Thursday, February 21, 2008

THE WOMEN'S TORAH COMMENTARY is covered in the Jerusalem Post:
Why a women's Torah commentary?

The recent debut of The Torah: A Women's Commentary, brings together the scholarship and insights of women from all segments of the Jewish community and from around the world.

For the past two years, in advance of the commentary's publication, I have previewed drafts in congregations across the country. Inevitably, when I conclude my teaching, a male member of the audience raises his hand and asks one of the following questions: "Why should men be interested in a women's Torah commentary?" "Why would you create a commentary that only speaks to half of the community?" "In this day and age, shouldn't we create a work that brings together women and men instead of segregating them?"


Recently, the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion featured a panel of scholars gathered to celebrate the publication of the women's commentary and to reflect on its significance. One of the panelists was the renowned Jewish feminist theologian Judith Plaskow, the author of the influential 1990 book Standing Again at Sinai, a contributor to the commentary and a member of its editorial board.

Plaskow characterized the publication of the commentary as a "watershed event," perhaps as important as the ordination of the first woman rabbi. When she used the word "watershed," she referred to the figurative meaning of the word: an event or period marking a turning point in a course of actions or state of affairs.

How is the publication of this commentary a turning point? One answer to that question became clear when the panel ended and I spoke to one of our authors, a Bible professor who wrote one of the Central Commentaries in Leviticus.

The professor said she did not fully appreciate the significance of this project until she taught the commentary she wrote to the sisterhood group at her local synagogue. She explained that for the first time, many of the women saw themselves as part of the implicit audience of the Torah. They were no longer bystanders listening in on a conversation aimed at someone else. Instead, they sensed that the Torah was speaking to and about them. They were able to see how the text was relevant to them as contemporary women and how their lives as women were relevant to the interpretation of the biblical text.

On a literal level, a watershed is an area of land that channels all the streams and rainfall to a common outlet. This is, in fact, an ideal metaphor for A Women's Commentary. This volume gathers five forms of exegesis into a single location. It collects the wisdom of several hundred Jewish women - scholars, clergy, poets and other writers - into one place. It assembles the writings of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox and secular Jews into a common source.