- The Coming of Lilith:Essays on Feminism, Judaism, and Sexual Ethics, 1972-2003
Given that the field of feminist Jewish studies is expanding, the limited production of theological thinking is highly noticeable. For example, at the last international conference of Kolech: The Religious Women's Forum (Jerusalem, June 2005), only one lecture—my own—dealt directly with theological questions. Similarly, at the teeming Fourteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies held a few weeks later (Jerusalem, August 2005), there was no theological panel that addressed feminist perspectives. In such forums, feminist and gender-sensitive discussions focus on halakhic issues, women's history, liturgy and sacred texts, etc., while ignoring a wide range of important theological topics, such as the sense of God's presence in Jewish life and its gendered causes and effects, or the sex(es)/gender(s) of images of the Divine and their implications. In other words, discussions about divinity, Jewish humanity, spiritual beliefs, and the relationship between them tend to be gender-blind, at best, or androcentric, at worst.
To be sure, one of the reasons for this state of affairs is the relatively limited role of theology in Jewish religious life. 1 However, I suspect that a deeper reason is the reluctance of many feminist Jewish scholars to "touch" the kodesh hakodashim (holy of holies), either because they are afraid of a harsh backlash on the part of the patriarchal Jewish establishment, or because too many women have internalized the enduring message that "it is not our place" to enter this realm. [End Page 301]
Accordingly, any contribution to the feminist-Jewish theological discourse should be welcomed with great pleasure and gratification, all the more so when it is a significant contribution to feminist discourse as well as to contemporary theological thought. Such is the new book of Judith Plaskow, a Jewish-American theologian whose previous book, Standing Again at Sinai:Judaism from a Feminist Perspective, 2 has already become a milestone in the feminist discussion. The Coming of Lilith is a collection of essays written before and after Standing Again at Sinai, all of them dealing in one way or another with the major themes developed in that work: Torah—Jewish teachings about history, law, philosophy, etc.; God—the language and images used to refer to the qualities of the Divine; and Israel—the sense of Jewish community. These themes are developed from a perspective informed by feminism and applied to women's experience, gendered collective memories, relations with authority, and sexuality.
Following a personal introduction, the essays are divided into four topical sections. The first and longest, "Formulating a Feminist Theology," deals with what Plaskow sees as the main problem for feminist Jewish women, what I would refer to as the unbearable gap between the patriarchal perspective of traditional Judaism and the Jewish identity of feminist women (or the feminist identity of Jewish women). The essence of this discussion relates to the first part of Plaskow's introduction, in which she describes her journey during the 1970s towards a Jewish-feminist consciousness and her efforts to weave this new awareness into the theological discourse.
In the second section, "The Complexity of Interlocking Oppression," Plaskow continues her discussion of the two primary components of identity through which she defines her focus on women's experience—feminism and Judaism. Here, she shifts her attention from the personal to the collective perspective. Accordingly, the focus is on the meanings of being a Jew within the feminist movement and of being a feminist within the Jewish community. This communal identity—as a "daughter of Israel," on one hand, and a member of the feminist movement, on the other—is a central component in Plaskow's intellectual, spiritual, and personal thinking, yet somehow it remains underdeveloped in this short section.
In the third topical section, "Creating a Feminist Judaism," Plaskow shifts from problems to solutions, calling for deep and radical changes in Judaism as we know it. She argues that the changes in women's positions introduced over the last decades...