Kressel Housman's Reviews > To Play With Fire: One Woman's Remarkable Odyssey

To Play With Fire by Tova Mordechai
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Jul 06, 09

bookshelves: non-fiction, torah, israel, jewish, memoir
Recommended for: BTs, Jews for Jesus
Read in June, 2009

I can't help but compare this book with the last teshuva story I read, which was Leah Kotkes' The Map Seeker. Both authors are British women who became frum, but the similarity ends there. Leah Kotkes was raised as a secular Jew, which may explain some of the sketchiness of her narrative. When you've grown up under today's "modern" permissive standards, naturally, you end up doing a few things that ought to be kept private. But Tova Mordechai didn't grow up secular - she was enmeshed in the Pentecostal church - and she told all. Her narrative was detailed, chronological, and didn't skip over periods of time, so it hung together much better than Leah Kotkes' book. In fact, Tova Mordechai's book was so detailed that after a while, I was tired of hearing so much about the church and wanted to get to the teshuva already. Otherwise, I found it a gripping book.

The church as she portrayed it was corrupt, hypocritical, and abusive. Its leadership literally took everything from the author's parents and then spit them out. Yet amazingly, as the author began her teshuva, she felt herself missing church worship. It wasn't that she believed in it anymore, but Jewish observance of mitzvos felt so foreign to her that she wanted to go back to the familiar. I think every BT has felt that way about something. Perhaps it's even a universal experience that echoes the cry of the Jews in the desert: "Take us back to Egypt!" Going forward to unknown spiritual territory is hard.

If there's one flaw in the book that parallels Leah Kotkes' book, it's that Tova Mordechai's sister Esther should have been described more thoroughly in the beginning. We get a very clear picture of her sister Margaret, to whom she was closer in age, but we only learned about Esther at the end, and that, I think, was a lack in the narrative. But all in all, it was a riveting story with an important message. Strange as the mitzvos may seem to outsiders, practical spirituality, i.e. the observance of laws and rituals based on a written legal tradition, prevents the possibility of self-proclaimed prophets who are out to abuse others for the sake of their own power.
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