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Women's Marriage Rights in aJudeo-Spanish Novel TRADITION VERSUS MODERNI1Y: WOMEN'S RIGHTS IN MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE IN A JUDEO-SPANISH NOVEL by Rebecca Schererl Rebecca Scherer is an independent scholar who has been a Visiting Scholar in the Judaic Studies Program at Brown University (1989190). She is currently working on a translation of Judeo-Spanish folktales from the Balkans and Turkey. This article is part of her ongoing investigation of the relationship between the Judeo-Spanish oral tradition and nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuryJudeo-Spanish literature. 1 The traditional Eastern Sephardi family structure was patriarchal. As in the Moroccan Jewish family, described by laskier, the father was the central dominating figure, exercising authority over all members of the household. Family arrangements, marriages included, were his responsibility , and under his guidance the daughter was married, usually through his intercession with the groom and his family. This process was implemented without seeking the bride's consent.2 This situation continued, in large part, both with respect to the father's domination in general and to the conditions under which a woman married, into the twentieth century. However, the introduction ofWestern 'The author would like to express her gratitude to Daniel GolTman for facilitating the publication of this article. 2Michael M. Laskier, tbe Alliance Israelite Universelle and the jewish Communities of Morocco, 1862-1962 (Albany, 1983), p. 118. Sometimes the groom was not consulted either. See "Les Memoires de Saadi Halevy: Mon Mariage," Le ]udaislIle Sepharadi (1 February 1935): 28. 2 SHOFAR Spring 1994 Vol. 12, No.3 ideas and values through the schools operated by the Alliance Israelite Universelle and other European institutions and the Judeo-Spanish press created an atmosphere of conflict even when tradition won out over modernity. The question of paternal power and a woman's autonomy with regard to marriage and divorce are the subjects of a short anonymous novel, El Aniyo de Kiddushim (The Betrothal Ring), first serialized in the weekly newspaper El Meseret of Izmir in 1902/3 and later published separately.3 The founder and editor of El Meseret (The Joy) and several other publications, Alexander Ben Giat (1869-1923), was a major figure in Judeo-Spanish journalism from the late 1890s through the first quarter of the twentieth century.4 Translator and adapter of foreign-language works (mainly novels), poet and dramatist, he wrote most of the material that appeared in El Meseret,5 and· is probably the author of El Aniyo de Kiddushim. Ben Giat was religious, yet firmly committed to modernity.6 Although his plays address issues of modern life without directly attacking traditional values,7 in his autobiographical works he utilizes comic narrative to criticize the meldar (traditional religious school for boys), to deride common beliefs as foolish superstitions, and to disparage folk medicine.s 3EI Aniyo de Kiddushilll: Novela Djudia. The rest of the title page reads: Puvlikada in "EI Meseret" de Esmirna, 5663. Estampada alos Gastes de la Libreria SIS de Shlomeh Israel Sherezli in Yerushalayim. Estamparia Karmona i Zara, Kairo [14 pp., printed in Rashi characters ]. See Abraham Yaari, Catalogue ofjudaeo-Spanish Books in the jewish National and University Library Oerusalem, 1934), no. 418. As was the case with many works published in the Ottoman Empire in this period, the designation of Cairo as the place of publication was for the benefit of the Turkish censor; it was actually published in Jerusalem sometime before the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, when censorship was lifted. I did not have access to EI Meseret for the year 5663, so was unable to determine in which issues it appeared or whether there was any preparation by the editor for its appearance or any reader reaction in the form of letters. 4See Avner Levi, "Alexander Ben Giat and His Contribution to Newspapers and Belles Lettres in Ladino" [in Hebrew], in Moreshet Yehude Sefarad veha Mizrah, ed. Issachar BenAmi Oerusalem, 1982), pp. 205-12 (Papers from the 1st International Congress on the Sepharad and Oriental Jewry, 1978, Hebrew edition); and David M. Bunis, Sephardic Studies: A Research Bibliography Incorporatingjudezmo Language, Literature and Folklore, and Historical Background (New York, 1981), pp. xi; xii; XVi, n. 26. 'Levi, "Alexander Ben Giat," p. 207...


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