Gender and Judaism

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Gender and Judaism is a radical, emerging subfield at the intersection of gender studies and Jewish studies. Gender studies centers on interdisciplinary research on the phenomenon of gender. It focuses on cultural representations of gender and people's lived experience. Jewish studies is a field that looks at Jews and Judaism, through such disciplines as history, anthropology, literary studies, linguistics, and sociology.


Jewish law, or halacha, recognises gender ambiguity, and has done throughout Jewish history.[1] However, unlike the modern concept of gender identity, this ambiguity is defined according to physical presentation (or lack thereof) and primary and secondary sexual characteristics. The concept of a Tumtum being a person of ambiguous gender and/or sex is dealt with, as is the concept of the androgynos, being a person characterised with elements of both genders. These concepts have precedent dating back to the beginning of Jewish thought.

Gender and Judaism has drawn scholarly interest due to the rapid growth of its intersecting fields during the late 20th century, fueled as well by popular and academic attention to Jewish feminism. As universities established women's studies programs, they have linked to Jewish studies as well. For instance, in 1997, Brandeis University established the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, which aims to "develop fresh ways of thinking about Jews and gender worldwide by producing and promoting scholarly research and artistic projects."[2] In addition, controversies over the role of women in Jewish denominations and the gender separation in orthodox judaism has drawn attention to gender roles, as constructed and regulated by religious institutions. For this reason, besides the academic attention, the liberal Jewish movements turn to gender and Judaism to reinforce their own mission and identity. Notably, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College has established the Gottesman Chair in Gender and Judaism and operates Kolot — the Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies ",[3] the first such center established at a rabbinical seminary (1996).

With the U.S.-based Association of Jewish Studies, a women's caucus works "to advance the study of gender within the Association for Jewish Studies and within the wider academic community." AJS holds at least one panel on gender every annual meeting, provide funding for presentations on gender and Judaism and published a collection of syllabi pertaining to gender.[4]


  • Zachar (זָכָר): This term is derived from the word for memory and refers to the belief that the man carried the name and identity of the family. It is usually translated as "male" in English.
  • Nekevah (נְקֵבָה): This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as "female" in English.
  • Androgynos (אנדרוגינוס): A person who has both "male" and "female" physical sexual characteristics. 149 references in Mishna and Talmud (1st – 8th centuries CE); 350 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes (2nd – 16th centuries CE).
  • Tumtum (טומטום): A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured. 181 references in Mishna and Talmud; 335 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
  • Ay’lonit (איילונית): A female who does not develop at puberty and is infertile. 80 references in Mishna and Talmud; 40 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
  • Saris (סָרִיס): A male who does not develop at puberty and/or subsequently has their sexual organs removed. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam). 156 references in mishna and Talmud; 379 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.[5]


Gender and Jewish studies intersect primarily through research on Jewish women and the role of women in Judaism and Jewish culture.

Nonetheless, gender and Jewish studies also investigate the gender phenomena pertaining to men and masculinity. In addition, the subfield encompasses research on homosexuality and queer theory as these pertain to Jews and Judaism.

In historical terms, gender and Jewish studies span a broad range, from Biblical exegesis, research on rabbinic literature, Medieval Jewish culture, the importance of gender in Jewish responses to modernity, and gender identity politics in the contemporary period.

There is a growing subfield in the study of gender and Judaism, which sees the binaries of male and female as crucial constructs in Jewish thought.[6][7][8]

While the male/female dialectic first makes its appearance in the story of creation, the Talmud insists that the idea of male and female extends way beyond sex roles: "Everything that God created, He created as male and female...."(Baba Batra 74b)

This dialectic takes on even greater theological significance in light of the Biblical book, Song of Songs, which has been traditionally interpreted as a metaphor for the relationship between God and the Nation of Israel, where the Nation of Israel is cast as feminine towards God, who is represented in the story by the male lover.

Other examples of topics in which the male/female dynamic is used metaphorically include: the relationship between Shabbat and the days of the week,[9] the relationship between the Oral and Written Law, the relationship between This World and the Next, the interplay between the legal and extra-legal aspects of Talmud (Halacha and Aggada),[10] and the Jewish calendar, which makes use of both the sun (traditionally symbolic of the male force) and the moon (traditionally symbolic of the female force).[11]

Gender polarity is robustly maintained in both the Bible and in the Oral Law, (Deuteronomy, 22:5, even forbids cross-dressing) and upholding this polarity is seen as critical in achieving synthesis between the masculine and feminine.

This exploration of gender-constructs in primary sources reveals surprising valuation of the feminine prototype in Kabbala-based sources which invites inquiry into the social, ethical, ecological, moral and philosophical ramifications of a feminine perspective within Jewish thought.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "More than Just Male and Female: The Six Genders in Ancient Jewish Thought." Freidson, Sarah. Sefaria, 10 June 2016. [1]
  2. ^ "-Brandeis Institute". Archived from the original on 2007-08-25. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-08-20. Retrieved 2019-12-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ AJS
  5. ^ "Terms for Gender Diversity in Classical Jewish Texts" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-28.
  6. ^ Kosman, Miriam, Circle, Arrow, Spiral, Exploring Gender in Judaism, Menucha Publishers, 2014.
  7. ^ Steven F. Friedell, “The ‘Different Voice’ in Jewish Law: Some Parallels to a Feminist Jurisprudence,” Indiana Law Journal, October 1992.
  8. ^ Neusner, Jacob, 'Androgynous Judaism: Masculine and Feminine in the Dual Torah,' Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1993.
  9. ^ Kosman, Miriam, Men are From Weekday, Women are from Shabbat, 2016
  10. ^ Neusner, Jacob, How the Rabbis Liberated Women, University of South Florida, 1998.
  11. ^ Heshelis, Devorah, The Moon's Lost Light, Targum Press, 2004
  12. ^ Rinder Sarah, "A New, Sophisticated, Haredi View on Gender" The Forward, November 24, 2015

External links[edit]


  • Lori Hope Lefkovitz. "Reflections on the Future of Jewish Feminism and Jewish Feminist Scholarship" in Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues 10 (2005) 218-224 The author holds the Gottesman Chair in Gender and Judaism at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; founded and is the Director of Kolot: Center for Jewish Women and Gender Studies at RRC
  • ____________. "Passing as a Man: Narratives of Jewish Gender Performance," in Narrative, 10/1 (2002).
  • Kosman, Miriam, Circle, Arrow, Spiral, Exploring Gender in Judaism, Menucha Publishers, 2014
  • Sarah Bunin Benor. "Talmid Chachams and Tsedeykeses: Language, Learnedness, and Masculinity Among Orthodox Jews," by Jewish Social Studies; Fall 2004, Vol. 11 Issue 1, p147-170.
  • Jewish Women's Archives
  • Rivkah Teitz Blau. Gender relationships in marriage and out. Orthodox Forum series. New York; Jersey City, NJ: Michael Scharf Publication Trust of the Yeshiva University Press; Distributed by KTAV Pub. House, 2007. ISBN 978-0-88125-971-1.
  • Devorah Heshelis, The Moon's Lost Light, Targum Press, 2004
  • Daniel Boyarin, Daniel Itzkovitz and Ann Pellegrini. Queer theory and the Jewish question. Between men—between women. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-231-11374-9, ISBN 0-231-11375-7.
  • Daniel Boyarin. Unheroic conduct : the rise of heterosexuality and the invention of the Jewish man. Contraversions. 8, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. ISBN 0-520-21050-6.
  • ______.Carnal Israel : reading sex in Talmudic culture. The New historicism. 25, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. ISBN 0-520-08012-2.
  • Jonathan Boyarin and Daniel Boyarin. Jews and other differences : the new Jewish cultural studies. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8166-2750-9, ISBN 0-8166-2751-7.
  • Andrea Dworkin. Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women's Liberation (2000) ISBN 0-684-83612-2
  • Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert. Menstrual purity : rabbinic and Christian reconstructions of Biblical gender. Contraversions. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8047-3725-8.
  • Jonathan Frankel. Jews and gender : the challenge to hierarchy. Studies in contemporary Jewry. 16, Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-514081-8.
  • Mark H. Gelber. Melancholy pride : nation, race, and gender in the German literature of cultural Zionism. Conditio Judaica. 23, Tübingen: M. Niemeyer, 2000. ISBN 3-484-65123-7.
  • Sander L. Gilman. Freud, race, and gender. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-691-03245-9.
  • Leonard J. Greenspoon, Ronald Simkins, Jean Axelrad Cahan, Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization, University of Nebraska—Lincoln. Harris Center for Judaic Studies and Creighton University. Center for the Study of Religion and Society. Women and Judaism. Studies in Jewish civilization. 14, Omaha, NE; Lincoln, NE: Creighton University Press; Distributed by the University of Nebraska Press, 2003. ISBN 1-881871-43-6.
  • Joel Lurie Grishaver. The bonding of Isaac : stories and essays about gender and Jewish spirituality. Los Angeles, CA: Alef Design Group, 1997. ISBN 1-881283-20-8.
  • Nancy A. Harrowitz and Barbara Hyams. Jews & gender : responses to Otto Weininger. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995. ISBN 1-56639-248-9, ISBN 1-56639-249-7.
  • Lawrence A. Hoffman. Covenant of blood : circumcision and gender in rabbinic Judaism. Chicago studies in the history of Judaism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. ISBN 0-226-34783-4, ISBN 0-226-34784-2.
  • Tsipy Ivry. Embodying Culture: Pregnancy in Japan and Israel. Studies in Medical Anthropology. Rutgers University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8135-4636-0, ISBN 978-0-8135-4635-3.
  • Walter Jacob and Moshe Zemer. Gender issues in Jewish law : essays and responsa. Studies in progressive halakhah. New York: Berghahn Books, 2001. ISBN 1-57181-239-3.
  • Rosemary Skinner Keller, Rosemary Radford Ruether and Marie Cantlon. Encyclopedia of women and religion in North America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-253-34685-1; 025334686X; 0253346878; 0253346886; 9780253346858; 9780253346865; 9780253346872; 9780253346889.
  • Orah Kohen. Mi-shene ʻevre ha-mehitsah : li-she'elat ha-hafradah ha-migdarit ba-halakhah ha-Yehudit. Elhanah: O. Kohen, 2007. ISBN 965-7402-04-2.
  • Kristen E. Kvam, Linda S. Schearing and Valarie H. Ziegler. Eve and Adam : Jewish, Christian, and Muslim readings on Genesis and gender. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-253-33490-X; 0253212715.
  • Jacob Lassner. Demonizing the Queen of Sheba : boundaries of gender and culture in postbiblical Judaism and medieval Islam. Chicago studies in the history of Judaism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. ISBN 0-226-46913-1, ISBN 0-226-46915-8.
  • Hara Person, Carolyn Bricklin, Owen Gottlieb, Melissa Zalkin Stollman and Doug Barden. The gender gap : a congregational guide for beginning the conversation about men's involvement in synagogue life. New York: URJ Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8074-1058-5, ISBN 0-8074-1058-6.
  • Miriam Peskowitz. Spinning fantasies : rabbis, gender, and history. Contraversions. 9, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. ISBN 0-520-20831-5, ISBN 0-520-20967-2.
  • Robert Leonard Platzner. Gender, tradition, and renewal Robert L. Platzner. Religions and discourse. 13, Oxford ; New York: Peter Lang, 2005. ISBN 3-906769-64-X; 0820459011.
  • Jacqueline Portuguese. Fertility policy in Israel : the politics of religion, gender, and nation. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998. ISBN 0-275-96098-6.
  • Melissa Raphael. The female face of God in Auschwitz : a Jewish feminist theology of the Holocaust. Religion and gender. London ; New York: Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0-415-23664-9, ISBN 0-415-23665-7.
  • Jennifer Ring. The political consequences of thinking : gender and Judaism in the work of Hannah Arendt. SUNY series in political theory. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1997. ISBN 0-7914-3483-4, ISBN 0-7914-3484-2.
  • Susan Starr Sered. What makes women sick?: maternity, modesty, and militarism in Israeli society. Brandeis University Press, 2000.
  • Linda M. Shires. Coming home : a woman's story of conversion to Judaism. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8133-6596-1.
  • Elly Teman. Birthing a Mother: the Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-520-25964-5, ISBN 978-0-520-25963-8.
  • Claire M. Tylee. "In the open" : Jewish women writers and British culture. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2006. ISBN 0-87413-933-3, ISBN 978-0-87413-933-4.
  • Claudia Ulbrich. Shulamit and Margarete : power, gender, and religion in a rural society in eighteenth-century Europe. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005. ISBN 0-391-04227-0.
  • Elaine Wainwright. Women healinghealing women : the genderization of healing in early Christianity. BibleWorld. London ; Oakville, CT: Equinox Pub. Ltd., 2006. ISBN 1-84553-134-5, ISBN 1-84553-135-3.
  • Elliot R. Wolfson. Language, eros, being : kabbalistic hermeneutics and poetic imagination. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8232-2418-X; 0823224198.
  • ______.Circle in the square : studies in the use of gender in Kabbalistic symbolism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. ISBN 0-7914-2405-7, ISBN 0-7914-2406-5.
  • Diane Wolfthal. Picturing Yiddish : gender, identity, and memory in the illustrated Yiddish books of Renaissance Italy. Brill's series in Jewish studies. 36, Leiden: Boston : Brill, 2004. ISBN 90-04-13905-2.
  • Helena Zlotnick. Dinah's daughters : gender and Judaism from the Hebrew Bible to late antiquity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8122-3644-0, ISBN 0-8122-1797-7.
  • "More than Just Male and Female: The Six Genders in Ancient Jewish Thought." Freidson, Sarah. Sefaria, 10 June 2016. [3]