Page 35 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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BARRIE RUTH WALDMAN STRAUS
Ideological Agendas and Images of
Women in Jewish Literature
F
o r
a
c o n t e m p o r a r y
literary critic, the topic o f the image o f
women in Jewish literature raises interesting and controversial
questions. Rather than being merely academic, these questions
are importan t to every educated Jewish reade r — concerned
as we inevitably are with personal identity and cultural integrity.
A question familiar to us all concerns the definition o f “Jewish
literature.” Often the definition refers to the author. Does this
mean that Jewish literature is merely literature written by Jews?
And is this Jewishness a m atter o f birth, practice, or self-
conscious affiliation? Does a novel about Gentiles, written by
a Jewish au thor, still count as Jewish literature? Ano ther ap­
proach to the question makes content the defining criterion.
Is Jewish literature then any literature that involves some aspect
o f Jewish life? I f a Gentile writes about the conditions o f being
Jewish, can that writing be considered Jewish literature? Finally,
can the definition be determ ined by readers, as Alvin Rosenfeld
suggests, so that Jewish literature consists o f whatever is read
as having some relationship to Jewishness?
Political or ideological issues are involved in giving priority
to authors, to content, o r to readers. However, the very attempt
to define “Jewish literature” itself has a political or ideological
agenda. It is an effort to assert identity and integrity against
real and perceived dangers o f assimilation and loss, as well as
the recu rren t actuality o f oppression. The attempts to establish
subordinate genres within the category o f Jewish literature —
for example, to make nationalistic distinctions — are really still
a pa rt o f the effort to assert and secure the notion o f Jewish
literature as such. Obviously if such literary questions matter
politically and ideologically — if they are considered to make
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