A Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud
"For roughly the first two millennia of the Common Era it became an article of faith among the Jews that in Sinai God handed down to Moses two Torot – one written and one oral. This second, oral Torah, became identified with the Mishnah, and its colorful and highly creative commentary: the Babylonian Talmud. The Mishnah and the Babylonian Talmud are books. Thus, the orality of these texts remains to a great extent theoretical, although as will be emphasized below, in order to comprehend these books a significant oral exegetical tradition has to be handed down to the learner.
In the second half of the XX century feminism became, in addition to a political and social force, also an academic discourse. “A Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud” has its goal as that of critiquing all institutions and establishments, both religious and secular, with the purpose of exposing their hierarchical and androcentric structures in the Babylonian Talmud. The Mishnah and the Babylonian Talmud require a feminist commentary: there can be little doubt of the influence they have exerted and still exert on Jewish women’s lives. A feminist commentary must take into account many of the terms and concepts developed by feminist thinkers concerning the ways in which one can understand the texts that are being critiqued.
Feminist scholars agreed in defining some basic terms in order to analyze these text: 1) Patriachy: Feminist scholars of Judaism have amply demonstrated that Judaism, from its inception, was a thoroughly patriarchal society. Biblical society placed special value on virginity and recognized as unquestionable a husband’s exclusive rights over his wife’s sexual activities. Wives had no equivalent claim on their husband’s sexuality. 2) Private and Public Space: Feminist scholarship has helped recognize that patriarchal systems tend to divide the world between public and private spaces. This division was then gendered, designating men as public and women as private 3) Androcentrism: Next to Patriarchy, a most important critical term in feminist theoretical reading of society is androcentrism. An androcentric perception of reality is one in which the man is in the center. His interests and views dominate the texts from which we read the past. 4). Woman Studies and Gender Studies: The primary interest of the discipline of “women studies” was the lot of women – half of humanity (and half of the Jewish people) that had been silenced by the other half. However, it has now become popular to integrate women studies into wider contexts. Thus, for example, the oppression of women can be viewed in the wider context of multiple forms of oppression based not just on gender but also on class, race and sexual preferences."
(From T. Ilan, "Introduction," in Feminist Commentary on the Babylonian Talmud: Introduction and Studies)