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136 SHOFAR Winter 1999 Vol. 17, No.2 Rereading the Rabbis: A Woman's Voice, by Judith Hauptman. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997. 285 pp. $26.00. Judith Hauptman's Rereading the Rabbis: A Woman's Voice is a different kind of feminist book on the Talmud from any that has been written until today. It is written from the perspective of a female scholar who is completely devoted, herself, to the continuation of the practice of traditional Judaism (what might even be called "Orthodox" Judaism, were that not such a misnomer in general). Accordingly, the book will not look feminist to many western bourgeois feminists, just as the feminism of women activists in many parts of the world does not appear feminist from that perspective. But it is. What is so exciting about this book is that it shows what can be learned when loving feminist attention is turned to these texts precisely from a position ofcritical identification with them. In searching for a contemporary re-vision ofJewish traditional life that will answer the feminist demand (i.e., the demand of the feminist within) for gender justice, Hauptman develops a unique methodology. Rather than judging or defending (polemic or apologetic) the Rabbis and their "attitudes" or practices with respect to gender, Hauptman seeks a dynamic method of description. What was the direction of rabbinic thought on gender? Was it leading in what we would call a progressive direction vis-avis its authoritative text and past, the Torah, or was it tending in a direction of greater and greater oppression and exclusion of women? In the past, many have argued for the latter option. The great innovation of Hauptman's book is that it arduously argues for the former, and largely convinces. Let us be absolutely clear. Hauptman is not arguing that the Rabbis were feminists. Indeed, she is quite clear that the opposite is the case. She does characterize them, however, as anti-misogynists by and large, and as seeking to ameliorate the legal situation of women, as "helpful to women"-benevolent patriarchs and patrons of women. The greatest virtue ofHauptman's work is that it is the work ofa talmudic scholar. Nearly none of the feminist work on rabbinic culture, society, or even law has been done by fully trained talmudists. This enables her, in both the detailed care ofher view and its broad scope and intake, to much more accurately assess what was actually going on in the texts with respect to particular issues having to do with the welfare of women and girls. Thus, to take one of her own most striking examples, the Rabbis seriously reduced the number of cases in which the biblical fme for rape was to be paid. Typical scholarship would pay attention to this fact and conclude that the Rabbis were making light ofrape or protecting male privilege, while Hauptman discovers that in fact what was going on was that the fixed fme for rape was being eliminated in all of those cases, Book Reviews 137 infavor ofa more stringentpunishment. In fact, the Rabbis were maintaining the letter ofthe Torah's law ofrape by reducing its applicability to a minimUm, while at the same time producing their own, much more stringent rape law. This is consistent, of course, with a rabbinic culture which, as has been shown, was one ofthe fIrst, if not the fIrst to be sensitive to and condemnatory of rape within marriage as well. In her commitment and love for rabbinic Judaism and its tradition, Hauptman takes on its most diffIcult moments for feminists and exposes them to the light of day. This is apologetic in the best sense of the word, that is, an honest defense against calumny. Perhaps better would be to adopt the usage of St. Clair Drake, who uses the term "vindicationist." She pursues this project of frank vindication, I think, in the spirit of Franz Rosenzweig, who wrote: Why has the word apologetics acquired such a bad reputation? The same seems to be true of the apologetic profession par excellence, that of the lawyer. A general bias against him sees his legitimate task, as it were, as lying. Perhaps a certain professional routine...


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