Jewish Culture in the Context of Gender: Tradition and Modernity

Publication date 28.04.2023
Dr. Joanna Lisek

The course intends to show the possibillities afforded by applying the gender (cultural sex) perspective in the study of Jewish culture. Proceeding from the analysis of the role of the woman and man in traditional Jewish society, we will present gender difference in the process of modernization among Jewish women and men. In looking at autobiographical materials, we will trace characteristic stages and stories, as well as life’s choices of Jewish maskilim (advocates of Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment). We will use the examples of the life and work of Pua Rakowska (known as “the Grandmother of Zionism”) and Sara Szenirer (reformer of the traditional education system of Jewish girls) to analyze the problem of Jewish feminism, both secular and religious. A gender perspective is particularly instructive in the presentation of the issue of language divisions and assignments. The role of Yiddish – frequently named a women’s language – will be discussed, as well as its significance in the revolution of customs among the Jews. Finally, we will analyze the urban nature of Zionism and the ideal of the New Hebrew.

Among others, we will attempt to answer the following questions: Why were women in traditional Jewish culture known as “mute souls”? In what rituals and areas were they forced to remain silent; and where was their voice significant? How did it come to be, that, in spite of the marginalization of Jewish women in traditional Judaism, their contribution and role in Jewish culture is significant? Can we speak of the benefits of marginalization? Why is the traditional ideal of a Jewish man frequently described as somewhat feminized? Did the Zionist rejection of the Diaspora heritage have a gender dimension?

This course forms a part of Jewish History and the Multiethnic Past of East Central Europe: Societies, Cultures, and Heritage summer school.

The woman and the man in traditional Jewish culture

Roman Marcinkowski, Kobieta i mężczyzna w ujęciu Toalmudu, „Studia Judaica” t.V – VI, nr 2,1/2003, s. 1-30

Roman Marcinkowski, Kobieta w opiniach mędrców Talmudu, „Signa Temporis” t.14/2008, s.7-18

Rachel Biale, Women and Jewish Law. The Essential Texts, Their History, & Thei Relevance for Today, New York 1984, 1995, tu: Women and The Mitzvot), s. 10 – 43 D.

Boyarin: Unheroic Conduct. The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1997, tu: Femminization and Its Discontents: Torah Study as a System for the Domination of Women.

The Jewish woman and modernization processes. Jewish feminism. The cases of Pua Rakowska and Sara Szenirer

The male face of Jewish Haskalah – Biographies of Jewish maskilim

The Yiddish language and gender questions, Yiddish as a “women’s language,” and its potential in the process of Jewish modernization

The Zionist image of the New Hebrew in a gender perspective