The Problem of Anti-Judaism in Christian Feminist Biblical Interpretation: Some Pragmatic Suggestions

Article excerpt

My intention in this essay is to make some pragmatic suggestions for engaging in feminist biblical interpretation that does not perpetuate, reinforce, or create anti-Jewish theological constructions. My suggestions are not always easy to put into practice, but they constitute concrete recommendations for a feminist approach to interpretation that honors Judaism and its adherents.

I address the issue of anti-Judaism in Christian feminist interpretation from my own social location as a Christian feminist biblical scholar. My deep personal concern with the existence of anti-Semitism dates back to my tenth year, when I viewed a television documentary on the Holocaust. I was devastated by what I saw and have been concerned about anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism since that time. Because of my persistent concern with this form of prejudice, I accepted a teaching position at Xavier University, a Jesuit, Catholic University with a commitment to interfaith dialogue. This can be seen in the establishment of the Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue in 2000, a center dedicated to the promotion of interreligious dialogue. In fact, I was hired as a professor at Xavier in part because of my interest in interreligious dialogue. I serve as a member of the advisory board for the Brueggeman Center.

I am an enthusiastic participant in Jewish-Christian dialogue. I am also an earnest Christian. I am an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It is from the perspective of these multiple commitments that I wish to explore some serviceable principles for engaging in feminist biblical interpretation that honors Jewish persons and the way they live out their faith.

First, I would suggest that an interpreter familiarize herself with the literature about anti-Judaism in Christian feminist interpretation. A few publications which address anti-Judaism in feminist interpretation are: Edna Brocke, "Do the Origins Already Contain the Malady?"; Susannah Heschel, "Feminism and Jewish-Christian Dialogue"; Katharina von Kellenbach, Anti-Judaism in Feminist Religious Writings; Judith Plaskow, "Anti-Judaism in Feminist Christian Interpretation"; and Leonore Siegele-Wenschkewitz, "The Discussion of Anti-Judaism in Feminist Theology--A New Area of Jewish-Christian Dialogue."' There are many other publications that address the issue of anti-Judaism in Christian feminist interpretation, but even from this small sample, some patterns emerge.

It is evident from these and related publications that Christian feminism has long struggled with the inclination to deny Christianity's complicity in patriarchal oppression and to vindicate Christianity by making unfavorable comparisons with Judaism or by placing blame on Judaism for such tendencies. This inclination toward anti-Judaism in feminist interpretation has been a problem for more than a century To illustrate the longevity of the problem, Plaskow recounts Elizabeth Cady Stanton's distress when the leadership of the 1885 Annual Convention of National Woman Suffrage Association changed some wording in Stanton's resolutions to that body. Her resolutions were critical of Christian theology because of its teachings on women. In order to make her resolutions more palatable to the Convention, the leadership substituted language that, in Stanton's words, "'hand[ed] over to the Jews what [she] had laid at the door of the Christians." (2) Generally speaking, the action of the leadership at the 1885 Conventio n marked the formation of a new antithesis among Christian feminists: "Judaism equals sexism, while Christianity equals feminism." (3)

Each of these publications on anti-Judaism in feminist interpretation emphasizes different patterns of anti-Judaism, but they have in common two main features: (a) they point to some motif(s) of feminist denigration of Judaism; and (b) they suggest the importance of considering multiple forms of oppression when interpreting. …