Cultural & Literary Portraits of Jewish Women:
In a culture which traces back its roots to the most ancient of civilizations, Jewish tradition has only relatively recently begun to interrogate its own historical positioning of women. Defining the appropriate sphere for the operation of a woman's influence and range of activities within a tradition-bound culture has proved to be tumultuous within this century.
To establish an accurate appraisal of women's status and role within Judaism currently serves as two of its most compelling tasks (Ghatan xvii). Understanding the radical alterations in Jewish women's roles may be most appropriately handled in presenting an overview which details the cultural attitudes previously held toward them. Issues which have dominated the depiction of Jewish women include sexuality, racial lineage, domesticity, obedience, leadership, money, prestige and power. Analysis of historical records, the Talmud, and literature across the centuries inclusive of those written by both Jewish and Gentile authors reveals a characterization of Jewish women across variant angles, restricted, idealized, and idiosyncratic. Weight will also be given to the manner in which Jewish women have presented themselves in juxtaposition to how they have been represented by others. The goal for the lives of Jewish women and the sketches presented of them here is to move toward what Rose Schneiderman, the Jewish activist, advocated in 1912, "the right to life, and the sun and music, and art. . . . The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too" (Kaye/Kantrowitz 261).
The recent debate over the social roles of Jewish women reflect the diversity of on-going discussions in the variant branches of Judaism divergent as Orthodox, Conservative, or Reformed groups. These debates about women's roles reflect the larger ongoing rifts emerging within prescribed religious and social behavior for all Jews. In To Be A Jew...