The Sacrifice of Tamar

Naomi Ragen

Publisher: Toby Press

Classic urban-Jewish myth replaces Bible stories in this latest chaste offering from Ragen (Sotah, 1992, etc.). Ultra-Orthodox, 21-year-old Tamar Finegold is raped by a black man while babysitting her nephew. Unwilling to become an object of pity and gossip in her tightly knit Brooklyn community, Tamar resolves to hide the fact from her family, friends, and neighbors. She even keeps the incident a secret from her pious husband, Josh, afraid that he will divorce her if Jewish law commands him to. When Tamar discovers that she is pregnant, however, she must reevaluate. The child could be the rapist’s, but it might also be Josh’s, with whom she slept that very same night. After soul-searching and sleeplessness, Tamar finally confides in her two best friends from childhood: Hadassah Mandlebright, the fallen only daughter of the revered Kovnitzer Rebbe, and born-again Jew Jenny Douglas. The three women meet at Hadassah’s apartment in Manhattan and Tamar leaves the next morning determined to go through with her pregnancy. Eight months later she gives birth to a white child, Aaron. Tamar believes that the episode is finished; for the next 20 years she lives a spotless-if troubled- -life, giving birth to two more children, becoming a respected matron in the community. But when Aaron’s wife is punished for Tamar’s sins of omission, Tamar must again make a decision, this time one her conscience can live with. Although Ragen exposes herself to charges of racism here, the black rapist is more important as a plot device than a representative of his race. More central is Ragen’s typically harsh judgment of the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, although she does create some saintly religious characters. As in Sotah, Ragen’s moral is that fulfillment can be found outside the rigid boundaries of community but within the teachings of the commandments. Clich‚-ridden and predictable, but also strangely affecting. (Author tour) — Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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