Academic Year 2012-2013
Rachel Furst is a Ph.D. candidate in Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she was awarded a President’s Fellowship. She received a B.A. summa cum laude in Medieval Studies from Barnard College, Columbia University and an M.A. magna cum laude in Jewish History from Hebrew University. Rachel is a lecturer in Talmud and Jewish law at Matan Jerusalem and other institutions of Jewish education in Israel and abroad. She recently collaborated with Rabbi David Silber of Drisha Institute on A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn (JPS, 2011).
Constructing Credibility: The Makings and Meanings of Gender in the Legal Literature of Medieval Ashkenaz
In legally-organized and legally-minded societies, including the Jewish communities of medieval Ashkenaz, credibility and believability are basic markers of personhood. Using those markers, this project offers a study of medieval Jewish legal discourse, in general, and of the ways in which this literature appropriated, constructed, and employed gender, in particular. It concentrates on discussions of halakhic credibility (ne’emanut) in the responsa literature of medieval Germany and represents the first step toward a broader, critical study of rulings concerning formal and informal testimony provided by women and men in various legal and ritual circumstances. Focusing on the textual interpretations proposed by medieval German decisors as well as on the narrative framing and the rhetorical language of their writings, this project considers how the responsa genre of halakhic literature internalizes and lends expression to sociological phenomena; what a particular halakhic argument may reveal about the way in which its author construed individual and communal Jewish identity; and how and when gender categories are invoked and manipulated for the purposes of such identity formation. It explores the makings of medieval Jewish gender by asking whose knowledge was deemed credible and when, and how arguments for and against credibility constructed social and ontological realities.