Skip To Content

Men’s Torah Commentary ‘Steals the Spotlight’

It hasn’t been long — just the last dozen years in human time, but a blink of an eye in the long arc of Torah interpretation — that women have published scholarly commentaries on the Jewish Bible.

Now there’s a new book in response, “The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary”, edited by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin and published by Jewish Lights.

Rabbi Salkin has put together a book of Torah interpretations, one weekly Torah portion at a time, by rabbis from Modern Orthodox to Reform and Reconstructionist, but also by singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman and PresenTense’s founder Ariel Beery.

The Atlanta-based Rabbi Salkin gives a nod toward Jewish feminist scholarship, and writes in the introduction that feminism has pointed out that we see the world through a gendered lens. He also writes, “The great, often unspoken crisis facing modern liberal Judaism is the disengagement of its men.”

There is, to be sure, a serious problem of disengagement among young men in liberal synagogues, but Rabbi Salkin overstates it. Thoughtful analysts are more likely to say that the great crisis facing modern liberal Judaism is overall illiteracy and indifference.

The very idea of a book of men’s Torah commentary rankles some leading Jewish feminists.

“Obviously every Torah commentary until the present day has been a men’s Torah commentary,” says Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, who developed and edited the book on which Rabbi Salkin’s is modeled, “The Women’s Torah Commentary.”

It was published in 2000. Since both books share a publisher, Goldstein declined to speak specifically about the new book, but did address larger issues.

“Until women’s commentaries were being written, nobody noticed that they were all from men’s perspectives. My whole Jewish education was spent reading and hearing men’s commentaries,” says Goldstein, who is on sabbatical from her current role as director of Kolel, a center for adult Jewish learning in Toronto. “It’s an interesting reaction. I find it slightly amusing that nobody understands that Rashi’s is a men’s commentary.”

Feminist path-breaker Letty Cottin Pogrebin put a finer point on it. “That this new book is being published with such a title is not just a transparent marketing ploy but, unfortunately, conforms to previous responses to women’s advancement or visibility in other fields,” said Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. Magazine:

I call this response ‘The Stolen Spotlight Syndrome’ and it works like this: As soon as massive public attention is directed to women’s problems, efforts, opinions, condition, status, or suffering, men yank the spotlight back to themselves with a kind of ‘us too!’ response.

It happened when feminists managed to raise public consciousness about the struggles of single mothers. What was the first major cultural expression of this issue? ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ — the story of a single father’s struggles! Likewise, when feminists succeeded in surfacing the issue of sexual harassment, the first major cultural expression of that problem was David Mamet’s play “Oleanna,” the story of a male professor being harassed by a female student.

Now that we finally have women’s voices weighing in on Torah with powerful, fresh interpretations, men are yanking the spotlight back in this modern guise of tit-for-tat — a men’s commentary. To me, it’s a cynical effort to neutralize the emergence of women as rightful interpreters of text.

The idea of breaking out scholarship from a male point of view in an overtly gendered way is so new that even Google hasn’t caught up. When you Google the new book, the search engine asks “Did you mean “The Modern Women’s Torah Commentary?”

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.