In This Article Women and Gender Relations

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • General Anthologies
  • General Overviews by Single Authors
  • Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel
  • Second Temple Period
  • Rabbinic Judaism
  • Britain: 1800 to 1939
  • The Holocaust

Jewish Studies Women and Gender Relations
by
Judith R. Baskin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0025

Introduction

The recognition that gender plays an overwhelming role in shaping an individual’s socialization, educational and vocational opportunities, and spiritual and creative endeavors has changed how many scholars approach and interpret their research data. Before the last quarter of the 20th century, with some exceptions, most studies of Judaism and the Jewish experience had little to say about differences between men’s and women’s lives and status. It was only in the 1970s and 1980s, influenced by methodologies emerging from women’s studies, that scholars of Jewish law and practice, history, literatures, thought, mysticism, religious movements, and cultural production began to use gender as a category of analysis. This attention to women and the ramifications of gender were driven in great part by the unprecedented number of women who were than entering doctoral studies and undertaking academic careers in numerous areas of Jewish studies. In recent decades, many female and male scholars have explored the constructions and consequences of gender in Jewish societies of many times and places. At the same time, popular interest in women and gender has grown as a result of the feminist movement of the last third of the 20th century and its impact in expanding women’s personal and professional options. In the Jewish community, a burgeoning interest in scholarly analyses of Jewish women and their activities and representations has accompanied the ordination of women as rabbis and cantors in many Jewish religious movements; the expansion of intellectual, spiritual, and leadership roles for women in many synagogues and communal organizations; and an increased attention to the education of girls and women in all forms of contemporary Judaism. These developments, in turn, have promoted significant anthropological and sociological studies analyzing the impact of these changes. Interest in Jewish gender relations and cultural constructions of male identity in various Judaisms is a more recent development. However, increasing numbers of researchers are investigating how the relatively rigid roles mandated for men and women in rabbinic Judaism and performed in Jewish legal, religious, and social life over the centuries have defined the expectations that Jewish women and men have projected onto the gendered self and the gendered other. This article principally gathers English-language book-length studies and published collections of essays that focus on the contemporary Jewish community and the Jewish past from the biblical era through the 20th century. With a few exceptions, the large body of anthologies and monographs addressing Jewish literatures and gender is not discussed here.

Reference Works

Prior to the 21st century, most standard reference works addressing Judaism and the Jewish experience did not include entries on the impact of gender on social, legal, and economic status; educational and leadership opportunities; and community organization, nor did they provides analyses of women’s activities and responsibilities in different times and places. Although women who were extraordinary by virtue of their roles in biblical and post-biblical narratives, their appearance in rabbinic texts, or the influence they exerted owing to wealth, artistic achievement, or political activism were usually mentioned, discussions of Jewish women in general tended to be limited to their legal relationships with men. Reference works published in the 21st century, in response to the emphasis on women and gender issues in contemporary general and Jewish scholarship, are far more likely to include significant entries on numerous individual women and to consider the consequences of gender and gender constructions on Jewish life in particular times and places. The revised second edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica (Skolnik and Berenbaum 2007) includes more than 250 new entries on a range of accomplished women, as well as essays that discuss representations of women and the feminine in various Jewish literatures, both secular and spiritual; women’s involvement in a range of activities from mysticism to printing to sports; and women’s experiences in different locations throughout Jewish history. Entries also address the impact of feminism on contemporary Judaisms and Jewish life and the emergence of Jewish gay, lesbian, and transgendered communities. Articles in Baskin 2011 reflect the current state of academic Jewish studies in their attention to gender as an essential category of scholarly analysis. Reference works have also appeared that focus entirely on Jewish women; these include Hyman and Moore 1997 and the online encyclopedia Hyman and Ofer 2007.

  • Baskin, Judith R., ed. Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    Most general entries demonstrate the integration of gender studies into Jewish studies scholarship; specific articles address women and their lives in various times and places, their roles and representations in various forms of Judaism, and in endeavors including literature, art, photography, drama, film, and dance. The volume includes color images connected with women and women’s lives.

  • Hyman, Paula E., and Deborah Dash Moore, eds. Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. 2 vols. New York: Routledge, 1997.

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    Over 800 biographical entries and 128 topical essays on Jewish women in North America (primarily the United States) and their lives, organizations, and achievements from the mid-1500s to the end of the 20th century. Available online through the Jewish Women’s Archive website.

  • Hyman, Paula E., and Dalia Ofer, eds. Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2007.

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    An unparalleled resource combining Hyman and Moore 1997 with hundreds of additional thematic and biographical articles by major scholars covering many times, places, topics, and individuals. Available online through the Jewish Women’s Archive website.

  • Skolnik, Fred, and Michael Berenbaum, eds. Encyclopedia Judaica. 2d ed. 22 vols. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA with Keter, 2007.

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    This revision of the 1972 first edition greatly expands the number of biographical and thematic articles dealing with women and women’s experiences and also incorporates addenda to older entries that address the topic at hand from perspectives provided by feminist scholarship.

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