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Review: Feminist Rereadings of Rabbinic Literature

Gender agendas in the age of the Sages

    Inbar Raveh
    Brandeis University Press, £31

    How wonderfully refreshing to read a book whose author is equally at home in Midrash and in feminist theory and who is able to bring her understanding of the latter to her reading of the former.

    Working on the premise that aggadah reveals a great deal about the values and ideals of the Sages from whose words halachic Judaism emerges, we see how much ideas of sexuality and gender are foundational tenets of the rabbinic world. We come to see these texts quite differently, revealing the gender power relations taught and internalised in much of rabbinic Judaism.

    This is a book that should be on everyone's shelves. While it is not an easy read, the effort pays off as we glean insights submerged in the texts - sometimes reconstructed, sometimes drawn out of their concealment, much as the midrashic process has always worked.

    The relationship between text and context gives rise to different ways of understanding the narrative. Inbar demonstrates her love throughout for the midrashic texts and tradition, while bringing a critical eye and a very modern understanding of gender studies to bear.

    And while the patriarchal desire for control stands out for us to notice and understand, we also see that the midrashic tradition has kept a wealth of material where the feminine voice can be heard if only we choose to notice and listen. It is more than time that the texts of rabbinic Judaism be examined and critiqued in this way.

    This book, with its deep understanding of and love for the texts, allied to a wide understanding of psychology, gender theory and feminism, is a much needed corrective to the lens through which our tradition is too often viewed.

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