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Superimposing Rabbinic Gender Economies onto the Priestly Legacy of Gender-Neutrality and Gender-Inclusivity

Tue, December 18, 12:45 to 2:15pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Beacon Hill 1 Complex


Among the Bible’s legal sources, P is notable for its concerted efforts to disambiguate the gender of law’s primary legal subjects. P adopts the complementary strategies of, on one hand, using terms like ZACHAR to clarify when laws apply to males only and, on the other, of indicating male and female subjects explicitly by employing terms that do not ascribe social gender (e.g., ‘ADAM or NEFESH) or by naming both men and women (e.g., ‘ISH ‘O ‘ISHAH) as subjects. P strikingly avails itself of the full range of gender possibilities, specifying gender-exclusivity (males only), gender-neutrality and gender-inclusivity (males and females).
Against this backdrop, it is surprising to find that midrashim from the schools of both R. Ishmael and R. Akiba do not regard P’s gender-neutral and gender-inclusive laws as addressing men and women equally. Instead, tannaitic midrashim read P's cases of explicit gender-inclusivity and gender-neutrality as instances where men are natural and self-evident subjects and women are secondary subjects whose relationship to the law needs to be determined. This paper argues that the rabbinic performance of gendered identities in the corporate household influences this pattern of ascribing social gender to the addressees of biblical law. In the rabbinic household, a male householder occupies a privileged position of authority over a cohort of dependents that includes his wife, children, and servants or slaves. Likewise, in the midrashically reconstituted biblical text, a male subject stands at the center, surrounded by a cohort of ancillary subjects (women, minors and slaves) whose relationship to the law is determined by their relationship to him.


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