This article begins with the observation that one of the most famous bad wife tales in rabbinic literature (Genesis Rabbah 17:3) is not really a tale about women at all. While Genesis Rabbah 17:3 is formally structured as a tale of two wives, the bad wife of Rabbi Yose and the good wife of Rabbi Ḥananiah ben Ḥakhinai, the narrative is not primarily directed at shaping a feminine ideal but works to negotiate competing visions of male honor. Specifically, the narrative works to overturn a model of male Jewish honor based on a paterfamilias model of individual leadership in favor of a system in which male Jewish honor derives from visible adherence to the norms of the rabbinic academy. This article thus explores a common dissonance in early rabbinic narratives about women, asking why women's literary bodies are so effective as a material through which male social ideals can be negotiated. The article concludes that the fictional women in such stories function in a mode very similar to what Mikhail Bahktin described as a "fairytale chronotope," in which landscapes, objects, and animals are animated to make the defining structures of a particular social moment visible by distilling them into a perceptible representative but without the blurring complications of a full human subjectivity.


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pp. 56-85
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