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The Brothel-Owner and the Milkman

SHOLEM ASCH’S GOD OF VENGEANCE COMES TO LIFE by Susan Reimer-Torn ON MARCH 26, 1923, shortly before curtain time, the cast and producers of Sholem Asch’s play, God of Vengeance (pictured above) were arrested by a vice squad and thrown into jail to await trial on obscenity charges. The arrest took place fifteen days after […]

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Orthodox Women, Escaping

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 […]

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Upper West Side: My Orthodox Weekend

by Susan Reimer-Torn I’VE BEEN WARNED that the Orthodox lifestyle in which I was brought up — modern, enlightened, advocating secular education for all genders — has moved far to the right. An unexpected invitation to attend an Orthodox version of a bat mitsve in Philadelphia this past weekend was my opportunity to experience that […]

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From the West Bank to the Upper West Side

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 […]

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Mirror and Enigma: The Go-Between Women

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 […]

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Mirror and Enigma: The Talmud’s Buddy Movie

Models of Masculinity by Susan Reimer-Torn WOULD ANY ATTEMPT to profile the Jewish male lapse into an irritating stereotype? Probably. But the rabbis of the Talmud do not flinch from examining issues of masculinity, and their portrait of the ideal male has left an imprint on Jewish cultural assumptions to this day. Some aspects of […]

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Mirror and Enigma: Tales from the Talmud

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 […]

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Murder in Israel: And Will You Love?

by Susan Reimer-Torn AT THE CEREMONY in Mod’in for the three slain Israeli teenagers, Rav Dov Zinger asks the assembled multitude that they repeat after him: “With this I accept upon myself the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’reakha kamokha, loving thy neighbor as thyself.” Hundreds of thousands of people agree to take that commandment upon themselves. This […]

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Daughters and Fathers at Passover Time

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 […]

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Upper West Side: The Philanthropists

by Susan Reimer-Torn We are the free-est, most affluent, most powerful Jews to ever walk the planet. The only question is what we want to do with the remarkable blessing of our lives. Not bad for openers. The big burly rabbi is used to working a high-powered crowd. I look around the conference room hosting […]

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Upper West Side: Meet the Maharats

Misogyny and What It Takes to Move On It was a late springtime graduation unlike any other, a landmark event in Jewish history. For the first time ever, three women were granted smikha, clerical ordination, by three male Orthodox rabbis who had taken a much-publicized stance in support of this controversial departure from past practice.  […]

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Upper West Side: Happiness and Burst Bubbles

by Susan Reimer-Torn Happiness: There is a word for it in every language, yet what it is and how best to sustain it are perennial puzzles. There is hardly a culture, religion, or political platform that fails to mention happiness, but few have defined it in consistently satisfying terms. Six Things: Sagmeister and Walsh, an […]

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Upper West Side: On Women, Water, and Walls

by Susan Reimer-Torn I am flooded with a painful memory. The trigger is a story told by Ruth Calderon, a newly elected delegate to the Israeli Knesset and a maverick teacher of Talmud as literature and as legacy to the non-religious. Speaking at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Calderon is letting us know, with a certain […]

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Upper West Side: Hands in Pockets

by Susan Reimer-Torn Whenever I choose to take an afternoon cappuccino break at a popular Upper West Side coffee shop, I am hoping to be regaled with some overheard conversation at the communal table. One recent, greyish midweek afternoon, I was not disappointed. The two studious-looking young women facing me were deep into deliberation. One […]

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Miss Liberty: Escaping Orthodoxy

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, […]

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Susan Reimer-Torn: Upper West Side #6

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 […]

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Susan Reimer-Torn: Upper West Side #5

Gefilte Fish: Reflections on a Cultural Concoction by Susan Reimer-Torn When I extend my hand and say my name, followed by my husband’s, the lovely older woman focuses in intent concentration, trying to place us. Finally, she is satisfied with her recall. “Ah, yes,” says she, “Susan, Edmond, gefilte fish.” Now it’s my turn to […]

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Susan Reimer-Torn: Upper West Side #4

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. […]

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Susan Reimer-Torn: Upper West Side #3

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, […]

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Susan Reimer-Torn: Upper West Side #2

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 […]

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Susan Reimer-Torn: Upper West Side #1

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 […]

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