I'd been working as a freelance journalist for twenty years, living in Jerusalem
with my husband and (at that time) three children, when the idea to write Jephte's
Daughter came to me. I had a great deal of knowledge about the Orthodox Jewish world,
having been part of it almost all my life, and I'd learned even more since leaving America
and moving to Israel, which I did in 1971. For some time, I'd thought that the
ultra-Orthodox world, the world of men in black coats and women in wigs, was where I truly
belonged spiritually. But the culture shock of being thrown into that environment opened
my eyes. There were things of great spiritual beauty there - but also a sinister
undercurrent that most people simply chose to ignore. Perhaps I would have as well if not
for the shocking tragedy that befell one of my neighbors.
She was a young woman in her early twenties, the daughter of very wealthy,
ultra-Orthodox diamond merchants. Her marriage to a brilliant Talmud scholar in Jerusalem
was arranged by matchmakers, who demanded and received a huge dowry on behalf of the
groom, a dowry which included a house, fully furnished, an annual income, a car, and many
other gifts from the bride's father. Several years later, this lovely girl took her
daughter, a gorgeous, blonde three-year old, to the top of a Tel-Aviv hotel and committed
suicide with the child in her arms.
The shock of this unbelievable double tragedy resonated deep within me for many
months, until finally one day I heard someone comment that she must have been crazy.
Suddenly, everything crystallized within me and I understood that I had to write a novel
that would show how a perfectly normal, lovely, deeply religious woman had been pushed to
an extreme few of us will ever know by her husband and the society around her.
That book was Jephte's Daughter.