"Men and Women: Gender, Judaism and Democracy" is a collection of articles on the socio-legal status of women in Israel, the religious and cultural context of their rights, and their equality according to religious and civil law. The collection discusses various points of criticism on the legal, social and cultural situation in Israel. The significance of the heritage of the past, the challenges of the present, and constructive criticism aiming to suggest alternative outlooks for the future are elaborated on by eleven different writers.
About the Editor:
Rachel Elior is the John and Golda Cohen Chair of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the Department of Jewish Thought where she is a professor of Jewish Philosophy and Mysticism. She has been a visiting professor at Princeton University, Case Western University, and Tokyo University. She has published and edited ten books, the most recent of which is The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism (Oxford: Littman Library, 2004). Professor Elior is a senior fellow of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute where she participates in the Framework for Contemporary Jewish Thought and Identity.
Rachel Elior’s books, articles and lectures are hallmarked with a unique combination of poetry and philosophy, academic precision and mystical inspiration. Pofessor of Jewish Philosophy and Mysticism at the Hebrew University, author of several internationally acclaimed books, on her way for teaching a semester at Princeton, Elior spent time in Australia. She talked at the 2002 Adelaide Writer’s Festival, was interviewed several times on ABC and gave an outstanding course in the Melton program.
Elior is considered the world’s foremost experts on Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah and, with her groundbreaking theory, on Kumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
But in Israel she is also widely regarded as one of the most important activists and theoreticians on behalf of women in Israel.
This book is based on a conference with the same title, held in July 1998, with the aim of no less than the changing meanings of gender reality within Israeli culture. Elior initiated a small revolution among a group of modern orthodox women, forming a new organisation, called Kolech (your voice) which became a meaningful framework for religious women who wish to shape their life as equals.
"When I organized this conference in 1998 there was hardly anything and there was no public consciousness to the connection between past and present," she writes.
Covering a wide range of viewpoints and speakers, the conference heard various approaches. Some spoke for maintaining patriarchal order and perpetuating male prerogative and the subjugation of women, some demanded segregation between men and women and the establishment of a separate system of rights and obligations for each. Still others advocated equal rights.
The many voices present in this book clearly demonstrate the existence of a new dialogue, offering an array of absorbingly interesting and often provocative writings. Deborah Weissman for instance, in a wonderfully absorbing essay reviews the issue of suffrage and the respective positions taken by Rabbi Kook and Rabbi Uziel.
Elior published another book earlier in 2004, entitled The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism, on the significance of the unity of holy time. Gender and democracy seems to be a huge leap from mysticism to modernity. But not to Elior. The common thread is time. In Men and Women, Elior discusses the exclusion of women from the traditional institutions of learning, jurisprudence and leadership. Reading Elior what emerges is that women were denied the mastery of time. With no time for study allocated for them in the traditional world, their lives were dictated by males, (fathers, husbands) who ordered women should spend their time as mothers, housewives, always serving their men.
This fine and thoughtful book is a valuable contribution to the examination of the complex interaction between shared and distinct values within the mesh of Judaism and democracy; between sacred traditional and contemporary values and between prevailing norms rooted in the past and changing consciousness.
- Dr. Vera Ranki, Australian Jewish News