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The Sacrifice of Tamar

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Sacrifice of Tamar

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Sacrifice of Tamar
By Naomi Ragen
Toby Press, (2001)
ISBN: 1902881524

A Large Print Edition is also available.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - April 10, 2003

The Sacrifice of Tamar is the third volume in Naomi Ragen's compelling "Haredi" trilogy. The first two volumes in this series were, Jephte's Daughter and Sotah. Jephte's Daughter deals with a young woman forced to marry a man whose piety hides his cruelty, and Sotah is a coming-of-age story about a young wife accused of committing adultery. These first two novels were set primarily in Israel. In The Sacrifice of Tamar, Ragen takes a slightly different track, in so much that her story centers upon the life of a Haredi woman living in New York City.

In this story we are introduced to Tamar Finegold. Tamar is a young wife who is extremely happy with her life, and with her husband. Her life is horribly overturned when she is brutally raped by an intruder while she is babysitting for her sister's infant. Scared and ashamed, Tamar doesn't tell anyone what happened to her. Her fear is only heighten when she looks in some of her husband's religious books and erroneously comes to the conclusion that if she were to tell her husband what happened that he would be forced to divorce her. So despite the pain, she keeps her secret to herself and hopes that the memories of that moment will dissipate over time. Perhaps they might have. However, Tamar soon finds that she is pregnant and she's not sure if the baby is her husband's or the intruder's.

Tamar feels that she cannot confide in anyone within her own community. So she contacts Hadassah Mandlebright, a childhood friend who broke with her family, and her religion, and found 'freedom' as the mistress of a wealthy man. Hadassah is aware of the forces imposed against Tamar, and the stigma that she would face if it became common knowledge that she was the victim of a rape. In addition, Hadassah is also worldly, having lived for a time outside the insular Haredi (ultra-orthodox Jewish) community to which the two young women were raised. Without Tamar's knowledge, Hadassah informs Jenny - another childhood friend of Tamar's. Jenny was not raised orthodox, but took up an orthodox lifestyle when she was older because she felt drawn to 'orthodoxy'. Each of these women brings a different viewpoint to the questions surrounding the difficult discussions that Tamar must make. One of the more controversial aspects of this book is that Tamar's assailant was black and tidbits of racial prejudices are present in some of the decisions that Tamar will make. Whatever she decides will not only affect her own life, but also the lives of everyone around, including her children.

This story starts in 1970 when Tamar was raped, and it is told partially in flashbacks as the three women relive their childhood. Through these flashbacks we are privy to how their childhoods influenced the life decisions that each made as they matured.

The Sacrifice of Tamar is a 'complete' story. Ragen chronicles Tamar's childhood, the rape, and the factors that contributed to her decision to keep the assault a secret and the effect that keeping such a secret has upon Tamar as she maintains the secret as she matures.

Like all secrets, however, this one does not remain a secret forever. The revelation of what happened to Tamar is traumatic for the reader, as well as for all the characters in the story. How the secret is revealed is shocking and as horrendous as the actual rape. However, in this case, more than one person's life is altered by the knowledge that Tamar secreted for so long. When the story concludes, the year is 1993 and you now 'know it all'.

The subject matter discussed in the story is hard to read at times, and the impact that Tamar's decision has on others, even those outside the confines of her immediate family is tragic.

Haunting, yet surprisingly compelling, this story is a fitting conclusion to Ragen's Haredi trilogy. It is strengthened by a heightened maturity in her writing style, and in her wiliness to tackle even more contentious topics than she touched upon in her previous works. This is an intriguing novel. It will, nonetheless, generate more questions than it answers when it comes to understanding the lives of Haredi women.

This reader's guide edition contains a forward by the author, as well as a reader's guide that presents a variety of questions that can be used to jump start a discussion about the book. These questions are suitable for all age groups and can be used in both classroom and reader group type situations.

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