This book offers a fresh perspective on classical Jewish literature by providing a gender-based, feminist reading of rabbinical anecdotes and legends. Viewing rabbinical legends as sources that generate perceptions about women and gender, Inbar Raveh provides answers to questions such as how the Sages viewed women; how they formed and molded their characterization of them; how they constructed the ancient discourse on femininity; and what the status of women was in their society. Raveh also re-creates the voices and stories of the women themselves within their sociohistorical context, moving them from the periphery to the center and exposing how men maintain power. Chapter topics include desire and control, pain, midwives, prostitutes, and myth. A major contribution to the fields of literary criticism and Jewish studies, Raveh’s book demonstrates the possibility of appreciating the aesthetic beauty and complexity of patriarchal texts, while at the same time recognizing their limitations.
While most gender-based analyses of rabbinic Judaism concentrate on the status of women in the halakhah (the rabbinic legal tradition), Judith R. Baskin turns her attention to the construction of women in the aggadic midrash, a collection of expansions of the biblical text, rabbinic ruminations, and homiletical discourses that constitutes the non-legal component of rabbinic literature. Examining rabbinic convictions of female alterity, competing narratives of creation, and justifications of female disadvantages, as well as aggadic understandings of the ideal wife, the dilemma of infertility, and women among women and as individuals, she shows that rabbinic Judaism, a tradition formed by men for a male community, deeply valued the essential contributions of wives and mothers while also consciously constructing women as other and lesser than men. Recent feminist scholarship has illuminated many aspects of the significance of gender in biblical and halakhic texts but there has been little previous study of how aggadic literature portrays females and the feminine. Such representations, Baskin argues, often offer a more nuanced and complex view of women and their actual lives than the rigorous proscriptions of legal discourse.
If the People of Israel understood themselves to share a common ancestry as well as a common religion, how could a convert to their faith who did not share their ethnicity fit into the ancient Israelite community? While it is comparatively simple to declare religious beliefs, it is much more difficult to enter a group whose membership is defined in ethnic terms. In showing how the rabbis struggled continually with the dual nature of the Israelite community and the dilemma posed by converts, Gary G. Porton explains aspects of their debates which previous scholars have either ignored or minimized.
The Stranger within Your Gates analyzes virtually every reference to converts in the full corpus of rabbinic literature. The intellectual dilemma that converts posed for classical Judaism played itself out in discussions of marriage, religious practice, inheritance of property, and much else. Reviewing the rabbinic literature text by text, Porton exposes the rabbis' frequently ambivalent and ambiguous views.
The Stranger within Your Gates is the only examination of conversion in rabbinic literature to draw upon the full scope of contemporary anthropological and sociological studies of conversion. It is also unique in its focus on the opinions of the community into which the convert enters, rather than on the testimony of the convert. By approaching data with new methods, Porton heightens our understanding of conversion and the nature of the People of Israel in rabbinic literature.