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Ethnic Dance in the Yishuv and Israel: 1900-2000

In order to examine the subject of women in ethnic dance in Israel (as well as pre-State Palestine), one must define the various categories that come under this heading and explain what distinguishes and what unites them. The unique mode of ethnic dance in Israel is more properly referred to as dances of various ethnic communities, encompassing both Jewish and non-Jewish ethnic groups. This article, devoted to the role of women in ethnic dance, may be divided into two primary topics: the first concerns the role, state and function of women in the dances of the various ethnic communities, and the second, individual women who contributed to the cultivation and development of ethnic dances through their work in creating, studying and organizing this field.

Ethiopian Jewish Women

The Ethiopian Jews, men and women alike, were known as Falashas in Ethiopia, although in the last decade they have eschewed this appellation with its stigmatic connotation of “stranger”, implying low, outsider status. In Israel, they tend to be called Ethiopian Jews, whilst in Ethiopia they often referred to themselves—and are referred to in the academic literature—as Beta Israel (Weil, 1997a). The Beta Israel hail from villages in Gondar province, Woggera, the Simien mountains, Walkait and the Shire region of Tigray. They are divided into two distinct linguistic entities speaking Amharic and Tigrinya respectively.

Esau, Wives of: Midrash and Aggadah

Esau married his first two wives, who were from among the daughters of Heth, against his parents’ wishes. According to the Rabbis, these women spent all their days in adultery and idolatry. Adah adorned herself with jewelry for harlotry, from which her name Adah is derived, with the meaning of the wearing [adayat] of jewelry (Gen. Rabbati, Vayishlah, p. 160). Adah’s other name was Basemath (based on the exchange of names between Gen. 26:34 and 36:2). This name also attests to her deeds, for she would perfume herself (mevasemet) for harlotry. Esau’s second wife, Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, was an illegitimate child resulting from an adulterous union (Tanhuma, Vayeshev 1). Judith was also named Oholibamah, a name she was given because she built places for idolatry (bamot). She dwelled in Esau’s tent, but “performed her needs elsewhere” (that is, she engaged in extramarital relations). In taking two wives, Esau acted the same as the men of the Flood generation, who also took two spouses: one to provide them with offspring, and the other to provide them with sexual pleasure (see Adah, the wife of Lamech).

Equality, Religion and Gender in Israel

A legal system is a mirror of the society in which it functions, reflecting different aspects of social reality at different levels of its infrastructure. Constitutional principles reflect the fundamental societal norms in Israel, formulated by the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:345]Knesset[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] as constitutive assembly and interpreted by the High Court of Justice. In the ordinary legislative process, there is a testing of practical priorities, of the preparedness of a society not only to declare values but also to implement them. Case law, whether constitutional or not, represents an amalgam of the priorities of petitioners, those members of the society who invest their energies in applying to court, and the perceptions of judges based on their professional training and their individual perspectives. The courts provide a forum for a dialectic of opposing views—the plaintiff articulates his or her case, the defendant responds, and the judges determine the norm as they perceive it, each in his or her own way. This litigatory process reveals both the parameters of social activism and the judicial perception of the normative consensus. By examining women’s status in these various legal forums, we can obtain an overview of the position of women in Israeli society.

Emunah

Emunah was founded in 1935 as the Women’s Branch of Ha-Po’el ha-Mizrachi, under the leadership of Tova Sanhedrai-Goldreich, who served the public throughout her life, first as a young woman in Poland, later in Israel, and as the leader of Emunah for more than fifty years. In addition, she served as a member of [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:345]Knesset[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] on behalf of the National Religious Party, as well as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, from 1961 to 1974 (the fifth, sixth and seventh Knessets). During the 1960s, the Women’s Branch merged with the Mizrachi Women’s Organization to form the National Religious Women’s Organization, which later assumed the name Emunah.

Elephantine

On the island of Elephantine, opposite Aswan and just below the first cataract in Egypt, several hundred Aramaic papyri and ostraca were discovered between 1893 and 1910. Typically, some of the best finds were made on the antiquities market, and two archives of Jewish families from the fifth century b.c.e. were acquired by purchase. One was bought in 1897 by the American Egyptologist, Charles Edwin Wilbour (1833–1896), but was not published until 1953 by Emil Gottlieb Heinrich Kraeling; the other was acquired in 1904 by Sir Robert Ludwig Mond (1867–1938) and Lady William Cecil (Georgina Sophia Pakenham, 1827–1909) and by the Bodleian Library in Oxford and was published shortly thereafter (1906) by Archibald Henry Sayce (1845–1933) and Arthur Ernest Cowley (1861–1931). The Wilbour papyri, now in the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, contain the family archive of the Temple official Ananiah son of Azariah, covering a period of fifty years, namely, two generations (451–402 b.c.e.). The Mond-Cecil papyri are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and together with the Bodleian papyrus constitute the archive of the woman Mibtahiah daughter of Mahseiah, spanning over sixty years and covering three generations (471–410 b.c.e.).

Edna: Apocrypha

In the Book of Tobit, Edna is Raguel’s wife, Sarah’s mother, and the mother-in-law of Tobias, Tobit’s son. Edna has no biblical namesake; unlike the other women named in Tobit (Anna, Deborah, Eve, Sarah), her name does not evoke images from the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps the author of Tobit means to recall Eden’s idyllic existence, or, more likely, to convey by the name something about the type of woman, wife, and mother Edna is.

Eastern European Immigrants in the United States

Of all Jewish immigrants to the United States from 1886 to 1914, forty-four percent were women, far more than for other immigrants groups arriving during the heyday of mass immigration. The more than two million Jews from the Russian Empire, Romania, and Austria-Hungary who entered the United States in the years 1881 to 1924—when the American government imposed a restrictive quota system—came to stay. Only 7 percent chose to return to Europe, as opposed to about 30 percent of all immigrants. Jewish immigrants intended to raise American families. Ashkenazi (European) Jewish culture and American values as conveyed by social reformers as well as by advertising, and the economic realities of urban capitalist America, all influenced the position of women in immigrant Jewish society in America. Jewish immigrant women shared many of the attributes of immigrant women in general, but also displayed ethnic characteristics.

Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp

Impulsive, adventurous, and outspoken, Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp ran away from home when she was seventeen years old. Two years later, she joined destinies with western lawman, gambler, and entrepreneur Wyatt Earp. For forty-seven years, they roamed the West, mingling with well-known westerners on both sides of the law. Her name was rarely in print until her published memoir revealed an overlooked western folk female hero, long on daring, short on propriety, and, of all things, Jewish.

Doctors: Medieval

In the medieval period, Jewish women doctors were found in most of the countries of western and central Europe, i.e., Spain, France, Provence, Italy, Sicily, and especially in Germany. Slawa of Warsaw (1435) is the only one who has so far been found from eastern Europe, but others will probably come to light when the records are examined more thoroughly. Evidence of women doctors in Egypt and Turkey comes from the beginning (ninth to twelfth centuries) of this period and from its end (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), although evidence for women healers is scattered throughout the sources.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Family." (Viewed on June 25, 2018) <https://jwa.org/topics/family>.

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