Hadassah-Brandeis Institute

Feminist Interpretations of the Talmud Explored in latest Issue of Nashim

July 9, 2015

By Deborah Greniman, Managing Editor, Nashim

How does one go about writing a feminist commentary on the Talmud — the literary-legal corpus, notorious for its exclusion of women, that has transfixed Jewish (and non-Jewish) scholars for millennia?

Availing herself of the toolbox of feminist theory, does the prospective feminist commentator focus on the places in the Talmud that mention women specifically? In the absence of women, does s/he attend to conflicting definitions of masculinity intimated by the Sages of antiquity? Does s/he interrogate larger theoretical structures for indications of how the Rabbis conceived the binary male/female division? Does s/he analyze the Sages' characterizations of typically male and female behavior — and how women's actual behavior, as they recorded it, may have challenged those characterizations? Does s/he scour the texts for indications of how the differing status of men and women played out on women’s bodies, in their lives and work, in the violence to which they may have been subjected and in the protections that rabbinic law may or may not have held out to them?

All this and more — that is the answer given by the contributors to the Spring 2015 issue of Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender Issues (No. 28) dedicated to pioneering feminist Talmud scholar Judith Hauptman on the occasion of her 70th birthday. In this early spinoff of the larger project of creating a full-blown Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, initiated by Tal Ilan of the Institut für Judaistik at the Freie Universität Berlin, each author presents a small piece of the tractate upon which she is working to exemplify her strategies for interpreting this quintessentially androcentric text.

In the words of consulting editors Charlotte E. Fonrobert, Jane L. Kanarek and Marjorie Lehman, "Just as the corpus itself is multi-genre and in many ways multivocal, so, too, do its feminist commentaries choose among a diversity of strategies, both as pertinent reading tools and as strategies for claiming intellectual ownership of the text in new ways."

With the consulting editors' own contributions and those of Hauptman and Ilan, Gail Labovitz, Sarra Lev, Elizabeth Shanks Alexander and Christiane H. Tzuberi — all leaders in the revolution that has brought hundreds of women to study the Talmud in recent decades — this issue of Nashim honors Judith Hauptman by giving readers a taste of the innovative perspectives that feminist commentators are bringing to a text that has spurred over a thousand years of interpretation.

About Nashim

Nashim, a publication of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and Indiana University Press, provides an international, interdisciplinary academic forum in Jewish women's and gender studies. Each issue is theme-oriented, produced in consultation with a distinguished feminist scholar, and includes articles on literature, text studies, anthropology, archeology, theology, contemporary thought, sociology, the arts and more.

Published semiannually
EISSN 1565-5288 | PISSN 0793-8934

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