Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization, Creighton University
This year’s Symposium presenters come from as far away as Israel and as close as Omaha. They teach at a variety of academic institutions from large public universities to small liberal arts colleges. Some are graduate students; others senior professors. What brings them all together is their knowledge of and enthusiasm for the topic of this fall’s 32nd Annual Symposium on Jewish Civilization, Jews and Gender: Tradition and Change. This event will take place on Sunday, Oct. 27, and Monday, Oct. 28.
With three venues—University of Nebraska at Omaha on Sunday morning, the Jewish Community Center of Omaha Staenberg Kooper Fellman Campus on Sunday afternoon and evening, and Creighton University on Monday morning and afternoon—there are ample opportunities for members of the Jewish community to hear and interact with scholars from throughout the world. (A complete program of Symposium activities will appear as an insert in next week’s Jewish Press.)
Two of the presentations place primary emphasis on the Hebrew Bible and the ancient world. Jay Caballero, University of Texas at Austin, will speak about An Ironic, Subversively Feminist Reading of the Daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers 27 and 36. The biblical book of Numbers, in chapters 27 and 36, recounts the request by Zelophehad’s daughter to receive his inheritance, since he left no sons. In Caballero’s view, the priestly author of this material intended these two accounts as an ironic commentary on male leadership. Such an interpretation constitutes a new feminist reading.
The title of the presentation by Cynthia Shafer-Elliott, William Jessup University, is The Heroines of Every Day Life: Ancient Israelite Women in Context. Schafer-Elliott begins by observing that the Hebrew Bible often ignores the average ancient Israelite woman. Her presentation illustrates how archaeology can provide a glimpse into the lives of such women. Moreover, she explores how learning about the physical reality of ancient Israelite women helps us to hear their voices within the biblical text.
Another three speakers will take the opportunity to look at Jews and Gender from the perspective of the classical rabbis: Susan Marks, New College of Florida, on betrothals; Joel Gereboff, Arizona State University, on emotions; and Emmanuel Bloch, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on modesty.
The title of Marks’s presentation is Constructing Gender Bride by Bride. As she notes, the Mishnah on betrothals begins, “By three means is the woman acquired….” Marks establishes the fact that the rabbis concerned themselves not with acquiring, but “acquiring correctly.” Through her examination of parallels in Roman law, she concludes that the rabbis intended to present a vision of acceptable gender roles and of a holy Israel to which an unacceptable partner must not be joined.
Gereboff’s presentation is titled, Gendering Emotions in Genesis Rabbah. Genesis Rabbah, a rabbinic midrash from the fifth century CE, is a commentary on the biblical book of Genesis, which it often augments by filling in background information about motivations and character traits. Among other issues in his analysis, Gereboff explores whether certain emotions are more commonly associated with female characters than with males. He also asks whether male characters are criticized for exhibiting certain emotions that are routinely identified with females.
Bloch looks at The Halachic Dress Codes for Women: Sources and Significance. The Talmudic rabbis addressed the concept of Tsniut [modesty]. In contemporary Jewish religious discourse this has become a popular theme. For the first time, Tsniut is being applied as a form of dress code for women, a process Bloch characterizes as the creation of a new halachic genre. To illuminate this development, he looks at the considerable rabbinic creativity that provided some of the building blocks for these halachic dress codes.
Another two Symposium participants feature developments in Chasidism and mysticism. Roni Bar lev, Shalem College, Israel, titles his presentation, Winds of Feminism in Early Chasidism. Bar lev first describes the scholarly debate over whether or not a feminist revolution, albeit hidden, took place within Chasidism that brought equality, opportunity, and new avenues in social and religious life for women. In his understanding, “Chasidic Feminism” does indeed represent an extraordinary religious phenomenon, integrating conservative religiosity side by side with a groundbreaking radical new spirituality.
Margaret Gurewitz Smith is from Bellevue University. In her presentation, titled ‘Male and Female, a Single Mystery’: Sex and Gender in the Zohar, Smith focuses on the Zohar within the real-world thirteenth century communities that created and studied it. Seen from this perspective, both the Zohar and medieval Jewish society approved of sex and sexuality, while nevertheless constructing passive and minor roles for women in those relationships. Thus, the Zohar, in addition to being a mystical work, was also firmly rooted in its earthly environment.
American Jews and Judaism, especially in the Midwest, are the focus of another three Symposium presentations. In Locking Up Al Levy: Jewish Masculinity in the Early Civil Rights Movement, Jeannette Gabriel, University of Nebraska at Omaha, introduces us to Levy, a Jewish soldier in World War II. He was targeted after raising concerns about the treatment of African-American soldiers at Lincoln Airbase in 1943. He was court martialed for his involvement in an entrapment case. Gabriel examines how this experience both challenged and strengthened concepts of Jewish masculinity.
The presentation by Mara W. Cohen Ioannides, Missouri State University, is titled, Jewish Homesteader Memoir: A Woman’s Story. In it, she explores the three homesteading memoirs written by Jewish women in the Midwest. Cohen Ioannides explores what they teach us about how Jewish farmers, men and women, in the American hinterland both maintained and broke traditions about gender and gender roles. This in turn can inform us about the Americanization process of Jews in the Midwest.
In his presentation, Matthew Brittingham, Emory University, provides a close analysis of Jewish Women and a Changing America in A. D. Oguz’s Di fraydenker (1922). Oguz, a popular Yiddish writer, was among the immigrant male Jewish writers who projected their fears and dreams about assimilation, acculturation, and social change onto immigrant Jewish women. In this novel, Oguz focused on three immigrant families. As Brittingham demonstrates, Oguz used these family dramas to have a wider conversation about the future of Jewish identity in America.
Two other Symposium speakers place special emphasis on developments within the State of Israel. Hannah Kehat, Givat Washington Academic College, Israel, titles her paper, The Gender Revolution and Judaism as a Choice. In 1998, Kehat founded “Kollech,” the leading Orthodox feminist movement in Israel. In this role, she sometimes faced the fierce opposition of the religious establishment. In response, Kehat envisions not the abandonment of the Jewish religion, but a supreme effort to reintegrate into it and to reinterpret traditional and halachic Judaism, which will contain new identities and new halachic requirements.
Joseph R. Hodes, Texas Tech University, titles his presentation, Golda Meir and the Struggle for Gender Equality in Israel. In Hodes’s analysis, it took Golda Meir to actualize Zionism’s claim to offer gender equality. She was the first female minister of foreign affairs in the Western world, and in 1969 she became Israel’s first, and until now only, female prime minister. Hodes discusses how Golda Meir, through immense struggle, paved the way for women to play leadership roles in Israel, turning Zionist ideals into reality.
Another three presentations highlight the world of entertainment. The title of the presentation by Lawrence Baron, San Diego State University, is The Pioneering American Jewish Women Directors: From Elaine May to Claudia Weill. As an outgrowth of developments in the 1960s, significant Jewish women directors emerged in the 1970s, who imbued their films with a Jewish and/or feminist perspective. The three women Baron features had to overcome institutional sexism to direct films that challenged the gender stereotypes of Jewish women and men as they had been portrayed in mainstream American movies.
Samantha Pickette, Boston University, explores ‘When You’re a Funny Girl’: Confirming and Complicating Accepted Cultural Images of Jewish Femininity in the Films of Barbra Streisand. During the height of her film career, Streisand subverted the categorization of Jewish women as entitled, unattractive, and uninteresting. Her protagonists were the heroines of their own stories and proud of being Jewish. Yet her films were ultimately conservative: each protagonist is punished for not conforming to expectations and subsequently loses “the love of her life.” In this sense, her films both challenged and upheld traditional cultural images of Jewish women.
David Gillota is from University of Wisconsin, Platteville. His presentation is titled, Schlemiel Feminism: Jewish Humor and Activism on Broad City. Gillota observes that until recently nearly every famous schlemiel character was male. Female comedians are now utilizing this character to explore Jewish femininity. Gillota focuses on Abbi and Ilana, two women who identify as Jewish and feminists in the series Broad City. As schlemiels, though, they often fail to live up to their feminist ideals. For Gillota, this results in “schlemiel feminism.”
Gail Labovitz is this year’s Symposium keynoter. Labovitz, Professor of Rabbinic Literature at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, has given this title to her presentation: Poskot in the Palace of Torah: A Preliminary Study of Orthodox Feminism and Halachic Process.
The co-hosts of the annual Symposium on Jewish Civilization are the Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization at Creighton University, the Kripke Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Creighton University, the Harris Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the Schwalb Center for Israel & Jewish Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Along with them are the Jewish Federation of Omaha and Creighton’s Committee on Lectures, Films, and Concerts. From within the Jewish community, the Ike and Roz Friedman Foundation, the Riekes Family, the Henry Monsky Lodge of B’nai B’rith, the Javitch family, and the Drs. Bernard H. and Bruce S. Bloom Memorial Endowment are among those who also provide generous support.
For further information, contact Colleen Hastings: 402.280.2303, ColleenHastings@creighton.edu. Addition-al information can be viewed at http://www.creighton.edu/ klutznick.