Bookmark and Share

For Educators

Reading Jewish Women
Marginality and Modernization in Nineteenth-Century Eastern European Jewish Society
Iris Parush

Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry

Brandeis University Press
2004 • 368 pp. 6 x 9 1/4"
Jewish Studies / Women's Studies / Medieval History

$29.95 Paperback, 978-1-58465-367-7

“Parush's book is a serious step towards recovering a remarkable picture of Eastern European Jewish life at a turbulent point in history. It is a pioneering work that serves to integrate Jewish women's experience into the socio-cultural discussion of Jewish communities' encounter with modernity."Haaretz

A fascinating look at how the marginal status of Jewish women enabled them to become agents of modernization in nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewish society.

In this extraordinary volume, Iris Parush opens up the hitherto unexamined world of literate Jewish women, their reading habits, and their role in the cultural modernization of Eastern European Jewish society in the nineteenth century. Parush makes a paradoxical claim: she argues that because Jewish women were marginalized and neglected by rabbinical authorities who regarded men as the bearers of religious learning, they were free to read secular literature in German, Yiddish, Polish, and Russian. As a result of their exposure to a wealth of literature, these reading women became significant conduits for Haskalah (Enlightenment) ideas and ideals within the Jewish community.

This deceptively simple thesis dramatically challenges and revamps both scholarly and popular notions of Jewish life and learning in nineteenth-century Eastern Europe. While scholars of European women’s history have been transforming and complicating ideas about the historical roles of middle-class women for some time, Parush is among the first scholars to work exclusively in Jewish territory. The book will be a very welcome introduction to many facets of modern Jewish cultural history—particularly the role of women—which have too long been ignored.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS


"This book is an extraordinarily rich and unusual window into the society of Jewish women in the nineteenth-century. With fascinating details about girls' secular and Jewish education and revealing extracts from memoirs and novels, Parush underlines the crucial role of women in spreading the spirit of the Enlightenment and modernization throughout East European Jewish society."
Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance Journal

"In this brilliant book, literary scholar Iris Parush has presented a compelling case for the central role of Jewish women in the modernization of Eastern European Jews in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Iris Parush has made a most compelling case for her thesis that in the struggle for modernization, Jewish women benefited from their own marginality, a marginality that provided them with a space to read and absorb modern ideas, and then to spread those ideas to Jewish society at large. Skillfully using references to women from the memoirs of men (and from the few written by women), she has painted a nuanced and thorough portrait of the major role played by women in the modernization of Jewish society in Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century. Reading Jewish Women is thus a very satisfying book."
H-Net Review

"A provocative thesis . . . with extensive, in-depth research into the European and Jewish enlightenment and exhaustive analysis of the literary and literacy environment of the period. The 126 pages of notes, bibliography and index support the thesis brilliantly."Jewish Book World

IRIS PARUSH teaches Hebrew Literature at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Her current scholarly writing explores the cultural, social, and ideological resonances of Haskalah literature and the impact of national ideology on the formation of the modern Hebrew literary canon. The Hebrew edition of Reading Jewish Women won the prestigious Zalman Shazar Prize for Jewish History.

Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:49:12 -0500