1st Edition

Jewish Women Between Conformity and Agency

By Katharina Galor Copyright 2024
    312 Pages 123 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Jewish Women: Between Conformity and Agency examines the concepts of gender and sexuality through the primary lens of visual and material culture from antiquity through to the present day.

    The backbone of this transhistorical and transcontextual study is the question of Jewish women’s agency in four different geographical, chronological, and methodological contexts, beginning with women’s dress codes in Roman-Byzantine Syro-Palestine, continuing with rituals of purity in medieval Ashkenaz, worship in papal Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin, and ending with marriage and divorce in Israeli film. Each of these explorations is interested in creating a dialogue between the patriarchal legacy of the traditional texts and the chronologically corresponding visual and material culture. The author challenges traditional approaches to the study of Jewish culture by employing tools from art history, archaeology, and film and media studies. In each of these different contexts, there is ample evidence that women—despite persistent overall structural discrimination—have found ways to challenge male constructs of gender norms. Ultimately, these examples from past and present times highlight women’s eminence in shaping Jewish history and culture.

    Bringing a new interdisciplinary lens to the study of the history of gender and sexuality, the book will be of interest to students and researchers of Jewish history and culture, art history, archaeology, and film studies.

    List of Figures


    Introduction: Anonymous Portraits 

    1 Social Skin in Roman-Byzantine Syro-Palestine 

    2 Ritual Purity in Medieval Ashkenaz 

    3 Sacred Space in Papal Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin 

    4 Marriage and Divorce in Israeli Film 

    Conclusion: Patriarchy and Feminism

    Appendix: Filmography



    Katharina Galor is the Hirschfeld Senior Lecturer in Judaic Studies at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Her recent publications include The Archaeology of Jerusalem: From the Origins to the Ottomans (2013); Finding Jerusalem: Archaeology between Science and Ideology (2017); and The Moral Triangle: Germans, Israelis, Palestinians (2020).

    "This is a one-of-a-kind study of the lives, experience and self-determination of women as part of Jewish history. Combining her formidable expertise as an archaeologist with her singular ability to master other fields, Galor can move across time and space in a way that very few scholars can, and the result is a remarkable tableau—an account that comes as close as any book can to a three dimensional image of Jewish women at different periods of history. The book is also exceptional for the way it brings different subfields of Jewish history into a larger picture—very few recent books have accomplished this kind of intellectual integration with such depth and acuity."

    Steve Weitzman, University of Pennsylvania, United States

    "What a rich treasure! From historical traces, Jewish Women animates the stories of ordinary women who lived over the last two thousand years, offering insights into how they thought, acted, spoke, clothed and styled their bodies, bathed in ritual pools, worshipped, married, and divorced. Female agency, Galor makes evident, is nothing new; Jewish women have, for millennia, challenged patriarchal norms, shaping their own lives and history itself."

    Karen Skinazi, Associate Professor of Literature and Culture, University of Bristol, United Kingdom