Religious Studies | Judaism and Gender
R541 | 27117 | Magid


This course will explore the question of gender and Judaism from two
related but distinct perspectives: the philosophical/theological and
the jurisprudential. That is, we will explore the issue of gender as
a question of justice and as a category of legislation. One goal
will be to examine whether legislative solutions, e.g. ritual
egalitarianism, are adequate responses to the question of gender and
the larger societal, cultural, and theological issues that are at
stake when we talk about “gender” in a traditionalist framework.
Thus the theoretical discussion about gender will serve as the
framework for the more focused discussion about law in general and
Jewish law in particular.

The philosophical component of this course will be to ask if and how
much the status and role of women in classical Judaism can be or
should be understood in meta-legal as opposed to purely legal
categories. That is, how can (traditional) Judaism respond to the
elevated social status of women in contemporary society and the
assumption of, or aspiration toward, equality that pervades our
culture. Can we apply classical notions of citizenship, equality,
and justice with regard to women’s place and status in Jewish life
and worship? Alternatively, we will ask if these meta-legal (i.e.,
philosophical/political/cultural) categories are inapplicable when
speaking about Jewish law and practice and if so, why?

In the final part of the course we will ask what can be done about
gender and Judaism if we conclude that legislative solutions are
either: (1) not viable from the legal tradition and its classical
sources, or (2) not enough. The issue at stake here is what happens
if the application of philosophical and cultural approaches to
gender, i.e., feminism as defined in the academy and society outside
Jewish Studies, forces a community that takes Jewish law seriously
out of traditional modes of discourse in order to address issues
that cannot be adequately addressed or resolved solely by
legislative or theological/apologetic means. That is, if the
solution to the problem of women in Judaism is one that extends
beyond ritual inclusion and power sharing, what alternatives and
challenges do traditional communities have in implementing these
changes.