This study examines rabbinic discourse on female sexuality and compares it to the parallel discourse regarding male sexuality. It studies the various attributes of female sexuality which emerge from rabbinic literature; the conventions underlying these
characterizations; the similarities and differences in the ways female and male passion are described and the relationship between the aggadic and halakhic sources which reflect the gendered aspects of sex and sexuality in rabbinic literature.
The premise of this thesis is that rabbinic literature is patriarchal, and therefore deals primarily with
men and was written by men for a male audience. As a result, the gender constructs common in this literature view men as subjects with needs, wishes and desires, while women are viewed as objects whose purpose is the fulfillment of these male demands.
Alongside this basic understanding I claim that this characterization is not an absolute one: patriarchal cultures in general, and rabbinic culture in particular, encompass more than one way of constructing gender. In light of these considerations, this study
presents the variety of gender constructions of sexuality in rabbinic literature with an appreciation
of the potential embedded in the multitude of voices expressed in it.
My research focuses on the canonical texts of the rabbinic period, i.e. the compositions created, compiled and edited,
in Palestine and Babylonia, between the first and seventh centuries C.E.
These include various midrashic compilations and the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmudic corpora.
My assumption is that the discussions recorded in this literature served a dual purpose in the rabbis’ world:
they expressed the prevalent cultural codes regarding gender, but also instructed both men and
women as to who they were and the ways in which they were expected to behave – in
other words, they both reflected concepts of reality and created it.
My analysis brings together two fields of research: the first is the study of
rabbinic literature, and the second is gender criticism, and specifically the study of
body and sexuality. The meeting of these two fields has, in recent years, led to the
development of gendered studies of rabbinic literature, the academic context in which
this thesis is grounded.