Sunday, April 06, 2008

Judith Plaskow

Judith Plaskow is an important Jewish feminist and theologian. She comments on how easy it is for Christian feminists to imply that the God of the Hebrew Bible is a warrior God and a patriarchal deity while the God of the Christian scriptures is a God who divests himself of power. She writes,

    There are several problems with this dualistic depiction of the two natures of God, the most serious of which is that it projects a tension that exists within Judaism and Christianity as a conflict between Judaism and Christianity. In the so-called Old Testament, God is fully developed as a God of justice and a God of mercy. page 103

She continues,

    It is easier for Christian feminists to point the finger at problematic aspects of the Christian tradition as they also appear within Judaism than it is to deal with them within Christianity itself.

Plaskow remarks that Christian feminists want to contrast Jesus with his Jewish context and focus on how freeing his ministry was to women. Jesus is a feminist if we say that the Judaism of that period was uniquely misogynist.

And yet we can find in the writings of Christian authors for the last 2000 years misogyny of all sorts. We need to realize that the desire to subordinate women resides in all religions, and the desire to subordinate other resides in all humans. We end up finding the enemy within ourselves.

Women can read about Rebekkah, who, beautiful and beloved, wanted control and managed to get it. Within the patriarchal narratives are women who were painfully subordinated and ruthlessly dismissed as well as those who got their own way, one way or another.

There were also women who were generous and loving heroes. They weren't Christian women, but they were real women of a generous and adult nature, Ruth, Esther, and Rahab. What society shaped these women and gave them values?

I have wandered away from Judith Plaskow's thesis. However, one point remains to be made. Of all the female theologians I have read recently - essays by about 10 different women, Plaskow stands out as saying some very important things. She is not to be missed.

Plaskow, Judith. and Donna Berman. The Coming of Lilith: essays on Feminism, Judaism and Sexual Ethics


J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for sharing Judith Plaskow! I'm glad to see that my university has several of her works in the library.

May I quote her from the volume you share? (and I'm peeking in via the wonderful window):

"This sense of exclusion arises partly from the fact that everything in our written tradition comes from the hands of men...The Bible was written by men. The myths from which the Bible borrowed and which it used and transformed were written by men. The liturgy was written by men. Jewish philosophy is the work of men. Modern Jewish theology is the work of men. It was men who wrote even the special books for women, and it was men who designated women's three mitzvot (commandments) and wrote the blessings. // Now my point is not that therefore all these things are irrelevant to us. That is simply not true. The Bible is very much our Bible. There are male-written Jewish stories that we love. There are prayers that express our feelings as well as the feelings of the men who wrote them. // My point is rather that all these things have a question mark over them. As Mary Daly has said, women have had our power of naming stolen from us..." (page 35 "The Jewish Feminist")

"In a profoundly misogynistic culture that has ruthlessly exploited the natural environment--and that has linked women with the natural world on many levels of practice and discourse--feminist metaphors for God elucidate long-buried dimensions of divinity. These metaphors are not just political correctives to dominant modes of seeing and being; they arise from and refer to real discoveries of the sacred in places we had long stopped looking to find it." (page 134, "Facing the Ambiguity of God")

eclexia said...

I really appreciate this post, although I am having a hard time trying to articulate the specifics of how it affects my thinking. I did not want to wait to say thanks, though, until I could figure out the words to interact with it further.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks for sharing. These ideas have been on my mind for some time.

Jane said...

Thanks very much for this post.
Alot of German feminist theologians have been trying to look at these issues for quite a while I think - though I am very behind with the scholarship these days. Leonore Siegele Wenschkewitz of fond memory but also Elisabeth Moltmann Wendel have done some work on these areas and it continually raises its head in my feminist theology group - though I notice how in circles outside germany it seems to take a long time to percolate.
Maybe it's also a case of every generation having to keep beating the drum.
Anyway thanks so much for writing about Plaskow I'm going to look her up and try to read some of her work.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I think you will enjoy her. I have read articles by quite a few female theologians and her writing stands out to me.