So I finished Rachel Biale's book on women in Jewish law. I can safely say that it is probably one of THE most well-written books I have read to date. This can be summed up simply by saying that she takes often complicated or convoluted text entries (beyond Torah into Talmud) and decipher them in a way that makes the text accessible, but not dumbed down. Her detailed explanations translated and explicated the precise words of sages throughout the centuries. Biale allows the reader to actually understand and feel a part of Talmud! It makes me want to truly throw myself into study, but I know that not all texts are as accessible as Biale has made them.
Perhaps the most touching point of her book came in the epilogue. There were many interesting discussions of abortion, contraception, marriage, the duties of men and women and more ... but in the epilogue Biale discusses the importance of understanding and developing Halakah. Though I don't have the book in front of me, her basic sense is that by leaving and diverging from Halakah, Jews (the secular, reform, etc.) are not *helping* Judaism, but are in fact hurting it. You cannot develop, effect change, explore, and grow Halakah if you merely deny it. Instead, the study of Halakah means room for discussion and the chance for considering an evolutionary process. She emphasizes the importance of understanding Halakah in order to evolve it. Her point is absolutely on point. Jews who deny or speak against Halakah do little to effect change. It's like making a pot of soup and insisting that there is not enough salt, but instead of adding more salt, you merely cast the entire pot aside.
This might make me a hypocrite. I, myself, do not adhere strictly to the Halakah, of course. I identify with Reform Judaism and although I attend shul each week, avoid shellfish, pork and mixing beef with dairy, and do weekly Torah study on my own ... these are but a mere few -- and not even strict adherences -- to Halakah. I do not, however, deny the importance of so many of the mitzvot. Additionally, I think it safe to say that many are uneducated about so much of the Halakah that it's hard to accept or reconcile something you know little about.
Regardless, if anything, Biale's message is pertinent and worth considering. Ignorance is bliss is the popular saying, but that ignorance often results in the loss of something beautiful and worth investigating and developing.
The next book in my hands: Solonica, City of Ghosts: Muslims and Jews 1430-1950 by Mark Mazower.