Women Writ­ing Jew­ish Moder­ni­ty, 1919 – 1939

January 5, 2022

In Women Writ­ing Jew­ish Moder­ni­ty, 1919 – 1939, Alli­son Schachter rewrites Jew­ish lit­er­ary moder­ni­ty from the point of view of women. Focus­ing on works by inter­war Hebrew and Yid­dish writ­ers, Schachter illu­mi­nates how women writ­ers embraced the trans­gres­sive poten­tial of prose fic­tion to chal­lenge the patri­ar­chal norms of Jew­ish tex­tu­al author­i­ty and recon­cep­tu­al­ize Jew­ish cul­tur­al belonging.
Born in the for­mer Russ­ian and Austro‑Hungarian Empires and writ­ing from their homes in New York, Poland, and Manda­to­ry Pales­tine, the authors cen­tral to this book — Fradl Shtok, Dvo­ra Baron, Eli­she­va Bikhovsky, Leah Gold­berg, and Deb­o­ra Vogel — seized on the free­doms of social rev­o­lu­tion to reimag­ine Jew­ish cul­ture beyond the tra­di­tion­al­ly male world of Jew­ish let­ters. The soci­eties they lived in deval­ued women’s labor and denied them sup­port for their work. In response, their writ­ing chal­lenged the social hier­ar­chies that exclud­ed them as women and as Jews. As she reads these women, Schachter upends the idea that lit­er­ary moder­ni­ty was a con­ver­sa­tion among men about women, with a few women writ­ers lis­ten­ing in. Women writ­ers rev­o­lu­tion­ized the very terms of Jew­ish fic­tion at a piv­otal moment in Jew­ish his­to­ry, tran­scend­ing the bound­aries of Jew­ish minor­i­ty iden­ti­ties. Schachter tells their sto­ry and in so doing calls for a new way of think­ing about Jew­ish cul­tur­al modernity.

Discussion Questions

This fas­ci­nat­ing study demon­strates how female writ­ers of East Euro­pean ori­gin engaged with lit­er­ary moder­ni­ty as women and as Jews. Liv­ing in New York, Poland, and Pales­tine and writ­ing in Yid­dish and Hebrew, these authors chal­lenged the male domain of Jew­ish let­ters at the same time as they shaped new forms of fic­tion that tran­scend­ed the bound­aries of Jew­ish minor­i­ty iden­ti­ties.” Alli­son Schachter con­vinces us that these lit­er­ary rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, includ­ing Fradl Shtok, Dvo­ra Baron, Eli­she­va Bikhovsky, Leah Gold­berg, and Deb­o­ra Vogel, deserve to be bet­ter known, both for the myr­i­ad plea­sures of their writ­ings and for the cen­tral roles they played in bring­ing women’s voic­es into the Jew­ish encounter with twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry cul­ture in the era before the Sec­ond World War.