Doing His Will (Osah Kirtzono)

by Esti Weinstein

Published in Hebrew by Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir, 2016

The poor woman who wrote this book (she eventually committed suicide) was born into a specific sect – tantamount to a cult – of ultra-orthodox Judaism known as the Gur Hassidim.

As a child and teenager the author accepted the rules, regulations and restrictions (and there were many restrictions) required by the sect. As disciples of the principal rabbi of the sect, the Gur Rabbi, both men and women were subject to strict rules regarding dress, food, prayer, family life and even sex. The key word in all aspects of life was subservience: men were subservient to the rabbi, who was considered the principal purveyor of the word of God, and women were subservient to men – to their father before marriage, and to their husband subsequently.

The author, who seems to have total recall when it comes to recollecting every conversation she had throughout her childhood and every thought that passed through her head, describes all this in almost painful detail, which can become rather tedious after a while. This applies in particular to her imagined conversations with God, whom she appears to have regarded as her best friend. Reciting the appropriate prayers at the appointed times also occupied a prominent place in her life.

The account of her upbringing and home life reveals a spirited youngster who toes the line dictated by the society she grows up in, a line that seems intentionally designed to cramp any individual thought or idea, focusing on preparing girls for marriage and parenthood as soon as they reach the age of sixteen or seventeen, and keeping them protected from and ignorant of life in the wider world outside the sect.

Thus, from an early age the heroine’s thoughts are focused primarily on the search her parents undertake to find her a suitable husband, the  process of considering and being considered by fitting suitors, and her joy at having been found acceptable by the scion of a respectable family. The ‘courtship’ process involved meetings between the two sets of parents, a single meeting between the two candidates, and a period of separation lasting several months while preparations for the wedding went ahead.

Naturally, the main concern of the seventeen-year-old was the fabric and design of her wedding dress, and also the triumph of getting married before her best friend. The actual wedding ceremony was long and arduous, with strict separation between male and female guests, and the inevitable disappointment in bed on the first night.

Nevertheless, the young couple must have overcome their initial shyness, as well as the various constraints imposed by the sect on the nature and frequency of intercourse (no expressions of love or displays of intimacy allowed), as they managed to have eight children in the next fourteen years. Sex is a duty to be undertaken solely in order to fulfill the commandment ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ This took its toll on the author’s body, and after seeing a non-orthodox friend in a swimming suit she felt impelled to undergo surgery to have her breasts enlarged.

Although her husband said he loved and admired her just as she was and did his best to make her happy, the heroine gradually found herself consumed by revulsion at his appearance and physical attentions. Notwithstanding, she did her best to fulfill her marital duty and succumb to his nightly demands. At some stage the couple embarked on visits to hotel spas for massages. These at first were separate, but then together, and this started a train of events that culminated in the husband initiating and encouraging his wife to experience treatment by a male masseur, leading eventually to erotic experiences, which the husband witnessed and apparently enjoyed.

Consumed by guilt and disgust the heroine felt she had lost her faith in her religion, and even her relationship with God. Disillusioned and disgusted by the hypocrisy of the other members of her sect-cum-cult she made an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide, eventually left her husband, and as a result was prevented from seeing her children. Finally she sank into utter despair and depression, so that her last suicide attempt succeeded.

Her tragic story featured in Israel’s media for a while, but was soon pushed aside by other subjects. It is doubtful whether any lessons were learned from this sorry saga, either by the community which spewed her out or by the wider, secular society. But at least this book, which she must have written over a considerable period of time, constitutes her revenge from beyond the grave.