On completing the ICJW Bea Zucker On-Line Torah Study Program

There are very many parshat hashavua-weekly Torah study resources available on the web these days. Some of them are excellent. Why another one?

Painting-midrash by Indian-American artist Siona Benjamin, from the project "Women of the Book", founded and directed by Shoshana Gugenheim

Painting-midrash on parshat Naso by Indian-American artist Siona Benjamin, from the project “Women of the Book”, founded and directed by Shoshana Gugenheim

Before I began to write the ICJW parsha study course, I had already created a 10-part series on Biblical Women. For that series, I chose some less well-known women and applied my gender-analytic approach to the text and traditional commentators – respectful while critical and often provocative. Addressing feminism to biblical characters is a relatively known phenomenon; many Christians and Jews have studied and taught “women in the bible”. However, parshat hashavua poses intriguing challenges. In many of the chapters of the Torah, there is no woman character whatsoever.
One of my goals for this project was to develop and offer students a sustained investigation of every weekly Torah reading from a feminist perspective. Jewish feminism goes far beyond ritual questions, and it is not even only about women. Indeed, I often purposely choose not to fulfill expectations and work on a woman character, but to focus my lens on less self-evident gender issues. Jewish feminist interpretation is a fruitful, meaningful and compelling method for approaching any text and context. I probe ethical considerations, assumptions and implications, not only in study and theory, but in contemporary personal life and society. Distribution of resources and power, decision-making processes, cultural-religious norms and practices, un- and under-expressed voices, imagery, iconography, language, aesthetics are among the areas of my feminist scrutiny. Some of the urgent challenges derive from contradictions among Jewish meta-values and attitudes toward women and the other.
Painting-midrash on parshat Devarim by Polish artist Mira-Zelechower-Aleksiun from the project "Women of the Book", founded and directed by Shoshana Gugenheim

Painting-midrash on parshat Devarim by Polish artist Mira-Zelechower-Aleksiun from the project “Women of the Book”, founded and directed by Shoshana Gugenheim

Each session is designed to spur individuals, hevruta partners and/or groups toward inquisitive study, to open unexpected possibilities, to stimulate personal engagement with the text together with our lives and experience – this has always been the rabbinic project. Jewish feminism continues the expectations and purposes of the sages who held Judaism to be an inspiring ethical and spiritual tradition, passionate, dynamic and relevant to daily life, to minuscule and grand matters of mind, body and soul. It is my intention that this resource, the product of four and a half years of effort, enable women and men who thirst for Torah study to improve the quality of our Jewish life and practice.

I express my appreciation to Zvi Zohar for his valuable feedback throughout this process. His often gracious suggestions, and sometimes subtle outrage, are part of the fabric of the course.
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