Sunday, July 20, 2008


This past week I have been studying Midrash with Rabbi Robert Daum and Kabbalah with Rabbi Laura Kaplan. I had several reasons for doing this. The first was simply to broaden my understanding of literacy and literature in the early Middle Ages. Kabbalah produced some significant texts at that time. Now I am sitting down to write a paper on a technical point of contact between Aristotle and the Sefer Yetzirah. I won't bore anyone with this, nor is it a part of a mystical faith journey. It just is.

However, I have been persuaded that I must speak out on a few points. I was impressed during a lunch hour seminar on the easy interaction between the theologians present, men and women, Jewish and Christian. The ordained women, Jewish and Christian, did not focus on "women's issues" and were not in a defensive and embattled position.

Laura Kaplan touched on gender issues in a minor way. Robert Daum, on the other hand, in presenting Midrash, spent close to half the class hours on women's issues. He spoke of his mother, his sister and women sages of the Talmudic literature and women in Judaism today.

The hour spent on discussing Jephthah's daughter well outclassed any discussion of her in Christian literature. In fact, many people in the class had tears in their eyes as we read the Midrashic literature arguing the injustice of her death.

There is no pretending that the Talmudic rabbis and the church fathers have not said some very distasteful things about women. They have also both written some equivocating passages which demonstrate that there was discomfort with patriarchy and a non-acceptance of some of the more cruel passages of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

I would not personally compare the growing and misogynist literature of complementarians to the teachings of the Talmud. Why not compare it to Tertullian or some other notorious Christian misogynist?

Here is a review on one of the books Robert Daum recommended,

In a new book, Anti-Judaism in Religious Feminist Writing (American Academy of Religion Cultural Criticism Series) Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994, Katherina von Kellenbach, a German immigrant to the United States, tells of her journey to studying and understanding this problem.

In her introduction, von Kellenbach, a Lutheran woman studying to be a minister, recounts meeting a Jew for the first time, a fellow student in the religion department of Temple University. She found it incomprehensible that a Jewish woman would want to study to become a rabbi in a religion which was "utterly male identified, patriarchal, sexist and chauvinist," as well as being tied up with meaningless laws and restrictions.

The experience of coming to know this Jewish woman and learning that her stereotypes of Judaism were not accurate impacted von Kellenbach in a profound way, particularly because she had been confronting anti-Semitism in her own family--including a relative's complicity in the cruel deaths of many Jews during the holocaust in Germany.

A feminist, von Kellenbach points out that Christian theology over the centuries has often been tainted by anti-Semitism. While her study is of anti-Judaism in feminist writings, von Kellenbach makes it very clear that this is not the only theology which has the problem. As a feminist she does not want her book to be used to undermine the search for respect for women in the churches. But she feels she must challenge feminist theologians who, whether wittingly or unwittingly, contribute to anti-Judaism.


Gem said...

About Talmudic/Jewish perspective, I was very pleasantly surprised with the view of Sarai/Sarah represented in the following (which cites the Talmud). I can't tell you how many times I have heard the passage in 1 Peter 3 and the fact that Sarah went twice with pagan kings used to entrap women in an unhealthy form of (so-called) "submission". And the same faction will severely criticize Sarah for the clear exercise of her God given authority in her marriage when she put her foot down about Hagar (Gen 21). In comparison, this Jewish perspective sounds soooo respectful and refreshing to me :) This is from a modern day Jewish britah. It demonstrates the HONOR and ESTEEM that is accorded to Sarai/Sarah in the Hebrew culture. When did Christians loose that HONOR? If we are to aspire to be “Sara’s daughters” per 1 Peter 3, does that not make her our MOTHER in faith whom we should HONOR?

from “What’s in a name?”

Madison, WI; August 24, 2005

First I’d like to thank you all for coming for Sarai’s naming ceremony or britah (In Judaism this means a covenant between a woman and G-d or a welcoming of Sarai into the ongoing covenant between between mankind and G-d)….

Sarai, who later had her name changed by G-d to Sarah, is a more well known figure, although I think there is a lot about her that people do not know.

-the name Sarai means “my princess” in biblical hebrew and “contentious” in modern Hebrew.
-She was the wife of Abraham.
-Although a lot is said about about Abraham and his leaving his home, Sarai, his wife, also had to leave her home and went with him to Canaan.
-Talmud – she was so beautiful that all other persons seemed apes in comparison.
-The Talmud even goes further and says she made Adam, who was made in the image of G-d look like an ape.
-Besides being beautiful however, she was also considered by Jewish commentators as the only woman prophetess to be addresses by G-d directly and was superior to Abraham in prophetic vision and he obeyed her words because he recognized her superiority..
-Sarai was also the only woman to have her name changed by G-d and was named Sarah.
-Knowing her relationship with Abraham it is impossible to believe that as the Bible states “Abraham took Sarah with him.” She always stated her mind and if she left her home, it was definitely on her terms and was her decision as much as his.

-There is obviously a lot written about her as Sarah, but it was Sarai that earned her G-d given name.
-In fact it says about Abraham in the Talmud that he is not to be called anymore by his birth name “Abram” and nobody should name their children after him as Abram. About Sarah , however it states that she can be called by both her birth name sarai and Sarah and that people can name their children with her birth name. They explain that Sarai was both admired by the people of the world and the Jewish people, therefore both names could be used. She was a prophetess of both the Jewish people and the World.

-Sarai we have given you this name and we hope that you too will be a prophetess or leader of both the Jewish people and the world. That you will be a woman of immense beauty, which you’ve already accomplished, and that you will earn your name in the world, whether it is given by G-d or the people of this world, your family or your friends.

J. K. Gayle said...

Now I am sitting down to write a paper on a technical point of contact between Aristotle and the Sefer Yetzirah. I won't bore anyone with this,

Do tell more, please! Thank you for speaking up.

Jane said...

Thanks for pointing to the Von Kellenbach book - one day I hope to look that up. My Church in the in UK have just relaunched their magazine and it's really good but Iwas surprised by the tone of the anti-judaism in the Bible study on the Canaanite woman - to me it just seems like a cheap way of pretending you've done the histoircal cristical work when you haven't - but perhaps I'm being unfair.
KEep up the good work

CD-Host said...

I don't know if there is much that can be done to eradicate anti-judaism from Christian literature. Christianity fundamentally sees as Judaism as food. To acknowledge the legitimacy of Jewish (as it exist today) interpretation of the Old Testament is to deny the legitimacy of the Christian interpretation.

Take the core issue of the messiah. Either the messiah has to accomplish specific meaningful political tasks in which case Jesus didn't accomplish them and is not the messiah or the Jews are just plain wrong in how they understand their scriptures.

I think a reasonable approach is to within a Christian context break the continuity between Judea and Jew. Translate Ioudaioi as Judean.

As far as Jewish commentary being supportive of women, it is a mixed bag. If you want to use the one patriarchs can use other parts and you end up in a different but similar situation.