Alan F. Segal
This chapter traces conversion processes within the history of Judaism. Even in early periods of Jewish history, the resident alien (ger) was allowed to become a member of the Jewish community and participate in the worship of God. Specific rules varied over time, but certain rituals were consistently applied, such as circumcision, immersion, and in earlier periods, when the Temple existed, animal sacrifice was required. With the fall of the Persian Empire in 333 b.c.e., Hellenization permeated the life of people in a vast expanse of territory. With the spread of the Greek language and culture, business and cultural exchanges, and modes of life were characterized by a degree of cosmopolitanism and individualism, thus the possibility of personal choice and thus conversion. Jewish conversion were characterized by long periods of education and training; whereas Christians during the same period emphasized the possibility of rapid conversions, often accompanied by mystical experiences.
This article discusses how the study of the history, literature, and religious beliefs and practices of ancient Jews in the Land of Israel and the Diaspora provides the proper background and context for the study of the later books of the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and the New Testament writings. From the time of the Babylonian exile, and especially from Hellenistic times onwards, a vibrant Jewish Diaspora existed alongside the Jewish community in the Land of Israel. During the time of the Second Temple (520
Christian feminist exegesis has other procedures and thematic concerns compared with a Jewish feminist engagement with the Bible; and criticism of society, politics, and the economy is not carried out with the same sharpness by all of these. Lesbian and queer (gender-confusing) exegetical approaches bring in yet other perspectives. The designation ‘queer’ indicates in addition the debate about the deconstruction of ‘gender’ which, from its side, also brings pressure to define afresh the contours of ‘feminist’ theology and exegesis. This article deals first with basic hermeneutical questions, and then turns to methodological perspectives.
This chapter highlights some key contexts in which feminist ethical discourses emerge, and important methods that Jewish feminists employ in order to address gender and other inequalities, arguing that all the many forms of Jewish feminism are “fundamentally about ethics.” Across denominations, in the broader feminist movement, in academia, and in Israel as well as North America, Jewish women have been reshaping what and how Jews and non-Jews think and act—regarding women, gender, inequality and injustice, and many other critical ethical issues, including Judaism itself. Feminist methodologies creatively critique halakhah, theology, liturgy, ritual, and textual interpretation, with implications for social and political analysis and activism. In doing so, Jewish feminists “have created both a rich literature and a legacy of activism that is ethical to its core.”
In his analysis of postmodern theology, which details the imbrication of theology in discourses of power, Gavin Hyman casually evokes the term “Indian territory” to connote the space from which the theologian must resort to the tactics of the “outlaw.” In his larger argument, he evokes an Agamban-like state of exception for theology, where theology must be conducted in the realm of radical undecidability, a theology excluded from but belonging to the law, as it were. So, it is significant that, to make this argument, Hyman relies on the obvious racist connotation of Natives as “outlaws” who live in a place without a home. This chapter argues that this tendency to depict Natives as “outlaws” is not unique to Hyman, but exists even within feminist and liberation theologies. That is, the United States, despite the critiques which many theologians make of it, is still envisaged as a place of law, thereby rending Native peoples, whose genocide is the foundation of the USA, outside the law. Consequently, the theological strategy of engagement with Native peoples does resemble the tactic of “raid and return”: that is, a selective use of “indigenous” principles without engagement in the fundamental contradiction indigenous peoples expose in the project of liberation. Furthermore, this problematic engagement is fundamentally gendered.
This chapter discusses a few major concepts in Jewish sexual ethics. These include extramarital sex and marriage, consent and pleasure in contrast to the duty of both partners to satisfy each other sexually, the traditional requirement that a couple refrain from sexual relations during the woman's menstrual period, masturbation, procreation, same-sex relationships, and gender identity and sexuality. These issues are considered from the author's unique vantage point as both a Conservative rabbi and a feminist. As a Conservative rabbi, she is committed to the Jewish tradition and aware that it both has changed in the past and must be adjusted to respond to new scientific findings about sexual orientation and sexual practices, and new social conditions and moral sensitivities. As a feminist, the author probes that tradition for its biases against women, homosexuals, and transgender people.
Women's studies, as a discipline within Jewish studies, is relatively new. It appeared in the 1970s, in the wake of a similar development within other fields of academia particularly in the United States — a move that was later to be designated ‘second-wave feminism’. The question of women's status within Judaism, as within any human society is not new. In Jewish sources, it is as old as the story of creation in the first chapters of Genesis, with the description of woman's secondary creation and her implication in the original sin and fall from grace. The human condition has always been one in which women are subordinated to men, and most written cultures have produced documents justifying this condition. Only over the last 200 years has this truism come under criticism, particularly in the cultures of the West, with the advent of ideas about humanism, equality, and democracy.
This article examines the hitherto unquestioned consensus in Judaic studies that Judaism embraces a positive attitude towards sexuality. Grounded in the new scholarly trends of cultural and gender analysis as well as feminist critique and their impact on Jewish studies, it singles out four focal issues: sexuality in ancient rabbinic thought, to which the most scholarly attention has been directed; and issues in modern Halakhah that have just begun to inform scholarly research: the ethos of modesty and the construction of the female body; homosexuality and lesbianism; and reproduction and sexuality. The discussion reflects the tension between these two scholarly trends, and between the conceptual-theological stratum of Judaism and its reflection in the practical-legal sphere of Jewish law (Halakhah). This examination of Jewish attitudes towards sexuality, in light of the new scholarship, leads to the conclusion that although Judaism affirms sexuality, this cannot be grasped in a simple, superficial, or monolithic fashion.
The Hebrew Bible is sometimes understood as the source of a ‘traditional’ Judaeo-Christian approach to marriage and sexual practice. A comprehensive examination reveals, however, that biblical assumptions about sex, gender, and kinship are complex and internally diverse. Some of these assumptions stand in tension with traditional Jewish and Christian norms for marriage and sexual activity. This essay reviews such matters as the biblical vocabulary for, and representations of, marital relations; the status of women in households organized around fathers; the role of polygyny; differing standards for the sexual conduct of husbands, wives, and concubines; intermarriage and inter-ethnic sexual relations; prostitution; the use of sex and marriage within male contests for power and honour; the use of sexual and marital images in representations of Israel’s relationship to God; and the attitudes towards sex and gender found in less frequently read books of the Bible such as the Song of Songs.
Theodore W. Jennings Jr.
While the Bible is often understood to forbid same-sex love, a closer examination reveals a wide variety of forms of same-sex love that are presupposed and even celebrated in these texts. After demonstrating that biblical texts taken to prohibit same-sex love have been misunderstood, the chapter explores multiple forms of same-sex love in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Love between women in the story of Ruth, the expressions of warrior love in the stories of David and the centurion who came to Jesus, the transgendering of Israel in the prophets and the transgendering of Jesus and Saint Paul in the New Testament, even tales of sexual awakening and violence, provide a rich tapestry of same-sex love exhibited in biblical literature giving deeper meaning to the message of divine love which for Christians is exemplified by Jesus.
S. Ilan Troen
While Zionist ideology has long been part of the rubric of Jewish history, the study of its realization through the social, cultural, and political history of the Yishuv and Israel has been relatively neglected. The Jews of Eretz Israel (‘the Land of Israel’) numbered less than half of 1% of world Jewry at the beginning of the twentieth century. Israel now accounts for about 40% and is approaching parity with the United States. Israeli history and society has only recently become a discrete topic or field of study within the humanities and social sciences, and included in university curricula, even in Israel. Change began in Israel in the early 1990s, when various collections of courses under the title of ‘Israel Studies’ were organized as a modest subset within the BA degree.
Lenore J. Weitzman
This article focuses on the experiences of Jewish women during the Holocaust and compares their predicaments with those of Jewish men. It highlights three topics: the initial responses of Jewish men and women to Nazi persecution, which reflected the traditional roles women played before World War II and therefore prioritized women's responsibilities as mothers, wives, and daughters; the Nazi policies and rules that treated men and women differently and created distinctive constraints and options for women; and the effect of specific problems in the ghettos and camps on women's coping strategies. The analysis gives special attention to the fraught topic of the incidence of rape of Jewish women during the Holocaust.