Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues

Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues
Number 11, Fall 5767/2006
Special Issue: Yemenite Jewish Women
Guest Editor: Nitza Druyan

CONTENTS

    Sharabi, Rachel.
  • The Bride's Henna Ritual: Symbols, Meanings and Changes
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Mehndi (Body painting)
    • Marriage customs and rites, Jewish -- Yemen (Republic)
    • Marriage customs and rites, Jewish -- Israel.
    • Jews, Yemeni -- Israel -- Identity.
    Abstract:
      The bride's henna ritual was the principal rite of passage for women in Yemen. This ritual was an important stage in preparing the bride for her new life, as she changed from a girl-youth into a man's wife, became separated from her family, and went to live in her husband's home. It expressed a rigid gender separation and a non-egalitarian system in which femininity was shackled in structural inferiority.

      After immigrating to Israel and becoming exposed to a western society with egalitarian messages, Yemenite women became less dependent and subservient and more empowered. However, they also maintained traditional thought patterns. The change in their status, as well as the mixed trends towards change and preservation in communal tradition, influenced the performance of the henna ritual in Israel, and it became syncretic.

      During the last few decades, as part of the process of Mizrahi young people return to their roots, the custom of holding a henna ritual has been revived among young Yemenite Jews in Israel, mainly as a symbol of their ethnic identity. Today, however, the ritual is characterized by a breaking of the social order and hierarchy. It is focused on the couple, and its importance as a female rite of passage has diminished.

    Gimani, Aharon.
  • Marriage and Divorce Customs in Yemen and Eretz Israel
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Marriage customs and rites, Jewish -- Yemen (Republic)
    • Marriage customs and rites, Jewish -- Israel.
    • Marriage (Jewish law)
    • Divorce (Jewish law)
    • Jews, Yemeni -- Cultural assimilation -- Israel.
    Abstract:
      Until the Yemenites' mass immigration to Israel in the years before and immediately after the establishment of the State, Yemenite Jewry preserved several marriage and divorce customs based on the rulings of the Talmud and of Maimonides that had been abandoned by other Jewish communities. These customs included the marriage of minor girls, levirate marriage (yibum), polygamy, divorce against the wife's will, and compelling a husband to divorce a wife who could not bear to live with him. Economic and social factors also influenced marriage practices in Yemen. Thus, underage girls were often betrothed in order to ensure them a good match, or, if they were orphans, to save them from forced conversion to Islam. Similar factors contributed to polygamy, which was less prevalent in Yemen than is commonly thought. Yemenite scholars were flexible in their rulings regarding yibum and considerate of the interests of the childless widow (yevamah).

      In Israel, most of these customs have disappeared because of the different social conditions prevailing there and the ordinances of the Chief Rabbinate, which forbid the betrothal of girls under the age of 16 and enforce the "ban of Rabbeinu Gershom" regarding polygamy and divorce without the wife's consent.

    Madar, Vered.
  • Ma Khabar and Qussat Ḥannah: A Gendered Reading of Two Stories in the Culture of Yemenite Jewish Women
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Ma khabar hadhah al-laylah.
    • Qussat Ḥannah.
    • Jewish women -- Religious life -- Yemen (Republic)
    • Judaism -- Prayer-books and devotions.
    Abstract:
      In this article, I suggest a new reading of two Yemenite Judeo-Arabic texts translated for and read to women: Ma khabar hadhah al-laylah (What happened on this night?) for the Passover Seder and Qussat Image 1annah (The story of Hannah) for the eve of the Ninth of Ab. Both are part of the popular religious literature of Yemenite Jews.1 Although these stories may be examined from linguistic or literary perspectives, I have chosen to interrogate these texts from a gendered perspective. In doing so, I seek both to enrich the discourse about the texts themselves and to shed light on the place of women in Yemenite Jewish society.

      In order better to understand the roles and the significance of these texts in women's religious lives, I will first situate women within the Jewish religio-cultural context in Yemen. I will then present the two texts and discuss their shared gendered aspects, which arose from their common designation as texts written for women. I will link them to the contents of women's laments over the dead, which they composed and sang. Finally, I will suggest what messages these texts might have held for their women listeners.

    Druyan, Nitza.
  • Metamorphosis through Philanthropy: Yemenite Women in New York
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Women in charitable work -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 20th century.
    • Jews, Yemeni -- New York (State) -- New York -- Charities -- History -- 20th century.
    • Jewish women -- Charitable contributions -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 20th century.
    • Jews, Yemeni -- Cultural assimilation -- United States.
    Abstract:
      In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a few groups of Yemenite Jews settled in New York City, having arrived in the United States via Eretz Israel (Palestine). This study concentrates on the immigrant women's charitable and organizational efforts. They had more opportunities for education and fulfillment in public life than did any other group of Yemenite women in the world, then or earlier. In less than two decades in the American milieu, the Yemenite women were changed beyond recognition. From barely literate women who stayed mostly at home, insecure in the public sphere and marginal in the community, they transformed themselves into successful international benefactors. On the basis of documents from the archives of the Yemenite Ladies' Relief Society, I examine the women's association with and assistance to Yemenite communities in Eretz Israel.

      Yemenite women in America in this period thus were quite different from their counterparts in both Yemen and Eretz Israel, who had not yet approached a similar level of public activity. During the first decades after their arrival, the New York women were at the vanguard of acculturation and participation in the wider American Jewish community.

    Klorman, Bat-Zion Eraqi.
  • Women Resisting Men: Inheritance and Disinheritance in the Yemenite Jewish Community in Mandatory Palestine
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Inheritance and succession -- Palestine -- History -- 20th century.
    • Jewish women -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- Palestine -- History -- 20th century.
    • Jewish women -- Palestine -- Economic conditions -- 20th century.
    • Jews, Yemeni -- Palestine -- Economic conditions -- 20th century.
    • Sex role -- Palestine -- History -- 20th century.
    Abstract:
      Yemenite1 Jewish women immigrated to Palestine mostly from the rural-tribal areas of Yemen, where both Muslim and Jewish women usually did not inherit property. In Palestine the situation was different, especially following the British Mandate inheritance regulations of 1923, which stipulated that females and males had equal inheritance rights. Similarly, starting in the mid-1930s, the JNF began to sign tenancy contracts in the agricultural settlements (moshvei 'ovdim), including the Yemenite moshav Elyashiv, with both husband and wife. The Yemenite Jewish community did not easily adapt to these significant changes, and women had to struggle to implement their lawful inheritance and ownership rights.

      Analyzing a number of representative cases in which women resisted attempts to disinherit them, this article presents Yemenite Jewish women as adamant subjects acting to advance their interests by employing various means. It argues that their initiatives were largely rooted in a tradition of independent conduct brought with them from Yemen. They negotiated with the JNF, used the services of lawyers, initiated lawsuits, sought the help of their political representatives, and engaged male acquaintances to act on their behalf. Their endeavors to retain property are viewed as an example of their search for economic independence and an expression of their adaptation to the social and legal conditions in Jewish Palestine. The article also expands on the attitudes of the relevant yishuv institutions toward these women. The study is based mainly on previously unstudied letters and other documents assembled from different archives.

    Stern, Bat-Sheva Margalit.
  • Who's the Fairest of Them All? Women, Womanhood, and Ethnicity in Zionist Eretz Israel
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Beauty contests -- Palestine -- History -- 20th century.
    • Jews -- Palestine -- Social life and customs -- 20th century.
    • Jews -- Palestine -- Identity -- History -- 20th century.
    • Feminity -- Palestine -- History -- 20th century.
    • Orientalism -- Palestine -- History -- 20th century.
    Abstract:
      This article examines the ways Zionist aspirations towards women, womanhood, and ethnicity materialized in the pre-state era, focusing on the Queen Esther contest as an example. I maintain that selecting Yemenite women as "queens" enhanced the Zionist agenda and promoted its ideals while at the same time instilling and preserving the Yemenite ethnic identity. Furthermore, granting Yemenite women this symbolic pedestal—on which they were enshrined as biblical beauties—inspired the women, wittingly or unwittingly, to collaborate with the Zionist movement.
    Roginsky, Dina.
  • Orientalism, the Body, and Cultural Politics in Israel: Sara Levi Tanai and the Inbal Dance Theater
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Levi-Tanai, Sara.
    • Teʼaṭron "ʿInbal".
    • Dance -- Social aspects -- Israel -- History -- 20th century.
    • Orientalism -- Israel -- History -- 20th century.
    • Hybridity (Social sciences) and the arts -- Israel -- History -- 20th century.
    Abstract:
      This article analyzes the unique position of Sara Levi Tanai (1910/1911–2005) in the artistic scene of the yishuv and the first decades of the State of Israel. Using a micro-level perspective—the biography of a woman artist—I evaluate macro developments in the history of Israeli culture, suggesting that the unusual biography of Levi Tanai, a Yemenite woman educated by European teachers, enabled her to create a "Mizrahi art" (as she called it) in the early period of the State of Israel. Lately, Israeli sociologists have become interested in the Oriental construction of ethnic identity in Israel in its early period and even prior to that. Relying on this standpoint, the article contributes a sociological interpretation to the existing works on Sara Levi Tanai's art, focusing on issues of Mizrahi ethnicity, folklore, the body, and cultural politics in Israel.
    Guilat, Yael.
  • Between Lulu and Penina: The Yemenite Woman, Her Jewelry, and Her Embroidery in the New Hebrew Culture
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Jews, Yemeni -- Jewelry -- Social aspects -- Palestine -- History -- 20th century.
    • Jews, Yemeni -- Clothing -- Social aspects -- Palestine -- History -- 20th century.
    • Jews, Yemeni -- Palestine -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
    • Jewish women in literature.
    • Orientalism -- Palestine -- History -- 20th century.
    Abstract:
      Even in its early stages, the Hebrew culture in Eretz Israel molded the image of the Yemenite Jews according to the duality in its perception of Eastern Jews: as exotic types on the one hand, but as bearers of a primitive, materialistic, low-level culture on the other. Their borderline "otherness" had a role to play in the overarching national purpose of "creating a new Jewish man in the ancestral Land of Israel." The characters of Yemenite Jews populate poems, stories, novels, plays, and songs written by male and female writers from the first, second, and third aliyot (waves of Jewish immigration). As early as the beginning of the twentieth century, we meet images of Yemenite Jews that reflect the invented "Yemeniteness" of these figures, both in plastic art and in the domains of the national folk art that was also being invented.

      The way in which the new Hebrew culture constructed the Yemenite woman's gendered cultural identity, marked as it was by her clothes, jewelry, and embroidery, highlights its instrumentality. The jewelry and embroidery that were received as Yemenite-Israeli were foreign to the Yemenites themselves, and their reception did not aid the process by which the women were supposed to "cross beyond ethnic identity and include national identity within it." The appropriation process activated towards an object that was never seen as a subject created complex dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, resulting in the estrangement of the product within the community with which it had previously been identified.


Resident Artist:

    Ḥudhayfi, Shulammit bat Shalom.
    Melammed, Uri, tr.
    Perry, T. Anthony (Theodore Anthony), 1938-, tr.
  • Why, Why, O My Beloved: A Wife's Rebuke to Her Husband Who Took a Rival Wife
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Poetry.
    Serri, Bracha.
    Berkovits Murciano, Yaffah, tr.
    Serri, Niki, tr.
  • Five Poems: No More Important Men, and: Dish, and: I Came to You, and: When I Grow Up, and: Primitrivial
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Poetry.

    Pinsker, Shachar.
  • Unraveling the Yarn: Intertexuality, Gender, and Cultural Critique in the Stories of Dvora Baron
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Baron, Devorah, 1887-1956 -- Criticism and interpretation.
    • Baron, Devorah, 1887-1956 -- Knowledge -- Rabbinical literature.
    • Intertextuality.
    • Jewish women in literature.
    Abstract:
      This article examines Dvora Baron's prolonged attention to the east European shtetl, and her intertextual strategy, by which she makes broad, sophisticated use of rabbinic and other traditional Jewish texts. It does so though a critical reading of three texts from various stages of her career: the two versions of the story "Genizah" (Burying the books, 1908 and 1922), and the story "Gilgulim" (Transformations, 1938). I argue that Baron's turn to the world of the shtetl, as well as to rabbinic intertexts, is not, as many critics have argued, a turn towards the limited, marginal space that the patriarchal establishment designated for her. Rather, her ostensibly traditional conventions serve, paradoxically, as an important element in the creation of a female writing strategy, which she used to express cultural, social, and gender critique of the Zionist project of nation-building, and of some of its canonical models of literary expression.

Review

    Graetz, Naomi, 1943-
  • Sarah Laughed: Modern Lessons from the Wisdom and Stories of Biblical Women (review)
    [Access article in HTML] [Access article in PDF]
    Subject Headings:
    • Ochs, Vanessa L. Sarah laughed: modern lessons from the wisdom & stories of biblical women.
    • Sarah (Biblical matriarch)

Contributors




[Project MUSE] [Search Page] [Journals] [Journal Directory] [Top]