Spirit of Motherhood by Masha Faygel Tokayer

This book, subtitled Insights into Nurturing, is a revision of Tokayer’s earlier book Created in Wisdom. As a mother of seven, grandmother, contributor to Natural Jewish Parenting magazine and an experienced La Leche League Leader (breastfeeding counselor), the author has a lot to say to new mothers about keeping their children close, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, physical contact and more. All the things I like to talk about too!! Each topic is a separate chapter and consists of Tokayer’s personal experiences, Jewish sources on the topic, and a few scientific studies to back up her ideas. She shows, through Jewish sources, how long-term breastfeeding, co-sleeping and carrying babies were common and expected in biblical and Talmudic times. She also illustrates how it is possible and desirable to grow spiritually through caring for your children. Despite the fact that her deep religious faith comes through on every page, the tone is not heavyhanded and is suitable for non-observant Jewish women who are somewhat traditional in their beliefs (radical feminists and secularists won’t like it).

This book is unique because the author demonstrates how a real-life, imperfect, Orthodox mother of seven can overcome a difficult upbringing and learn to care for her infants in a loving, giving manner, growing in the process, and helping thousands of mothers along the way. In explaining how she rose to the practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of motherhood, Marilyn Tokayer has done a tremendous service for the Jewish community.

Two noticeable changes from the previous edition:
In the first edition (Created in Wisdom), the author tried to show how the philosophy of “attachment parenting” fits into Jewish sources. Fortunately in Spirit of Motherhood she allows Judaism to stand on its own (with help from a few studies). She also tells of her own experience with postpartum depression and what did and didn’t work for her. Although she was able to recover from the PPD without using medication, she describes the symptoms and encourages mothers to get help wherever they can, including conventional medication.

Tokayer shares many insights from her own parenting and from her experience helping others. The sources from the Jewish texts are very valuable; I referred to her book during a recent internet discussion about whether halacha permits breastfeeding in public (it’s not prohibited). The sources from modern Jewish parenting books in general contain little insight. Sometimes she quotes directly from such books without mentioning the source in the text. For example: “The Torah teaches us that learning begins in the womb and the first three years of the child’s life are crucial to his development.” That’s a very strong statement, but when I looked at the footnote (25 of 239, in a book of 143 pages), I found a reference to an article in Fusion magazine that does not even appear in the bibliography. Tokayer has enough to say about mothering, parenting, and Judaism without needing to rely on so many modern Jewish sources.

Another flaw, which seems to be par for the course for most self-published Jewish books that I have seen including some intended for a more scholarly audience, is the large number of misused words (for example embed vs. imbed, affect/effect, and every day as an adjective instead of everyday). Incorrect page headings on one chapter made it hard to find my place. But sometimes I feel that I am the only person in the world who notices these things.

If you are looking for an attractive book (I love the cover art) as a gift for a Jewish mother who has may be struggling with her new role, I recommend Spirit of Motherhood: Insights into Nurturing. I know of many young mothers of varying levels of observance for whom the first version served as an anchor for them in the early years, and the newer version is even more powerful.

To order in the US – http://njp-magazine-shop.natural-jewish-parenting.com

To purchase in Israel –for info on local retailer near you, through Michael
Rose at the Judaica Book Centre ziarose@bezeqint.net or directly through
Marilyn (03) 933-3237

And, Marilyn’s husband Moshe David Tokayer is a blogger: http://www.sfasemes.blogspot.com/


  1. marilyn tokayer says

    Dear Mominisrael, Thank you so much for taking the time to read and review my recently published book. Thank you for the powerful ‘plug’; I hope your comments influence mothers and pregnant women to check out Spirit of Motherhood.

    In response to your comments regarding self-publishing and editing issues, I will say the following: The formatting for the bibliography and endnotes recommended to me by my editor, all came from the up-to-date site which you can check out if you like: http://www.hchs.hunter.cuny.edu/departments/social_studies/stylesheets/turabian_endnote_footnote_style.html

    Also, the book Fusion, does in fact appear in the bibliography, p 131.

    All of that aside, I, personally would like to offer kudos to all self-published authors who by choosing not to go w/a publishing company may be forfeiting near-perfection in printing and formatting, choose to retain control over many decisions in putting out their work, including cover design and the timing of the printing, not to mention the monetary issues involved.

  2. mother in israel says

    Dear Marilyn,

    Thank you for your thanks and response.

    I could not find the source in the bibiliography because it was listed neither under the name in the footnote (Block) or the publication (Fusion), but under the (editor’s?) name Branover.

    I stand corrected about ibid. I apologize and I will update the post. I guess it didn’t go out in the end, and I never noticed. By the way I didn’t notice any problems with the quality of the printing.

    At any rate, many self-published books have been taking off lately and I hope yours does as well.