Hugo Grotius
Egyetemes történet
Magyar külpolitika
Nemzetközi jog
Nemzetközi politika





HUGO GROTIUS (Huig de Groot), a modern természetjogi felfogás és a modern politikai irodalom egyik megteremtője, aki a természet-jogon alapuló nemzetközi jog alapjait fektette le. »»

Szász Anna
And He Shall Rule Over You! But Will He?

(HYMAN, PAULA E.: Gender and Assimilation in the Modern Jewish History: the Roles and Representation of Women)

“In their prayers every morning the Jewish men say, ‘Bless Thee that did not make me a woman.’ Women pray: ‘Bless Thee that made me according to Thy will’.”[1]

The victory of the social contract theory over classic patriarchalism meant the end of a social order structured by kinship, and the rule of the father. Contract as a general basis of the modern nation-states is very different from other examples of bond in the earlier period. Yahweh’s covenant with Abraham, the story which is told in the book of Genesis demands a special symbol of patriarchal power, namely the circumscribed flesh of the penis. This necessary bodily mark for establishing a relationship with God excluded the women from being equal among His Chosen People. The distinctiveness of the original contract is precisely that appears to be universal, to include everyone who is to be incorporated to the civil society. In the modern world kinship is transformed to family which has its own principle of association and its own location in the private sphere as the essence of the nation but separated from the public state. This ambiguous as well as fundamental division of the space into private and public is gendered and maintained by the differences as a hierarchical structure. Gender is not merely about the socially and culturally defined difference between the sexes, but as Joan Wallach Scott writes “it is also a primary way of signifying relationships of power.”[2] Despite nationalism’s ideological commitment to establish a regime which deals with popular unity, nations have historically amounted to “sanctioned institutionalization of gender difference.”[3] Thus no nation gives both women and men equal access to rights and resources. Not only are the frustrations and aspirations of men identified with nation, but also the representation of male national and political power depends on the a prior construction of gender.   

Paula E. Hyman in her book Gender and Assimilation in the Modern Jewish History: the Roles and Representation of Women, focuses on the construction of the idea, role and representation of the woman as both a property and a generator of a discourse in Western and Eastern Europe as well as in the United States. She attempts to accomplish critically two tasks in her book. First, she tries to reclaim the experience of Jewish women as they accommodated to the socioeconomic and ideological challenges in Europe and in the States. Second, she explores the role of ideas about gender in the construction of Jewish identity in the modern period.

In exploring the interaction of gender and assimilation she limits her research to Europe and the United States, focusing on the period 1850-1950. She makes a distinction between Jews whose assimilation happened within Western and Central Europe and the States where mainly Eastern European immigrants arrived, as well as whose assimilation took place in different conditions of Eastern Europe. All Jews have confronted the need to adapt to a society however the different environment and positions provided different roles and forms of representations. Gender difference itself shapes the framework of assimilation and offers specific ways of acculturation, integration along with the retention of identity on the basis of sex.

Based on the author’s prodigious research, the ‘Western model’ offered the Jews to some degree civic equality and developed similar concepts of middle-class gender roles. Women who were confined to the domestic sphere had a lack of contacts with non-Jews. They developed the cult of domesticity, additionally they were responsible for the religious socialization of the young and took care of the unfortunates. Education – this is fairly emphasized by Hyman in each chapter as relevant factor of either resistance of assimilation - played an important role in a woman’s life, since men realized that women had the influence on children and they were the first teachers of moral values moreover the primary creators of Jewish consciousness. However pressed the Jewish elite for civic equality, radical assimilation increased. The idea of woman as the creator of the domestic heaven retained more sings of Jewishness for the women than did for the men in the families. Blaming Jewish mothers for the decline of Jewish knowledge and religion, the Jewish assimilation project continued to progress in the West.

The ‘Eastern model’ dealt with a relatively big, Jewish middle-class with its distinctive features such as the preservation of the Yiddish language and some Jewish traditions. Women found secular culture and politics attractive. They participated, of necessity, actively in secular public economic life. Female education in the spirit of Haskalah was promoted. Moreover the existence of the cultural ideal of male learning and female labor legitimated the presence of women in the world of commerce as well as their cultivation of character traits that would ensure the survival of the family. The strong, capable working woman was the dominant cultural idea in the East. Women were better educated than men in secular culture although they were held responsible for the aversion of Jews to productive labor and for assimilation. Despite some changes, the majority of the Jewish population remained in the first stages of the process of acculturation until the interwar years.

Living in the United States challenged some elements of the Western type of model such as the idealized picture of the ‘Yiddishe Mama’. In some ways women were agents in the process of assimilation; in others, buffers against the disruptive influences of the new society. Immigrant Jewish working girls became Americanized in every kind of way, but they found education as the most unattainable though significant element of American freedom. The immigrant generation had two major concerns: economic survival and accommodation. With the emergence of the second-generation American Jewry in the 1920’s, the community adopted the understanding of gender roles characteristic of middle-class Jews in the West. 

The last chapter of the book deals with establishing a relationship between gender and identity. Hyman’s work is extended to and covers a number of fields in this topic although I wish she had explored some of the key women’s memoires. It would have been interesting to see how the women constructed themselves and created a discourse which either joined or avoided the meta-narrative of the Jewish community.

Since the gendered division of assimilation served to reinforce the linkage of Jewishness and feminine characteristics, Jewish men doubtless felt the need to distinguish themselves from the women. A modern Jewish identity was constructed that devalued women as the ‘Other’ of the nation. The target for the anti-Semitism was the male Jew depicted as womanish. His personality appeared as weak, degenerated, materialistic, manipulative, and decadent. Although Zionism in theory promised equality between the sexes, the fulfillment of the idea was hindered by the bourgeois ideal of separate spheres with its assumption of natural women subordination. As long as Zionism was seen as the creation of a ‘New Man’ against the feminine impotence of exile, women would have difficulty finding a truly equal place. Acculturation and social integration shaped the roles of both men and women but their impact was greater upon men. Their position in a community depended upon their achievements outside the community. As opposed to this, Jewish women experienced not the diminution of their Jewish roles but their expansion. Although they practiced their Jewishness in the domestic sphere and acquired a new role of the transmitters of the Judaism to their children. Women were the symbols of sexuality, acculturation, family and consumption. Due to the social vulnerability and the strength required to battle for economic success, Jewish men also found their identity as men the power that they could not have as Jews in the larger domain.

Even though the roles and representation of Jewish women in the West and in Eastern Europe differed considerably, both leaders and women recognized the importance of education as a means of empowerment even as they acknowledged that women had a special role to play as the mother of the children. A ‘New Jewish Womanhood’ was built upon the intersection of secular Jewish culture with American conditions of female labor and politics which addressed the secular rather than the religious dimensions of the women’s changing roles.

Hyman’s work supports the idea that identity could not be pre-given, primordial and static, but it is flowing and shifting as well as constructed through interactions with the ‘Other’. This ‘Other’ implies in the case of the Jewish community both the notion of the woman and the constant presence of a Gentile. Because of the dominant culture model of European and American Jews has been middle-class, Jewish thinking has promoted gender roles reflected on this ideal, namely the institutionalized difference according to the division of space. Hierarchy and an ongoing struggle for reframing roles and ways of representation are embedded in binary oppositions including the public-private realms. Gender differences in the process of assimilation and women’s role as primary transmitters of culture have been still shaping Jewish identity and restructuring sexual politics.

HYMAN, PAULA E. Gender and Assimilation in the Modern Jewish History: the Roles and Representation of Women. Seattle-London: University of Washington Press, 1995. 197 pp. SBN-10: 0295974265, ISBN-13: 978-0295974262

[1] Nira Yuval-Davis, Jewish Fundamentalisms and Women: Warning Signs of Fundamentalisms. (WLUML Publications, December 2004), p.5.

[2] Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics of History. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.), p.42.

[3] Anne McClintock, “Family Feuds: Gender, Nationalism and the Family” Feminist Review 44 (Summer 1993), pp.61-80.



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