DEBORAH, GOLDA, AND ME, by Letty Cottin Pogrebin (Crown: $22; 400 pp.). This is a grandiose effort, both marred and finally redeemed by the ambitions of its author, a long-time feminist and a founding editor of Ms. magazine. Pogrebin wants nothing less than to reconcile her identities as a feminist and as a Jew--no mean feat, when the Orthodox traditions of her youth deny her the right to sit with men in shul , to pray with them at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall, or even to mourn meaningfully for her mother, who died when Pogrebin was 15. That death was the beginning of a dilemma: The Jewish faith requires 10 men for a minyan , the group that recites the mourners' prayer; there can be 100 women (or in Pogrebin's case, one teen-ager who had been bat mitzvahed, knew the prayers, and longed for a way to excise her grief), but they don't count. She denied her faith well into adulthood, until other lapsed Jews decided to join together for the High Holidays and Pogrebin found herself volunteering to help with the service. Her personal journey is mesmerizing, if sometimes overwritten. Her attempt to turn it into a polemic is less successful--excessive, and too insistent for what is, finally, an article of faith. Still, a book worth reading, in great part because Pogrebin's missteps are all made with the best of courageous intentions.

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