Princess or Pris­on­er?: Jew­ish Women in Jerusalem, 1840 – 1914

Mar­galit Shilo
  • Review
By – July 30, 2012
Mar­galit Shi­lo, a pro­fes­sor in the Land of Israel Stud­ies Depart­ment at Bar- Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty, sur­veys Jerusalem’s Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in the last decades of the Ottoman Empire, through the expe­ri­ences of its women. She paints a bleak pic­ture of a soci­ety which was poor, unhealthy, and unjust to its weak­est mem­bers, main­ly sin­gle women. Two themes pre­dom­i­nate: the efforts of the estab­lish­ment to keep Jerusalem a sanc­ti­fied” place, with­out regard to human costs, and a sense of per­va­sive patri­ar­chal oppres­sion. Shi­lo writes mov­ing­ly of women who attained heights of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty despite tra­di­tion­al bar­ri­ers. She views women’s edu­ca­tion as the cat­a­lyst for the intro­duc­tion of West­ern ideas and mod­ern inno­va­tions to back­ward Jerusalem. The author links the val­ue sys­tem of Old Yishuv” women, which stressed sac­ri­fice and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with Jew­ish his­to­ry, with that of the pio­neers who cre­at­ed the New Yishuv.” Although it is aca­d­e­m­ic in style, this work is absorb­ing read­ing. Shi­lo makes a con­vinc­ing fem­i­nist state­ment, but her sweep­ing indict­ment of tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish mar­riage as Hell with­out remis­sion may be fault­ed. This work was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Hebrew by the Haifa Uni­ver­si­ty Press in 2000. Bib­lio., index, notes.
Lib­by K. White is direc­tor of the Joseph Mey­er­hoff Library of Bal­ti­more Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty in Bal­ti­more, MD and gen­er­al edi­tor of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries Newsletter.

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