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Jewish Queer Woman Bodies and (New) Materialities of Reproduction

Tue, December 19, 8:30 to 10:00am, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, George Washington University

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


These papers explore different formulations of Jewish women's bodies within dominant materialities of reproduction. Together, they take up complex and interactive articulations of sex and gender through shifts in women’s bodily experiences that are queer: neither male nor female but which play with and work against such a binary. Naomi Seidman describes the performative bodies of cross-dressing Bais Yaakov students in interwar Poland, asking about the role of theater in reimagining Orthodox girlhood. Shira Schwartz’s paper explores the shifting reproductive capacities of woman yeshiva students, whose entrances into the world of Torah study intervene in the very formation of yeshiva study as a male practice. Her paper looks at how these bodies articulate themselves between and through genders as they become part of this educationally reproductive lineage. Dory Fox’s paper explores the biology of queer inheritance through the bilingual poetry of Irena Klepfisz. Working against a notion of queerness as immaterial or anti-biological, Fox looks at how Klepfisz’s “Queer Yiddishkeit” networks itself through rather than against the biological body.

Through these papers, we collectively take up the critical turn toward the study of the body across the humanities and social sciences. While Jewish Studies has long been invested in questions of inheritance and material kinship, the breadth of new approaches to the study of the body through fields like new materialisms, post humanism and disability studies have deepened and altered our notions of what a body is. In a field so focused on the materiality of inheritance, how can we rethink Jewish reproductivity? This is particularly relevant to our notions of Queer Jewish bodies, which intervene in dominant constructions of Jewish reproduction, and Queer Jewish Woman bodies, whose own historical reading as reproductive in a traditional sense, often erases their self-defined capacities. We take up these four categories of being together, Jewish, Queer, Woman and Body, looking at how they engage or disengage various forms of reproduction: the biological, performative and educational. In doing so, we hope to draw from these nascent turns, which posture new possibilities for understanding the normalization of bodies across these terms.

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