Common Western stereotypes about men and women and their relationships to labor and production often influence how we view these matters even in non-modern contexts, such as rabbinic Judaism in late antiquity. In fact, notwithstanding modern and ancient conventions assigning women to homemaking and men to earning the family livelihood, rabbinic texts depict women in a variety of wage-earning tasks and consider women's labor and production, domestic and otherwise, an essential element of the family economy. On the other hand, labor is not automatically valorized for men but rather stands in tension with the ideal of full devotion to Torah study. This article explores these elements of rabbinic culture, individually and in terms of their interaction: the conflict for rabbinic men between the desire to devote themselves exclusively to Torah study and the need to support themselves and ensure that essential societal tasks get done; the participation of women (wives, and also slaves) in the rabbinically imagined family economy; and the exemption/exclusion of women (and slaves) from various forms of religious practice and learning.
This article deals with Jewish women's involvement in economic life in the Ottoman Empire following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Throughout the sixteenth century, both married and unmarried women were active not only in traditional "feminine" occupations, such as money-lending and real-estate transactions, but also in various other professions and crafts, practiced both in the home and in the markets. This also applies to Sefardi women, who were not accustomed to pursue a livelihood outside their homes. The importance of women as providers, at a time of social and demographic changes, allowed some social and halakhic leniency. Though most of the women were involved in small to medium businesses, some of them—especially in Istanbul—gained power and wealth and were able to help support the Jewish community.
In the United States, both Jews and women encountered major obstacles in attempting to pursue academic careers before World War II. Aspiring Jewish women academics faced both antisemitism and sexism and had to surmount even more daunting hurdles than did their non-Jewish female or Jewish male counterparts, whether in the sciences, the humanities or the social sciences. Although antisemitism gradually became a less significant factor in academic hiring after 1945, for several more decades women frequently were barred from tenured positions and academic promotions as a result of nepotism rules and other forms of discrimination. For Jewish women with doctorates, their gender, even more than their religion or ethnic origins, limited their opportunities for academic advancement throughout much of the twentieth century. Only from the 1970s on, thanks to second-wave feminism, did Jewish women manage to carve out secure niches for themselves within the academy.
The first kibbutz, founded in 1910 as a modern Jewish egalitarian community, strove to fulfill democratic and egalitarian principles. Though gender equality was never fully implemented in the kibbutzim, from the 1920s on it nevertheless became a central principle of this classless society—largely as a result of kibbutz women's collective action. Since the 1980s, however, the kibbutz as an institution has been in the throes of a dramatic crisis as it adapts to neo-liberalism, a process that can be seen as one of de-institutionalization of social equality.
In this paper, I shall examine what is happening to women in light of these dramatic changes. In the first section, I shall describe the impact of neo-liberalism on the kibbutz. My assumption is that here, as elsewhere, neo-liberalism is a mixed blessing for men and women alike, in that it creates new regimes of social inclusion and exclusion, institutionalizing new avenues to prestige and/or power and/or economic resources while weakening traditional ones.
Next, I describe the mixed blessing brought specifically to women by this process. As far as economic rewards, power and prestige are concerned, men are overrepresented among the "winners" in the neo-liberal process, while women are overrepresented among the "losers."
In the last section, I discuss why kibbutz women nowadays do not mobilize for collective action and largely take a pragmatic, individualistic attitude toward managing their lives. This analysis refers to three interrelated factors: (1) The community's historical gendered division of labor; (2) its social construction of motherhood and masculinity; and (3) the long fight of kibbutz women for autonomy in the private sphere.
In conclusion, I argue that for those who still dream of living in an "alternative community" in the global era, the issue of gender equality needs to be re-invented on the path to Utopia.
This study examines the spatialization of work and gender in the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel. In this community, most adult men (about 70%) are voluntarily not employed and devote their time to the study of Judaism's holy texts. Consequently, the adherents' standard of living is usually very poor, and many married mothers add paid jobs to their traditional domestic duties in order to support their especially large families. Relying on insights associated with the gender division of labor and social negotiation in urban public space, this study examines and analyzes the midday scene in an ultra-Orthodox street. Based on in-depth interviews, observations and short street interviews, I show that although ultra-Orthodox fathers shoulder some domestic chores to support the mothers' paid work, these are largely outdoor activities that confer visibility upon the men's limited contribution. In the resultant scene, representations of domestic work by women and children are obscured by the vitality of those presented by men, enhancing and reinforcing the ascendancy of men and their unpaid religious work. The overall composition of the ultra-Orthodox public space bolsters the "old" order at the intersection of gender, work and space.
Mothering and motherhood figure prominently in the personal narratives of women survivors of the Holocaust. In contrast, men identified as father figures are conspicuously absent from both women's and men's personal narratives, and fatherhood plays a relatively minor role in male narratives. This study argues that the paucity of references to fatherly behavior is attributable to a combination of factors. Gender is an important factor in determining the actual ordeals men and women faced as well as the ways in which they interpreted and narrated those events. While there is evidence that some survivors believed Jewish masculinity and paternal authority to have been called into question by the destruction of Jewish families in the Holocaust, gendered narrative construction appears to account for much of the disparity between father and mother figures
This article seeks to cast light on a halakhic responsum of Rabbi Joseph Messas, one of the great halakhic authorities of the twentieth century in North Africa. The responsum deals with the questions of whether a barrier between men and women in the synagogue is necessary, and of whether women may be "called up" to the Torah. It offers a new understanding of the concept of "the dignity of the congregation" as well as fascinating accounts of Jewish women being called to the Torah, wearing the attire of Muslim women. Through analysis of this responsum, I shall map out various views and understandings of "the dignity of the congregation" and look at R. Messas's position through the prism of contemporary gender research.
The initial exchange between Judith Plaskow and Tamar Ross took place at the closing session of an international conference on "Religion, Gender and Society" held at Bar Ilan University on May 21–22, 2006. For its publication in Nashim, Plaskow and Ross each responded to the written version of the other's remarks.