Jew­ish Wom­en’s His­to­ry from Antiq­ui­ty to the Present

Fed­er­i­ca Francesconi and Rebec­ca Lynn Win­er (Edi­tors)

January 12, 2021

Jew­ish Wom­en’s His­to­ry from Antiq­ui­ty to the Present is broad in geo­graph­i­cal scope explor­ing Jew­ish wom­en’s lives in what is now East­ern and West­ern Europe, Britain, Israel, Turkey, North Africa, and North Amer­i­ca. Edi­tors Fed­er­i­ca Francesconi and Rebec­ca Lynn Win­er focus the vol­ume on recon­struct­ing the expe­ri­ences of ordi­nary women and sit­u­at­ing those of the extra­or­di­nary and famous with­in the gen­der sys­tems of their times and places.

The twen­ty-one con­trib­u­tors ana­lyze the his­to­ry of Jew­ish women in the light of gen­der as reli­gious, cul­tur­al, and social con­struct. They apply new method­olo­gies in approach­ing rab­binic sources, pre­scrip­tive lit­er­a­ture, and musar (ethics), inter­ro­gat­ing them about female roles in the bib­li­cal and rab­binic imag­i­na­tions, and in rela­tion to wom­en’s restric­tions and quo­tid­i­an actions on the ground. They explore Jew­ish’s women expe­ri­ences of per­se­cu­tion, dis­place­ment, immi­gra­tion, inte­gra­tion, and social mobil­i­ty from the medieval age through the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. And for the mod­ern era, this vol­ume assess­es wom­en’s spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ments; how they expe­ri­enced changes in reli­gious and polit­i­cal soci­eties, both Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish; the his­to­ry of women in the Holo­caust, their strug­gle through per­se­cu­tion and depor­ta­tion; wom­en’s every­day con­cerns, Jew­ish les­bian activism, and the spir­i­tu­al sphere in the con­tem­po­rary era. Con­trib­u­tors rein­ter­pret rab­bini­cal respon­sa through new lens­es and study a pletho­ra of unpub­lished and pre­vi­ous­ly unknown archival sources, such as com­mu­ni­ty ordi­nances and court records, along­side auto­bi­ogra­phies, let­ters, poet­ry, nar­ra­tive prose, devo­tion­al objects, the built envi­ron­ment, illu­mi­nat­ed man­u­scripts, and ear­ly print­ed books.

This pub­li­ca­tion is sig­nif­i­cant with­in the field of Jew­ish stud­ies and beyond; the essays include com­par­a­tive mate­r­i­al and have the poten­tial to reach schol­ar­ly audi­ences in many relat­ed fields but are also writ­ten to be acces­si­ble to all, with the intro­duc­tions in every chap­ter aimed at ori­ent­ing the enthu­si­ast from out­side acad­e­mia to each time and place.

Discussion Questions

With their new anthol­o­gy, Jew­ish Women’s His­to­ry from Antiq­ui­ty to the Present, Fed­er­i­ca Francesconi and Rebec­ca Lynn Win­er hon­or their men­tor and col­league, Pro­fes­sor Judith Baskin, and build on her wide-rang­ing schol­ar­ship and ground­break­ing work. This anthol­o­gy is diverse geo­graph­i­cal­ly, chrono­log­i­cal­ly, and dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ly, explor­ing women, gen­der, and Jew­ish­ness around the world from the Bible to the twen­ty first cen­tu­ry through a vari­ety of approach­es includ­ing his­tor­i­cal, anthro­po­log­i­cal, soci­o­log­i­cal, and lit­er­ary. In doing so, it not only illus­trates the diver­si­ty of Jew­ish women’s expe­ri­ences across Ashke­nazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi com­mu­ni­ties but also chal­lenges the tra­di­tion­al peri­odiza­tion of Jew­ish his­to­ry and its eurocentrism.

The nine­teen essays in this vol­ume estab­lish both the trans­for­ma­tive pow­er of ana­lyz­ing Jew­ish his­to­ry through a gen­der lens and the impor­tance of apply­ing the the­o­ry of inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty to con­sid­er gen­der in rela­tion to oth­er axes of dif­fer­ence, inequal­i­ty, and power.

Though no anthol­o­gy can be com­pre­hen­sive, this one expands access to new schol­ar­ship, con­sid­ers new sources, and sug­gests direc­tions for future research. Most impor­tant­ly, per­haps, it demon­strates that Jew­ish women’s his­to­ry is a cut­ting-edge, ever-grow­ing field.