Associate 1992-93

Gary G Porton


The Feminine in Rabbinic Literature

Judaism is viewed as an androcentric religion. Its God is male, its major documents were written by males for males, and its ideal-type is a male over the age of thirteen. However, its major symbols are feminine, especially those through which Israel's relationship to her deity is expressed. The shekhinah, God's presence in the world, the torah, the record of God's revelation, hokhmah, the wisdom through which God created reality, the halakhah the system which describes the code of human action, the aggadah, the stories which delineate human values, the sabbath, the one period of holy time which both God and humankind observe, and erets yisrael, the geographic locality through which Israel's positive or negative relationship to God is made manifest, are all feminine nouns.

The proposed study will examine the concept of the "feminine" in rabbinic literature with a goal of unpacking the nature of those symbols which express the relationship between the Deity and humankind. Such an investigation will allow a better understanding of the complex nature of the Divine as expressed in rabbinic literature. The analysis will determine those traits which feminine entities share, and those characteristics which differentiate the feminine from the masculine, so that we might gain a deeper understanding of the roles of "masculine" and "feminine" phenomena in Judaism in antiquity. Ultimately, the study seeks to determine whether or not the relationship between God and humankind is mediated by feminine entities in a way which would allow the attribution of feminine, as well as masculine, attributes to the rabbinic God.