Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ideals & Expectations for Jewish Women in Medieval Ashkenaz

It's Wednesday! And, oh, what a Wednesday it is.

Yesterday I attended my three Tuesday classes (Lab in Social Psych, Women in Jewish Culture, & Women in Society). The lab was full of its usual bizarre/goofy 9am occurrences, made sillier by the addition of donuts and orange juice (my professor's Valentine's day treat. Later in the evening I enjoyed a gluten free/egg free/dairy free/corn free (etc) cake to make up for my lack of ability to consume donuts. Anyway)

Much of Women in Jewish Culture yesterday was spent discussing ideals & expectations of women in Medieval Ashkenaz. Here's what it boils down to:
1. women must sew, spin, and weave (clothing, in addition to fringes and Torah scrolls)
2. women must enable their husbands and sons to study
3. women must marry at a young age and have many babies
4. women must be modest
5. women must maintain ritual purity

We read through commentaries, epitaphs, and a bit of the Sefer Hasidim to glean from the words some ideals for women. This one was my favorite:

"A certain man, leaving on a journey, told his wife: 'On such and such a day, I shall return and be with you.' The woman, knowing the time of her husband's return, prepared for his return by going to the ritual bath. Her husband thereupon said to her: 'Since you bathed in anticipation of my return, I shall present you with a gold piece with which to buy a garment.' The woman replied: 'Allow me, with that gold piece, to purchase a book or to hire a scribe to copy a book for lending to students, enabling them to pursue their studies.' Subsequently the woman became pregnant and gave birth to a boy. While all of the brothers of the boy were devoid of learning, that boy himself was the exception."

Isn't it great? The woman is ideal because she
1. prepares for her husband's return by going to the ritual bath (performing ritual purity)
and then her husband gifts her a gold piece, and rather than being greedy or superficial she chooses to spend her newly acquired wealth by
2. enabling (male, it can be assumed) students to study! What a gal.
And then she is further praised and gives birth to not-only-just-a-boy, but a learned boy! Whee.

In class we discussed the extent to which Gluckel of Hameln met these traditional expectations. First of all, she married at a young age (twelve) and had many children (FOURTEEN). Secondly, she certainly enabled her husband to pray/fast/study, by otherwise taking care of her household. However, her reality was different from these ideals & expectations in that she maintained with her husband a marriage likened to a partnership. Unlike what I gather from the suggestions of these expectations, Gluckel was unique in that she maintained mutuality in her marriage and she took part in her husband's business decisions. Her relationship with him was more complicated than a female role of enabling study; their relationship could be interpreted as more respectful, and more equal.

Another way in which Gluckel appears to be unique is seen through mention of her and (one of) her daughter's regular attendance at the synagogue; this would suggest ritual observance extended beyond the private realm. And public ritual observance for women would seem rather unusual for the time period.

Gluckel was also unique in that she clearly was of a wealthy background - beyond her being learned and literate, her memoirs mention wealth from her family, and additionally from her husbands (though, she remarries after her first husband dies in part to help provide relief from financial burden). But it's significant to take into account that the memoirs of the literate (and thus more wealthy) are those that we have to examine; and their experiences likely differed from those folks with less wealth.

Which moves into the realm of Women in Society, in which the intersections of race/class/gender/ethnicity are frequently mentioned. ! Overlaps are the best.

And now it is time for some readings regarding pastoral care.

Here's Donny Osmond and Rosie O'Donnell serenading Mork and Mindy.


  1. I was very encouraged to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this special read.
    dissertation help

  2. Your blog is excellent. Let me inform u one thing that post have become most up-to-date and vital source of quality free information.

  3. Blog post and comment is the good information and for dating in united state are jewish dating sites..
    Free Jewish dating
    Free Jewish online dating
    100% free Christian online dating