Anita Diamant discusses Judaism, feminism — and her next novel


When author Anita Diamant speaks here Tuesday about Judaism and feminism, she will be explicit about her credentials. “I do not speak as a scholar, or historian or clergy. I speak as a writer and a Jewish woman,” said Diamant, reached by phone last week at her home in Newton, Mass. “I have no special expertise. It’s just my own opinion.”

Diamant is the author of The Red Tent (St. Martin’s Press), a bestseller published in 25 countries and 20 languages. The winner of the 2001 Booksense Book of the Year Award, the novel is based on the biblical story of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. Diamant also is the author of other novels, as well as several non-fiction guides to contemporary Jewish life. She is married to Jim Ball, a marketing consultant, and they have a daughter, Emily, 23.


Diamant took time to answer several questions about her program here and her work.

What is the connection between Judaism and feminism?

For me, there is a fundamental synergy between Judaism and feminism. One great insight of Judaism is that all humans are made in the image of God, that we are all equal. Feminism gives full voice to that reality, insisting that women be treated with the same level of respect and seriousness as men.

Is there a prayer that Jewish men say to thank God that they are men, and not women?

There is — but Judaism is a work in progress, a fluid reality. I am a liberal Jewish woman, a product of American Judaism, and that informs the way I understand Judaism. I believe we are all moving toward more equal relationships. Over time, Judaism always changes.

What led you to write The Red Tent?

I had been writing non-fiction and working as a journalist for a long time, and I thought I would try something different. Working on the novel was a way to challenge myself professionally, and to stretch intellectually. I borrowed a story from the Bible, and because of who I am and where I am in history, I wrote from the perspective of a woman with no voice. I gave her a voice.

Were you surprised at the receptive response?

Oh yes — you just never know when you write if your work will find an audience. The Red Tent celebrates relationships among women, and different people have found themselves in this book. I am especially touched at this Cinderella-like story of having it be so embraced.

Your new book, Day After Night, is set in 1945, just after the end of World War II in Europe. You tell the stories of four young Jewish women who confront an uncertain future even as they are haunted by the past. When will the book be published?

I am struggling with the last sentences right now, and of course, last sentences are very important. This is my final major revision, and the book will be out in September.

Talk a bit about your books on Jewish life.

I’ve written books on Jewish weddings, raising children, conversion, death and mourning, and I am proud to say they are all still in print. My first book was The New Jewish Wedding, which I wrote in 1985. I was getting married, and there were no books that spoke to me, to who I was. The only books were either on wedding etiquette or how to choose coordinated matchbook covers and tablecloths.

So you wrote a book you wanted to read?

Yes. I did some research, interviewed people my age and talked to some creative clergy. I learned a lot.

For two years, you attended Washington University, where you received a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature in 1973. Do you have fond memories of St. Louis?

I had transformational teachers at Washington University, really great teachers who taught me to write and to think. It was an important time for me intellectually. I also was part of the early collective that started Left Bank Books, and I’m so glad the book store is still open.

What would you say to readers considering attending your program on Tuesday?

My approach to Judaism and feminism is both positive and joyful. Some of us have a tendency to wring our hands when talking about either topic, but I believe both are cause for celebration. There is no other time in history that I would want more to be a Jewish woman. I am thrilled to be alive, and here, now.


When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday Feb. 24

Where: Graham Chapel on the Washington University campus

How much: $10, free for students with ID; $36 for reserved seats, which include a private reception and book signing after the program.

More info: 314-935-9043 or 314-935-9040

St. Louis Hillel is bringing Diamant to town. Co-sponsors of her appearance here include the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Nishmah: St Louis Jewish Women’s Project, Congregation Shaare Emeth Sisterhood, Hadassah: St. Louis Chapter, Gesher City St. Louis, Jewish Student Union at Washington University, Nusach Hari B’nai Zion Sisterhood and the Women’s Connection of the Jewish Federation. Arrangements for Diamant’s visit were made through the B’nai B’rith Lecture Bureau. For more information on the author, see