The Written Torah and the Oral Torah: Class, Gender, and the Cultural Images of the Corpora

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores the gender and class images of the written and oral corpora in traditional Jewish society, and then examines how the gendering of the corpora affected those who began to “sin by writing,” namely, the young proponents of Haskalah who would gradually revolutionize the status of writing in Jewish society. It shows how early childhood experiences stamped a label of gender inferiority on writers and on writing in Jewish society. Men's autobiographic accounts of the hours they had spent in their mothers' or grandmothers' laps, listening to Bible stories in Yiddish, the so called mame lushn [mother tongue], demonstrate that even in early childhood, the message was conveyed that the Written Torah, the Biblical legends, and myth were the province of women, whereas the prestigious Oral Torah was the exclusive province of men. The writing ambitions of Maskilic writers therefore posed a threat to their masculine identity, which they sought to repair by turning writing into a masculine pursuit. The choice of Hebrew, the father tongue, rather than Yiddish, the mother tongue, as the language of writing served, among other things, to severe the writing of belles lettres from the female sphere and to endow it with male gender prestige.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Directions in Book History
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages23
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022

Publication series

NameNew Directions in Book History
ISSN (Print)2634-6117
ISSN (Electronic)2634-6125

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Library and Information Sciences


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