Scholarly exploration has been a hallmark of the Jewish feminist movement. Women (and some Men) of the Book have contributed new critical insights to all disciplines, analyzing the Jewish experience from a feminist perspective. Some are studies in traditional areas—Jewish history, Bible, and so forth. Other work, equally rigorous, pushes the envelope a little, demonstrating how much intriguing analysis Jewish thought is susceptible to. Here, LILITH inaugurates a column which will appear intermittently, offering a sampling of current Jewish feminist scholarship produced by graduate and undergraduate students, [Names of academic advisers are bracketed.]
Those Bloody Jews: German Jewish Rituals, Bodies and Citizenship
Robin Judd, Ph.D. dissertation in Modem German and Jewish History, University of Michigan [Todd Endelman and Kathleen Canning].
A century before the Nazis satanized Jewish bodies, mid-19th century Germans—Jewish and non-Jewish— engaged in a fierce debate over the meaning of Jewish bodily rituals: circumcision, mikveh, and shechitah (ritual slaughter). According to Judd, even after Jews were granted German citizenship (by 1871), there were arguments over whether they could be considered “appropriate” German citizens, since they practiced rituals—such as circumcision— that explicitly distinguished them from other Germans. There were strange bedfellows here; circumcision advocates (some German doctors plus observant Jews) asserted that circumcised Jewish boys didn’t masturbate, while medical opponents, joined by a radical Reform Jewish group, challenged the medical and religious basis for the procedure. The shifting debates about circumcision were apparently used by Germans as a way to continue to set apart Jews who, as legal citizens of Germany, were otherwise indistinguishable.
Sheila Jelen, Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley [Robert Alter and Ghana Kronfeld, also Naomi Seidman at the Graduate Theological Union].
In late-19th century Eastern Europe and Palestine, Jewish men set the educational and literary standards by which all contemporary Jewish literature was judged. Not surprisingly, most women’s writing of the time was dismissed as inferior Recounting a skirmish in this literary gender war, Jelen notes that women’s autobiographies were dismissed by the literary elite as parochial, while similar works by male authors were canonized as the stories of the Jewish “nation.” Woinen’s texts were excluded from the Jewish literary canon in more subtle ways as well. The privileged position accorded literature that incorporated traditional Jewish religious texts implicitly excluded the work of women, who generally did not have access to these texts.
Selected Poems Of Rachel Luxxatto Morpugo
Translated from the original Hebrew with commentary by Elyse Wechterman, Reconstnictionist Rabbinical College [Jacob Staub].
“‘Woe is me!’ cries my soul, for I am dearly bitter./ For a moment, my spirit nourished me and I rise up/ For I heard a voice say: ‘Your poem is preserved.”‘”
So writes Rachel Luzzatto Morpugo, a late-18th century Jewish poet, on her straggle to have her work recognized. In her original, new translations of Morpugo’s work, Elyse Wechterman seeks to recover the voice of this scion of an elite Italian Jewish family, one of the few female poets who published in Italy under her own name. Highly educated, Morpugo persuaded a male cousin, biblical commentator Samuel David Luzzatto, to purchase a copy of the Zohar for her, which, since it was forbidden to women, she studied in secret.
Morpugo wrote Hebrew poetry that often combined personal experiences with Jewish religious and national themes; she discloses in verse her frustration with the limits placed on women.
The Israeli Queer Cultural Imagination
Ruti Kadish, Department of Near Eastern Studies, UC Berkeley [Daniel Boyarin].
Gender roles in Israel seem strictly defined: men are supposed to be macho soldiers, while women, though tough, are still expected to play traditional feminine roles. So how do gay Israeli men and women fit into this “ideology” of sexuality? With an eye to creating a more inclusive Israeli society, Kadish analyzes the self-identification and political activism of gay and lesbian Israelis, in the process of challenging both traditional gender roles of Israeli society and such instruments of Israeli nationalism as army service.
And bear in mind…
‘Do Not Lie with a Man as One lies with a Woman’: The Boots and Manifestations of the Power of Penetration in Traditional Jewish Text, jill Lisa Maderer, Brandeis University Women’s Studies Program. Senior Research Project. [Bernadette Brooten and Marc Brettler]; The Lord Almighty and Her Other Names: Gender inclusive Language in Jewish Liturgy, Karen Schram, Brandeis University Women’s Studies Program, Senior Research Project [Sylvia Barack Fishman and Jyl Lynn Felman]; Hadassah’s Founders and Palestine, 1918-1988: A Quest for Meaning and the Creation of Women’s Zionism, Naomi A Lichtenberg, Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University.