For those interested in the topic of women in Judaism, have I got an article for you: “The Silence of Rayna Batya” by Don Seeman (PDF format). It has been around for a while, but it is still excellent. Here is one of my favorite quotes, from the endnote section:
“Our grandmothers were all happy” is a claim which is frequently heard in discussions and arguments about women’s learning in the contemporary Orthodox community. In fact, this is less of a historical claim than a rhetorical device, used to marginalize those contemporary Jews who find current arrangements troubling or painful. Denying historical depth in the dissatisfaction of some Jews is one way of denying the relevance or legitimacy of their dissatisfaction. ... The assumption that problems with accepted Halakhah are fed only by “passing Narishkeit” [foolishness] rather than long-standing frustration frees the Orthodox community from any need to seriously grapple with them.
Now I have to get back to work. Nose, meet grindstone.
It’s going to be this way for a while. Expect light blogging.
[I]n the High Middle Ages, a time which is generally considered oppressive for women, Jewish women took on a whole range of roles and obligations which today would be unthinkable, including as Sandek in a Brit, Shochetet, mohelet, and in certain small communities, receiving aliyot and reading from the Torah. They also participated in Zimmun, and there is ample evidence of women, mostly from the “upper classes,” wearing a tallit, tzitzit, and (on a more limited basis, apparently) tefillin. ... Those who argue about “women’s traditional roles” should be aware that this phrase covers a much greater range of options than they are imagining, and there is precedence for women doing a great deal more in communal life than they do today, or than any authority in the Orthodox world would dream of allowing them to. ... So againwith a bit of historical background, things are not as black and white as some might make out.
Read the whole thing.
(Cross-posted at The Jewish View)