The Obligated Self
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Mara H. Benjamin contends that the physical and psychological work of caring for children presents theologically fruitful but largely unexplored terrain for feminists. Attending to the constant, concrete, and urgent needs of children, she argues, necessitates engaging with profound questions concerning the responsible use of power in unequal relationships, the transformative influence of love, human fragility and vulnerability, and the embeddedness of self in relationships and obligations. Viewing child-rearing as an embodied practice, Benjamin's theological reflection invites a profound reengagement with Jewish sources from the Talmud to modern Jewish philosophy. Her contemporary feminist stance forges a convergence between Jewish theological anthropology and the demands of parental caregiving.


Part I
Chapter 1: Obligation
Chapter 2: Love
Chapter 3: Power
Chapter 4: Teaching

Part II
Chapter 5: The Other
Chapter 6: The Third
Chapter 7: The Neighbor




Publié par
Date de parution 24 mai 2018
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253034366
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0750€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Maternal Subjectivity and Jewish Thought
Mara H. Benjamin
This book is a publication of
Indiana University Press Office of Scholarly Publishing Herman B Wells Library 350 1320 East 10th Street Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
© 2018 by Mara H. Benjamin
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Cataloging information is available from the Library of Congress.
ISBN 978-0-253-03433-5 (cloth)
ISBN 978-0-253-03432-8 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-253-03434-2 (ebook)
1 2 3 4 5 23 22 21 20 19 18
To my mother, Judith Benjamin, And to the memory of my mother-in-law, Celia Kabakowל״ז
To Miryam Kabakov, with whom I share the gift of motherhood and a life together,
And to my daughters with boundless love
1. Obligation
2. Love
3. Power
4. Teaching
5. The Other
6. The Third
7. The Neighbor
A MONG THE MANY pleasures of nishing a book is the opportunity to acknowledge publicly the many individuals whose support is otherwise only privately visible, and, in addition, to acknowledge the institutions that sustain intellectual work. I am delighted to be able to thank my friends, colleagues, and family. Their presence in my life enabled me to write this book. I undertook this project while I was a member of the Religion Department at St. Olaf College. During my years there, I was privileged to work alongside colleagues who brought me into a discourse that I initially met with trepidation and who helped me claim theology as a Jewish intellectual pursuit. Anantanand Rambachan, Jamie Schillinger, and David Booth in particular helped me nd a home in the department. Teaching and talking with Patricia (Trish) Beckman nurtured me on a daily basis. I am grateful to have had caring and insightful students who made teaching a pleasure and with whom I shared pieces of this book. At a moment when the humanities and intellectual life in general have come under assault in the highest echelons of American government, I am especially mindful of the critical role of public and private institutions in providing the material support that makes inquiry possible. e Hadassah-Brandeis Institute provided me with support in the early stages of this project in the form of two research awards and the Rosalie Katchen Travel Grant. e National Endowment for the Humanities enabled me to pursue work on this book with a summer stipend and a year-long fellowship. I am most grateful for the privilege of a sabbatical funded in part by St. Olaf College and the Virginia Dekker Groot Professional Development Grant. e Cashmere Subvention Grant, awarded by the Association for Jewish Studies Women’s Caucus, helped defray some of the costs of publishing. During a sabbatical in 2014–15, the Jewish eological Seminary of America provided a lovely private office, a world-class Judaica library, and many opportunities for intellectual companionship. Colleagues at many institutions offered suggestions, ideas, their own work in progress, corrections, and new directions for this project. I am thankful for the opportunity to present my work to the Jewish Feminist Reading Group in New York in 2014, the Feminist Commentary on the Talmud working group during its summer gathering at the University of Pennsylvania in 2015, and to colleagues and students at Stanford University, the Graduate eological Union, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Minnesota. For engaging in conversation about the project, reading dras, and more, I thank Liz Shanks Alexander, Beth Berkowitz, Zachary Braiterman, Amy Eilberg, Arnie Eisen, Steven Fraade, Judith Hauptman, Michael Gottsegen, Jane Kanarek, Sarit Kattan Gribetz, Elie Kaunfer, Martin Kavka, Ken Koltun-Fromm, Marjorie Lehman, Jon Levenson, Jon Levisohn, Catherine Madsen, Bonnie Miller-McLemore, Leslie Morris, Louis Newman, Hannah Polin-Galay, Naomi Seidman, Claire Sufrin, Ethan Tucker, John Penniman, Jordan Rosenblum, Jason Rubenstein, Jonathan Schofer, Cristina Traina, and Wendy Zierler. Thanks as well to Ilene Green. In addition to these friends and colleagues, I offer special gratitude to a handful of exceptional friends and conversation partners who gave me the encouragement I needed to undertake this experimental work and sustenance as I pursued it. Dianne Cohler-Esses rst suggested to me the germ-cell of this book: the idea that the constant, unceasing demands of child-rearing comprise a set of
obligations that are ontologically primary to themitzvot, and even the model for them; I was privileged to continue a fruitful dialogue with her in our midrash hevruta. rough many evenings out and whispered discussions during shul, Riv-Ellen Prell encouraged me to take the leap into constructive work, cheered me on, and offered thoughtful critiques throughout the undertaking. Deena Aranoff and Charlotte Fonrobert were reliable sources of intellectual rigor and good humor over the years during which I worked on this book. Judith Plaskow became a treasured reader and friend and was both guide and delightful company in the underpopulated territory of Jewish feminist theology. My time spent working through key halakhic sources for this book with my devoted, patient teacher, Devorah Zlochower, was one of the great delights of my sabbatical. Finally, my endless outlines and notes would never have turned into finished prose without the raw talent, practical advice, and cheerful optimism of writing coach extraordinaire Gillian Steinberg. Zachary Braiterman encouraged me to bring my manuscript to the New Jewish Philosophy and ought series, and Dee Mortensen’s enthusiasm for the project signaled the hospitable home for it that Indiana University Press has been. Paige Rasmussen, Rachel Rosolina, and Julie Davis at IUP were responsive and helpful at every stage. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers who read the work carefully and offered excellent advice. is book about motherhood emerged thanks all of the people who participated in the work of raising my children and the creation of a community in which to do so. e idea of the “ird” (chap. 6) had its concrete embodiment in Maria Wright and Amal Ahmed, who fed my children literally and metaphorically. I thank also my children’s many teachers at Children’s Country Day School; Mendota Elementary School; Solomon Schechter Day School in Manhattan; and Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School. Special thanks also to the members of the loving Minnesota “village” in which my children thrived, especially Shosh Dworsky, Jonathan and Arielle Ehrlich, Tamar Grimm, Barbie Levine, Judy Levitan, Mitch Multer, Sara Lynn Newberger, Ann Silver, and Rosanne Zaidenweber, and the Beth Jacob community as a whole. As the following pages make clear, my family made this book possible in multiple senses. It is my great fortune to have the unconditional support of a loving family, including especially my parents, my extended family, and my in-laws: Judith and Mark Benjamin, Ken Collins, Ossie and Harry Hanauer, Ruth Lidskyל״ז, Celiaל״זand Bernie Kabakow, and Sara Kabakov and Greg Pitts. My wife, Miryam, and my daughters, R. and S., gave me the gi of motherhood, a family of my own, and so much else besides. Their love sustains me.
ח״עש תןסינש דוחש אר March 2018
T HE WEEKDAY MORNING ritual oftefillin practiced by religiously observant Jews stages the key narrative of the people of Israel. During prayer, small boxes containing words of scripture are wrapped with black leather straps to one arm and the crown of one’s head. e daily act of quite literally placing the words of Torah on the body is understood as a fulllment of the biblical command to study and remember words of Torah in the midst of daily life: “Bind [these words] as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol between your eyes; inscribe them on the doorposts [mezuzot] of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:8). Binding the body in Torah affirms God’s redemption of the Jewish people. To be a Jew is not to be free from constraint; rather, it is regularly to experience the movement from ignoble bondage in Egypt (‘avdut) to divine service (‘avodah): “For unto Me the children of Israel are servants; they are My servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am YHVH your God” 1 (Lev. 25:55). By wrapping oneself in tefillin, the worshipper reenacts this narrative and assents to it. e liturgical basis for placing the tellin straps around the nger, from the prophet Hosea (2:19), attests that the yoke of divine service is borne in love: “And I will betroth thee unto Me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in justice, and in lovingkindness, and in compassion. I will betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know YHVH.” Server and served are bound in love. By matching words of betrothal to the act of laying tellin, the rabbis implicitly claim that the Torah andmitzvotwere given as a lasting sign of divine commitment and devotion. e Jew who binds 2 his arm responds to this gift by committing himself to a life of steadfast service. My gendered language is intentional. e commandment of tellin was, for centuries, a commandment associated with and largely restricted to men; the commandment to study, recite, and internalize Torah, at least since the late antique period, quintessentially symbolized an ideal for Jewish 3 male religious practice. In recent decades, some observant Jewish women, mostly in the liberal movements of Judaism, have taken on this practice, and, as a feminist, I laud the important changes that have led to greater expansion of the world of normative piety to include women. But for many centuries—and still in many segments of the Jewish community—only men’s lives were structured by the privileged boundedness made manifest in tefillin. Jewish women, like many other women throughout the centuries, have intimately known their own distinctive form of boundedness and attachment: the boundedness of living with, being responsible for, and attending to children. As with tellin, this boundedness is marked on the body: carved on muscles taut from the weight of carrying children; etched on the face in lines of sleeplessness, worry, and delight; engraved in the visceral response to the cry and needs of one’s child. Child-rearing is a commitment in which love ows between mothers and children, and is expressed in the responsibility that women take in caring for their children. But whereas the male Jewish self is told, in the imperative, to bind himself to the words of God, a living human being gives maternal selves this imperative 4 countless times a day, inscribing them with the dynamic Torah of their child. Men’s subjection is aspirational and metaphysical; women’s, genuine and concrete. is book places maternal experience into constructive conversation with central themes in Jewish
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