Feminism and heresy: The construction of a Jewish metanarrative

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Abstract

The connection of women with heresy and deviance has a long history within religious traditions throughout the world. The following discussion uncovers a new chapter in this convention, by highlighting the efforts of a prominent rabbinical authority to reject attempts at upgrading the public religious roles available to women. The legal or "halakhic" position that he expounds is not unto itself exceptional. What is sui generis, rather, is his construction for polemical purposes of a "metanarrative of Jewish heresy" in which a historical chain that begins with the Sadducees in ancient times and extends to contemporary Orthodox Jewish feminism is linked through the common complaint of rabbinic discrimination against women. By describing the context from which this teleological understanding emerged and analyzing its characteristics, this study offers a new perspective on the role that feminism is playing in the development of American Orthodox Judaism. More broadly, it serves as a case study for how the rise of feminism within contemporary religious life has engendered original theological responses and strategies not only among its supporters and ideologues, but among the "guardians" of the various religious traditions as well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)494-546
Number of pages53
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Religion
Volume77
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2009

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