“If each day I learned one page, then instead of resigning myself to being one day older, I could aspire to being one day wiser.” So does writer Ilana Kurshan, in her essay in the current issue of NASHIM, explain her rationale for undertaking what became a passion: following the international daf yomi program for reading the entire Talmud. Over seven and a half years, Kurshan never missed a day — even, as she writes, “on the most wondrous days of my life—when I gave birth to my children.” And then she started again.
NASHIM no. 29, under the consulting editorship of Professor David Golinkin, explores the quirky paths and passions of women who have ventured into what was once considered the exclusive province of men: intensive study of Judaism’s sacred texts. Marina Arbib describes how Rachel Morpurgo (1790–1871), known as the first women to have published erudite poetry in Hebrew, devoted herself to studying the Zohar, Judaism’s best-known mystical text, and defended it against the rationalist denigration of men like her enlightened cousin and mentor, the illustrious scholar Samuel David Luzzatto. Debbie Weissman gives us a portrait of a dedicated woman educator, born into Jerusalem’s veteran ultra-Orthodox community, who created a pioneering program of Torah study for high-school girls in the 1920s and 1930s, achieving arguably better results than a more “modern,” coeducational school that functioned in the same period. Zvi Zohar offers two tales of beautiful Algerian Jewish maidens who, with the approval of local sages, refused offers of marriage in order not to abandon their Torah study. Both tales were adduced by Rabbi Joseph Mesas, one of Moroccan Jewry’s leading twentieth-century rabbis, in defense of Torah study by women. Ruth Roded, a scholar of Islam, contrasts the efforts of feminist scholars of Judaism and Islam to deal with those troublesome passages in the Hebrew Bible and the Quran that seem incontrovertibly to ordain the subordination of women to men.
Two additional articles offer groundbreaking perspectives on gender issues in the ultra-Orthodox world. Readers may be surprised to learn, from a contribution by Hillel Gray, that a few ultra-Orthodox scholars have addressed themselves to the status of post-surgical transsexuals, taking keen interest in the legal intricacies evoked by their transition—and not necessarily banning these individuals as offenses to the faith. Finally, one might think that the obstacles facing a woman scholar setting out to research ultra-Orthodox male survivors of sexual abuse would be insurmountable. Sara Zalcberg describes how she did it.
The issue is adorned by paintings by Argentian artists Myriam Jawerbaum and Silvia Rubinson, on the cover and in an essay by Ram Ozeri on the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale of Jewish Art. Both were created for the international Women of the Book Project, in which feminist artists, versed in the Bible, have created paintings for each weekly Torah reading in the annual cycle—a visual celebration of women’s Torah scholarship.
This post is part of a series from IU Press Journals that takes a closer look at the scholarship in the articles and issues of IU Press journals.