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2013-2014 New Perspectives on Gender and Jewish Life

Gender emerged as a new perspective on academic fields of study around forty years ago. Since then, it has transformed many areas of scholarship through the types of questions it has raised. Studies of gender—culturally, hierarchically constructed differences across sexes based on perceived differences—have asked how it has influenced women’s and men’s lives and actions, their art and literature, and their treatment at the hands of scholars. The exceptional power of gender as agenda, perspective, project, and topic reflects its dual roots in political activism (especially the women’s movement) and in academic discourse (particularly social history). Gender has raised new issues for scholarship, transformed methodologies, and challenged how research is conceived. It has served as inspiration for several generations of scholars who have opened fresh vistas on the past and present.

Although scholars concerned with Jewish history, culture, and religion were not among the first to explore insights offered from gendered perspectives, such research has increased in the past several decades. All areas of Jewish Studies have been touched by gender scholarship, whether in the field of bible or rabbinics, ancient, medieval or modern Judaism, history or literature, the social sciences or humanities. The presence of a journal, Nashim, devoted to the intersection of Jewish Women’s studies and gender issues, suggests both the consolidation of Jewish women’s studies and the impact of gender perspectives. Since the early 1970s, there has been a sea change in scholarship about women as well as in women’s participation in Jewish religious rituals, synagogues, Jewish organizations, and the Jewish community. More recently studies of sexuality also address constructions of masculinity, femininity, anti-Semitism and homophobia. Comparative discussions of Jews in relation to others now draw upon rich materials and allow for explorations of Jewish interpretations of gender and sexuality across centuries and in diverse cultural contexts.

The impact of gendered perspectives on Jewish Studies has been profound primarily because the field initially privileged those areas of scholarship, especially intellectual history, where women played no role. Until the 1970s, much writing on “Jews” usually signified Jewish men, ignoring half of the Jewish population. Critical concepts in the study of Jews and Judaism, such as assimilation or identity, developed without reference to women and had to be reexamined and reconfigured. Gender analyses have significantly altered histories of the Holocaust as well as histories of immigration and acculturation. They have introduced new works into canons of Jewish literature and informed studies of religious behavior and belief.

The Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies proposes to devote a theme year to the exploration of gender as applied to Jews, their religion and culture, past history and current practices. It invites applications that extend questions stimulated by gender to traditional aspects of Jewish studies, such as literature, rabbinics, politics, and history as well as to new areas of Jewish studies, such as diaspora, cultural, performance, and migration studies. We invite proposals that contest basic paradigms, such as what is meant by religious life, by community, and that explore gender norms and representations. Not only women but also men and masculinity, sexuality and the sexual politics of Jewish identity are appropriate topics for study. We see this year as a chance to move research on Jews and gender into relatively unexplored areas, such as the senses, emotions, and new media. Building upon several decades of scholarship, the theme of Gender will bring scholars from diverse disciplines together to explore various questions linked through a common theoretical focus on gender.

The 2013-14 Institute Annual is available online, and features essays by all of the fellows highlighting their research on "New Perspectives on Gender and Jewish Life".


Christine Achinger
University of Warwick
"Constellations of alterity: conceptions of femininity and Jewishness in modern German and Austrian culture"

Benjamin Baader
University of Manitoba
"Creating Self and Creating Community: Gender, Class, and Jewish Difference In German Jewish Family Letters and Diaries, 1813-1871"

Rivka Biliboim
Hebrew University
"Language and Gender: The Case of the "Frecha""

Susan Dessel
Independent Artist
"Words Heard in a Black Maria"

Verena Kasper-Marienberg
University of Graz
"Seeking Imperial Justice- Accounts of Conflict in the 18th Century Frankfurt Judengasse"

Dorothy Kim
Vassar College
"Medieval Women and English Exoticism"

Rachel Kranson
University of Pittsburgh
"Jewish Voices, Women's Choices: Jewish Involvement in American Abortion Debates, 1967-2000"

Marjorie Lehman
Jewish Theological Seminary
"The Gendered Rhetoric of Tractate Yoma"

Evyatar Marienberg
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
"How Should Jews Do it? The (Hi)story of Traditional Jewish Sex Instruction"

Anita Norich
University of Michigan
"Kadya Moldovsky: Fact and Fiction"

Shachar Pinsker
Universtity of Michigan
"Urban Cafes, Gender and Modern Jewish Culture"

Max Strassfeld
Stanford University
"Classically Queer: Eunuchs and Androgynes in Rabbinic Literature"

Beth Wenger
University of Pennsylvania
"Making American Jewish Men"