Date of Award

5-2019

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis

Department

English

First Advisor

Jonathan Barron, Ph.D

Advisor Department

English

Abstract

Traditionally, Jewish mothers in the orthodox practice of the religion are socially marginalized by the same patriarchy that institutionally reveres them. Orthodox tradition requires that Jewish women value family above all other aspects in life by fulfilling their divine calling: motherhood. Typically, the scholarly community regards orthodox Jewish mothers as oppressed by the patriarchy because they accept motherhood as a divine calling to which they have no alternative. Their arduous efforts in instilling progressive values in their children, however, reveal their feminist intentions despite the oppression they encounter within their religion. The term “mother feminism” describes Jewish mothers’ altruistic feminist actions which, though they cannot lessen their own oppression, create the possibility of lessening the oppression of their children. This branch of feminism is reconcilable with both their religion and their role as mothers. This essay investigates mother feminist behaviors in orthodox Jewish mothers in three Jewish narratives. Viewing each work through the lens of mother feminism allows the women in the stories to emerge as empowered female figures who subvert typical understanding of women oppressed by patriarchal expectations. Though each character’s mother feminism manifests in different ways, they all share an underlying desire to see their children prosper in a world less oppressive than the one in which they themselves were raised, and in fact, still live. In the past, these women’s actions have been labeled as mere obedience; by contrast, this thesis argues in favor of a redemption of these actions as not simply the result of obedience to the patriarchy, but also an effort to fight and end patriarchal oppression as a whole.

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