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Hispanic women: Making their presence on campus less tenuous (Project on the status and education of women)

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Text: English, Yiddish (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Project on the status and education of women
  • Unknown Binding: 14 pages
  • Publisher: Association of American Colleges (1991)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0006DE8YA
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

Customer Reviews

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By Rabbi Yonassan Gershom VINE VOICE on March 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Regarding the debate here about whether Yentl was a feminist or a transsexual, I weigh in on the transgender side -- for all the reasons other reviewers have already listed here, and which I have also discussed on my Hasidism FAQ website. So I won't reinvent the wheel in this review. I agree that the movie was definitely a feminist statement, but the book, well, that's another story altogether.

We should remember that before the movie, there was the stage play. It followed the book pretty closely, (which the movie did not!) and was very popular in lesbian and avant garde theaters. When I saw the play performed in the 1970s, Yentl was played as the Jewish version of a "butch" lesbian. (In terms of social roles, not machismo. The ideal Jewish male in the timeframe of this story was a scholar, not a redneck.) In the play, like in the book, Yentl remains living as the man Anshel in Eastern Europe. In the movie, Streisand changed this very important point and had Yentl revert to wearing women's clothes and then going to America.

So nu, what was the relationship between Yentl/Anshel and Avigdor? They were study partners -- chaverim in Hebrew -- a relationship that doesn't seem to exist outside of the Orthodox Jewish community, so here's some background. The Talmud is written in dialogue mode with different rabbis agreeing and disagreeing on various points of Jewish law and theology. Talmud is traditionally studied out loud, by two people hotly debating, going point-by-point over the discussions on the page together. In the traditional yeshiva world -- even today -- the schools are not co-ed. So naturally, your study partner is going to be the same sex as yourself. And very often, your study partner is also your very best friend.
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Format: Hardcover
I first read this story way back when it first came out -- long before Streisand turned it into a third-wave feminist polemic. (Which, by the way, upset the author, I.B. Singer, so much that he tries to stop production. Unfortunately, he did not have artistic control over the film rights to his story, and so this travesty of his work was produced and lives on in infamy.) Upon re-reading it, I still think it is about a transgender person, not a feminist.

The reviewer here who said that another reviewer "should be shot" (such violent intolerance!) for claiming that Yentl was transgender by making a reference to "even heaven makes mistakes" obviously did not read the book -- because that's word-for-word what Yentl's father tells her on page 8. The story also clearly states that Yentl has "the soul of a man." (page 8 also). So, I suggest ignoring those PC polemicists who are talking about the movie only, which is VERY DIFFERENT from the book, and has ITS OWN PAGE for reviews! (If you haven't read the book, why are you reviewing here in the first place?)

Singer was writing in the 1960s. He wrote respectfully of Jewish culture in this story. He did not mock it the way Streisand later did in her movie. The book has no barkers shouting "Story books for women, holy books for men," and as far as I know, nobody even did that in real life. The line is anti-Hasidic propaganda, as is much of the movie. Streisand's film is a comedy. Singer's story is serious drama.

In the book, When Yentl says, "I wasn't created for plucking feathers and chattering with females," (page 47) is she really speaking like a radical 20th-century feminist about social roles -- or is she speaking literally, on a mystical spiritual level?
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Format: Hardcover
There's quite a debate going on in these reviews, so let me return to the main point of these reviews and state that this is an excellent story and well worth reading. As others have pointed out, in adapting the book to a movie, Barbra STreisand made substantive changes in the story, changes that Singer himself did not approve of. It's definitely worth going back to the original text and reading the story as written.

The story is not only a moving tale of the bind a Jewish woman of late 19th or early 20th century Poland puts herself into in order to fulfill her need to study and learn, but a rich portrayal of both the joys and strictures of that society that is now gone (as are so many of Singer's stories). It helps to know something of Judaism to understand many of the references in the story but it is not critical to the reader's empathy with Yentl/Anshel's position.

And yes, the character as portrayed in the book is undoubtedly portrayed as what we would now call transgendered. It is not simply that Yentl wants to study Torah, because if that were the case she could marry Avigdor and continue to study with him; Avigdor offers her this option. She herself says she is not one or the other. I also love Singer's implied explanation for transgender identity as being that of a soul of one sex incarnated in the body of the other. It makes a deep kind of sense to me in both a spiritual and experiential way, and adds another dimension to this story.

This book is very short, really a novella, and is illustrated with interesting woodcuts that portray both moments from the story, and various Jewish ritual objects like spice boxes and the pointers used to read Torah scrolls. Do seek this book and other works of Singer's out, you won't regret it!
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