claim.. claim.. Each essay must have

a clearly-stated thesis as the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. Please italicize your thesis. It should be a one-sentence summary of your overall claim.
Subsequent paragraphs that support your thesis. Use direct quotations and analyze them in your own words as one kind of evidence.
Reference to at least one class reading. It need not be a long analysis.

Excellent essays will:

Identify representations and arguments made about religion

Show knowledge of beliefs or values associated with religious communities

Show close textual reasoning and analysis

Use cultural knowledge and multiple perspectives to think critically and analyze text

Present a thesis that is clearly articulated and appropriately limited in scope

Avoid unwarranted generalizations

Quote directly from the text and analyze those quotations


Below are a liberal Jewish woman’s reflections on her encounter with Chabad (Lubavitcher) Hasidic Judaism. For your essay, consider the questions: What arguments do the Hasidic women make for why their lifestyle is preferable? What concerns does the author have? Why might these gender roles appeal—or not appeal—to American Jewish women? (You can read the whole reflection at: or, if you cannot open it, please use the text below)

My friend Stephanie Weiss (a pseudonym, like the other names in this story) seemed to have it all. By the time she was 30 she had a high-level, high-paying job in the television industry that put her in constant touch with a variety of celebrities. There always seemed to be an attractive man in her life. She even owned her own Fifth Avenue co-op apartment.
Then one day, about two years ago, Stephanie told me she was thinking of taking a six-month leave of absence from her job. She needed some time to think about her life. “Every time I take another step up the success ladder I feel a slightly larger hollow inside,” she explained. “There must be more to life than this, I tell myself.” Shortly thereafter, on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, Stephanie happened to sit next to a Lubavitcher Hasidic couple. By the time the plane landed in New York, Stephanie had accepted an invitation to spend the following weekend with them. That spring she spent practically every weekend at their Brooklyn home.
Today Stephanie, who hadn’t entered a synagogue since her early teens has become a ba’al t’shuva (Hebrew for a non-observant Jew who returns to Orthodoxy). She prays several times a day, observes the Sabbath, follows the dietary laws. Later this year she will marry an attorney who is also a ba’al t’shuva. In accordance with strict Orthodox laws pertaining to sex, she has had no physical relationship with her fiancé. Stephanie says she has never been happier.
While I had been aware of the Lubavitchers’ campaign to get Jews back to Orthodoxy, Stephanie’s “return” made me realize how successful they have been. This aroused my curiosity about the reasons why intelligent, sophisticated young people,-women in particular-accept what appears to be a sexist and repressive form of Judaism, which their immigrant parents and grandparents quickly abandoned for the freedom of a secular American way of life.
To try to find answers to my questions, I sign up for An Encounter With Chabad Weekend (“Chabad” and “Lubavitcher” are synonymous) in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, where approximately 25,000 Lubavitcher Hasidim make their homes. The thirty-five other female participants and I spend most of our time listening to lectures at Machon Chana—the Lubavitcher women’s dormitory where women from non-religious backgrounds and places as distant as Minnesota, Ohio, France and Israel come to pursue Judaic studies.
The weekend begins on Friday afternoon. The lighting of Sabbath candles in the dining room is the first event on the calendar. About fifteen trim, well-dressed young women stand around a table filled with candles. Some who have already lit their candles pray intensely, hands over their faces. Others are waiting their turn. Scattered around the room facing the walls are young women with prayer books in their hands. They sway back and forth as they pray. When they are done they wish each other “Guten Shabbos” in Yiddish.
It is one thing to hear or read about the return to Orthodoxy. It is quite another to be confronted with a scene like this. My only experiences in Orthodox synagogues took place during my childhood, when I accompanied my grandfather on the High Holidays. Since then I’d picture only old, Yiddish-speaking men and women praying like this-not pretty young girls in designer jean skirts. I am shocked.
At the synagogue where Friday night services are held, my reaction changes from shock to annoyance. As in all other Orthodox synagogues, women are separated from men. The women’s section is upstairs, screened off from the men’s by a smoked glass partition. Everything below looks dark and blurry, when in fact the synagogue is brightly lit.
“It’s a one way screen,” Rachel Stern explains. She is a soft-spoken young woman from Cleveland who has lived at the dorm for several years. “We can look down, but the men can’t look up,” she tells me. “It would distract them from their prayers to see women. That’s why we can’t sit together.”
Many of the restrictive Orthodox rules relating to women were established to curb male sexuality and thus avoid premarital sex and adultery. Lubavitcher women are not even allowed to sing in the presence of men other than their husbands-a woman’s voice is considered sensuously arousing. “Doesn’t it bother you that the women are not allowed to participate in the services?” I ask Rachel. Her answer is typical of the attitude of many of the women I question. “It bothered me at first,” she admits. “But now that I have a better understanding of Judaism, it doesn’t. Judaism is a way of life and its focal point is the family. Women’s religious functions center on the family-keeping the dietary laws, educating the children, observing the holidays, lighting the Sabbath candles. They are as important as men’s religious activities in the synagogue.”
I ask myself whether Orthodox Jewish men who thank God in their prayers every morning that they were not born women think that soaking and salting the meat is as important as being called up to the Torah.
As the weekend progresses I become aware that many of the young women attracted to this place are reacting to sexual promiscuity. “The current dating scene is a form of prostitution,” a very attractive 24-year-old woman from Boston asserts angrily. “The guys take you out and they expect to be paid back in sex. A religious guy looks at me as a person, not a body. There are other means of communication than going to bed.”
Most of these women share a feeling that women are treated more seriously and with more respect in this environment than in the liberated world of tight jeans, see-through blouses and one-night stands. So they are more receptive to what they hear, more willing to accept explanations which might seem highly inadequate to those less in need of support.
In addition, many are reacting against what they consider excessive and burdensome freedom. “The freedom of choices you have to make is almost shackling,” is the way Joan Klein, a college student from Rockville, Maryland, puts it. “Young people lack identity; they lack a sense of direction; they lack meaning; they are like wandering sheep.” For her, this is not theoretical discourse; Joan’s voice trembles with emotion as she speaks. “America is a place of nothing. Nothing is handed down except freedom. You can die of freedom,” another woman tells me. Reared in a world which places ultimate value on freedom and self-realization, these young women crave structure, order and morality. A 3,000-year-old tradition which has these to offer, as well as a feeling of returning to one’s roots and of belonging, appears to many of them a way of life they can’t reject.


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