Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

The Status of Women in Jewish Tradition

Why rabbis disagree about women

    Isaac Sassoon
    Cambridge University Press, £45

    In ancient days, the prophetess Huldah was said by one venerable sources to dispense her religious teaching from inside a yeshivah. Such a thing would seem outlandishly radical in parts of the Orthodox world these days and have some of the guardians of tradition foaming at the beard.

    Isaac Sassoon cites Huldah's example in a new book which will add to the growing debate over women in Judaism by questioning some of the assumptions and attitudes that have led to restrictions on their role in religious life.

    Sassoon, who teaches at the Institute of Traditional Judaism in the USA, comes with both an Orthodox semichah from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and an academic background which takes for granted that the Torah is a work of composite authorship.

    He argues that Deuteronomy is far more inclusive of women than Leviticus with its priestly notions of purity. In his eyes, there is no monolithic view of women in the Bible and Talmud but a "rich diversity" of sometimes conflicting views which challenge what has come to be taken as received wisdom.

    He points out the differences among talmudic rabbis over whether women should study the Torah, contrasting Ben Azzai's approval to the infamous dictum ascribed to Rabbi Eliezer, "Let the words of the Torah be burned rather than handed over to women."

    Using a document found in the Dead Sea Scroll, he traces the discouragement of polygamy to an interpretation of a verse in Leviticus, which is usually more narrowly understood as a ban on a man marrying a woman and her sister while both are alive.

    The book's rather wordy style betrays its origins as a doctoral thesis but its gathering of source material is impressive and its analysis intriguing.

Analysis

The Chief Rabbi is walking a tightrope

Simon Rocker

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Chief Rabbi is walking a tightrope
Features

Why do successful women feel insecure?

Hilary Freeman

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Why do successful women feel insecure?
Uk News

Women set to engage

Rosa Doherty

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Women set to engage
Uk News

'Excluded' for running partnership minyanim

Simon Rocker

Thursday, November 17, 2016

'Excluded' for running partnership minyanim
Features

Covering up: Allison Josephs on modesty

Jessica Weinstein

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Covering up: Allison Josephs on modesty
Uk News

Group looking to make friends among women

Rosa Doherty

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Group looking to make friends among women
Analysis

This is a challenge for Rabbi Mirvis

Simon Rocker

Thursday, November 17, 2016

This is a challenge for Rabbi Mirvis
Comment

What about the women?

Miriam Shaviv

Friday, October 21, 2016

What about the women?
Uk News

Pioneering course will change the landscape

Simon Rocker

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pioneering course will change the landscape