In This Article Women and Gender Relations

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • General Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel
  • Second Temple Period
  • Rabbinic Judaism
  • Britain: 1800 to 1939
  • The Holocaust
  • Israel, Pre-State and Post-1948
  • Israel and the Middle East

Jewish Studies Women and Gender Relations
Judith R. Baskin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0025


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 bibliography 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. The large body of book-length studies on gender and Jewish literatures is not discussed here.

General Overviews

Given the range of disciplines within Jewish studies and the high degree of specialization by period and methodology within these fields, it is not surprising that there are few scholarly works by single authors that survey Jewish women over the centuries or delineate the consequences of gender over the sweep of Jewish history and cultural production. An early exception of sorts is Aguilar 2011—a new edition, with introduction and commentary by Gruber. Taitz and Henry 1990 is an overview of Jewish women intended for an educated general audience, written at a time when the modern scholarly study of Jewish women was just beginning. Published twenty-five years later, Taitz, et al. 2003 is a handbook providing a survey of Jewish women’s history and guiding readers to a significantly expanded range of relevant scholarship. Biale 1995 is a comprehensive and accessible thematic study of the evolving position of women in Jewish law and remains invaluable. Davidman and Tenenbaum 1994 is a useful early evaluation of the impact of feminism and women’s studies methodologies on different fields in academic Jewish studies. Biale 1992 is a survey of Jewish sexuality over the centuries.

  • Aguilar, Grace. The Women of Israel by Grace Aguilar: Two Volumes in One with a New Introduction and Commentary by Mayer I. Gruber. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2011.

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    Written and originally published in Britain in 1845, this pioneering survey by an author of Sephardic heritage highlights famous Jewish women mentioned in literary sources from the Hebrew Bible on and also considers Jewish women’s present and future situations and prospects.

  • Biale, David. Eros and the Jews: From Biblical Israel to Contemporary America. New York: Basic Books, 1992.

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    An innovative survey of Jewish attitudes toward gender and sexuality in various historical and cultural settings from ancient times to the present, with an emphasis on the modern history of European Jews.

  • Biale, Rachel. Women and Jewish Law: The Essential Texts, Their History, and Their Relevance for Today. New York: Schocken, 1995.

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    This accessible study takes a thematic approach: chapters include discussions of women’s legal obligations, marriage, divorce, the menstruant (niddah), procreation and contraception, abortion, rape, sexuality within and outside marriage, and other related topics. Each chapter traces the chronological development of the relevant legal traditions.

  • Davidman, Lynn, and Shelly Tenenbaum, eds. Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.

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    This still useful anthology was one of the first efforts to evaluate the progress of feminist studies in a range of Jewish studies disciplines and to gauge the impact of feminist scholarship on these fields in general. Chapters are by scholars in biblical studies, and rabbinics, as well as Jewish theology, history, literature, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and film studies.

  • Taitz, Emily, and Sondra Henry. Written Out of History: A Hidden Legacy of Jewish Women Revealed through Their Writings and Letters. New York: Biblio, 1990.

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    Although now somewhat outdated, this highly accessible and ground-breaking overview, based on a range of sources, emphasizes the crucial and diverse roles women have played in Jewish life throughout the centuries as wives, mothers, communal leaders, merchants, scribes, and teachers, among other activities. Originally published in 1978.

  • Taitz, Emily, Sondra Henry, and Cheryl Tallan. The JPS Guide to Jewish Women: 600 B.C.E. to 1900 C.E. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003.

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    A reader-friendly narrative guide to Jewish women; moves from ancient times to the end of the 19th century with a focus on representative individuals. This volume, which is strong on Jewish women in the Muslim world as well as in Christian Europe and America, includes scholarly documentation, a full bibliography, and an alphabetical guide to the women mentioned in the text.

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