Group of courses: Humanities
The goal is to enable students to recognize gender-specific constructions in all forms and occurrences of Jewish religion, history, and culture. Upon completing the curriculum, they will be able to place gender relations in a larger socio-political context by recognizing traditional Jewish concepts and images of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ as parts of a social classification pattern, and to connect these gender constructions and hierarchies to other social and cultural forms of organization. A further aim is to enable students to use their acquired knowledge in their professional practice.
The academic discipline of ‘Jewish Studies’ is dedicated to exploring the history, religion, and culture of the Jewish people and its languages – a history that spans more than 3,000 years. While seeking to map the big picture, researchers in this field simultaneously try to look at the diversity of Jewish manifestations and to identify continuity and change in the various historical periods and spaces, from the Second Temple period to contemporary history. In line with its complex subject, Jewish studies is comprised of a wide spectrum of subdisciplines: Bible study and Jewish Bible interpretation, rabbinic literature (e.g. Talmud and Midrash) and Halakha (Jewish law), history of the Jewish people, Jewish philosophy and intellectual history, Hebrew and Jewish literatures, Jewish art and music, Hebrew linguistics, Jewish religious education, and practical religious studies. This multiplicity of subdisciplines calls for an equally wide range of methodologies. Moreover, since Jewish religion and culture have always interacted with their surrounding societies, all findings generally need to be contextualized.
Until the late eighteenth century, as long as the values of traditional rabbinic culture continued to shape Jewish society, gender roles and power relations between men and women were defined in opposition to the concepts of masculinity that prevailed in the non-Jewish surrounding society – that is, by constructing the ideal of the gentle Jewish male, as epitomized by the Torah scholar. Inside the Jewish community, the study of traditional rabbinic literature served as a means for men to secure their dominance over women in rabbinic discourse; it thus fulfilled the same function as male physical dominance in other cultures. In pre-modern times, women could only engage in activities that were held in low esteem by the rabbinic value system, including various areas of profane education and certain forms of individual piety, but also housekeeping and trading. However, different gender roles were also attributed to men and women in the process of acculturation that occurred after the establishment of equal treatment before the law, as well as during the new social and political movements of the nineteenth and twentieth century. As a consequence, all forms and occurrences of Jewish religion, history, and culture need to be examined with regard to the gender relations expressed therein. Analysing gender constructions within the Jewish minority, in turn, allows for making statements about the respective surrounding society.
The following suggestions are meant as ideas on how to integrate gender research issues into the respective subdisciplines of Jewish studies:
If possible, the gender perspective should be integrated into all modules and thematic fields as a cross-cutting theme; in addition, courses explicitly focused on gender issues may also be offered.
The abovementioned questions should be addressed during bachelor-level studies, and pursued in greater methodological depth during master-level studies, most importantly by going back to the original sources.