Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies

Considering the role of gender in producing knowledge about Judaism.

Print this page Print this page

The Question of Objectivity

By its very being, feminist scholarship challenges the idea of objectivity in scholarship. Feminist scholars in all disciplines have demonstrated that although mainstream scholarship has purported to study basic human experiences and to reflect on universal texts, their definition of what is worthy of attention has reflected the standpoint of the male producers of this knowledge. Claims of objectivity and universality serve to reinforce the status quo and provide excuses for ignoring the experiences of groups of people who thereby are defined as marginal (such as people of color and white women) and for not incorporating their writings into literary canons.

The authors in Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies similarly criticize the false claims of objectivity in their own disciplines by showing that putative scholarship about Jews was actually focused on male Jews. Uncovering this androcentrism led to a questioning of how knowledge was produced‑‑a concern with research methodology that has also been central in feminist discourse for the past fifteen years. Scholars who seek to illuminate women's lives have questioned whether the traditional methods in the disciplines, those that produced conventional scholarship, would suffice to create a new knowledge of women's lives and shape the development of new paradigms.

Interdisciplinary Dialogue

A prominent methodological and theoretical innovation of feminist scholarship is its interdisciplinary nature: "By asking questions in terms of women (and not in terms of a particular framework such as psychology or history, for example) feminists moved beyond some of the limitations which are imposed by 'compartmentalization' " (Dale Spender, Men's Studies Modified).

To discover the realities of Jewish women's lives, about which there are few historical records and limited contemporary studies, the authors in this volume combine insights that emerge from such disciplinary approaches as archaeology, history, political science, literary theory, sociology, anthropology, psychoanalytic theory, and cultural studies. Questions raised by examining gender in any one study inevitably spill over into Jewish studies as a whole. By working across disciplines, feminist students of Jewish life can better understand the complex linkages between gender and Judaism.

Since the classic texts provide only a sketchy portrait of women's lives, feminist scholars engaged in the study of the Bible, rabbinics, Jewish theology, and history must work to uncover hints about women's experiences that may be embedded in unusual sources, such as "narratives, prophecies, or legal texts focused on other matters" [Plaskow]. The understanding of ancient texts can be supplemented by evidence from archaeological discoveries, the writings of nonrabbinic groups, and any literature by women dealing with religious themes.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Shelly Tenenbaum

Dr. Shelly Tenenbaum is Associate Professor of Sociology at Clark University.

Dr. Lynn Davidman

Dr. Lynn Davidman is Professor of Judaic Studies and American Civilization at Brown University.