Talking Like That
Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism
by Sarah Bunin Benor
Rutgers University Press, 288 pp., $27.95
n Becoming Frum, linguist Sarah Bunin Benor quotes a 9-year-old Orthodox child saying of ba’alei teshuvah (Jews who have adopted traditional halakhic observance as adults), “Their voice sounds weird, like not a Jewish voice.” We assume that by “voice,” the child refers to language rather than vocal timbre, and Benor examines the journey that “BTs” make from evoking judgments of that kind from Orthodox children to comfortably using the words and expressions that constitute Orthodox Jewish English.
The result is warmly enjoyable as an introduction to Orthodox Jewish culture, but as a treatment of language, only faintly revelatory. Benor argues that Jews are more likely to use Hebrew and Yiddish words the more observant they are and are more likely to use them with one another than with outsiders. Well, yes—but one might be pardoned for asking who would have expected otherwise.