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Enforced Marginality

Jewish Narratives on Abandoned Wives

Bluma Goldstein

Publication Year: 2007

This illuminating study explores a central but neglected aspect of modern Jewish history: the problem of abandoned Jewish wives, or agunes ("chained wives")—women who under Jewish law could not obtain a divorce—and of the men who deserted them. Looking at seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany and then late nineteenth-century eastern Europe and twentieth-century United States, Enforced Marginality explores representations of abandoned wives while tracing the demographic movements of Jews in the West. Bluma Goldstein analyzes a range of texts (in Old Yiddish, German, Yiddish, and English) at the intersection of disciplines (history, literature, sociology, and gender studies) to describe the dynamics of power between men and women within traditional communities and to elucidate the full spectrum of experiences abandoned women faced.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, About the Series, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

This book took shape over more years than I care to remember. Indeed, I cannot actually recall when my interest in abandoned wives morphed into a serious study. At times it seems that I never actually chose to pursue the subject of abandonment, that instead it chose me and pursued me with a vengeance. ...

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Prologue: Finally Out in the Open

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pp. xiii-xvi

My father deserted my mother when I was still in utero, returned when I was six months old, and left, never to be seen again, when I was about a year old. My mother raised me by herself, supporting us with strenuous work in garment factories as an “operator”—the term for a seamstress who operated machines. ...

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1. Abandoned Wives in Jewish Family Law: An Introduction to the Agune

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pp. 1-9

For two millennia, from Talmudic times well into the twentieth century, the agune, a woman “chained” or “anchored” to her husband because she is unable to divorce or remarry, has been regarded as a figure of considerable interest and importance for Jewish religious and legal authorities. ...

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2. Doubly Exiled in Germany: Abandoned Wives in Glikl Hamel’s Memoirs and Solomon Maimon’s Autobiography

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pp. 10-48

Within the century spanning the final years of the seventeenth century and those of the eighteenth, two autobiographical works written by Jews living in Germany contained significant accounts of women whose husbands had deserted them or otherwise disappeared. Under traditional Jewish law, these agune were unable to obtain a divorce ...

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3. The Victims of Adventure: Abandoned Wives in Abramovitsh’s Benjamin the Third and Sholem Aleykhem’s Menakhem-Mendl

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pp. 49-91

In two major Yiddish novels, both of them parodic and written around the turn of the twentieth century, protagonists who leave wife and home behind them are presented as adventurers: Benjamin of Tuneyadevke in S. Y. Abramovitsh’s The Travels of Benjamin the Third (Masoes benyomin hashlishi, published in 1895) ...

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4. Agunes Disappearing in “A Gallery of Vanished Husbands”: Retrieving the Voices of Abandoned Women and Children

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pp. 92-129

From the early years of the twentieth century, the New York–based Yiddish newspaper Der Forverts (Jewish Daily Forward) printed a feature called “A Gallery of Vanished Husbands” (A galeriye fun farshvundene mener) exhibiting portraits of husbands who had deserted their families, along with abbreviated descriptions of the deserters’ circumstances ...

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5. An Autobiography of Turmoil: Abandoned Mother, Abandoned Daughter

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pp. 130-151

It was not easy to decide whether a personal biographical essay would find a comfortable and useful place in a scholarly text on representations of desertion. While such an inclusion might be discordant, the possibility was also enticing, interesting, and could prove productive. ...

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pp. 152-162

The prologue to this book may leave the impression that my involvement with the subject matter followed a rather direct trajectory, from my personal struggles with abandonment, to the experience, years later, of encountering agunes in the Jewish German and Yiddish literature I taught, and to inquiries into the National Desertion Bureau ...


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pp. 163-186


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pp. 187-198


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pp. 199-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780520933415
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520249684

Page Count: 235
Publication Year: 2007