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Book: Gender and Sacred Textures

Chapter: Jewish Women and Sacred Text(ure)s: Making Women’s Religious Agency in Jewish Book Culture Intelligible

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.46462


This chapter argues that the concept of “sacred texture” is a necessary supplement to standard understandings of sacred texts in Jewish religion to capture lay people’s, especially women’s, material-embodied acts as aspects of sacred text use. Such acts may include spoken or performed fragments or sequences from a sacred text that activate associations to it and thereby make the acts intelligible as representations of the sacred text, be it up close or at a distance. The article draws upon, but also expands perspectives on sacred texts as material objects (Malley, Watts, and Schleicher) by including theories by Halliday and Hasan, and Ricoeur on texture, by Deleuze and Guattari on processes of becoming, and by Butler on identity as something emerging from engagements in a
culture’s iterative acts. The theoretical underpinnings beg the question of who has access when and where to which particular iterative acts that involve sacred texts and textures? The analysis begins with the Hebrew Bible to find out when texts were conceived as sacred in the first place and when and in what way access to them became regulated. The analysis continues into early Jewish sources, rabbinic literature, and Ashkenazic Jewish sources from the Middle Ages to reflect on Jewish women’s involvement with sacred texts and textures in ways that broaden our knowledge of how they made their religious identity intelligible.

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