April 2016

Topic of the Week: Nashim 

April 15, 2016

A Closer Look at NASHIM no. 29: Women’s Torah Study

by Deborah Greniman

This is reprinted from the Indian University Press blog with permission from Deborah Greniman. Nashim is edited by Deborah Greniman and Renee Levine Melammed.

“If each day I learned one page, then instead of resigning myself to being one day older, I could aspire to being one day wiser.” So does writer Ilana Kurshan, in her essay in the current issue of NASHIM, explain her rationale for undertaking what became a passion: following the international daf yomi program for reading the entire Talmud. Over seven and a half years, Kurshan never missed a day — even, as she writes, “on the most wondrous days of my life—when I gave birth to my children.” And then she started again.

NASHIM no. 29, under the consulting editorship of Professor David Golinkin, explores the quirky paths and passions of women who have ventured into what was once considered the exclusive province of men: intensive study of Judaism’s sacred texts. Marina Arbib describes how Rachel Morpurgo (1790–1871), known as the first women to have published erudite poetry in Hebrew, devoted herself to studying the Zohar, Judaism’s best-known mystical text, and defended it against the rationalist denigration of men like her enlightened cousin and mentor, the illustrious scholar Samuel David Luzzatto. Debbie Weissman gives us a portrait of a dedicated woman educator, born into Jerusalem’s veteran ultra-Orthodox community, who created a pioneering program of Torah study for high-school girls in the 1920s and 1930s, achieving arguably better results than a more “modern,” coeducational school that functioned in the same period. Zvi Zohar offers two tales of beautiful Algerian Jewish maidens who, with the approval of local sages, refused offers of marriage in order not to abandon their Torah study. Both tales were adduced by Rabbi Joseph Mesas, one of Moroccan Jewry’s leading twentieth-century rabbis, in defense of Torah study by women. Ruth Roded, a scholar of Islam, contrasts the efforts of feminist scholars of Judaism and Islam to deal with those troublesome passages in the Hebrew Bible and the Quran that seem incontrovertibly to ordain the subordination of women to men.

Two additional articles offer groundbreaking perspectives on gender issues in the ultra-Orthodox world. Readers may be surprised to learn, from a contribution by Hillel Gray, that a few ultra-Orthodox scholars have addressed themselves to the status of post-surgical transsexuals, taking keen interest in the legal intricacies evoked by their transition—and not necessarily banning these individuals as offenses to the faith.  Finally, one might think that the obstacles facing a woman scholar setting out to research ultra-Orthodox male survivors of sexual abuse would be insurmountable. Sara Zalcberg describes how she did it.

The issue is adorned by paintings by Argentian artists Myriam Jawerbaum and Silvia Rubinson, on the cover and in an essay by Ram Ozeri on the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale of Jewish Art. Both were created for the international Women of the Book Project, in which feminist artists, versed in the Bible, have created paintings for each weekly Torah reading in the annual cycle—a visual celebration of women’s Torah scholarship.

NASHIM 29 is now available on JSTOR and Project MUSE. Connect with the journal on Facebook.

Topic of the Week: Meet our Scholars

April 6, 2016

Lori Harrison-Kahan, Scholar-in-residence

Who are the most famous Jewish women writers you never heard of? Lori Harrison-Kahan’s work will offer an answer to that question in the near future. She is in the process of completing The Superwoman and Other Writings: Fiction and Journalism by Miriam Michelson, an edited collection of writings by California journalist and bestselling novelist Miriam Michelson. One of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century’s most famous Jewish feminist figures, Michelson is virtually unknown today, even to scholars well versed in Jewish American history and culture.

Harrison-Kahan’s work is a reconsideration of Jewish women writers who have fallen from the literary canon—as well as a reclamation of some writers who never made it into the canon in the first place. During her residency at HBI, she will be working on a manuscript titled West of the Ghetto: Pioneering Women Writers, Progressive Era San Francisco, and Jewish Literary History, which tells the stories of a group of now forgotten late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Jewish women writers from the Western United States. In addition to Michelson, Harrison-Kahan’s manuscript examines the lives and careers of novelist Emma Wolf, clubwoman Bettie Lowenberg, memoirist Harriet Lane Levy, and socialist activists Anna and Rose Strunsky. With the support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, she will be continuing her research on these women in San Francisco this summer.

A recipient of the American Studies Association’s Gloria E. Anzaldúa Award for Independent Scholars and Contingent Faculty, Harrison-Kahan is the author of The White Negress: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary (Rutgers University Press/American Literatures Initiative, 2011), which received an honorable mention for the Society for the Study of American Women Writers Book Award. A scholar of American literature and culture specializing in the study of comparative race and ethnicity, Harrison-Kahan is also the book review editor of MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States and co-editor of a special issue of the journal on “The Future of Jewish American Literary Studies” (Summer 2012). Her essays and book reviews have been published in academic journals such as American Jewish History, Callaloo, Cinema JournalJewish Social Studies, Journal of American History, Legacy, MELUSModern Fiction Studiesand Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. Her work also appears in the anthologies Styling Texts: Dress and Fashion in LiteratureCultures of Femininity in Modern FashionPassing Interest: Racial Passing in U.S. Fiction, Memoirs, Television, and Film, 1990-2010The Race and Media ReaderThe Edinburgh Companion to Modern Jewish Fiction; and the MLA’s Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Nella Larsen.

Dr. Harrison-Kahan received her A.B. summa cum laude in English with certificates in Jewish Studies and Women’s Studies from Princeton University and her Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. She is currently an Associate Professor of the Practice of English at Boston College, and she has previously taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and Connecticut College.  Her research at HBI is part of the themed Spring Seminar, North American Jewish Women's Writing of Fiction, Memoir and Poetry.