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Female and Jewish: Critique and Reconstruction Female and Jewish: Critique and Reconstruction Esther Fuchs University ofArizona This volume includes a selection ofpapers given at the third conference of the Western Association ofJewish Studies at the University ofArizona, Tucson.I The theme of the conference was "Women in Jewish Life and Culture." This was the first time that women were the topic of a full-fledged annual conference of a Jewish Studies association. The response to the call for papers was enthusiastic. We received papers in disparate fields and disciplines, and it seemed at first that no coherent structure could ever emerge from as diverse a medley as the papers approved for presentation. When the proposal was made that my colleague Sydney Weinberg would edit "the U.S. related papers," I began to see a pattern emerge from the jumble of abstracts and proposals on my desk. What became immediately apparent was the number ofpapers dedicated to work by women writers, some better known and some lesser known. New knowledge and deepened knowledge emerged from this group of papers, deepened in the degree ofanalytic sophistication arid innovation ofapproach. The second group ofpapers dealt with major, well-known, mostly traditional Jewish sources. These classical textsbiblical , rabbinic, Qumranic, cinematographic-have shaped Jewish subjectivities for ages, and although they are not uniform in their treatment of female characters, the explicit and implicit prescriptions they convey about the "proper" power relations between men and women is significant. Papers dealing with "male-authored texts" dealt with issues ofsuppression, exclusion, fracturing, marginalization. How do I bring these groups together under one roof? Feminist theory has demonstrated that our thinking about gender in the academy has gone through two related phases: critique and reconstruction. It occurred to me that what we are witnessing at this point in the development of the relationship between Gender Studies and Jewish Studies is the simultaneous emergence of critique and reconstruction. Feminist scholars are taking issue with well established authoritative texts, while others are seeking out new texts that can be appropriated and embraced. The debate between the camps is essential to the continued growth ofthe academic field of Jewish Feminist Studies. I propose that instead of dismissing, occluding, or marginalizing one approach in favor of the other, IThe Conference on "Women in Jewish Life and Culture" was sponsored by the Judaic Studies Program ofthe University of Arizona and the Western Association ofJewish Studies, Tucson, April 6-8,1997. 2 SHOFAR Winter 1999 Vol. 17, No.2 we allow both to develop concurrently, while maintammg the important tension between the two. We must not fall into the trap of phallic fantasies of domination, singularity, and supersession. Cultivating both a critical stance toward established texts and encouraging the search for new and unknown texts-whether these texts are written or cultural-is at this point in time the unique characteristic of Jewish Feminist Studies. I therefore organized this anthology around these two methodologies. One word of caution before we proceed: "male-authored texts" and "female-authored texts" are designations that should not be taken too literally. For one thing, when it comes to ancient texts authorship cannot be established with any degree of certainty, but what we can deduce is whether or not the texts promote an ideology and politics that favors the subordination ofwomen. In addition, not all feminist approaches dismiss male-authored portrayals of women. Some fmd in male-authored texts empowering presentations of women. Again, the debate that must continue to develop will help clarify the methods, theories, and agendas that inspire each approach. The theoretical section includes a single article that deals with diversity and coherence, identity, and community. I selected this theoretical article as a leadarticle because it highlights areas of knowledge and research that are sure to emerge in the next decade of Jewish Feminist scholarship. To what extent are Jewish feminists speaking from one coherent perspective, and to what extent are some women marginalized within this perspective? How does Jewishness as an identity configure in Gender Studies? Who are our allies, and whom can we learn from? What is our community, and how do we negotiate our differences from a community that has not traditionally been sympathetic...


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