In Meredith Monk's classic feature-length film Book of Days, time plays a central role in creating a Jewish narrative that is simultaneously inside and outside time. Monk gives us a glimpse into the Middle Ages through a twentieth-century lens, then reverses that lens to have her medieval characters look at the twentieth century through their own lens, changing the way we think consciously of time as the distinction between earlier and later. A madwoman and a young Jewish girl are conduits of time: The young girl has visions of the future; the madwoman sees all of history; yet they are understood only by each other. As the plague spreads across Europe, the visions of the madwoman and the Jewish girl remind us that the miraculous and the monstrous are dual forces that conspire to create a oneness and a continuity of life.
Recent site-specific installations incorporating video and digital media by artists Hana Iverson and Melissa Shiff provocatively engage women's roles in relation to Jewish history and traditions, cultural and religious. Utilizing many of the strategies that emerged in installation and performance art during the early 1960s and mid-1970s, these artists create works that are also broadly reflective of the displacements experienced by contemporary Jews. In View from the Balcony (2000), Iverson performs a kind of hybrid spiritual-secular healing ritual in and on the traditional sacred space of the Eldridge Street Synagogue on New York's Lower East Side. The work—a "multi-media project about memory"—responds to the wounds suffered during the historical displacements experienced by immigrant Jews, as they are embodied by one of that community's most important surviving communal buildings. In Postmodern Jewish Wedding (2006), a video based on the performance Melissa Shiff created around her own wedding in Toronto in 2003, the artist reinvents ritual; in ARK (2006), a video sculpture commissioned by the Jewish Museum in Prague, she creates a new form of display for the archive in a narrative work through which objects recount their own history and resonate both in a local Jewish communal context and in a wider Czech national and political one. Iverson's and Shiff's works have in common the idea of rescuing and restoring the empowering and positive aspects of women's difference as expressed in traditional Jewish ritual. In addition, their interests in the relationship of place to cultural memory, and their engagement with new media to evoke the past in light of the present suggest common cause in the aesthetic re-visioning of contemporary Jewish life.
Looking at the social and political context, this article examines sexual imagery in the visual art of nine Jewish-American feminist artists from the 1960s through the 1980s: Judith Bernstein, Judy Chicago, Martha Edelheit, Eunice Golden, Joyce Kozloff, Joan Semmel, Nancy Spero, Anita Steckel and Hannah Wilke. It draws parallels with the work of Jewish-American women in the theater, from Sophie Tucker to Eve Ensler. The activism of these feminist artists fits in with the heritage of Jews, who, motivated by their belief in social justice and desire for political reform, turned to radical politics, first in eastern Europe and then in America. Some of this sexually explicit work has provoked attempts at censorship, disregarding the frequently metaphoric force of the subject. The works of art and the struggles summarized in this paper should heighten awareness that the drive for free expression in art is intimately linked with women's quest to claim their sexuality, agency and power, and that Jewish women have been among the pioneers in that quest.
While most contemporary American Jewish women artists (of the "second wave") have expressed their Jewish identity in art by engaging with historical and social issues (anti-semitism, the Holocaust, assimilation, immigration, ethnicity, etc.) this article focuses on the works of two groups of Jewish women artists who have an advanced knowledge of Torah and Hebrew, and whose works engage profoundly with Jewish texts. Helene Aylon, Bruria Finkel and Gilah Yelin Hirsch have been immersed in Jewish studies since childhood whereas Ruth Weisberg and Cheselyn Amato pursued their learning somewhat later in life, as Jewish teachings became more available to women. All of these artists are feminist creators and activists and have been participating in various aspects of the feminist movement and the women's art movement in the U.S. This article explores the differences in their expressions of Jewish identity, and, primarily, the ways in which the teachings of Torah and knowledge of Hebrew (including the study of Kabbalah) have produced innovative Jewish insights in the work of feminist artists who are steeped in the Jewish canon.
In 1909, Chagall painted the first known portrait of his future wife, Bella (Berta) Rosenfeld. Known as My Fiancée in Black Gloves, this painting is usually viewed as his expression of admiration and love for Bella, who, apparently, was then only fourteen years old. When it is placed next to Chagall's Self-Portrait with Brushes, from the same year, the two paintings, although not looking towards each other, seem to create a double portrait that recalls similar creations in the great art of the past.
Two additional portraits of women, also painted in 1909 and misleadingly known as portraits of the artist's sisters, actually represent two other female friends of Chagall's from that time, Thea Brachman and Bella Germont, both of them talented, university-educated young women. Juxtaposed with the portraits of Bella Rosenfeld and Chagall's self-portrait, they tell much about the young artist's differing attitudes towards each woman, their artistic and intellectual influence upon him, his ambivalences, and the questioning of his own role in these relationships. They also pay tribute to artists whose works interested Chagall at the time, such as Rembrandt, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Matisse, and they show his appreciation for Russian Symbolism and the art of icons.
Several additional drawings and sketches that accompany the portraits of Bella Rosenfeld reveal further aspects of their relationship: Chagall's feeling of inferiority towards the rich and educated Bella, who was not a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl in 1909, but rather a twenty-year-old Moscow student of history, literature and philosophy. The new understanding of their relationship points towards his resentment and desire, her reserve and aloofness, and finally to why they do not look at each other in the final versions of their portraits.
In this article I present the results of my fieldwork with ultra-Orthodox men, who are forbidden to interact with women. Specifically, I focused upon the world of young Torah scholars in the Jewish ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) community in Israel. This essay demonstrates the strategies I developed in order to enter this group and interview members: using a yeshiva student as a key informant, studying ancient texts with yeshiva students and simulating yeshiva practices. These methods enabled me to gain trust and privileges in a world forbidden to females. I thereby achieved a better understanding of how yeshiva students interpret their experiences in terms of the sacred and the profane, and how they evaluate and critique these experiences.
This article is an examination of the ways that feminist and feminist Jewish theorists and philosophers, in executing their perspectives and commitments—in terms of justice, gender, embodiment and relationships—offer new insights into how important philosophical issues can be understood, engaged and mediated. The point of departure is Hava Tirosh-Samuelson's insistence that while a conversation between feminist philosophy, Jewish philosophy and Jewish feminists is essential, contemporary male Jewish philosophers have failed to address these potential dialogue partners. The article begins with a discussion of the nature of the overlapping spheres of philosophy, Jewish philosophy, feminist philosophy and feminist Jewish philosophy. Particular issues raised by feminist Jewish philosophers are examined, and at the conclusion a stream within post-Freudian psychoanalysis is advanced as a new resource for feminist Jewish reflections on our concrete and multi-faceted life with others.