Jewish Women In Medieval Ashkenaz Essay

1836 words - 8 pages

Medieval Jewish society, like all traditional Jewish culture, was run by patriarchal hierarchy “Philosophical, medical, and religious views of the time all supported the view that men were superior to women both in nature and in deed” . Women’s position in society was secondary in comparison to that of men. They were characterized as lightheaded, weak, easily seduced, and linked to sorcery.
This essay will focus on the Jewish women living in the medieval society of Ashkenaz, a region of northern France and Germany, around the time of 1000-1300 CE. Several questions will be addressed pertaining to the social status, educational opportunities, and their participation in society will be examined. Although not much was written about the women of that time, scholars who have analyzed translated Hebrew texts, laws, religious rituals, municipal records, and medical texts can provide arguments with careful insight into their lives. Avraham Grossman, a Professor of Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Elisheva Baumgarten both advocate the argument of women advancing in society, however they also provided some contrasting insight. In Grossman’s Pious and Rebellious: Jewish Women in Medieval Europe, he examined how several legal rulings made by Rabbi Gershom empowered women in the social, religious, and economic sphere, while discrimination in education held them back. Baumgarten, who mentions Grossman’s work in Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, and her other novel Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe expanded Grossman’s argument further into the religious sphere, focusing on rituals ,which dominated Jewish society. She focused on empowerment and discrimination women went through in society in relation to the religious aspect of their lives.
In Jewish society, women were expected to be obedient of their husbands and fathers, and to obey their societies male leadership . Women were married off at a young age, most frequently at twelve years old, and gave birth to children before they were emotionally ready. Furthermore, they endured violence by their husbands who treated them like children. Their husbands would often go away on business trips to the Muslim world, and abandon their wives while marrying another, and then abandon their second wives after years abroad to return to their first. Jewish laws prevented women from taking action to defend themselves from their unfaithful husbands. Authorities made it difficult for women to obtain a divorce because women were stereotypically characterized as rebellious . Around 1000 CE, Rabbi Gershrom issued two different prohibitions. One was against polygamy, and the other prevented women from being divorced against their will. A woman could initiate divorce and even force it on her husband, if she found the situation fit. The rulings also stated that women wouldn’t lose their economic rights, and were allowed to take back property they had...

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