Women in Judaism:
A Multidisciplinary Journal

ISSN 1209-9392

Fall 2003 Volume 3, Number 2


"The First Night"

Abaye said, Mother told me: Like hot water on a bald man’s head. Raba said, the daughter of Rab Hisda (Raba’s wife) told me: Like the prick of bloodletting. Rav Papa said, the daughter of Aba of Sura (Rav Papa’s wife) told me: Like hard bread for the gums. [Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 39b] (The Defiant Muse, Hebrew Feminist Poems from Antiquity to the Present: A Bilingual Anthology. Edited by Shirley Kaufman, Galit Hasan-Rokem and Tamar S. Hess. With a foreward by Alicia Suskin Ostriker. The Helen Rose Scheuer Jewish Women’s Series. New York: Feminist Press, 1999, p. 59. This passage was translated by Shirley Kaufman and Galit Hasan-Rokem.)


Changes in the Social Status of Urban Jewish Women in Iraq as the Nineteenth Century Turned
Dr. Shaul Sehayek, Tel-Aviv
Translated from the Hebrew by Dina Ripsman Eylon and Dalia Maishlish


During the nineteenth century Arab countries underwent an awaking process, which included their Jewish populations. This awakening manifested itself in the imitation of western models of education, culture, literature, poetry and theatre, as well as in the modernization of everyday life. Although the process was slow, the lives of Middle Eastern women, including Jewish women, were considerably influenced by this renaissance.

"The Defense Has Become the Prosecution:" Ezrat HaNashim, a Thirteenth-century Response to Misogyny
Jill Jacobs, Jewish Theological Seminary of America


The debate about the nature of women—and the parallel debate about the nature of men—take many forms. This paper will not attempt a comprehensive study of these debates, but rather, will examine the manifestation of the debate over women in two thirteenth century texts, Judah Ibn Shabbetai's Minhat Yehuda Sone HaNashim and Ezrat HaNashim, a response to this work written by Isaac. Minhat Yehuda Sone HaNashim, written in Castile in the late twelfth/early thirteenth century purports to be a misogynist work although, as we will see, it is probably a parody of misogynist literature. Ezrat HaNashim, probably written in Provence in 1210, understands Minhat Yehuda as a serious misogynist work and sets out to defend women against the charges that Ibn Shabbetai levels against them. As much has already been written about Minhat Yehuda, we will focus on Ezrat HaNashim and explore the defense of women that this text presents.

Ronit Matalon’s Ethnic Masterpiece
Dvir Abramovich, Jan Randa Lecturer in Modern Hebrew Literature,
The University of Melbourne, Australia


Ronit Matalon’s debut novel The One Facing Us is at once a coming of age tale and an ambitious, impressionistic family roots saga rich in character and detail that plunges the reader into the sprawling past of an Egyptian family and its adventures in three continents. Through a medley of old photographs and fragments of letters, the 17 year-old rebellious heroine Esther, who is sent from Israel to live with her successful businessman uncle in Cameroon, manages to reconstruct her clan’s wondrous journeys and unearth its disintegration. Uniquely, each chapter is dappled with a family snapshot, followed by the narrator’s attempt to delineate the story within and without the frame. Intermingling post-modernist techniques with meditations on exile, cultural displacement and post colonialism, Matalon’s imaginative and fascinating book (feted by A. B Yehoshua as wonderful and sensitive and sensual) is a fine entry in the ever-growing Israeli canon of tribal-ethnic texts by women.

A Mystery on the Tombstones: “Women’s Commandments” in Early-Modern Askenazi Culture
Evyatar Marienberg, CERL-CNRS/Tel-Aviv University


In a cemetery in Alsace, many of the women's tombstones bear the inscription that the deceased kept the so-called "Women's Commandments." The article argues that two reasons may, among other reasons, account for this custom: one is for the sake of the deceased, proclaiming that she has atoned for the sin of Eve, and the other is for the sake of her descendants, affirming that they are not "Bnei ha-Niddah," descendants of a woman who ignored the Jewish laws regarding menstruation.

Book Reviews

Yael S. Feldman. No Room of Their Own: Gender and Nation in Israeli Women’s Fiction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999; Lelo heder mishelahen: Migdar uleumiut biyetziratan shel sofrot israeliyot. Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz hameuchad, 2002. Winner of the 2003 Abraham Friedman Award for Hebrew Literature. Reviewer: Amia Lieblich. [ Review ]

Fuchs, Esther, ed. Women and the Holocaust: Narrative and Representation. Studies in the Shoah, no. 22. Lanham, New York, Oxford: University Press of America, 1999. Reviewer: Robyn Sassen. [ Review ]

Angier, Carole. The Double Bond: Primo Levi, a Biography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giraux, 2002. Reviewer: Elaine Margolin. [ Review ]

Davis, Chuck. Raising the Sparks: A Personal Search for a Spiritual Home in Judaism. Boulder, CO: Throughline Productions and Delphi Production, 2001. Color. 60 minutes. VHS. Reviewer: Frances Frommer. [ Review ]

Linda D. Cirino. Eva’s Story. Princeton: Ontario Press, 1999. Reviewer: Robyn Sassen. [ Review ]

Brenner, Rachel Feldhay. Writing as Resistance: Four Women Confronting the Holocaust - Edith Stein, Simone Weil, Anne Frank, Etty Hillesum. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997. Reviewer: Robyn Sassen. [ Review ]

Naomi Graetz. Silence Is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating. Northdale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1998. Reviewer: Robyn Sassen. [ Review ]


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2004 Women in Judaism, Inc.