Feminism and Theology

By Gross, Rachel | The Jewish Quarterly Review, October 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Feminism and Theology


Gross, Rachel, The Jewish Quarterly Review


JANET MARTIN SOSKICE AND DIANA LIPTON, eds., Feminism and Theology. Oxford Readings in Feminism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pp. xv + 379.

IN Feminism and Theology, Janet Martin Soskice and Diana Lipton have assembled a collection of essays by feminist theologians and theologians "influenced by feminism" (p. 6). The writers in this volume are involved in a struggle to bring religious thought and practice to a new place that is more inclusive of women and women's concerns. They are passionately invested in this struggle, most of them determined to maintain their "engagement with the faith community" (p. 4) even as they reveal its considerable shortcomings. Their work not only identifies the problems with traditional theology but, through their very identification, engages in a redemptive process to create theologies that are more complete, even more sacred. Many of these authors intend for their writings to point the way for communal action. Rachel Adler describes the next step, following her identification of new directions in Jewish liturgy, to be "an act of tikkun, a mending of the shattered world" (p. 281). By identifying the places where traditional theology has excluded femmine aspects or women's concerns, the authors included in this volume intend, through their writing and through the action they demand, not to undermine tradition entirely but to heal the brokenness within Jewish and Christian traditions.

Sometimes their persistence in this venture that has no end in sight surprises even the writers themselves: Athalya Brenner concludes her examination of the gender of the God of the Hebrew Bible with a reflection on the "bitter taste" left in her mouth by the irredeemable patriarchy she sees in the Bible. "Paradoxically, the fight itself is a testimony to its futility," she writes. Yet, almost inexplicably, she does not consider giving up her struggle with the Hebrew Bible. "This is my heritage. I am stuck with it. I cannot and will not shake it off. And it hurts" (p. 172). Similarly, Grace M. Jantzen searches for a place for gays and lesbians in Christian thought, despite the pam she has felt from the rigidity of current doctrine. "Christendom has not only been the worst of my personal past but also the best of it; and the need to deal with the former requires a reappropriation and transformation of the latter. I will not become a more flourishing person by cutting off my roots" (p. 345). For the writers in this volume, religious thought and practice cannot be examined from a distance. While maintaining a critical scholarly perspective, they wrestle with the issues, sharing their personal struggles as they transform theology, pushing and pulling it to new, more inclusive levels.

Several essays in the volume bring this struggle directly to Scripture, both revealing and filling the missing places of women and the femmine withm sacred texts. In her introduction to section 3, Lipton identifies three ways that feminist scholars have responded to the traditional exclusion of women from the "guild of authorized interpreters:" they may join the practice of traditional exegesis, create new methods of textual interpretation, or question the validity of traditional interpreters and their methods (p. 122). All three methods are found in this section, sometimes withm a single article. J. Cheryl Exum's examination of women's roles in Exodus reconsiders an approach she had taken in an earlier article, finding that a "literary method that remained withm the ideology of the text" "resulted in an unsatisfactory conclusion" (p. 126). Instead, she says, feminist critique of Scripture must "read against the grain" in this case viewing women in the Hebrew Bible as male constructs that serve to reinforce patriarchy rather than as femmine voices (p. 131). Where Exum reveals a gap in Scripture, claiming that women's roles in the Bible are part of an andocentric agenda, Phyllis Trible fills the breach. Her carefully built argument reveals a fuller understanding of the place of Sarah in Genesis. …

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