restricted access A Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud: Intruduction and Studies (review)
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A Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud: Intruduction and Studies. Edited by Tal Ilan, Tamara Or, Dorothea M. Salzer, Christiane Steuer, and Irina Wandrey. Pp. x + 324. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007. Cloth, € 79,00. $107.28.

The past three decades have seen a surge of feminist and gender studies research in all the various disciplines of Jewish studies, including large-scale collaborative works. The field of Jewish history has witnessed the establishment of the Jewish Women's Archive and the publication of two monumental encyclopedias of Jewish women's history (P. Hyman and D. Dash Moore, eds. Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, [New York: Routledge, 1997]; P. Hyman and D. Ofer, eds. Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia [Philadelphia: JPS, 2007]). Biblical studies have seen the publication of the multi-volume, Feminist Companion to the Bible (Athalya Brenner is the editor of the multi-volume series, beginning with A Feminist Companion to Song of Songs [Sheffield; Sheffield Academic Press, 1998]) as well as other feminist, queer, and postmodern critical anthologies (See for example, The Postmodern Bible [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995]; C. A. Newsom and S. H. Ringe, eds., The Women's Bible Commentary [Lousiville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992]; D. Guest, R. E. Goss, M. West, and T. Bohache, eds., The Queer Bible Commentary [London: SCM Press, 2006]; G. Drinkwater, D. Schneer, and J. Lesser, eds., Torah Queeries [New York: New York University Press, 2009]) including a feminist commentary on the Pentateuch for synagogue use, with contributions from some two hundred women scholars (T. Eskenazi and A. Weiss, eds., The Torah: A Woman's Commentary [New York: URJ Press, 2007]). Until now, however, no comprehensive feminist commentary on the Talmud has been undertaken. A Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud thus marks a new phase in the development of Jewish feminist and gender studies. For so many generations there were no female talmudists. That all the editors and all but one of the authors slated thus far to write feminist Talmud commentaries for these series are women is, in itself, a cause for celebration.

The volume aims to be both an introduction to the projected series and an introduction to Seder Mo'ed, which begins the series. As such, Tal Ilan, lead editor of the project, has written an informative introduction, including background information on the composition of the oral law and about the enterprise of feminist scholarship. Ilan herself declares her intent in the feminist theory section of her introduction to "outline the most pedestrian feminist terms on which there seems to be a broad agreement among feminist scholars" (p. 4, emphasis added). Her outline points to the notion that from its inception Judaism was a patriarchal society; that Judaism tends to [End Page 413] "divide the world between public and private spaces, designating man as public and private" (p. 5) and reflects an androcentric perception of reality (p. 6). She also briefly refers to the effort on the part of feminist scholars to discover silenced voices. Given the advanced development of feminist theory, women's studies and gender studies, this brief outline does not entirely do her subject justice.

Ilan's introduction also includes a brief account of the current state of talmudic research with respect to feminist and gender studies. Here, too, one might have hoped for more detail. One section, for example, which might have profited from greater amplification is Ilan's discussion of the turn in talmudic studies from feminist to gender sudies, which she identifies with Daniel Boyarin's Carnal Israel (1983); Ilan fails to mention Boyarin's move toward queer and masculinity studies in Unheroic Conduct; indeed masculinity, queer and transgender studies are given no attention in Ilan's introduction (See D. Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997]; S. Lev, "How Aylonit Got her Sex," AJS Review 31.2 [November 2007]. See also C. E. Fonrobert and K.-M. Strassfeld, "Queer Jews Studying Talmud," Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility [December 2007]: 6-7).

The second to last part of the introduction offers a description of the projected Talmud commentary, wherein each mishnaic tractate that has a commentary in...