A Medieval Jewish Scholar’s “Feminist” Reading of a Talmudic Passage

Written in a mixture of Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic (a Jewish dialect of Arabic written in Hebrew characters), a fragment found in the Cairo Genizah and authored by an anonymous medieval scholar presents a decidedly modern reading of the decidedly un-feminist opening of the talmudic tractate Kiddushin, which begins “A woman is acquired in three ways.” Zvi Stampfer writes:

Why use the passive voice and not simply say “a man betroths a woman in three possible ways”? . . . . The Talmud states that the focus on the woman is to emphasize that the marriage cannot take place without her will. Our commentator takes this one step further and offers an interpretation that can be seen as a “feminist reading” of the Talmud.

According to this interpretation, the Jewish sages taught that in the marriage contract the groom seems active and the bride passive, while in fact the opposite is the case. The groom’s role in the ceremony is to satisfy the bride’s will and to act accordingly. This is why the groom gives his bride a ring (or equivalent). Perhaps our anonymous commentator sought to advise young couples in how they should interact and respect each other throughout their married life.

It is fascinating to see a medieval scholar espousing such an apparently “modern” approach to the relationship between husband and wife. The concept that women have their own will, separate from that of their husbands—a will that men should listen to and respect—is relatively uncommon in medieval literature. Furthermore, our medieval scholar undertook a creative re-reading of the traditional Jewish text. While maintaining a respect for its authority, he used it as a [basis] for reading his ideas on the relations between the sexes into the very texts that seem to posit the opposite.

Read more at Cambridge University Library

More about: Cairo Geniza, Feminism, Jewish marriage, Religion & Holidays, Talmud


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy