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Reading Jewish Women: Marginality as Opportunity, A SpeakChorus

(Presented at Limmud Vancouver, 2018)

When I was in Rabbinic school, I took a history course on the Jewish Enlightenment/Haskalah, a movement which arose first in Western Europe (Germany mainly) and later in Eastern Europe, from the late 18th until the late 19th centuries.

Required reading for the course was Iris Parush’s book Reading Jewish Women: Marginality and Modernization in Nineteenth-Century Eastern European Jewish Society (2004). It opened a new world to me.

Parush’s thesis is that the marginality of Jewish women in Eastern Europe became a powerful subversive tool for women’s liberation and societal transformation. When a group is marginalized by not being permitted to be active in official realms, and are relegated to the domestic realm, they essentially are ignored. The women in Eastern Europe had the freedom to think, discuss, read amongst themselves and finally get to a place of moving into modernity almost clandestinely while the men were unaware and oblivious. The influence on women of this reading manifested in a wide set of changed behaviours including girls refusing marriage to rabbinic scholars, secret alliances forged to promote secular education, heretical tendencies, girls running away from home to seek an education, and girls joining revolutionary movements. I cannot recommend this book too highly.

Iris Parush's amazing scholarship inspired me to create this SpeakChorus to give voice to the women she writes about, our grandmothers and great grandmothers. LimmudVan was my first opportunity to "workshop" it. It is a work in progress. I hope to inspire a group of women to continue workshoping it with the ultimate goal of performing it in a public venue. A world premiere!

Click here to enjoy the SpeakChorus. If you are interested in participating, message me ...

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