Lecture Series: Between Invisibility and Autonomy
When: Mon, 12.12.2022 6:15 PM until 8:00 PM
Where: Warburgstraße 26, 20354 Hamburg
Between Invisibility and Autonomy: Negotiating Gender Roles in Manuscript Cultures
Women as Scribes in Jewish Manuscript Cultures
Michael Kohs (Hamburg)
Jewish manuscript cultures have a multifaceted and diverse history of over 2500 years, beginning in Antiquity. Over a long time, men were dominant for the production and the use of manuscripts. This holds especially true for the making of liturgical manuscripts like the Torah scroll for which a handwritten form is required for synagogue services until today. The instructions for the production of Torah scrolls are determined in various halakhic regulations, i.e. the Jewish religious laws. Traditionally, the Halakha deemed Torah scrolls written by women ritually unfit for synagogal use. Therefore, the profession of Torah scribe was practiced by men exclusively. Only in recent years, a small but growing number of women scribes have begun to engage in writing Torah scrolls.
In the talk, we will look at the halakhic prescriptions and discussions concerning the production of liturgical and profane manuscripts. We will consider actual evidence of women as scribes and as users of manuscripts through the ages and will discuss the question of female literacy. Finally, we will reflect the current developments regarding female Torah scribes. The ongoing debate whether women are eligible to write manuscripts that will be considered as ritually pure also illustrates how the Halakha has been challenged and influenced by feminist approaches that affect traditional manuscript practices.