Gen­der and Time­bound Com­mand­ments in Judaism

Eliz­a­beth Shanks Alexander
  • From the Publisher
December 10, 2013

The rule that exempts women from rit­u­als that need to be per­formed at spe­cif­ic times (so-called time­bound, pos­i­tive com­mand­ments) has served for cen­turies to sta­bi­lize Jew­ish gen­der. It has pro­vid­ed a ratio­nale for wom­en’s cen­tral­i­ty at home and their absence from the syn­a­gogue. Depart­ing from dom­i­nant pop­u­lar and schol­ar­ly views, Eliz­a­beth Shanks Alexan­der argues that the rule was not con­ceived to struc­ture wom­en’s reli­gious lives, but rather became a tool for social engi­neer­ing only after it under­went shifts in mean­ing dur­ing its trans­mis­sion. Alexan­der nar­rates the rule’s com­pli­cat­ed his­to­ry, estab­lish­ing the pur­pos­es for which it was ini­tial­ly for­mu­lat­ed and the shifts in inter­pre­ta­tion that led to its being per­ceived as a key mark­er of Jew­ish gen­der. At the end of her study, Alexan­der points to wom­en’s exemp­tion from par­tic­u­lar rit­u­als (She­ma, tefill­in, and Torah study), which, she argues, are bet­ter places to look for insight into rab­binic gender.

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