Reading Jewish Women: Marginality and Modernization in Nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewish Society

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UPNE, 2004 - Social Science - 340 pages
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In this extraordinary volume, Iris Parush opens up the hitherto unexamined world of literate Jewish women, their reading habits, and their role in the cultural modernization of Eastern European Jewish society in the nineteenth century. Parush makes a paradoxical claim: she argues that because Jewish women were marginalized and neglected by rabbinical authorities who regarded men as the bearers of religious learning, they were free to read secular literature in German, Yiddish, Polish, and Russian. As a result of their exposure to a wealth of literature, these reading women became significant conduits for Haskalah (Enlightenment) ideas and ideals within the Jewish community.

This deceptively simple thesis dramatically challenges and revamps both scholarly and popular notions of Jewish life and learning in nineteenth-century Eastern Europe. While scholars of European women's history have been transforming and complicating ideas about the historical roles of middle-class women for some time, Parush is among the first scholars to work exclusively in Jewish territory. The book will be a very welcome introduction to many facets of modern Jewish cultural history particularly the role of women which have too long been ignored.
 

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Contents

Introduction Reading Women and the Spirit of Jewish Enlightenment
1
Language Literacy and Literature as the Battleground of Haredim and Maskilim
14
Gender Roles and Womens Window of Opportunity
38
Gender Differences in the Traditional Educational System
57
The Secular Education of Women
71
The ReadingBiography of Men
97
Women Who Read Yiddish
133
Women Who Read European Languages
172
Women and the Hebrew Language
207
HebrewMans Apparatus or Womans Apparel?
227
Conclusion
241
Notes
249
Glossary
305
Bibliography
309
Index
327
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About the author (2004)

IRIS PARUSH teaches Hebrew Literature at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Her current scholarly writing explores the cultural, social, and ideological resonances of Haskalah literature and the impact of national ideology on the formation of the modern Hebrew literary canon. The Hebrew edition of Reading Jewish Women won the prestigious Zalman Shazar Prize for Jewish History.

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