What development in Jewish studies over the last twenty years has most excited you?

Riv-Ellen Prell

University of Minnesota

I have been riveted by the intellectual revolution created by feminist scholarship in Jewish studies, a scholarship that has grown to include gender and sexuality over the past two decades. As an anthropologist interested in American-Jewish culture and modern Jewish history this scholarship expanded and reframed my understanding of what and who shaped practice and culture. I recall Marion Kaplan's The Making of the Jewish Middle Class and Paula Hyman's Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History as key texts for me because they raised far-reaching questions about the ways in which modernity and acculturation were powerfully driven by women, family, and private life. As feminist historians were reframing social, economic, and political life, cultural studies scholars reframed studies of Jewish texts by focusing on the body and sexuality. I look back to the foundational work of Rachel Adler, Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, and Daniel Boyarin on the body in rabbinic texts, The next generation of thinkers included both Miriam Peskowitz and Laura Levitt whose work examined the ways that gender shaped texts, tradition, and the field of Jewish studies. The central questions of what it means to be a Jew, where Jewish life is practiced, how it is represented over time and space are most powerfully addressed through feminist scholarship. The meeting place of historical and cultural studies for me is the conversation created by feminist studies. Feminist and Jewish studies scholarship have met in productive ways in part because both fields challenged conventional boundaries of knowledge by integrating the study of culture and history through the experience of outsiders who threatened accepted norms. By acknowledging that reality is mediated by gender (and in the past twenty years an ever-growing set of identities), I discovered a radically different understanding of Jewish experience.