The Position and SelfImage of Women in Sefardi Sources

First Annual International Conference
Society for Sefardic Studies Jerusalem January 911 2011
 

The first annual international conference of Sefarad the Society for Sefardic Studies was held this past January 911 2011 in Jerusalem Founded in 2009 by Yom Tov Assis its current chairman Sefarad is affiliated with the BenZvi Institute and is administered through the Hispania Judaica: The Center for the Study of Iberian Jewry The Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) The ultimate purpose of Sefarad is to promote and coordinate research in the field of Sefardic studies This first conference brought together thirtysix lecturers from all over the globe including participants from Germany Brazil Spain France Greece Israel Portugal and Serbia

The opening session was chaired by Michael Glatzer and began with opening remarks by Yom Tov Assis (HUJI) Renée Levine Melammed (Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies) and Shalom Sabar (HUJI) were the first presenters Levine Melammed presented a paper entitled “Reassessing Jewish Women’s Lives in Medieval Iberia” The presenter successfully explained the status of Jewish women in the medieval Spain Sabar’s presentation was entitled “Bride Mother and Heroine: Images of Sephardic Women in the Visual Arts from the Middle Ages until the Modern Era” and outlined a fascinating iconography of various and unusual images of Jewish women

The first session revolved around “Responsa Literature” and opened with a presentation by Yom Tov Assis entitled “Widows in Medieval Sefarad: their Economic Social and Family Position” Assis focused on the economic role played by widows in medieval Spain In the following presentation “La ’mujer fatal’ en las fuentes judias hispanas” Moisés Orfali (Bar Ilan University) discussed the notion of the Isha qatlanit women who had lost two husbands and for that reason were not permitted to remarry The session ended with José Ramon Magdalena Nom de Deu’s presentation “El papel de la mujer en la sociedad de Sefarad segun responsa y fuentes hebraicas” which revealed the many and sometimes dramatic events handled by the rabbis

The next session “The Sefardi Diaspora” (Moises Orfali Chair) heard Ruth Lamdan (Tel Aviv University) speaking on eulogies honoring Salonika decedents Her presentation was entitled “After the Death: Saints Expressions and Names of Dead Women” My own presentation followed and it was entitled “The Eulogy of Rachel Mendes Dacosta Bayonne 5 December 1693” I discussed how Portuguese New Christians from Bayonne observed Judaism by printing Jewish eulogies in Spanish and engraving cemetery epitaphs in Spanish and in Hebrew The final speaker Eleazar Gutwirth (Tel Aviv University) delivered his lecture on “From Ferrara to Salonika: Women Patients in the Sixteenth Century” and discussed women who remained Jewish while their husbands became conversos

The session “The Perception of Women in Medieval and Early Modern Texts” (Dalia Ruth Halperin Chair) examined the daily relationship between men and women in the Middleages Nahem Ilan (Lander Institute) spoke about the famous ’And do not overtalk with the woman:’ Consideration on Several Spanish Mediaeval Commentaries and their Implications” Nadia Zeldes (HUJI) presented “The Reforms of Dayyan Joseph Abenafia on Family Law and Women’s status in the Wake of the Aragonee Conquest of Sicily” and discussed the changes related to an event that occurred in 1302 Alisa Meyuhas Ginio (Tel Aviv University) presented “The Perception of Jewish Women according to Rabbi ’Ya’acov Kuli’s Me ’am Lo’ ez on the Book of Genesis” and examined the perception of women as portrayed through the eyes of a popular eighteenthcentury Ladino commentator of the Bible

In the session ” Modern Literature” (José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva Tavim Chair) Suzy Gruss (Bar Ilan University) presented “Ester Morguez Algranti de Esmirna: El Punto de vista literario de una mujer sefardi” from the Portuguese synagogue of Smyrna Michael Studemund Halévy (Institute für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden Hamburg) presented “La mujer en el lenguaje erotico sefardi: fuentas bulgarias” Lucia Liba Mucznik (University of Lisbon) presented “’Da Mulheranjo á  balzaquiana:’ A representaçëo of ’judá­a’ na literatura portuguesa do séc XIX” and highlighted from the perspective of women in the New Christian milieu change: from the grotesque to the romantic

The session “The Converso Home” (Nitai Shinan Chair) included three presentations Isabel M R Mendes Drumond Braga (University of Lisbon) presented an economic and social survey entitled “On the property and Occupations of seventeenth and eighteenth century New Christians in Portugal and Brazil” Her discussion focused on 300 inventories of goods confiscated from New Christians by the courts of the Holy Office in Lisbon Evora and Coimbra which involved 128 women aged thirteen to eighty Many of the women were single or widowed and earned their own living Some worked as petty traders or as manufacturers of artificial flowers; others were in charge of sugar cane plantations in Paraiba; still others possessed slaves whom they used to sell candy in the streets of Rio Schulamith Halévy (University of Illinois) presented “Mujeres Fuertes: Women of Valor among the anusim” commenting on Portuguese prayers of the anusim or descendants of conversos in Mexico She emphasized the creative liturgical and literary capacity of these converso women Lina Gorenstein (University of Sëo Paulo) examined “The New Christian Women in Colonial Brazil in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries” Her research was based on inquisitorial trials and she showed how women made their way into economic activities and created their own often dramatic destinies

The second day began with the session “The Image of Women in Medieval Texts” (José Ramon Magdalena Nom de Deu Chair) Meritxell Blasco Orellana (University of Barcelona) presented the first paper “La mujer en fuentes médicas séfardies hebraico” and examined previously unreleased material for medical recipes Hanna Davidson (Lander Institute) presented “Rabbi Avraham of Girona and the Night Women Witches in fourteenth century Catalonia” and revealed some strange and unknown practices of daily life in medieval Catalonia Rachel Peled Cuartas (University of Illinois) presented “Between lo Terrenal y lo Divino: Una imagen feminina in Don Vidal Benbenist y el arcipreste de Hita” and compared the visions of female otherness in Jewish sources and reflections on human destiny in Christian sources

The session “Sefardi Women in Modern Time” (Avraham David Chair) opened with Jelena Filipovic and Ivana Vucina Simovic (University of Belgrade and Kragujevac Serbia) Their presentation “Asociacion de las mujeres judias de Belgrado como vehiculo/agente la modernización y emancipacion feminina” showed how women’s societies such as the Umanidad in Sarajevo or Sociedad de Beneficencia de las Judias Kupat Shalom de Skopje contributed along with the Alliance Israélite Universelle schools which encouraged the emancipation of Jewish women The session continued with Moshe Ovadia’s (Bar Ilan University) “Socioeconomic world of Maghrebi Sephardic women in four holy cities at the time of the British Mandate (19181948)” in Jerusalem Hebron Safed and Tiberias The session ended with Yitzhak Kerem (Aristotele University Thessaloniki) “Sephardic Female Dress in Salonika: Issues of halakha and modesty in the 19th and 20th centuries” He discussed feminine clothing as prescribed by notions of religious modesty

In the session “Women and Early Modern Society” (Aldina Quintana Chair) Maria Filomena Lopes de Barros and José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva Tavim (Instituto de Investigaçëo Cientfica Tropical) presented “Cristëos (ës) Mouriscos (as) Judeus e Mouros” and “Dialogos em transito no Portugal” which discussed the still poorly understood relationships between Jews conversos moors and morisques in sixteenth century Spain and Morocco Raquel Sperber (HUJI) presented “Fermosa/Raquel “judá­a” Toledo: transformaciones de la leyenda” and followed the legend of the love affair between the Jews of Toledo with King Alphonse as depicted through the novel La desgraciada Raquel by Antonio Mira de Amescua ca 1625

The last session “Women in Early Modern Literature” (Tamar Alexander Chair) heard from Ruth Fine (HUJI) on “Mulieres malae sunt? La representacion de la mujer judia en obras del Siglo de Oro español” and Florbela Veiga Frade (Nova Universidade de Lisboa) on “The Rainbow Colors that Portray the Feminine Historia de Rut in Joëo ( Moshe) Delgado” A prolific New Christian author Joëo Pinto Delgado lived for a time in Rouen where he published in 1627 Poema de la Reyna Ester Lamentaciones del Profeta Jeremias Historia de Ruts y otras poesias His character of Ruth focuses on her past as a converso and her return to the Holy Land to her own religious and messianic callings The conference was capped by a visit to the Israel Museum Conference participants admired among other wonders the Portuguese synagogue of Tzedek veShalom of Paramaribo (Suriname 1736) which was disassembled and rebuilt with its original furnishings in Jerusalem

Gérard NAHON was a professor at the École Pratique des Hautes Études Section des sciences religieuses Sorbonne He is a founding member of Sefarad wwwsefaradstudiesorg

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