Page 113 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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GREENBERG / RECENT LITERATURE ON JEWISH WOMEN
103
fifth century C.E. This volume is a prelude to his next work,
W om en in F o rm a tive C h r is tian ity .
Swidler gathers the evidence
and analyzes it in the light of contemporary perspective about
women’s equality, offering his own critical comments throughout.
After an initial comparison with other Near Eastern cultures,
with the Wisdom and Pseudepigraphical literature, and with the
sectarian groups tha t proliferated at the turn of the first century,
Swidler focuses on the value judgments about women—positive
and negative—to be found in rabbinic literature. Then comes
the real meat of the book: women in Jewish law regarding
marriage and divorce, the performance of ritual, liturgy and the
synagogue, and the study of Torah. He cites sources which
describe a woman’s place in society and which limit the freedom
of public appearance. One chapter analyzes the role of women in
relation to their husbands; another describes their states of
impurity, and their secondary sex status. In his section on cult
and Torah , he shows how the exceptions, such as Beruriah,
Imma Shalom, Homa, and Yalta actually prove rather than dis­
prove the rules whereby women were denied access to cult and
Torah . He concludes tha t it was not women as b rillian t Torah
scholars and ethical thinkers who were held up as the ideal;
rather, i t was Rachel, who sacrificed herself for 24 years of grass
widowhood in order tha t her husband, Akiba, could study the
Torah, tha t became the model for future generations.
Any book tha t draws upon the vast body of rabbinic literature
will, of necessity, have to be selective and, therefore, reflect the
au thor’s personal orientation. Although Swidler does cite tal-
mudic sources which are positive towards women, the bulk of
his material portrays the tradition as misogynist—one which
subordinates women. And Swidler has not gone out of his way
to temper the severity of some of the ancient sources. Selective
or not, however, the sources are there. They are real, they are
part of our halakhic tradition; to air them openly—whatever the
pain it brings to Jews who love the tradition—is the first step
in righting whatever abuses and inequities still remain. What is
needed for Jews is a companion volume—not about formative
Christianity and women—bu t one which collects the sources,
which develops and places greater emphasis on the more positive
tradition in formative Judaism, the one which lost out as the neg­