Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 16 December 2007

A Woman's Touch

Years ago I remember learning about the existence of a "feminist Hagadah" for Pesach. Yes, apparently the real Hagadah is male-oriented and focuses on men and features men so some women felt excluded. Thus the effort to bring a women-centred commentary to the Pesach seder, one that would, if I remember the quote corectly, "focus on the women of the Passover story instead of the men."

Mind you, there's one big problem with that concept. The Hagadah does not focus on the men of the Pesach story. In fact, only two get mentioned and both very briefly. We are told Yaakov our father went down to Egypt. We are also given a quote from BeShalach that "they believe in Hashem and Moshe his servant."

Yes, that's it for the men of the story. Otherwise the focus is almost entirely on our ancestors, the Children of Israel, and how they experienced the redemption and what it should mean to us. One is left wondering: where is the source of the complaint of the feminists?

Now, in a further development, these is apparently a new women-centered commentary on the Chumash that has just been published by the Reformers. The goals are laudable on a superficial basis. All major (and pretty much all minior) commentators on the Chumash are men. Women want to read a commentary by women so here's the new Chumash.

Only when one sits back and thinks about it, that makes no sense. Let's look at any other major branch of knowledge. Has anyone ever suggested that women write their own textbook of medicine because, well, all the big ones to date were written by men? Didn't think so. Physics? Philosophy? Math?

What's more, the few brief excerpts the article bring show a complete lack of originality. Consider this tube:

Take one brief example from Naomi Steinberg’s Central Commentary in the parsha Vayigash. Steinberg observes that the story of the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers “presents a study in the human capacity for lasting change” and the importance of forgiveness.
How can we explain the transformation we witness in Judah? Steinberg answers this question by speculating on the effect of Judah’s earlier encounter with his daughter-in-law Tamar, who deceived Judah in order to become pregnant.
She writes: “While not mentioned in this parashah, Tamar has been a pivotal figure in Judah’s own growth. Their encounter in Genesis 38 best accounts for Judah’s new capacity to sympathize with his father.”

Well, yes that's true and it's already been noted by Rashi in his commentary ad loc. Steinberg's observation is simply a more verbose version of Rashi's terse statement.

For those who care, there is already a scholarly commentary on the Chumash by a woman . Nechama Leibowitz's Studies series (7 volumes in the English version) are a masterpiece and essential for understanding some of the more difficult matters in each weekly portion. Unfortunately, Leibowitz' work is unlikely to fit the feminist's needs. She addresses the Chumash from a perspective of trying to understand all the characters without focusing on some and diminishing attention on others simply based on gender. For those who want a woman's view of Chumash and aren't interested in petty gender politics, I would recommend this series instead.


SJ said...

Something that is kinda relevant- In universities these days there are "Women's Studies" depeartments.

I think that it is a form of reverse sexism to separate the history of women from the history of men. "Famous Women" would probably be a legit course in a history department, but certainly not its own field all together.

Anonymous said...

I think the underlying rationale, from my experience with feminist proponents of this stuff, is that men only care about and write about men. Hence HIStory excludes HERstory, so they have to do their own version. The thought that men, by virtue of their access to positions of power, have had more influence on history, is simply not possible according to them.
This same meshugas is happening in medicine with people specializing in Women's Health while Men's Health remains a mostly ignored subject.