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Contemporary Gender Thought in Islam and Judaism: The Position of Women According to Ayatollah Morteza Mutahhari and Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik


Contemporary Gender Thought in Islam and Judaism: The Position of Women According to Ayatollah Morteza Mutahhari and Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik

Zolghadr, Khadijeh (2013) Contemporary Gender Thought in Islam and Judaism: The Position of Women According to Ayatollah Morteza Mutahhari and Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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In a basic outlook shared by Islam and Judaism, addressed in this study, man is born as man and woman as woman, so that manhood and womanhood are natural states entailing different personalities, rights, and responsibilities. In other words, in both the Islamic and Jewish worldviews, man and woman are created differently in order to accomplish different tasks, which are finally aimed together at the single objective of obeying and encountering God. This basic conception is faithfully reflected in the numerous detailed regulations of these two law-centered traditions. A study of gender issues in Islam and Judaism is thus bound to take into account how the status of the genders is defined in the tradition; how the different positions prescribed for men and women are thought to serve humanity in its journey to God; and whether those positions entail superiority and inferiority.
In light of this outlook the present study offers a critical appreciation of the views on gender of two prominent clerical authorities, one each from the Muslim and Jewish traditions: Ayatollah Morteza Mutahhari (1920-1979 CE) and Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik (1903-1993 CE). This thesis constitutes the first attempt to draw a comparison of gender thought at the heart of Judaism and Islam in modern times, through two influential scholars devoted and loyal to the original principles of their religions.
A properly critical account of thought requires examination not only of context and structure, but also apparent limitations and inconsistencies. That has been the approach taken here, in contrast - in the case of Mutahhari at least - to existing literature, which tends to be admiring. The thesis has also, however, tried to discern the affective qualities of the gender thought of the two scholars; comparison has been especially useful in this regard. Thus I have suggested that Mutahhari’s ideas about women along with those of Soloveitchik are ultimately in harmony with their sense of the tradition and its fundamental spirit; this is the basic impulse for both, rather than systemization. I have also suggested that difficulty in appreciating the feelings of women sets limits on the understanding of both scholars; but they are far from being misogynistic, and feel very genuinely that women are valuable as human beings and have vital, respected roles in religion and society. This leads to the subject with which I close the thesis: the reception of Soloveitchik and Mutahhari’s gender thought by women.
The thesis also draws attentions to two outstanding differences in the thought of Mutahhari and Soloveitchik: their mode of approaching gender and the ways they see their traditions responding to evolving times and circumstances. In brief, Mutahhari’s approach and tone is more defensive, polemical and political than that of Soloveitchik; and Soloveitchik seems less ready than Mutahhari to contemplate change in the tradition in response to changes in society or pressure from the broader Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish community. However, when we consider, as should be the rule in comparative studies, both figures together in their contexts, we see that Mutahhari’s openness to change was somewhat theoretical, since he lived at a time before the consolidation of the Islamic Republic of Iran when official religious ideology did not hold much formal power over women’s or people’s lives. By the same token, Soloveitchik’s discourse should be read against the background of his actions, which do show that he was willing to admit evolution in the Halakhah as long as what he considered basic principles were preserved, as well as in light of his attitude toward women’s learning, which demonstrates his ability to contemplate change that would allow the community to effectively meet the modern world.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Religions and Cultures
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Zolghadr, Khadijeh
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Date:June 2013
Thesis Supervisor(s):Clarke, Lynda
ID Code:977495
Deposited On:13 Jan 2014 16:15
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:44
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