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Zwi Werblowsky and Geoffrey Wigoder. New York: Oxford University Press, , pp. Chava Weissler was born in in Washington, D. Her grandparents were immigrants who each came to the United States alone, as young teenagers, from the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.

Susan Ackerman

Among the formative experiences of her youth were attendance at Jewish summer camps, especially Camp Ramah in Connecticut, and Habonim Camp Moshava in Maryland, and membership in the Labor Zionist youth group, Habonim. Jointly, these experiences inspired her to her single greatest intellectual achievement to date, teaching herself Hebrew at the age of As a young woman, Weissler attended Brandeis University, where she majored in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, graduating summa cum laude with departmental honors in She spent her junior year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

As an undergraduate, she specialized in medieval Jewish mysticism and philosophy. For her senior thesis, under the supervision of Alexander Altmann, she made an annotated translation of a manuscript of a portion of the Sefer Hokhmat ha-Nefesh of Eleazar ben Judah of Worms. Like many young people, Weissler then entered a period of uncertainty about her future career.

The usual next step for an aspiring scholar of Jewish studies would have been to enter the rabbinical program of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America; however, women were not at that time admitted to the rabbinical program. For this reason, she took what seemed, in those days, to be the next logical career choice: she became a secretary.

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She worked at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D. While in graduate school, she worked at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, thus getting in by the back door. In , after receiving an M. No, she does not really know Albanian. She found it such a pleasure to be using her mind in an academic setting once again that she determined to return to graduate school.

Chava E. Weissler | Department of Religion

In the fall of , she began the doctoral program in Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in Jewish Folklore. About a year into the program, Weissler developed the intellectual perspective that still informs her research. She realized that she wished to look at Judaism and Jewish life from the perspective of a folklorist, with attention to the religious lives of ordinary people rather than elites, and special interest in ritual, food, narrative, devotional literature, and the aesthetics of everyday life. Weissler was interested in the ways that members constructed fairly traditional Jewish lives for themselves, despite their ambivalences about both tradition and modernity.

Upon completion of her degree in , Weissler accepted the position of Mellon Preceptor of Modern Judaism in the Religion Department a t Princeton University, where she taught until Weissler began this research in earnest during the academic year , when she sp ent the spring semester at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the catalog of the Jewish National and University Library, she found over cards for tkhines, prayers in Yiddish written for and sometimes by women.

In these decisions, Rabbi Feinstein is responsive to women and clarifies their halakhic significance. The divisions between men and women, especially in the realm of synagogue, which has come to be regarded as the locus of religion, express a male supremacy. The me h i z ah , the prime symbol of the separation of men and women, is grounded in the mandate to maintain awe and eliminate frivolity during prayers.

Significantly, the me h i z ah applies both to public behavior and to men and women equally IM OH In the synagogue male and female separation is inviolate and even biblical, having nothing to do with sexual impropriety or female inferiority. Optimally, he believes, the only way to prevent adults from breaching sexual boundaries is to keep men and women separate in all possible formats.

He consistently cautions against any contact, even handshaking.


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Even in cases where the law might permit contact, such as at school or at a wedding, he advises those capable of a more pious lifestyle to refrain from all possible encounters. Consistent with talmudic sources, Rabbi Feinstein accepts the notion that men have a greater capacity for distractions and need more restraint. Women may see men in synagogue; it is better if men do not see women IM OH Contrary to past standards, Jewish men and women as adults today have constant contact in the workplace and school environment.

The business world is rendered neutral and behavior that is elsewhere prohibited is permitted there. Female-male propinquity, so feared in the synagogue, is not a problem on the subway. Mistrust of the moral degeneracy of America is replaced by an appreciation and acceptance of the American work ethic. In one responsum IM YD , he justifies hiring a woman as a mashgia h , a position usually reserved for men.

When criticized for that permissive ruling, he responds with a strong defense IM YD And in that document, he develops sources that would allow women to assume leadership roles in the political or business world. There are no apologies, few distinctions and no special warnings. Rabbi Moses Feinstein does not consciously or purposefully discriminate against women. Yet his decisions emanate from a patriarchal culture and evince a pervasive and implicit standard of gender distinction and sexual segregation.

In his eloquent argument in defense of Judaism in IM OH , he reveals his acceptance of the notion of gender equality coupled with a strong commitment to the ideal of separate but equal. Feinstein, Moses. Iggerot Moshe IM. New York: — Interpretations of Moshe Hebrew.

New York: ; Idem. English version. Translated by Rabbi Avrohom Yosief Rosenberg. Sayings of Moshe. New York: [—]; Soloveitchik, Haym. Angel, Marc D. Haddad and Ellison Banks Findley. Albany: ; Berger, Michael. Rabbinic Authority. New York: ; Berkovits, E. Jewish Women in Time and Torah. Hoboken, N. New York: ; Boyarin, Jonathan. New York: ; Ellenson, David.

Encyclopedia of Modern Jewish Culture

Lanham: ; Ellinson, Getsel. Women and the Commandments Hebrew. Jerusalem: ; Elon, Menachem. Jewish Law Hebrew. Jerusalem: ; Elon, Menachem, ed. The Principles of Jewish Law.

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Jerusalem: ; Finkel, Avraham Yaakov. The Responsa Anthology. Northvale, NJ: ; Finkelman, Shimon rabbi. New York: ; Frimer, Aryeh. II, edited by David R. Chico, Calif: ; Haut, Rivka. Philadelphia: ; Henkin, Yehuda rabbi. Jerusalem: ; Jakobovits, Immanuel rabbi. Jewish Law Faces Modern Problems.

New York: ; Joseph, Norma Baumel. Bloomington, Indiana: ; Idem. Jerusalem: forthcoming; Idem. Woodstock, Vt: ; Idem. Chicago: ; Idem. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, vol. New York; Idem. Walnut Creek: ; Idem. Jerusalem: ; Idem. Rochelle Millen, special editor; Idem. Pamela Nadell, special editor; Idem. Philadelphia: ; Kaplan, Lawrence. New Jersey: ; Kelman, Wolfe.

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Ganbury, NJ: ; Kirschenbaum, Aaron. The Sanctity of the Synagogue. New York: ; Nusbacher, Ailene Cohen. Review essay. Biographies of Great Men Hebrew. New York: ; Robinson, Ira. Alon Shvut, Israel: v. I v.

II ; Rosner, Fred, ed. Medicine and Jewish Law vol. Northvale, NJ: This volume is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein; Idem. II , edited by F. Northvale, NJ: ; Idem. Practical Medical Halacha.