In This Article Feminism

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Journals and Resources
  • Study Guides
  • Ritual and Prayer
  • Kabbalah
  • Philosophy
  • Art, Film, and Performance
  • Additional Popular Works

Jewish Studies Feminism
by
Laura Levitt, Miriam Peskowitz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0102

Introduction

Jewish feminism’s history begins in the late 20th century. Women’s studies and feminist scholarship date to the early 1970s, but one finds very little on the intersection of Jewish women, feminism, and gender prior to 1990. Since then, Jewish feminist scholarship and writing in North America has grown significantly, reshaping both Jewish studies and Jewish communal life outside the academy. The impulse for and many important effects of this scholarship have been felt outside the academy; this is significant, and notes are included about the pertinent bibliography. Jewish feminist scholarship is produced across the disciplines. This results in a wide array of new knowledge and theory, but by scholars who are rarely in conversation with each other across disciplines. The result: Jewish feminism has many studies but very little overarching vision, theoretical orientation, or critical issues for the production of new knowledge. The current challenge is not how much work has been done, but whether or not there can be a critical conversation across the academic disciplines, one that binds together the research. The Women’s Caucus of the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS) has made a strong effort to facilitate this conversation. Attempts to create overarching conversations date to Miriam Peskowitz and Laura Levitt’s Judaism since Gender (Peskowitz and Levitt 1996; cited under Anthologies) and other projects that emerged out of interdisciplinary critical cultural studies. The work done there informs this article. Jewish feminist scholarship did not develop within women’s studies, which often expressed ambivalence or actual hostility to including work on Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness. The lack of inclusion led to increased efforts to do feminist work within specifically Jewish studies contexts, and the centers such as the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University and the Lafer Center for Women and Gender at Hebrew University were created. The earliest Jewish feminism scholarship emerged from history departments. Scholars in religion departments followed, with a new focus on topics such as theology and ethics, biblical and rabbinic studies, philosophy, and contemporary Judaism. In this context, Jewish feminist scholarship in biblical and early rabbinic studies emerged along with Christian feminist scholarship, and it reflects this dialogue as well as disagreement. This was also due to an interested communal readership that was pressing for new feminist studies and perspectives that would support activist change outside the academy, and is why we include books that are more popular, but emerge from Jewish feminist scholarship.

Anthologies

These works primarily present academic collections, but also include efforts to diversify our understanding of Jewish women to include Middle Eastern and North African Jewish women, as in Khazzoom 2003, and next-wave feminist activists and writers as presented in Ruttenberg 2001. Davidman and Tenenbaum 1996 offers an early take on Jewish feminist scholarship across the curriculum, with essays on a range of fields from history and sociology to religion and literature. The collection in Baskin 1998 was an important early textbook that offered essays about Jewish women in different historical periods, arranged chronologically. The Rudavsky 1995 collection came out of a conference and offers a snapshot of the range of Jewish feminist scholarship in the early 1990s, with a mix of disciplines and issues covered. Peskowitz and Levitt 1996 offers a theoretical intervention into the production of gendered Jewish knowledge with both a range of short essays that ask how scholars were producing new knowledge in their fields, and a set of longer essays on specific topics. This is a highly interdisciplinary work. It was one of the few attempts to create a scholarly conversation in which critical concerns of Jewish feminist theory were engaged across disciplinary boundaries. More recent efforts include the historical collection in Kaplan and Moore 2010 that pays tribute to the legacy of Paula Hyman, perhaps the most accomplished Jewish feminist historian. It is a rich collection that reflects the sophistication of this field. Prell 2007 offers multidisciplinary essays investigating the accomplishments of Jewish women in transforming Jewish religious practices, from the rabbinate to new rituals.

  • Baskin, Judith, ed. Jewish Women in Historical Perspective. 2d ed. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998.

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    This collection offered one of the first historical overviews of Jewish women’s roles in various key moments in Jewish history. It served as a crucial intervention in survey and introductory courses in Jewish studies, bringing the experiences of Jewish women into the story of Jewish history.

  • Davidman, Lynn, and Shelly Tenenbaum, eds. Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

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    This collection asked critical questions about how feminist theory and women’s studies have informed the scholarship in particular fields of Jewish studies inquiry. Each essay focuses on a discipline and challenges the discourse of that particular subfield, from history and literature to the social sciences, film, and religious studies.

  • Kaplan, Marion, and Deborah Moore, eds. Gender and Jewish History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.

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    This important collection was done in honor of the extraordinary career of Paula Hyman, Jewish feminist historian who established this field with eloquence and insight. The contributors are colleagues and former students of Hyman’s, and each distinguished essay demonstrates the breath and depth of contemporary historical work on gender in Jewish history. Virtually every leading figure in the field is here.

  • Khazzoom, Loolwa, ed. The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage. New York: Seal, 2003.

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    This groundbreaking collection of first-person essays makes vivid the diversity and richness of the lives of Jewish women from North African and Middle Eastern Jewish backgrounds. This collection is an intervention into the Eurocentrism of much of even Jewish feminist scholarship. And like other early efforts, this work begins with personal essays to open up a space for further inquiry.

  • Peskowitz, Miriam, and Laura Levitt, eds. Judaism since Gender. New York: Routledge, 1996.

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    The book offers an intervention into how to engender Jewish knowledge with a series of short essays in response to a critical revision of teaching the introductory course with attention to gender, and then presents a series of sustained engagements in producing new knowledge from a feminist take on representing the Holocaust to reading for gender in Jewish philosophy.

  • Prell, Riv-Ellen, ed. Women Remaking American Judaism. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2007.

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    Essays set in the early-21st-century United States, and includes a timeline of Jewish and US Feminism. Leading scholars address feminist innovations in religious life in the United States. Focus is on ritual and textual engagement. Includes work on the Jewish Renewal movement and Jewish feminist theology.

  • Rudavsky, Tamar, ed. Gender and Judaism: The Transformation of Tradition. Papers presented at the Gender and Judaism conference at Ohio State University, April 1993. New York: New York University Press, 1995.

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    This book comes out of an early conference that explored the state of the field, with contributions from scholars in various fields of Jewish inquiry, from history and literature to religious studies and philosophy and sociology. The essays are eclectic and demonstrate a range of theoretical perspectives on gender, from liberal to post-structural and French feminist explorations.

  • Ruttenberg, Danya, ed. Yentl’s Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism. Berkeley, CA: Seal, 2001.

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    This work constitutes the first of the third wave of Jewish feminist writing and explorations. This collection by a younger generation pushes some of the boundaries of what constitutes feminist engagement, revisiting and renewing interest in the performance of gendered rituals and bringing queer perspectives into these explorations. These are primarily but not exclusively first-person accounts.

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