Cover

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pp. -iv

Title Page

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pp. v-viii

Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Foreword by Sylvia Barack Fishman

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pp. xi-xiv

In this extraordinary feminist literary critical analysis, newly translated from the Hebrew, Inbar Raveh teases out meanings hidden within a critically important genre of rabbinic literature known as midrash. Produced by rabbis from the first century ce through medieval times and widely dispersed, midrash consists of narrative...

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Introduction

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pp. xv-xxvi

I embarked on writing this book as a secular woman involved in literary research on rabbinic literature. For most of my life, I did not consider myself a feminist. This was an ideological label that I avoided, averse as I am to ideologies in general. Many of them—or, at least, the form that they take in our social reality—appear to me to entail a coercive view...

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1. Back to the Breast: An Aspect of Feminine Sexuality in the Imagined World of the Sages

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pp. 1-39

In the beginning there was the breast. That was the first object; the maternal organ whose significance in the life of every newborn—certainly in the ancient world—was critical. When artists of the ancient world molded the human form, breasts usually signified a woman. They were different, sometimes, in form and even in number...

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2. Desire and Dominion

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pp. 40-55

In the world of the Sages, feminine identity is awarded its fullest representation when a woman becomes a wife to her husband. In this culture, heterosexual marriage is presented as an extremely positive value. The desired matrimonial norm is expressed and reinforced through such statements as, “Any man who does not have a wife...

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3. “They Let the Children Live”: The Midwives at a Political Crossroads

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pp. 56-73

In our quest for the absent story of birth as a subject in classical Jewish literature, we must remember that this central and important event in the existence of every individual—certainly in the ancient period that we are discussing—was, apparently, the exclusive domain of women. Women had unmediated, personal experience...

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4. Judith, Wife of R. Hiyya: A Story of Women’s Pain

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pp. 74-92

In this chapter we propose a gender-based reading of the story of a certain woman who features in the world of the Sages—Judith, wife of R. Hiyya the Great. What first caught my attention about her was the fact that she is mentioned by name, which is fairly uncommon in talmudic sources. Like the stories of women in the Bible...

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5. The Voice of Doubt: The Wife of R. Simeon ben Halafta and the Uncanny

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pp. 93-99

“To be or not to be,” Shakespeare’s immortal formulation of uncertainty, echoes in the consciousness of each of us. Meaningful thought and life processes entail complex relations between fundamental certainties and the existence of doubt. Each of these spheres possesses its own special qualities. Philosophy and science are heavily weighted...

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6. Open to Conquest: Prostitution—Temptations and Responses

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pp. 100-115

Everyone, it seems, knows the answer to the question: Which is the oldest profession in the world? The difficulty in defining prostitution arises in no small measure from the need to distinguish between this realm and other sorts of relationships that involve sexual relations outside of the marriage framework...

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7. The Myth in the Attic: The Call of the Deep

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pp. 116-144

A myth is traditionally defined as a story about the history of the gods or their powers. Theories of myth from the nineteenth century assumed that myths dealt only with the physical world. Myth was understood as belonging to religion, regarded as the primitive parallel of science— which was considered altogether modern...

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8. The creation of Woman: Men Are from Babylon; Women Are from the Land of Israel

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pp. 145-156

The perception of finality and completion requires that there first exist a model that defines the whole. I confess that I find the formulation of conclusions to be one of the more distressing norms entailed in writing. This, too, I believe, is a function of gender identity. The difficulty in concluding with some sort of theoretical generalization...

Notes

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pp. 157-178

Bibliography

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pp. 179-196

Index

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pp. 197-206