Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Law and Religion


Jewish law, women


This is a review of Women and Jewish Law: The Essential Texts, Their History, and Their Relevance for Today by Rachel Biale (1995). It is a minor miracle. It is readable and free of unnecessary jargon, and accessible to the educated reader who has only some introduction to the nature of Jewish law (Halakhah). At the same time, it is serious and scholarly and would work very well as a text for a graduate seminar on Jewish law, women and law, or religion and law. The author celebrates the increasing power and visibility of women in all denominations of Judaism, but she does not distort texts in order to push an agenda. Rather, she presents the relevant texts and displays how they can and cannot allow for women's progress in such areas as public prayer, divorce, and sexual relations. Her perspective is that Halakhah is intrinsically open to change, and that “the attempt to present a monolithic and extremely conservative portrait of the Halakhah is more a characteristic of the response of modern Jewish Orthodoxy to secularism than a central feature of the Halakhah in earlier periods.” The legal and religious position of women in Judaism, Biale believes, is characterized by tension between two views of the status of women. On the one hand, from the perspective of God, so to speak, women are considered the moral and religious equals of men. On the other hand, in more mundane and concrete ways, their life is marked by subservience to men, and by exclusion from Judaism's most important activity: the study and interpretation of Halakhah.