Reshaping Jewish Memory

In the Torah, women are absent at the covenantal moment; to make up for this, Jewish history must be reconstructed.

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Apparently, women's absence was unthinkable to the rabbis, and this despite the fact that in their own work they continually reenact that absence. How much more then should it be unthinkable to us who know we are present today even in the midst of communities that continue to deny us? The contradiction between the Torah text and our experience is crucial; for, construed a certain way, it is a potential bridge to a new relationship with the tradition.

Recreating History, Reshaping Torah

To accept our absence from Sinai would be to allow the male text to define us and our connection to Judaism. To stand on the ground of our experience, on the other hand, to start with the certainty of our membership in our own people is to be forced to re‑member and recreate its history, to reshape Torah. It is to move from anger at the tradition, through anger to empowerment. It is to begin the journey toward the creation of a feminist Judaism.

Jewish feminists, in other words, must reclaim Torah as our own. We must render visible the presence, experience, and deeds of women erased in traditional sources. We must tell the stories of women's encounters with God and capture the texture of their religious experience. We must expand the notion of Torah to encompass not just the five books of Moses and traditional Jewish learning, but women's words, teachings, and actions hitherto unseen.

To expand Torah, we must reconstruct Jewish history to include the history of women, and in doing so alter the shape of Jewish memory.

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Judith Plaskow

Judith Plaskow is a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College. She is the author of the landmark work Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective, and has written and edited a number of other volumes on the topics of contemporary religious thought and feminist theology.