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‘Woman of valor’ : The character and status of women in jewish philosophy of the sixteenth century

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image of European Journal of Jewish Studies

Researchers of Jewish History dealing with the topic of women’s character and status in Medieval Jewish texts drew their information mainly from Rabbinical Responsa and tended to neglect other types of literature: sermons and Biblical commentaries. Responsa were a primary source for two reasons—convenience and availability of the material. However, this type of literature was written out of necessity and dealt with the problematic situations in a woman’s life, whether with regard to her private life (as for instance in matters of marriage or divorce), her financial situation or other difficult issues. It may be possible to put together a clearer picture of women and their position in the Middle Ages, including their treatment by the men of their immediate surroundings, by examining and researching the vast literature of sermons and Biblical commentaries.

Using an interpretation of Chapter 31 of the book of Proverbs (“Woman of Valor”), the preacher draws an image of the ideal woman and uses it to present his opinion on women, their shortcomings and their virtues. The main topic that preachers and interpreters discussed was the question of the perfection of women’s intellectual souls. As women did not usually acquire great intellectual learning, it stands to reason that they could not achieve perfection. Therefore, replacements were created that allowed women’s perfection to surpass that of men’s.


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