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Enforced Marginality

Enforced Marginality: Jewish Narratives on Abandoned Wives

Bluma Goldstein
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 235
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  • Book Info
    Enforced Marginality
    Book Description:

    This illuminating study explores a central but neglected aspect of modern Jewish history: the problem of abandoned Jewish wives, oragunes("chained wives")-women who under Jewish law could not obtain a divorce-and of the men who deserted them. Looking at seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany and then late nineteenth-century eastern Europe and twentieth-century United States,Enforced Marginalityexplores representations of abandoned wives while tracing the demographic movements of Jews in the West. Bluma Goldstein analyzes a range of texts (in Old Yiddish, German, Yiddish, and English) at the intersection of disciplines (history, literature, sociology, and gender studies) to describe the dynamics of power between men and women within traditional communities and to elucidate the full spectrum of experiences abandoned women faced.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93341-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Prologue: Finally Out in the Open
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)

    My father deserted my mother when I was still in utero, returned when I was six months old, and left, never to be seen again, when I was about a year old. My mother raised me by herself, supporting us with strenuous work in garment factories as an “operator”—the term for a seamstress who operated machines. Gaining authority solely through absence, the invisible, missing husband and father became a potent center of our small family, but my mother and I developed very different sensibilities in response to this absent figure. She, devastated and humiliated by abandonment, saw herself as...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Abandoned Wives in Jewish Family Law: An Introduction to the Agune
    (pp. 1-9)

    For two millennia, from Talmudic times well into the twentieth century, theagune, a woman “chained” or “anchored” to her husband because she is unable to divorce or remarry, has been regarded as a figure of considerable interest and importance for Jewish religious and legal authorities. Althoughaguneshave suffered mightily because of their marginal position in the largely family-oriented Jewish community, it is perhaps the embarrassment of that community in the face of patent injustice against these women that accounts for the scant attention their plight has received from cultural, social, and literary historians and critics. Despite the fact...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Doubly Exiled in Germany: Abandoned Wives in Glikl Hamel’s Memoirs and Solomon Maimon’s Autobiography
    (pp. 10-48)

    Within the century spanning the final years of the seventeenth century and those of the eighteenth, two autobiographical works written by Jews living in Germany contained significant accounts of women whose husbands had deserted them or otherwise disappeared. Under traditional Jewish law, theseaguneswere unable to obtain a divorce and, therefore, to marry again. Although these particular incidents involvingagunescomprise only a small part of the texts in which they appear, they nevertheless proffer important insights into the complex discourse of gender relations among Jews and into the interactions between German Jews and German Christians in a world...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Victims of Adventure: Abandoned Wives in Abramovitsh’s Benjamin the Third and Sholem Aleykhem’s Menakhem-Mendl
    (pp. 49-91)

    In two major Yiddish novels, both of them parodic and written around the turn of the twentieth century, protagonists who leave wife and home behind them are presented as adventurers: Benjamin of Tuneyadevke in S. Y. Abramovitsh’sThe Travels of Benjamin the Third(Masoes benyomin hashlishi, published in 1895) and Menakhem-Mendl in Sholem Aleykhem’sMenakhem-Mendl(published in 1912; the titles of the two English translations areThe Adventures of Menahem-Mendl[1969] andThe Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl[2002]). Each protagonist ventures out of his shtetl in the Pale of Settlement—an area within czarist Russia where Jews were legally...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Agunes Disappearing in “A Gallery of Vanished Husbands”: Retrieving the Voices of Abandoned Women and Children
    (pp. 92-129)

    From the early years of the twentieth century, the New York–based Yiddish newspaperDer Forverts (Jewish Daily Forward)printed a feature called “A Gallery of Vanished Husbands”(A galeriye fun farshvundene mener)exhibiting portraits of husbands who had deserted their families, along with abbreviated descriptions of the deserters’ circumstances and identifying characteristics. In an effort to locate deserters, this infamous Gallery appeared several times a week for decades, highlighting as many as thirty men in a format that, at times, covered half a page. The names and information were largely supplied by the National Desertion Bureau, a Jewish agency...

  9. CHAPTER 5 An Autobiography of Turmoil: Abandoned Mother, Abandoned Daughter
    (pp. 130-151)

    It was not easy to decide whether a personal biographical essay would find a comfortable and useful place in a scholarly text on representations of desertion. While such an inclusion might be discordant, the possibility was also enticing, interesting, and could prove productive. After all, if the victims of desertion are forlorn wives whose lives were shattered as a result of their husbands’ behavior, then the victimization that deserted wives endure may also be the tribulation that abandoned children inherit and endure. The woes of these children can be read in the letters toA bintl briv, where one learns...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 152-162)

    The prologue to this book may leave the impression that my involvement with the subject matter followed a rather direct trajectory, from my personal struggles with abandonment, to the experience, years later, of encounteringagunesin the Jewish German and Yiddish literature I taught, and to inquiries into the National Desertion Bureau and “A Gallery of Vanished Husbands.” Actually, my route was a far more convoluted one, encumbered by a variety of my interests intricately connected with cultural studies in general and Jewish studies in particular. On the one hand, I was drawn to multicultural concerns within Jewish studies—be...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 163-186)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-198)
  13. Index
    (pp. 199-206)