Michael Friedland '21 is reading...

The Book of Separation: A Memoir
By: Tova Mirvis

If you’re interested in the world of Modern Orthodox Jews, I’d definitely recommend reading any of Tova Mirvis’s wonderful novels. However, Mirvis’s 2017 memoir, The Book of Separation, which documents her decision to leave the Orthodoxy, should be on the top of your reading list. Even if you’re not interested in Modern Orthodox Judaism–which you should be–Mirvis offers her readers a tale anyone can relate to, grappling with doubt, community obligations, and what it means to be free. While the Modern Orthodoxy is a relatively insular community, Mirvis’s experience differs from the “breaking Amish” type of narrative you might be familiar with. Modern Orthodox Judaism falls on the liberal end of the Orthodox Jewish spectrum, attempting to reconcile modern life with the 613 commandments found in the Torah. Mirvis’s memoir begins with the skepticism she feels at a young age towards her community’s fundamentalism. On one hand, as a Modern Orthodox woman, Mirvis gets the freedom to venture into the outside world, to attend a secular college, and to become a successful novelist. However, her religion still limits how she dresses, eats, and all-around lives her life. Mirvis documents how Orthodox Judaism carefully tries to balance the freedoms of the outside world with the obligations of Jewish law. For Mirvis, this balancing act falls apart, especially when it comes to the limits women in her community must grapple with. Although her experiences are unique in many ways, Mirvis gives voice to the many Orthodox Jews going through similar experiences. Like anyone who walks away from an insular religion, Mirvis feels grief for the loss of a tight-knit community that’s hard to find in the modern world. Still, her memoir’s ending is a happy one: Mirvis gets the freedom she needs to live a fulfilling life. In The Book of Separation, this freedom can be as simple as taking a yoga class or eating a cheeseburger, and as complicated as gaining an understanding of what it means to be a Jew outside of the Orthodox bubble. Mirvis’s works have helped me better understand the religion I was raised in, but regardless of your familiarity with Judaism, you’ll definitely get something out of The Book of Separation.

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