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Appropriately Subversive

Appropriately Subversive

Modern Mothers in Traditional Religions

Tova Hartman Halbertal

ISBN 9780674008861

Publication date: 01/15/2003

How do mothers reconcile conflicting loyalties--to their religious traditions, and to the daughters whose freedoms are also constrained by those traditions? Searching for answers, Tova Hartman Halbertal interviewed mothers of teenage daughters in religious communities: Catholics in the United States, Orthodox Jews in Israel.

Sounding surprisingly alike, both groups described conscious struggles between their loyalties and talked about their attempts to make sense of and pass on their multiple commitments. They described accommodations and rationalizations and efforts to make small changes where they felt that their faith unjustly subordinated women. But often they did not feel they could tell their daughters how troubled they were. To keep their daughters safe within the protective culture of their ancestors, the mothers had to hide much of themselves in the hope that their daughters would know them more completely in the future.

Moving and unique, this book illuminates one of the moral questions of our time--how best to protect children and preserve community, without being imprisoned by tradition.


  • The devout women in Tova Hartman Halbertal’s new book are all insiders. Unhappy insiders sometimes, uncomfortable insiders often, but inside to stay. The author understands… Those [Halbertal] interviews wrestle to change their religious cultures even as they stand grounded in faith… All are mothers of adolescent daughters and all are teachers, usually in the religious schools of their communities. They know, writes [Dr.] Hartman Halbertal, both the price of choosing not to socialize their daughters in their traditions and the cost of passing on the culture without reflection… For mothers challenging the status quo, raising ‘good girls,’ can be both a way of protecting daughters and an insurance policy, she argues. ‘Good daughters certify good mothers,’ allowing the latter further risk-taking.

    —Nina C. Ayoub, Chronicle of Higher Education


  • Tova Hartman Halbertal is Lecturer in Education at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Book Details

  • 208 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press