Contemporary Jews are as likely to view their tradition as a source of oppressive gender roles as they are to see it as an inspiration to activism for feminism or as a resource for queer identities. This course follows the construction of Jewish gender beyond the stereotypes, sometimes in collision with modern gender norms, sometimes in accommodation, and sometimes in open rebellion. It considers challenges to both demographic and cultural reproduction that place pressure on personal decisions, group dynamics, identity, and intergroup relations for members of minority religions.  By juxtaposing modern scholarship with religious texts addressing gender in Judaism, the course incorporates historical accounts of the anxieties and opportunities that accompanied the construction of modern Jewish gender identities as well as textual traditions opening alternative possibilities. 


Gender as a key marker of group identity forms a central axis of inquiry through three case studies:

Jewish masculinities, from ideals of Talmud study and military service to comic book superheroes

Ultra-orthodox communities, in which the rejection of modern gender roles is a defining tenet

Jews as critics of gender and sexuality, including feminist and trans engagement with Jewish tradition


Pedagogically, the course draws on historical approaches and on developments in non-halachic Torah study closely tied to changing conceptions of gender in Judaism.  Rather than assuming a fixed set of Jewish teachings about gender that confronted non-Jewish gender systems with the advent of modernity and Americanization, it invites students to participate in the ongoing process of questioning the meaning of religious texts in relation to human experience. Guest interlocutor, Yakir Englander, will visit the class twice to introduce the project of reading classical Jewish texts in modern perspectives and the practice of havruta (text study in pairs or groups). A product of both a traditional yeshivah education and a doctorate in feminist theory, Englander combines these approaches to open the topic of gender and Judaism beyond Western academic approaches. Teaching Fellow Emily Rogal, HDS alum and Rabbinical student at Hebrew College, will also lead text study throughout the term. Jointly offered with Harvard Divinity School as HDS 2050.

To enroll send a paragraph to expressing your reasons for interest in the course and any relevant background.  HDS students should apply as soon as possible but no later than Thursday, Jan. 20 and will be notified whether they have been admitted no later than Friday, Jan. 21.  FAS students should apply by Jan. 18 and will be notified by Jan. 19.