Commentary Magazine


Feminizing Jewish Studies

About 30 years have passed since the formal introduction of Jewish studies as an academic discipline on American campuses, and the change has been great. Whereas in the 1950′s the number of serious scholars of Judaica in the United States, most of them of European provenance, could almost have been counted on one’s fingers, hundreds of American-born and -trained professors and lecturers now teach Jewish religion, history, sociology, literature, rabbinics, and Bible at a large number of American universities. It has been one of the American Jewish community’s most impressive cultural achievements.

And most recently, not only a new generation of Jewish scholars but a new school of them has emerged on the American campus. Heavily influenced, like all the liberal arts, by postmodernist thinking; skeptical of traditional Jewish categories of analysis; ranging from non- to anti-Zionist in its attitude toward Israel while strongly affirming Diaspora Jewish identity; and, above all, openly embracing feminism and “feminist theory,” it does not yet have a name.

One is tempted to call it “the California school,” since several of its leading representatives—David Biale, Chana Kronfeld, Naomi Seidman, Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, and Daniel Boyarin—teach at institutions in that state, and Boyarin, a professor of “talmudic culture” at Berkeley, is arguably the trend’s brightest star. But since its proponents can be found at universities everywhere, this would be a misnomer.

Let us simply call it, then, “the new Jewish scholarship.” It forms the latest chapter in the modern writing of Jewish history, which began in the Wissenschaft des Judentums or “science-of-Judaism” movement in early 19th-century Germany. Indeed, starting with Zechariah Frankel (1801-75), a historian of rabbinics, an uninterrupted chain of teacher-student relationships leads to an academic like Boyarin by way of such eminent scholars as Heinrich Graetz (1817-91), David Heinrich Mueller (1846-1912), Jacob Nahum Epstein (1878-1952), and Saul Lieberman (1898-1983), the last of whom was Boyarin’s mentor in Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. And yet the new scholarship constitutes a radical break with the Wissenschaft tradition. Although men like Frankel, Graetz, Mueller, and Epstein had good reason to feel that those trained by them were following in their footsteps, it is safe to say—as Boyarin himself acknowledges—that someone like Lieberman would have been appalled by Boyarin’s books.

Of course, “paradigm shifts,” to use the now-fashionable term for a major change of focus in an intellectual discipline, have occurred before in Jewish historiography. Perhaps the most conspicuous took place in association with Zionism, under whose impact leading 20th-century historians, many connected with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, reinterpreted a wide variety of religious and cultural phenomena from the Jewish past, casting them as forms of incipient nationalism: proto-Zionist strivings in times when the circumstances were not ripe for their mature expression. Diaspora existence, generally evaluated positively by the earlier Wissenschaft, was seen by the Jerusalem school as a long struggle against exilic conditions that alienated Jews from their outer surroundings and inner potential.

But even as the Jerusalem school was rewriting Jewish history, it went on sharing basic premises with its predecessors. Like them, it believed historical truth to be objective and empirically verifiable. Like them, too, it portrayed the Jewish people as an organic unity in time and space, the evolving bearer of a core identity that remained unchanged in essence despite the historical and geographical guises worn and shed by it. Although the goal to which Jewish history was seen as moving was now different—the reconstitution of a scattered people in its land, rather than the original Wissenschaft‘s notion of an ever more refined ethical monotheism spread by Israel among the nations—the Jerusalem school, too, viewed Jewish history teleologically. And, like the scholars who preceded it, it also emphasized Jewish uniqueness, dwelling more on the differences than on the similarities between Diaspora Jews and their host nations. It was such analogies that caused Gershom Scholem, the great scholar of Kabbalah, to remark of himself and his Hebrew University colleagues: “We came to rebel and ended up by continuing.”

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All of these commonalities are rejected by the new Jewish scholars. In good postmodernist fashion, objective historical truth is, for them, an epistemological illusion, the past being an inevitable “reinvention” of the present by self-interested and conceptually predisposed observers. Instead of unity, they discern there discontinuity and conflict, leading them to dismiss as an artificial construct any idea of a single “essentialist” Jewish people or religion. Ruling out the search for direction in Jewish history, they view such old-fashioned “narratives” as disguised exercises of power, attempts by dominant groups of Jews throughout the ages to assert “hegemony” over other Jews. And while not denying that Jews have been different from others, the new scholars are more interested in their similarity to such groups as oppressed and colonized peoples, women, and homosexuals.

This last preoccupation has become in many ways their major one. Just as feminism and gender-related issues have roiled the American campus as a whole (not to mention the consciousness of the American Jewish community), so they have riveted the attention of Jewish studies. Among the books, dealing largely or wholly with questions of Judaism and gender, and mobilizing dozens of academic authors, that have appeared recently are Regina M. Schwartz’s The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism;1 Laura Levitt’s Jews and Feminism: The Ambivalent Search For Home;2 Daniel Boyarin’s Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man;3 and the anthologies Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies,4 Judaism Since Gender,5 and Jews and Other Differences: The New Jewish Cultural Studies.6

Although what unites these books is far greater than what divides them, they are not cut from a single cloth. Boyarin’s, the best and most radical, is closely argued; Schwartz’s, the worst and most widely reviewed, is anything but. And while the essays in Feminist Perspectives are largely moderate in tone, those in Judaism Since Gender tend to the sharply polemical and those in Jews and Other Differences to the contemporaneously offbeat and exotic.

Still, despite the new scholarship’s repudiation of grand historical “narratives,” all of these books subscribe to a shared purview of their own. A synopsis of it might go as follows.

From its beginnings, Israelite religion was both a liberating and a repressive force, offering an emancipating vision of human brother- and sisterhood based on the ethical paternity of a universal God while also invoking this God’s masculine aggressiveness, sexual puritanism, and religious zealotry in order to underwrite the values of a warlike and intolerant culture. Nor was this culture hostile only toward its neighbors. Its own women and sexual deviants, too, were, like the conquered Canaanites, treated as “the Other”—dehumanized and phobicized objects on which a male patriarchy, whose myths and values are recorded in the Bible, projected its unconscious fears, anger, and guilt.

Subsequently, our synopsis continues, when biblical culture was superseded by rabbinic Judaism, the Jewish world again mixed progressive with reactionary features. Jews were now a colonized people themselves, and in many areas, including those of human sexuality and the treatment of women, rabbinic legislation was relatively liberal; yet both it and its attitudes remained male-supremacist. Men alone made the law, studied it, applied it, and participated in the rituals prescribed by it, which continued to be understood as the will of a masculinely-imaged God. Women remained the excluded Other, their existence conveyed to posterity almost entirely through the “mediation” of male writers.

And in modern times as well, our synopsis concludes, though sexual equality has been inscribed on the banner of more than one movement for change in Jewish life, women’s exclusion has remained a fact. The best example is the state of Israel. For despite claims of egalitarianism, Zionist settlement in Palestine was sexist from the start, relegating women to the same second-class status they had left behind in the Diaspora. Moreover, not only did the Jewish state continue the “marginalization” of women, it has regressed to the exclusionary nationalism of the Bible, turning the Palestinian into a new Canaanite, and atavistically reviving the male-dominated warrior society of ancient Israel.

Finally, there is a postscript. The notion of an impartial or objective study of the past having been “deconstructed” as a myth, the new Jewish scholar knows that he or she must work from a position of commitment. If historians of previous ages have ignored the silenced voices of the Other, thereby “privileging” the masculinist, misogynist, and homophobic forces of the male world to which they belonged, the new scholar must seek out these voices and be their tongue, not only to do justice to the disempowered dead but to defend the disempowered living.

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It is not difficult to detect in all this the influence, prominent in all postmodernist thought, of both Freud and Marx. To psychoanalysis the new Jewish scholarship owes the perception that groups of people, like individuals, may react to one another out of unconscious considerations linked more to what others symbolize than to who they are. To Marxism it owes the belief that intellectual and religious superstructures are tools of domination, scripts for organizing society in ways that further class and sectarian interests. For the new scholars, Jewish history is a text to be read between the lines. Nothing in it is what it seems; everything must be “demystified”; everything conceals a hidden agenda for the exercise of power and control.

To which—at least in one case—must be added a third influence: the liberal wing of the American Jewish Sunday school. Of it, Regina Schwartz writes in The Curse of Cain:

What Reform Judaism gave me in my childhood was less the understanding of Judaism as a separated identity than its strong stress on ethics; shedding traditional rituals and the trappings of group identity was accompanied by a renewed emphasis on being “a good person.” While I know that distinction will not hold under close examination, it is this anti-ritualistic strain of Judaism that I inherited, a latter-day version of Jeremiah inveighing against the hypocrisy of worshipers at the temple who were guilty of social abuses.

Jeremiah’s, however, was a voice of moderation compared with Schwartz’s; for whereas the prophet of Anatot merely blamed ancient Israel for bringing disaster on itself, Schwartz thinks it has brought disaster on the world.

For this she holds responsible the Bible—or rather, a Bible, since she believes there are two of them. The first is a Bible of “scarcity,” which portrays the world as a cruel place of rigid national, personal, and sexual identities. In this world there is not enough to go around. Life is a zero-sum game with right sides and wrong sides, in-groups and out-groups, elect and rejected; the rules have been dictated by an authoritarian God who assures His followers that, as members of the winning team, they have the right and even the obligation to dispossess the losers. And inherited from this Bible is “the monotheistic commitment to nationalism,” which “reduces all other gods to idols and all other worshipers to abominations.” It is this commitment that explains today “such seeming conundrums as the violence stemming from Islamic fundamentalism, the wars in South [sic] Africa and in Bosnia, and the proliferation of other violent clashes over identity commitments throughout the globe”—including, needless to say, Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

But opposed to this, Schwartz also believes, there is a second Bible, in whose light we must learn to walk. This is a femininely loving book of fluid boundaries in which there is sufficient bounty for all and Isaiah’s lion can lie down with the lamb: “an alternative Bible that subverts the dominant vision of violence and scarcity with an ideal of plenitude and its corollary ethical imperative of generosity . . . a Bible embracing multiplicity instead of monotheism.” True, such a Bible exists more as possibility than as a text, since apart from a few verses or chapters in the Pentateuch and the Prophets (which do not exactly forsake monotheism for “multiplicity,” either), there is not much to base it on. But never mind. Let the new scholar write a new Bible—by which, Schwartz explains,

I do not mean some partial commentary of sanctified unalterable authoritative texts, but a genuine rewriting of traditions: new creation stories, new exoduses, new losses, and new recoveries of what is lost. . . . The old “monotheistic” Bible must be closed so that the new books may be fruitful and multiply. After all, that was the first commandment.

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From whom have we heard all this before? Well, from early Christianity, for one. It did exactly what Schwartz calls for—replacing, as Paul puts it in his Epistle to the Romans, the “law of sin and death” of the Hebrew Bible with the “spirit of life” of the New Testament. And, of course, from Christian writers down through the centuries. And from anti-Christian Enlightenment writers like Gibbon and Voltaire, who accused the Jews of introducing group hatred and bigotry into a tolerant pagan world. For a new Jewish scholar, Schwartz is in some very old company.

One would like to think that, at this late date, there is little need to comment on the absurdity of her charge that mankind’s long chronicle of bloody warfare, ethnic and racial prejudice, and religious and ideological intolerance results from attitudes acquired from the Bible. It is as if she had never heard of the sack of Troy, the Indian caste system, the persecution of Buddhism under the T’ang Dynasty, the mass human sacrifices of their enemies practiced by the Aztecs, the savagery of Genghis Khan, Japanese barbarism in World War II, the horrors of the Pol Pot regime, or innumerable other cases of wholesale violence and exclusion practiced in the name of the “identity commitments” of pre- or non-monotheistic peoples.

And perhaps she has not, for, a professor of English at Northwestern University, she does not appear to have read much history—which could also have told her that, far from a biblical invention, “scarcity” has been the perennial fate of most of mankind. Faced with a rocky soil, undependable rainfall, inadequate water for irrigation, warlike neighbors, high royal taxes, and frequent raids by nomadic plunderers, the peasants and herders who were the ancient Israelites did not merely imagine that they lacked the conditions of plenitude.

Schwartz’s is, admittedly, an extreme case. Most of the new Jewish scholars are less cavalier about flying in the face of reality. Yet the historical and sociological evidence is not generally approached by them (as it would be by a traditional scholar) as material to be investigated in depth, augmented by further research, and rigorously weighed before appropriate conclusions are drawn from it. With exceptions—such as David Biale’s Eros and the Jews (1992), a book that applies postmodernist insights in a serious but open-minded manner—the conclusions of the new Jewish scholars all too often come first, with the data trailing selectively behind.

A typical example is Laura Levitt, assistant professor of religion at Temple University, who proposes in Jews and Feminism to carry out a “close rhetorical” reading of the ketubah, or traditional Jewish marriage contract. Although the wording of this document would impress any casual reader with the considerable obligations it imposes on the husband, who alone of the newlywed couple is made responsible for his partner’s financial, emotional, and “conjugal” (i.e., sexual) needs, Levitt feels deep “disappointment” both with the ketubah‘s “ideological agenda” and with the “legacy . . . of being a Jewish woman.” As an example of the ketubah‘s sexism, she notes its stipulation of the bride’s virginity as one of its contractual demands. By giving the husband “sole access to his wife’s body,” Levitt writes, the ketubah “presents an asymmetrical heterosexual relationship as the one and only sanctioned version of marriage. . . . There are clearly two unequal parties involved, a man and his wife.”

The trouble with Levitt’s “close rhetorical” reading is not only that it is totally ahistorical, treating the ketubah as a display of 20th-century machismo instead of the remarkably advanced legislation that it was for its time. It is also that, on the subject of the bride’s virginity, Levitt, while seeking to buttress her case with passages from the ancient rabbis, simply ignores the most clearly relevant one. This is in the Mishnaic tractate of Ketubot (roughly 3rd century C.E.), where we read:

If a man takes a wife and finds [after the wedding] that she is not a virgin, and she says to him, “I was raped after I was betrothed to you,” and he says, “No, it happened before I betrothed you and I was deceived”—Rabbi Gamliel and Rabbi Eliezer say: she is to be believed. Rabbi Yehoshua says: we cannot go by what she says . . . until she brings proof.

The key to this scenario is that the rabbis deliberately phrased it to make the bride appear to be lying—for what, really, are the chances of her having been raped, unbeknownst to anyone, in the period between her betrothal and her wedding? In this light, Gamliel and Eliezer’s ruling—which, the Talmud makes clear, is the legally binding one, Rabbi Yehoshua’s being rejected—is astounding. Even if, they assert, the woman has engaged in premarital sex of her own free will, her marital rights are to be defended by taking her (probably false) word over her husband’s. Exactly who, one must ask oneself, is the less equal party in the relationship?

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This does not mean that rabbinic Judaism is sexually egalitarian, or that it is necessarily carping to observe that the ketubah does not formally require virginity of the male partner (though, being unverifiable, male virginity is not a useful legal concept). The point is, rather, that once objective evidentiary truth is discarded as a theoretical possibility, let alone as a practical goal, historical writing slides easily into agitprop.

So widespread is this tendency among the new Jewish scholars, and so little troubled do most of them seem by it, that it is exceptional to come across Judith Hauptman, a professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary, pleading with her colleagues in Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies, “Rather than evaluate individual rabbinic texts by contemporary feminist standards, it is essential that each rabbinic work . . . be considered on its own terms and evaluated from the perspective of what its framers set out to accomplish in their own day.” Far more prevalent than this voice in the wilderness is that of the historian Beth Wenger, who writes in Judaism Since Gender: “If feminist theory has taught us anything, it is that the political dimensions of scholarship are inextricably intertwined with the production of knowledge.”

Not that Wenger and others needed feminist theory to teach them this; dialectical materialism could have done it just as well. Indeed, if one substituted “women” for “workers” and “patriarchy” for “ruling class,” it is hard to see in what major respects the new feminism and the old socialism differ. Both allegedly speak for an oppressed underclass that has been a historical constant; both attribute all the world’s injustices to this oppression, whether because war, racism, violence, and exploitation are unavoidable accompaniments of the concentration of wealth or because they are always associated with male dominance; both strive for the abolition of these ills through a revolution that will do away with all human inequality, replacing the old values of harsh competitiveness and possessiveness with new ones of gentle sharing and communion.

One wonders, then, whether the appearance and spread of feminist theory at a time of Marxism’s decline and passing is not a form of intellectual reincarnation. And one wonders, too, what sort of favor feminist theory is ultimately doing women by upholding a belief in, as the Yale historian Paula Hyman approvingly puts it in Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies, “the universal subordination of women in recorded history.” After all, if women have always, everywhere and without exception, been downtrodden by men, it would seem a matter of simple inductive reasoning to conclude, as some men indeed do, that it is the female’s nature to be trodden on and the male’s to do the treading.

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It is precisely here that feminist theory, which insists on the culturally-conditioned “constructedness” of all human identities, finds itself in serious trouble; for if sexual identity too is freely “constructed” independently of biological constraints, how explain the odd fact that all known cultures just happen to have constructed it inimically (as feminists would have it) to women? And the new Jewish scholarship only underlines this question still further when it rejects “apologetic” Jewish claims (made by Wissenschaft scholars, among others) that the historical position of Jewish women was often markedly better than that of non-Jewish ones.

That gender roles often do seem to have been construed differently by Jews is widely accepted. Especially in times and places where rabbinic authority was strong, Jewish ideals of masculinity, at least as transmitted to us by written sources, appear to have departed significantly from Gentile ones, placing a high value on traits like studiousness, forbearance, and reactive patterns of passive endurance, and placing a low or negative value on physical prowess and courage, self-assertiveness, and sexual libido. Similarly, Jewish ideals of womanhood sometimes also diverged from Gentile norms, “valorizing” worldly practicality and economic initiative more than sexual attractiveness, docility, or a trusting reliance on men.

One could imagine these differences being celebrated by the new Jewish scholarship: here at last, it would seem, is historical proof both of the mutability of sexual roles and of their positive transformation in a feminist direction. And yet, as with Laura Levitt’s reading of the ketubah, this is not the light in which they have generally been regarded. The dominant judgment is expressed by Naomi Seidman—who, in discussing the “feminization of Jewish men” in 19th-century Eastern Europe, writes in Judaism Since Gender that this phenomenon was nevertheless “thoroughly dependent on a patriarchal system whose hierarchies and misogyny it encode[d] and even enforce[d].”

One can see Seidman’s logic: since the male world of study and ritual was held, even by women, in higher esteem than female pursuits, and was more generative of social power, female exclusion from it could be considered “misogynist.” Moreover, the “economic woman” of the shtetl rarely engaged in much more than the home production of simple goods, peddling, or shopkeeping. Though less arduous, her life was hardly more independent than that of a Russian peasant woman who might also be expected to do “men’s work” in the fields.

But was her husband better off? As is the case with many feminists, who, overlooking the power often wielded by women in the home, refuse to grant the slightest dignity or satisfaction to traditional female lives while wildly glamorizing the lives of working men, the new Jewish scholars tend to ignore what life was like even for those males who successfully made it into the rabbinical world of study and authority.

Their deprivation began when they were boys, robbed of their childhood by having to spend daylight hours in a dreary heder, absorbing rote knowledge from an often frustrated and irascible teacher. It continued when they were adolescents, sent far from home to study in distant yeshivas, frequently penniless and compelled to cadge meals from reluctant families while closeted day-in and day-out with the same endless volumes of the Talmud. And it did not necessarily end in adulthood, when most worked as small-town rabbis who earned a living by inspecting the innards of chickens and giving lessons to the children of the rich on whom their meager salaries depended. Lucky was the girl, one might say, who was spared all this.

Few Jewish men in the shtetl, moreover, became rabbis or religious functionaries. Most worked as tailors, shoemakers, petty artisans, petty tradesmen, wagon drivers, peddlers, tavern keepers, porters, small entrepreneurs. They labored hard, long, and more often than not in poverty, and if they had the comforts of public rituals that were often off-limits to women, these included such misogynist pleasures as rising in the middle of the night for penitential prayers during the entire month of Elul or giving up the only morning of the week they could rest their tired bodies in order to trudge to synagogue on icy winter Sabbaths.

The paradoxical thing about the new Jewish scholars is that, although they presume to speak for the disempowered, their writing of history is elitist to the core. From their theorizing heights, they look down on the past through a thick fog of abstraction that hides the common Jew. They honestly seem to have no idea of what it is like to rise in a freezing house, to put food on the table for hungry children when there is not enough of it, to work all day with a needle or an awl, to struggle, suffer, fall ill, die, see others die—and to do all this in the company of a wife or a husband with whom, even if there was no love felt (though often, literary sources tell us, there was), one had to pull together in order to survive. Under a mantle of sympathy for the everyday experience that “conventional” history ignores, the new scholars exhibit no little contempt for it.

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This elitism has another consequence. When speaking of their own society, Jews in Eastern Europe used to divide it into a majority of proste yidn or “plain Jews” and a minority of sheyne yidn or “fine Jews”—that is, into the ordinary people and the better-educated and more refined. Although most of the new scholars have little feel for, or empathy with, the actual texture of the lives of either group, they are in the position of siding theoretically with the “plain Jews” while actually and almost instinctively identifying with the “fine.” This is why someone like Daniel Boyarin can, in his Unheroic Conduct, treat the figure of the “feminized Jewish man,” sociologically far more sheyn than prost, and by no means the representative East European Jewish male, as a universal type, and then proceed to offer him up as a role model.

And yet Boyarin is the most interesting of the new scholars. In his thinking, he executes the intellectual equivalent of a balletic split, which ends with one leg pointing toward religious Orthodoxy (of which he is an avowed practitioner) and the other toward a militant identification with radical feminism and “gay, lesbian, and bisexual Jews (and the Queer Nation as a whole).” Outflanking the majority of his colleagues in both directions, he is both allied with them and sui generis.

His project in Unheroic Conduct is fourfold. In the first place, it is to establish, through a close reading of rabbinic texts, that the “feminized Jewish male” (and to a lesser extent, the “masculinized Jewish woman”) has been not just a late East European development but a normative model for Jewish men throughout the entire post-biblical period.

Secondly, Boyarin argues that, although this product of a culture “within which ‘real men’ were sissies” marked a great step forward in male sexual attitudes, it did not go far enough. Since it stopped short of actually admitting women into the male “locker room” of the synagogue and the study house, it remained, just as scholars like Naomi Seidman charge, male-chauvinist.

Thirdly, according to Boyarin, much of 19th-and 20th-century Jewish social history can be understood as a reaction to these anomalous Jewish “engenderments.” Such disparate phenomena as the rise of the bourgeois Jewish family in Central and Western Europe and the spread of Zionism were attempts at cultural assimilation, whose central thrust was to remasculinize the “Jewish male femme” (and refeminize the Jewish woman) by recreating him in the image of European manhood. Here Boyarin particularly singles out Zionism for disapprobation; through its idealization of the “muscle Jew,” it represented a flight from the effeminate stereotype that a “homophobic” European culture had affixed on Jewish men emerging from the ghetto.

Lastly, while conceding that Orthodox Judaism has itself remained homophobic and misogynistic—like most feminists, he thinks these two attitudes go together of necessity—Boyarin still believes that, thanks to its long history of unconventional thinking about gender, Orthodoxy offers promising ground for revolutionary feminist reform. He sums up:

Two forms of critical work need to be engaged at the same time. One is directed at a critique of traditional Jewish culture and gender practice, while the other mobilizes aspects of that practice in order to demystify dominant ideologies of gender within the large cultural and social context. One argues for the potential and necessity for radical change within traditional Judaism, while the other argues that traditional [Jewish] culture has something to offer in the effort to produce radical change within the culture of “the West.”

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Besides being well-read and intellectually agile, Boyarin can be an amusing provocateur. Since he is so much cleverer than the other new Jewish scholars, it is almost possible, despite the kinkiness of his views and his extreme hostility toward Israel, to read him with something approaching pleasure. More often, though, one reads him with something like dread.

The danger is not that these views will conquer Orthodoxy, which is the last bastion that will fall to them. It is rather that, much as one might like to regard the new scholarship as a passing phase in Jewish intellectual life, its proponents are already too strongly entrenched for this. Given that most of them are young, with long careers still ahead of them in which they will produce many students as their heirs, American Jews will be living with their thinking for decades to come.

For a non-Orthodox American Jewish community that even now is suffering from a loss of boundaries and a deep confusion about its identity; a decline of the family as its core unit; a low birth rate and a high rate of exogamous marriage; falling participation of men as compared with women; a growing distancing from Israel and Jews in other countries and a consequently weakened sense of ethnic solidarity and Jewish peoplehood; and a general uncertainty as to how Jews differ from non-Jews or should want to, this is not good news. Rather than providing such a community with the intellectual leadership it needs, the new scholars will only increase its anomie.

No one can predict the outcome of the sexual revolution that America is now in the throes of, and that dwarfs any of its predecessors in its concentrated assault on fundamentals of male and female behavior that have been taken for granted by nearly all human beings until now. No one can say whether men or women are built to withstand this assault, or what the results may be if they are not. And no one knows what a world lacking firm notions of masculinity and femininity, or of the distinctions between them, would be like. But it is chilling for custodians of the history of a people who taught mankind that it was created, male and female, in God’s image to join the serpent of delusory omnipotence in whispering in our ear that we can become like gods, and that we can with impunity remake our pasts and ourselves, sexually and in every other way, as we please.

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Footnotes

1 Chicago, 228 pp., $22.95.

2 Routledge, 240 pp., $65.00.

3 California, 424 pp., $50.00.

4 Edited by Lynn Davidman and Shelley Tenenbaum. Yale, 304 pp., $35.00.

5 Edited by Miriam Peskowitz and Laura Levitt. Routledge, 241 pp., $65.00.

6 Edited by Jonathan Boyarin and Daniel Boyarin. Minnesota, 392 pp., $57.95.

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About the Author

Hillel Halkin is a columnist for the New York Sun and a veteran contributor to COMMENTARY. Portions of the present essay were delivered at Northwestern University in March as the Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization.




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