A journey into Jewish Orthodoxy

The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith by Judy Gruen, She Writes Press, © 2017; ISBN 978-1-63152-302-1; 219 pages, $16.95.

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – Author Judy Gruen grew up in a more-or-less Conservative Jewish home, but after falling in love with Jeff, who was embarked upon a journey toward Orthodoxy, she found herself drawn into the same orbit.  Questioning, debating, all the way, she gradually transformed herself into an Orthodox woman.  She and Jeff now have four children, one recently married.

Gruen clearly takes joy in the English language and its opportunities for word play.  At the beginning of her metamorphosis, she became intrigued when Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Los Angeles revealed in weekly lectures how the Torah too is filled with puns, hidden meanings, and deeper thoughts than those that present themselves on first reading.

The author utilized her journalistic skills to study the branch of Judaism that she and Jeff were embracing, never afraid to ask questions, nor to challenge practices with which she was not particularly comfortable.

Well aware of the criticisms and misinformation shaping some non-observant Jews’ perceptions of Orthodoxy, Gruen, in her memoir, tells of her own struggles with various components of traditional Jewish life.

Thus, we read about her experiences with the mikvah and the laws of family purity; her long-lasting resistance and eventual acceptance of covering her hair with a wig; her initial reluctance to keep strictly kosher not only in the house but also outside; her desire not to engage in gossip nor idle talk; her successful effort to become more traditional while not alienating her non-traditional parents and family members; and her wonderment how easily and naturally her own  children incorporated into their lives the Orthodox concepts which took her many years to internalize.

For those predisposed to becoming more rigorous in their Jewish observance, Gruen’s memoir can be a companion book.  A reader, so inclined, may be very pleased to learn that en route to her transformation, Gruen struggled with the same kinds of questions and doubts that may assail someone new to the process.

Personally, I don’t believe that Gruen’s memoir will change the mind of anyone who is happy and comfortable in his or her own religious practice.  Nothing in her book compels a reader to think, “She is right; I must change my ways.”  On the other hand, those who harbor prejudices against the Orthodox would do well to read the memoir.  It may dispel some of their negative impressions, and help plant within them a feeling of admiration for those who struggle to conduct themselves according to traditional Judaism’s precepts.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via [email protected]



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One Response to “A journey into Jewish Orthodoxy”

  1. Judy Gruen says:

    Thank you, Mr. Harrison, for such a lovely review of my book. You captured much of the essence of my message. I agree with you that “The Skeptic and the Rabbi” will likely not persuade people who are happy with their level of religious observance to become more traditional. But that was never my goal. It was, as you also note, to offer an inside look into one woman’s road toward greater Jewish observance, including the psychological and intellectual struggles along the way, as well as the satisfaction in the process.

    I have heard from several non-Jews who have told me, or posted online reviews, that my book helped them feel supported in their own religious paths, something that I find very gratifying.


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