Gender in Judaism and Islam

Gender in Judaism and Islam: Common Lives, Uncommon Heritage

Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet
Beth S. Wenger
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Gender in Judaism and Islam
    Book Description:

    Jewish and Islamic histories have long been interrelated. Both traditions emerged from ancient cultures born in the Middle East and both are rooted in texts and traditions that have often excluded women. At the same time, both groups have recently seen a resurgence in religious orthodoxy among women, as well as growing feminist movements that challenge traditional religious structures. In the United States, Jews and Muslims operate as minority cultures, carving out a place for religious and ethnic distinctiveness. The time is ripe for a volume that explores the relationship between these two religions through the prism of gender.

    Gender in Judaism and Islambrings together scholars working in the fields of Judaism and Islam to address a diverse range of topics, including gendered readings of texts, legal issues in marriage and divorce, ritual practices, and women's literary expressions and historical experiences, along with feminist influences within the Muslim and Jewish communities and issues affecting Jewish and Muslim women in contemporary society. Carefully crafted, including section introductions by the editors to highlight big picture insights offered by the contributors, the volume focuses attention on the theoretical innovations that gender scholarship has brought to the study of Muslim and Jewish experiences. At a time when Judaism and Islam are often discussed as though they were inherently at odds, this book offers a much-needed reconsideration of the connections and commonalties between these two traditions. It offers new insights into each of these cultures and invites comparative perspectives that deepen our understanding of both Islam and Judaism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-2375-8
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet and Beth S. Wenger
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Tensions have run high in recent years between Jewish and Muslim communities, from the United States to the Middle East. Yet a close look at women who have embraced Islam and Judaism reveals striking parallels, illuminating the ways in which these women have negotiated similar power dynamics in their religious and social lives. This volume examines two of the world’s most ancient cultures and religions—Judaism and Islam—through the prism of gender. Bringing these two distinct, yet interconnected, traditions into dialogue around issues of gender opens up fresh perspectives and invites new avenues of interpretation. This book includes the...

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 15-16)

      In matters of gender, Judaism and Islam share similar modes of interpreting religious law and, in more recent years, have confronted parallel challenges in fighting for women’s equality. Yet these two traditions are by no means identical; they possess unique characteristics and exist in different religious and political environments.

      Susannah Heschel and Amira Sonbol explore the intersections and divergences of Judaism and Islam on questions of gender in the following two opening chapters. Neither author attempts a comprehensive analysis of the complexities of gender relations within the two traditions; rather, each reflects on the interconnectedness of women’s issues as they...

    • 1 Jewish and Muslim Feminist Theologies in Dialogue: Discourses of Difference
      (pp. 17-45)

      Although Christians have developed the most important and influential feminist theologies, it is Jewish and Muslim feminists who have the most in common with each other as they struggle to achieve equality within their respective religions, both of which are rooted in legal systems.¹ Jews and Muslims work within religious systems of civil and ritual legal jurisdiction that center around revealed scripture and oral traditions that for centuries have been the nearly exclusive domain of male scholars and judges. Jews and Muslims also share some customs; for instance, both indicate religious membership through hair and head coverings.² While head coverings...

    • 2 Jewish and Islamic Legal Traditions: Diffusions of Law
      (pp. 46-68)

      I have been teaching a seminar titled “Women and Law” for many years; every time we discuss Rachel Biale’sWomen and Jewish Law¹ students are surprised at the similarities between Jewish and Muslim laws dealing with women and gender. Not only are the laws similar, but social outlooks, the conservatism of the religious classes, and the attitudes of the women themselves seem to be shared by people of the two faiths. This is not surprising, for as the essays in this book show, the lives of Jewish and Muslim women have many parallels. Notwith-standing modern conflicts between Jews and Muslims,...

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 71-72)

      The combination of fear and awe surrounding women’s reproductive capacities, and the desire to regulate them, has perpetuated scores of religious laws designed to control women’s bodies in both Islam and Judaism. The three chapters in this section take different approaches to understanding the connections between power, the body, and sexuality in Islamic and Jewish cultures. Ranging from the ancient to the modern, they confront fundamental definitions of gender and ongoing questions of corporeal authority.

      Both Judaism and Islam have developed complex legal systems to regulate ritual purity and impurity during women’s menstrual cycles. Marion Katz tackles the intricate regulations...

    • 3 Scholarly versus Women’s Authority in the Islamic Law of Menstrual Purity
      (pp. 73-105)

      In his handbook of Islamic legal regulations for Muslim women, the Ḥanbalī preacher Ibn al-Jawzī(d. 597 A.H./1200 C.E.) makes the following pithy remark about the law of menstrual purity: “If a woman experiences irregularities in her menstrual period, she is obliged to present her case to religious scholars every time it occurs. Since women’s intellects would be unable to comprehend an explanation of this here, we have omitted it.”¹ A woman’s menstrual purity status can be vital for several reasons. A woman cannot validly perform central ritual duties such as prayer (ṣalāt) and fasting (ṣawm) while menstruating; she is also...

    • 4 Gender Duality and Its Subversions in Rabbinic Law
      (pp. 106-125)

      In the early, canonized rabbinic legal texts we find an extensive list of individual laws and norms organized explicitly and purposefully according to gender categories. According to the titular paragraph, rabbinic laws and norms can be categorized into four groups designed to underwrite a logic of gender duality. Most basically, norms and laws apply to people as either men or as women, categories that operate as a seemingly referential framework. Further, the text continues, there are laws that apply to people irrespective of whether they are men or women, grouped together as the “ways of both men or women.” The...

    • 5 Gender and Reproductive Technologies in Shia Iran
      (pp. 126-150)

      The abundant contemporary Middle East scholarship on Islam and gender has been instrumental in undoing the myth that Islam is a rigid religion not open to change.¹ Over the past three decades, the profusion of information emerging from Muslim countries, especially on women, has thrown light on the dynamics and intricacies involved in the relationship between men and women. Research also has demonstrated the shift in the balance of gender relations as a result of the encounter between the persisting old norms and values with modernity and globalization.² In those countries where Islam is taking an increasingly prominent role and...

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 153-154)

      Religious legal texts could not—and did not—anticipate all the dilemmas and conflicts that would develop in modern society. Jurists and legal scholars in both the Islamic and Jewish traditions have had to rely on legal precedent, customary practices, or reason to address specific aspects of women’s position in their respective religious communities or to explain popular customs that have assumed the status of law. In addition to legal documents, literature and literary tropes offer other prisms through which to understand the parameters determining gender interactions in Judaism and Islam.

      The three chapters in this section focus on the...

    • 6 Not a Man: Joseph and the Character of Masculinity in Judaism and Islam
      (pp. 155-180)

      Joseph (favored son of Jacob, the last of the biblical patriarchs) is one of the shared heroes of Judaism and Islam, though he is differently nuanced by those traditions, beginning with the scriptural texts themselves and in centuries of subsequent narrative expansions.¹ Asking what those differences might suggest about variations in masculinity and gender identities, in this essay I carry out a textual twin experiment, treating Yosef (the Hebrew for Joseph) and Yusuf (the Arabic pronunciation) as genetically identical, so to speak, equivalent descendants of patriarchs with similarly split cultural roots, but entirely separate characters—doppelgängers—because raised in disparate...

    • 7 Dishonorable Passions: Law and Virtue in Muslim Communities
      (pp. 181-202)

      As the problem of honor killings has become more widely reported in the West, the popular perception is that such killings are a specific attribute of Islamic society or particularly Islamic law. This is perhaps understandable, as honor crimes are usually depicted as a type of gender violence unique to Muslim countries or Muslim communities in Western countries. In fact, honor killings are neither mandated nor explicitly tolerated by Islamic law, and a growing chorus of legal and religious scholars decries this common misunderstanding. However, while honor killings are not part of Islamic legal principles or jurisprudence, the practice is...

    • 8 Legislating the Family: Gender, Jewish Law, and Rabbinical Courts in Mandate Palestine
      (pp. 203-236)

      Theorists of gender and multiculturalism often focus on the role institutions play in shaping conflicts over women’s rights. Institutional arrangements that distribute the power to regulate areas of social life and to review actions of courts and government can be designed to enable, encourage, or impede a dialogue between state institutions and religious or cultural minorities over how discriminatory practices can be brought in line with human rights norms.¹ These practices are often embodied in codes of personal religious law, regulating marriage, divorce, sexual propriety, child welfare, and inheritance. Religious citizens may be subject to regulation not only by the...

    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 239-240)

      The experiences of Jewish and Muslim women in Middle Eastern communities have varied depending on the country in which they have lived, and each state has interacted differently with its minority communities. In addition, the experiences of Jewish and Muslim women have diverged based on their status either as a minority or as a dominant member of society. Through personal memoirs, novels, and film, the authors in this section explore women’s complicated relationships with the political structures of the societies they inhabited.

      Andrea Siegel discusses the ways in which the “woman question” and the “Arab question” appeared side by side...

    • 9 A Literary Perspective: Domestic Violence, the “Woman Question,” and the “Arab Question” in Early Zionism
      (pp. 241-267)

      In 1901 Martin Buber authored this picture of a revitalized Jewish nation in his article, “The Jewish Woman’s Zion,” forDie Welt, the most prominent German-language Zionist newspaper of the era. Buber had recently taken over editorship of the paper at the invitation of Theodor Herzl and took the opportunity to put his unique stamp on the fledgling Zionist movement. Whereas Herzl—the charismatic “founding father” of Zionism—was focused on infusing Western European political savvy into what had been a rather loose-knit web of local, largely Eastern European groups, Buber insisted that there was a crucial idea Herzl had...

    • 10 An Autobiographical Perspective: Schools, Jails, and Cemeteries in Shoshanna Levy’s Life Story
      (pp. 268-310)

      Gender relations in modern Muslim and Jewish contexts or, more precisely, the ways in which gender relations in Muslim and Jewish communities changed following the encounter of both religions with European modernity, were a key element in Middle Eastern discourses concerning nationalism, colonialism, and discipline. Conversations about gender relations within Jewish communities in Muslim lands were intertwined into Islamic and Arab discourses about gender, as Jewish women were imagined simultaneously as Eastern, Arab, and Jewish. The migration of many women from Middle Eastern Jewish communities to Israel, a state whose European elites had certain assumptions about gender roles in Arab...

    • 11 An Artistic Perspective: The Women of Bahram Beizai’s Cinema
      (pp. 311-340)

      As the Ma’arefi family is getting ready in Tehran for the wedding of their young daughter Mahrokh, the bride’s elder sister Mahtab Ma’arefi, her husband Heshmat Davaran, and her two children get into a rented car in the northern part of the country to drive south for the occasion. Their luggage packed in the car, just before getting into the car, Mahtab Ma’arefi looks straight into the camera and with a disarmingly blank face says, “We are going to Tehran to participate in my younger sister’s wedding. We will not reach Tehran. We will all die.”

      With that simple line,...

  9. Afterword: Common Ground, Contested Terrain
    (pp. 341-348)

    These days when one thinks of Jews and Muslims it is as irreconcilable enemies with little in common beyond mutual dislike for one another’s politics and religious practices. At least in public discourse, the “clash of civilizations” has framed the relationship of the two groups, with Jews identified as belonging to Europe and “the West,” and Muslims seen as the representatives of the “East.” From the Western side, the contrasts usually offered are between modernity and tradition, reason and aggression, civility and terror, freedom and oppression, democracy and theocracy. On the Muslim side, the contrasts employed are most often between...

    (pp. 349-350)
    (pp. 351-354)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 355-372)