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Jewish Women’s Studies

The session on “Women and Female Imagery in Jewish Literature” at the 10th annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies, held last winter in Boston, marked the beginning recognition by Jewish scholars of the phenomenon of womens’ studies, and the potential for Jewish womens’ studies.

The session was organized and chaired by Edward R. Levinson of Gratz College, in Philadelphia.

Nechama Berson, of Princeton University, compared the work of a male and a female Israeli writer in her paper, “Treatment of Female Characters in the Novels of E. Ben Ezer and S. Har Even.” She compared the development of female characters in the novels with the stereotypes of women in society, revealing that in Ben Ezer’s novels, women are linked with men in destructive and self-destructive ways, while Shulamit Har Even offers her female characters much fuller, more varied and “real” lives.

“Yocheved Bat Miriam: The Religious Vision of a Hebrew Poet,” was the research subject of David C. Jacobson of the University of Michigan. He illuminated the texts with comments on Bat Miriam’s personal struggles as a secular Jew seeking an intimate God, and as a Jewish woman unable to find in traditional imagery an expression for her yearnings.

With the paper presented by Norma Fain Pratt of Mt. San Antonio College on “Culture and Politics: Yiddish Women Writers, 1900- 1940,” the social and political, as well as personal struggles of a genre of women writers came into view. The fact that the work of most of these immigrant women writers has been neglected —if not completely buried by male editors who disparaged it—echoed the current need for a women’s studies session, as well as the potential yet to be tapped . Eleven syllabi in Jewish Women’s Studies are already in use, and have been compiled by Edward Levenson. They can be obtained for $2.75 by writing him c/o LILITH.

Informal discussion focussed on the situation of women in Judaica. Wanting to be taken seriously in areas traditionally excelled-in by men, the tendency has been for women to set as their primary goal the meeting of traditional standards which reap prestige. At the same time, the work of women writers, and research pertaining to the womens’ role of Jewish history, has yet to be legitimately accepted in male-domined Jewish academia.