I am deeply thankful to have had the opportunity to write this book while living in Jerusalem for a year. Spending time in Israel was spiritually satisfying and intellectually stimulating. Unfortunately, many catastrophic events took place during that year, including the assassination of a peace-seeking prime minister and a series of bus bombings that killed innocent people. As far away as the ultimate resolution of the conflict seems, I would like to believe that day by day, however imperceptibly, it grows closer.
Many people generously gave of their time to read and critique this manuscript. The following brief statements hardly reflect the intensity of my gratitude to them. Robert Brody, associate professor of Talmud at the Hebrew University, read and commented on the entire manuscript; Rabbi Shmuel Sandberg, formerly a professor of English at the City University of New York, did the same, while also paying attention to felicitous expression; Susan E. Shapiro, assistant professor of Jewish Thought and Philosophy of Religion at Columbia University, read the greater part of the manuscript, discussed it with me at length, and made many important suggestions for its improvement; Noam Gavriely, a physician and head of the Pulmonary Physiology Unit at Rambam Hospital/Technion, read much of the manuscript and commented on it from a medical and humanist perspective; Lippman Bodoff, an attorney, brought to a number of chapters his legal sensibility and training; Shaye J. D. Cohen, professor of Judaic Studies at Brown University, made many helpful comments on the chapter on Niddah; Shamma Friedman, distinguished service professor of Talmud at the Bet Midrash in Jerusalem and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and Athalya Brenner, professor of Bible at the University of Amsterdam, spent time discussing various issues with me.
The manuscript also benefited from the editorial advice of Ellen Frankel of the Jewish Publication Society, from extensive editorial attention by Beth Berkowitz, and from the research assistance of Naomi Lubarr, Avigayl Young, and Orit Kent.
I am also indebted to Marian Safran at Westview Press for her excellent comments. She brought this entire manuscript to a higher level of clarity, consistency, and pleasing expression. I wish to thank Fern Zekbakh for the fine indices.
I would also like to thank the Stroock Foundation for its fellowship assistance.
My husband, Milton Adesnik, and my three teenage sons, Ariel, Moshe, and Hillel, not only supported my project in general, but also expressed interest in every detail, often debating subtle points of Talmudic logic with me and stopping me from drawing unwarranted, although highly appealing, conclusions.
While in Israel, I spent Sunday nights teaching a women’s Talmud class and discussing different parts of the manuscript with the class. Their collective insight has woven itself into much of the textual analysis. I thank all of these women.
I am dedicating this book to Judy Hurwich, of blessed memory, a legendary Jerusalemite, in whose home, or more accurately, salon, these Talmud sessions took place. It was she who initiated the study group and energetically and enthusiastically kept it going. Her death on the road in August 1996 saddened us all. Like the rabbis of the Talmud who appear in this book, she tirelessly sought and even fought to improve women’s status in ritual and law. Also like them, she was torn between her loyalty to the texts and practices of the past and her unwavering commitment to the ethical stances of the present. May we be inspired by her life.
The practice of Judaism in the United States today, and also around the world, differs greatly from what it was as little as twenty years ago. Much of this change was spurred on by the emergence in the early 1970s of a feminist critique of Judaism. Whereas at that time female rabbis, cantors, and Talmud teachers and students were unheard of or scarce, today they abound. As more and more talented individuals—men and women alike—devote themselves to the spread of Jewish ideas and practice, they contribute to the continuing appeal and viability of the Jewish heritage. This book attempts to present the Talmudic basis for welcoming women into the full-fledged membership ranks of the Jewish people.
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