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The Saturday Wife    by Naomi Ragen order for
Saturday Wife
by Naomi Ragen
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Naomi Ragen is one of my very favorite authors, and I always look forward to reading anything of hers. In fact, she wrote two of my all-time favorite novels: The Sacrifice of Tamar and Sotah. This new book is a biting and exaggerated satire of an otherwise insulated population: Modern Orthodox Jews.

The wife in the title of this novel refers to a rebbetzin, a rabbi's wife. In this case, the wife is Delilah, a manipulative and selfish social-climber, whose Orthodox Jewish values conflict with her desire for wealth. Being a rabbi's wife was not the life Delilah envisioned for herself, but at the time, Chaim seemed like a way up the ladder and out of her parents' lives. Never satisfied and living by the grass is always greener philosophy, Delilah wants what everyone else has. She badgers her husband to leave his comfortable rabbinical position in New York and move to a congregation in an affluent suburb of Connecticut, with disastrous consequences.

There is very little that is either likeable or redeemable about Delilah, and that is the point. Nothing will ever make her happy; even when she thinks she has what she wants, she will just keep wanting more things, and more space to put them in. Yet at heart, she is a religious Jew who still says the blessings over her kosher food. Delilah has to do her best to impress the bigwigs at the synagogue. When that proves to be too much for her, she befriends an unbelievably wealthy woman in the community, who arranges the most decadent and ostentatious bar mitzvah for her stepson that anyone has ever seen.

All of the main players are caricatures, their behavior extreme. Only Chaim, the rabbi, has any redeemable qualities. This book should not be taken seriously as an accurate picture of Modern Orthodox Jews - it is merely a social satire and a commentary about the dichotomy between solid Jewish values and material excess. Reading it is like gleefully watching a horror movie - you can't wait to see what comes next, knowing a disaster is about to befall someone. In that vein, the ending does not disappoint. The Saturday Wife reminded me of The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis in the sense that the narrator seemed to be the community at large.

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