The Torah: A Women’s Commentary is a great new resource, from women Torah scholars highlighting women in the Torah and women’s perspectives on the Torah.
URJ publicity calls their volume a “groundbreaking new development in Jewish literature and Torah study.” It was lauded as a “pioneering work” in the Everett Family Foundation “Jewish Book of the Year” announcement for 2008. While the volume itself strikes me as, overall, a great new resource in Torah, URJ expectations for it seem to me misaligned with today’s reality and with what this volume can provide (please see “New ‘Ball of Fire’?“).Most importantly, I believe that aiming to bring women “into the center of the page” in 2008 should be accompanied by bringing men and contemporary male perspectives center-page as well.
Women do a disservice to ourselves and to men, I think, by continuing to ask key Torah questions — about sexuality, relationships, identity, life cycle, etc. — without actively involving men: Do we assume that — because they were male, ancient, medieval or 20th Century commentaries speak for today’s Jewish men?
In 1992, when the URJ volume was conceived, it might have made sense to focus on previously marginalized women. But a lot of Torah has happened in the intervening years.
Many men and women have long since learned to recognize, and listen for, un-named and largely silent women in the Torah. Women and men, from many walks of Jewish life, have wrestled with texts that appear to demean women, foreigners and “others.” So, one danger in calling the 2008 volume “groundbreaking” is that it appears to dismiss the efforts of the many — women and men — who plowed ahead in bringing the Torah’s women out of the shadows.
Another danger is that, instead of breaking ground for a new endeavor, we are digging ourselves a rut….While there’s still a place for single-gender learning. It’s high time to leave our study mechitza [gender-based barrier] and figure out how — in the words of Merle Feld’s “We All Stood Together ” — men and women can “remember [our Torah] together…recreate holy time, sparks flying.”
And, just as was writing this, I received an email announcing the new Modern Men’s Torah Commentary! Have a copy on hold at the bookstore but have not seen inside it yet. Maybe there’s some new direction here. (Update 2013: I have been using this book for years now and high recommend it.)