattan 17a   THIS PIECE OF ADVICE from the Talmud is oft-quoted and controversial. “Tempted to do evil,” especially in this context, is a code phrase for sexual deviance or transgression, behavior of great concern to the talmudic rabbis. Each of us i...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Mirror and Enigma: The Go-Between Women

    February 15, 2015

    by Susan Reimer-Torn THERE ARE NO LAWS I know of that prohibit the embellishing upon an aggadic story. On the contrary, the liberal art of narrative reinvention fits squarely in the centuries-old midrashic tradition of taking a simply or cryptically told story and embroidering upon it according to our own imaginative wiles. There is so little revealed about the few women who appear in the patriarchal world of the Talmud that to me it seems imperative to round them out — to imagine what they mi...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Mirror and Enigma: Tales from the Talmud

    January 15, 2015

    by Susan Reimer-Torn Illustration, "Many Hands," by D. Yael Bernhard I GREW UP IN A DIFFERENT WORLD than did Lawrence Bush, who has edited Jewish Currents for the past dozen years. He, like many of JC's readers, was raised as a secular, leftist, socially conscious Jew, suspicious of religion and its well-chronicled abuses. I grew up in an Orthodox home with a fervent father who taught me that everything was subservient to Truth as revealed to the chosen people by the God of Israel on Sinai. Am...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Upper West Side: A Dayenu for "Dancing in Jaffa"

    April 25, 2014

    Pierre Dulaine and the Children of the World by Susan Reimer-Torn There are many things I have long known and admired about Pierre Dulaine, and even without knowing his full story, I could have proclaimed a seasonal “dayenu”: to me these things would suffice. Pierre is a man of great inner conviction who triumphs over the odds. Twenty years ago, as a five-times crowned world ballroom champion, he was not satisfied teaching his art to New York’s social elite. Instead he wanted to bring the deco...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Daughters and Fathers at Passover Time

    April 9, 2014

    by Susan Reimer-Torn A watercolor entitled Father and Daughter, painted in Poland in 1876, fills me with bittersweet longing. It was painted by a 21-year-old Maurycy Gottlieb just two years before the promising young man’s untimely death. (I wonder if that accounts for its intimation of inevitable parting.) A bearded patriarch is embracing a pre-adolescent daughter, who trustingly leans on his shoulder. The painting's sentiment is dignified by its restraint. This father-daughter portrait evokes...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Follow-Up: A Victory for Women Activists of Beit Shemesh

    January 2, 2014

    A follow-up to our correspondent's December 22 post, "A Bump on the Head and Day-Tripping in Beit Shemesh" By Susan Reimer-Torn In an unprecedented decision, the Jerusalem District Court annulled the results of last October's mayoral and city council elections in Beit Shemesh due to findings of massive and systematic fraud carried out by supporters of the Shas Party's incumbent, Moshe Abutbul. This is the first time an Israeli court has rendered such a judgment, in a decision that many hail as...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    A Bump on the Head and Day-Tripping in Beit Shemesh  

    December 23, 2013

    by Susan Reimer-Torn Photographs by Joan Roth I am settling into my seat for the long flight home from Israel when an object drops out of the sky and crashes into the top of my head. I look up to see an ultra-Orthodox guy with a beard and prayer fringes retrieving his fallen computer case and hovering over me with great concern. I’m hurting. And I’m outraged. This guy is not seated in my row or even in the immediate vicinity. It is not enough that he has come uninvited to my already crowded t...

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  • Articles

    Miss Liberty: Escaping Orthodoxy

    November 24, 2012

    by Susan Reimer-Torn My husband wonders why I am so withdrawn. Like a prodding parent, he wishes I would show off my Jewish education. It is true that I can read Aramaic and my Hebrew is altogether literate, but on this day I choose to be silent; invisibility, were it possible in this unsparing light, would suit my mood even better. What is happening to me, the zealot’s runaway daughter? Why am I here, mid-week, at a lunch-time Talmud class in a conference room in one of New York’s most muscul...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Susan Reimer-Torn: Upper West Side #6

    July 30, 2012

    by Susan Reimer-Torn Eight years ago, as I was resettling in my native New York City after living in France for twenty-two years, Ariel Sharon provoked a mini scandale by issuing  an extremist warning to Jews to leave France immediately to escape rising anti-Semitic violence. Then came the murder of Ilan Halimi in Paris in 2006, and the murder of four  (three of them children) at a Jewish school in Tolouse in March of this year. With these terrible crimes embedded within hundreds of recorded ac...

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    Susan Reimer-Torn: Upper West Side #4

    June 21, 2012

    Shattered Glass by Susan Reimer-Torn On May 16th, 1902, a brick came flying through the window of Lustgarten's kosher butcher shop on the Lower East Side. An irate Jewish housewife who lived down the teeming street sent those glass shards flying. She was one of thousands of women protesting the soaring cost of kosher meat. Their goal was to persuade the retailers to boycott the suppliers until they rolled back the rising prices. I learned all of this at a talk offered at the Lower East Side T...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Susan Reimer-Torn: Upper West Side #3

    June 9, 2012

    by Susan Reimer-Torn A Riddle Q. What in this world has the power to sanctify a sovereign and repel an ordinary mosquito? A. Ever since antiquity, healing, fragrance and even sacred powers have been known to be concentrated in precious droplets of essential oils. These oils reside between the cells of plants. Found in roots, seeds, barks, leaves, flowers, peels, herbs and resin, they are distilled and extracted to render volatile and aromatic “liquid essences.” Depending on the specific oil (...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Susan Reimer-Torn: Upper West Side #2

    May 24, 2012

    Blindness and Visions by Susan Reimer-Torn “I am a traitor, self-hater, blasphemer, inflictor of shame. I am none of these. I am all of these. It is absurd to apologize for a mystery. ” I am watching the Long Wharf Theater production of My Name is Asher Lev, based on Chaim Potok’s best-selling novel (1972). It is the story of a gifted artist born to devout Hasidic parents who cannot understand their child’s pagan calling. How can Asher’s obsession with form, color, perspective, and light trump...

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  • Blog-Shmog

    Susan Reimer-Torn: Upper West Side #1

    May 12, 2012

    by Susan Reimer-Torn I returned to my native New York City after spending twenty-two years in self-exile, working and raising a family in Paris. During those decades away, I was on the run from my family and friends’ obsession with the Jewish Question. When I took off for France while still in my twenties, I was in search of the larger world. Above all, I was a rebel against my father’s militant, Orthodox religious observance. I wanted to live, work, think, raise my children, practice journali...

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