Gender as a category of analysis has revolutionized the study of history. This course will apply the category of gender to the history of the Jewish people, beginning from the early medieval period until the present. Until recently, Jewish history has largely been told through the experience of Jewish men and the texts they penned and preserved. This course will expand our understanding of Jewish history and self-understanding by studying and analyzing the role of Jewish women in relationship to the development of Judaism, Jewish economic life, Jewish politics, and to Jewish culture broadly defined. What was the relationship between formal religion and daily life, and how has this relationship changed over time? How did Jewish women contribute to the family economy and what was their relationship to the non-Jewish societies in which they lived? What do Jewish traditions teach about the relation of women to God, to prayer and liturgy, and to human relationships? How have the modern phenomena of immigration, assimilation, religious denominationalism, and feminism shaped Jewish women’s thinking and experience? How does the inclusion of women and issues of gender change the understanding of the Jewish past?
Topics to be covered include: spirituality, marriage, motherhood, the body and sexuality, and women’s activities in work, spirituality, and political and religious leadership. The course materials will cross temporal and geographic boundaries, and we will utilize diverse genres to explore our topic, including primary and secondary historical sources, fiction, poetry, and film.