Eavesdropping in the Halls of Jewish Academe

On December 17-19, the Association of Jewish Studies held its 38th annual conference in San Diego. Academics from around the world gather to present new research, discuss emerging theories and generate new ideas. With well over a hundred forums, and multiple presenters per forum, this is a veritable feast of Jewish scholarship. We’ve selected a handful of telling comments from the scholars’ presentations:

Judith Baskin, University of Oregon Adding Women and Gender Studies to the New Encyclopedia Judaica:

“On the whole, however, the authors of these entries [in the first edition] gave no consideration to women, their lives or their contributions in their discussions. In addition, references to sexuality and sexual behavior were avoided throughout the encyclopedia. Moreover, in the forty years since work had begun on the first edition of the EJ, the roles and impact of women on Judaism and Jewish life had undergone radical changes.”

Tova Cohen, Bar-Ilan University The Portrait of the Maskilah as a Young Woman:

“Contemporary historical-literary research has discovered the writings of dozens of hitherto unknown maskilot (enlightenment figures). These women did not restrict their roles to that of passive readers of haskalah texts. Rather, they intruded into the public sphere of authorship, which was then generally considered to be a male domain.”

Annette Boeckler, College of Jewish Studies, Heidelberg Miriam the Prophetess in the Passover Seder: A Liturgical Refection: “While Miriam’s cup seems to be gaining more and more popularity, it doesn’t seem to be clear where exactly Miriam’s place in the Seder is. The Seder is a specific fixed structure of 15 steps illustrating past, present and future. Where would the best place be to insert Kos Miryam and how could this be done?”

Charlotte Katzoff, Bar-Ilan University Matriarchal Knowledge in the Saga of the Patriarchs:

“Remarkably, however, although the patriarchs have many direct encounters with the divine word, and the matriarchs have almost no direct communication with God, at critical junctures in the unfolding of the narrative it is the mothers who “get it right.” It is they who are invested with epistemic authority, and it is the fathers who show themselves to be “in the dark,”—on the wrong track.”

Andrea Lieber, Dickinson College Domesticity and the Home Page: Blogging and the Blurring of Public/Private Space for Orthodox Jewish Women:

“What if Gluckel of Hamlen, the seventeenth-century memoirist who wrote her life experiences as a legacy for her twelve children, had blogged instead?”

Additional topics included:

Sylvia Barack Fishman, Brandeis University ‘Jews by Choice and Jews by Chance’: Converts and Their Spouses Talk About Jewish Connections

Tobin Belzer, University of Southern California Beyond Princesses and Yentas? Young Women’s Responses to Mediated Images of Jewish Women

Barbara Johnson, Ithaca College Mother Said, ‘Sing Loudly’: Gender and Song Performance by ‘Cochin’ Jewish Women in India and Israel

Chana Kronfeld, University of California at Berkeley The Verbal Art of [Dahlia] Ravikovitch’s Political Poem

Zelda K. Newman, Lehman College, CUNY What Women Won’t Say: An Old Yiddish Purim Poem