Studies in Bible and Feminist Criticism

By Tikva Frymer-Kensky | Go to book overview

17 / Halakhah, Law, and Feminism

1995

The last three decades have seen an enormous paradigm shift in our perception of reality and history. The old ideas of “objective science” on which many of us were raised, the old conceptions of History as “what actually happened,” of Text as having “one correct reading and original meaning,” and of Law as “what is legislated” have yielded to a view of complex interactions of the viewer and the viewed, the text and its readers, the law and its adherents. These decades have also witnessed sweeping sociological changes, and together they have created a renewed interest in halakhah, in the way that it works (or does not work, according to one's viewpoint), and in the relationship of halakhah to the theological and ethical teachings of Judaism. The collapse of legal positivism and the rise of contemporary philosophies of law have contributed to this new discourse, as has feminism, which has been both cause and result of our current intellectual and social revolution. This article looks at one important statement of the feminist critique of halakhah, that of Judith Plaskow in Standing Again at Sinai. In this very serious book, full of expert analysis and excellent insights into the workings of Judaism, Plaskow delineates the problems of traditional Judaism and suggests ways in which Judaism can be modified to be a truly feminist religion. This article is not a review of her book, for each section of her book deserves a careful reading. Rather, it takes her feminist analysis of the halakhah as a springboard to continued halakhic reasoning; doing so can lead to perhaps a new contribution to the current halakhic discourse.

To Plaskow, as to many other Jews, halakhah is the central defining element of Judaism; it is observance of the law rather than adherence to theological principles that marks one as a religious Jew; “law takes precedence over beliefs and feelings, which are expected to flow from action rather than to ground it” (p. 22). Nevertheless, she is very

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