Midrashic Women: Formations of the Feminine in Rabbinic Literature / Edition 1

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While most gender-based analyses of rabbinic Judaism concentrate on the status of women in the halakhah (the rabbinic legal tradition), Judith R. Baskin turns her attention to the construction of women in the aggadic midrash, a collection of expansions of the biblical text, rabbinic ruminations, and homiletical discourses that constitutes the non-legal component of rabbinic literature. Examining rabbinic convictions of female alterity, competing narratives of creation, and justifications of female disadvantages, as well as aggadic understandings of the ideal wife, the dilemma of infertility, and women among women and as individuals, she shows that rabbinic Judaism, a tradition formed by men for a male community, deeply valued the essential contributions of wives and mothers while also consciously constructing women as other and lesser than men.

Recent feminist scholarship has illuminated many aspects of the significance of gender in biblical and halakhic texts but there has been little previous study of how aggadic literature portrays females and the feminine. Such representations, Baskin argues, often offer a more nuanced and complex view of women and their actual lives than the rigorous proscriptions of legal discourse.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Baskin has given us an excellent study of women in rabbinic Judaism and Jewish culture of late antiquity. Hers is a serious and well informed voice that must be engaged in any future conversation on this topic . . . Baskin's book should be required reading . . . for those interested in Jewish women in late antiquity.”—AJS Review

“Baskin demonstrates that rabbinic conceptions of marriage reflect an identification of marriage with appropriation and legal acquisition, rather than with partnership.”—National Women's Studies Association Journal

“Baskin's work is well argued emphasizing that although women today may have already started on the road to repairing what the rabbis stipulated, they still have a way to go before the long Talmudic legacy of denying women a strong social role can be fully addressed and reversed.”—Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“Baskin's book is essential reading for those who wish to understand classical rabbinic views of women and the feminine. . . a major contribution of the volume is its focus on aggadic midrash (i.e., nonlegal biblical interpretation) rather than the legal writings known as the halakah that more typically ground scholarly discussions of rabbinic thought. While still incorporating halakic traditions in her analysis, Baskin makes the important point that "aggadic literature frequently preserves a more nuanced and complex view of women.”—Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781584651789
  • Publisher: Brandeis University Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2002
  • Series: HBI Series on Jewish Women
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

JUDITH R. BASKIN is Director of the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oregon. She is author of Pharaoh’s Counsellors (1983) and editor of Jewish Women in Historical Perspective (Second edition, 1998) and Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing (1994).

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Table of Contents

Note on Translations and Abbreviations
Distinguishing Differences: The Otherness of Women in Rabbinic Judaism
Constructing Eve: Midrashic Revisions of Human Creation
Eve’s Curses: Female Disadvantages and Their Justifications
Fruitful Vines and Silent Partners: Women as Wives in Rabbinic Literature
“Why Were the Matriarchs Barren?”: Resolving the Anomaly of Female Infertility
“A Separate People”: Rabbinic Delineations of the Worlds of Women
Subject Index
Index of Primary Sources

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