- The Coming of Lilith: Essays on Feminism, Judaism and Sexual Ethics, 1972-2003
Judith Plaskow defined the field of Jewish feminist theology. This collection of her essays brings together much of the important work she has done in a variety of scholarly and popular publications for the past thirty years. It makes a vital contribution to the study of the contemporary Jewish feminist movement and to the key role Plaskow has played in defining that movement's basic themes and values. It shows how Plaskow has made connections between Jewish feminist thought and broader concerns of contemporary Jewish life including theology, antisemitism, and sexuality. Viewing her work in this context it is easy to understand why Plaskow is not only a leading Jewish feminist, but one of the most important Jewish thinkers of this generation.
The work is divided into four sections that coincide with Plaskow's intellectual interests. It begins with Plaskow's earliest writings (in the section entitled Formulating a Feminist Theology) that served as the background for the argument presented in her landmark book, Standing Again at Sinai (1990). In this section, we see Plaskow's progression from a feminist theologian to a Jewish feminist theologian. We learn how she developed a rationale for the central contention of her work: that Jewish feminism needs to be approached through the lens of theology. In "The Right Question is Theological," which was originally published in Susannah Heschel's groundbreaking anthology On Being a Jewish Feminist, Plaskow lays out her arguments against the assumption that gaining rights within the framework of the religious movements in Judaism (from Orthodox to Reform) is enough, and suggests that to realize the promise of feminist ideas fully, Judaism must be changed at its theological foundations and not only in its practice. The other highlights of this section are Plaskow's earliest Jewish feminist work, "The Coming of Lilith," from [End Page 144] which the collection takes its name, and "Lilith Revisited," which includes her thoughts about the essay twenty years later. While Plaskow's original retelling of the creation story from the perspective of Lilith has been broadly disseminated and widely used in classrooms and synagogues, it is still wonderful to read, and to read "Lilith Revisited," the essay the author contributed to a 1995 anthology of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim writings about the Creation story in Genesis, along with it. In her later thoughts about the original essay, Plaskow reveals to the reader how she perceives her growth as a Jewish thinker and sums up the transition that takes place throughout the essays in this section.
The second section (The Complexity of Interlocking Oppressions) is devoted to Plaskow's writings that challenge oppression. Whether she is questioning Christian feminist antisemitism or Jewish anti-paganism, Plaskow makes it clear that the key to ending oppression is to acknowledge that victim and oppressor roles shift with context, and that we must listen to the "Other" and not fall into the trap of claiming victim status without acknowledging our own complicity in the suffering of others. Given this theme, the essay "Dealing with the Hard Stuff" seems out of place in this section. It focuses on the struggle Plaskow confronts again in two other essays in regard to how Jews should respond to difficult Biblical texts. In this case she struggles with the values of the Purim story. In the third section, Plaskow deals with the problems of reading prophetic references to marriage in haftarah readings in "Preaching Against the Text" (the only essay in the volume that was not previously published). In the fourth section, she similarly grapples with the afternoon Torah reading for Yom Kippur in "Sexuality and Teshuvah: Leviticus 18." Grouping these essays together, perhaps in conjunction with the "Coming of Lilith," might have made for an interesting additional section that would highlight another dimension of Plaskow's work, biblical interpretation.
Most of the other essays in section three (Creating a Feminist Judaism) are brief but important writings from popular Jewish...