Fri, 20 Jan 1995 13:42:26 EST

----------------------------Original message----------------------------

Looks like another movie that takes certain features of religious groups
out of context for the sake of dramatic effects. Books are another genre
which do this. Witness, for instance, the books "Defenders of the Faith"
and "Power and Piety." Anyway, here goes some interpretation.

I am unfamiliar with some of these practices and would like further
information before I screen this film with my class.

1. Meyerhoff, divorced and a non-practicing Jew, is led through the
mikvah by the rabbi's wife who explains, "...when you're in a state
of purity, your wishes comes true." Is this an alternate use of
a woman's ritual purification?

It is not just women's ritual purification per se, as much as the notion
that ritual purification renews one's ties with the creator after a state of
uncleanliness. This renewal leads to optimism. There is also a more
fundamentalist interpretation that failure to observe rules of family purity
leads to an early death, but this latter explanation isn't a normative one.

2. She is given a new Hebrew name " the Angel of Death couldn't
find her." What is the procedure for this?

Never heard of this, can't help you.

3. She is persuaded to request her Get from her former husband, and
does so Meyerhoff explains " get my soul back." Is this her
personal interpretation (she's tying up the loose ends of her life),
or is there something else I'm missing?

I would have to know more about the context. Failure to give a get is
more of a problem for the husband if he remarries, however, than it is
for the women, although my mother insisted on a get from my father after
being divorced twenty years in the outside chance that there is a heaven.

4. Finally, in a most affecting ritual, Barbara Meyerhoff beats
willow branches on the floor and pleads for forgiveness and salvation,
then tosses the branches over the bookcase. What is this ritual?

This ritual is Hoshannos, and is done during Sukkos, primarily for the
purpose of praying for sustenance during the coming year (water, success,
salvation, etc.). Willow branches represent something which isn't sweet
and isn't pretty lasting from the previous year, which need to be disposed of
before one can enter the new year with a new conscience. It actually
represents the sins of the previous year, in other words.

She dies soon after. The film closes with her dates (1935-1985)
and the caution that the film must be shown in full. It's a powerful
documentary on many levels.

Thanks much!