Abstract and Keywords
Medieval Jewish attitudes about women's capacities, appropriate activities, and legal relationships with men emerged from the androcentric literature of the rabbinic movement (first seven centuries CE). While differences in customs developed in Spain (Sepharad), Western and Central Europe (Ashkenaz), and the Muslim Middle East and North Africa, rabbinic legislation ensured similar gender expectations and female exclusion from central roles in public worship and study and communal leadership in each milieu. Marriage contracts provided women with financial support following divorce or a husband's death. Prohibited from initiating divorce, some women found legal ways to leave untenable marriages. Economically successful women supported their households and sometimes used their wealth to enhance their communal roles and religious status. Many authors followed rabbinic precedent in defining women as sources of sexual temptation and ritual pollution. Mystics elevated marital sexuality as a model of divine communion, but demonization of the menstruant effectively excluded women from mystical circles.
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