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Jewish women in early modern period

Jewish women in the early modern period were a crucial part to all Jewish societies, as they made up half of the population. Living in places such as Italy, Poland-Lithuania, and the Ottoman Empire had effects on the role Jewish women played in their society. Different customs and regulations were found in various societies around the world.

Some Italian Jewish women became published writers. One notable author was Sarra Copia Sullam (1592-1641). She was accused of plagiarism by men that wanted to undermine her written accomplishments. Jewish women also acted as ritual slaughterers. Ritual slaughter can be defined as killing animals for meat, typically in a religious ritual. Although women could act as ritual slaughterers, they had limited circumstances in which they were able to slaughter animals. Only qualified women were allowed to, and usually only in cases in which they needed to provide food for their families. Women also served in the business sphere of Italian society. They acted as financial agents for their husbands, moneylenders, manufacturers of buttons and silk, cosmetic developers, etc. Their business was conducted both privately and publicly. This practice of women in business was disputed by men in society, as they thought women had no place in business.

Jewish women were not allowed to worship communally in Jewish Italy. However, they did have a separate women's section in synagogue where they could worship and take part in their faith. Those women that could read Hebrew prayed daily. Translations from Hebrew to a more common language later appeared for those that did not know Hebrew—men also benefitted from these translations, as not all could men could read Hebrew. Women played a big role during worship by disrupting it. They would yell curses on their male counterparts and aired grievances they had. Because Jewish Italian women could not access the Torah during worship, they made the mappot, which was a binder with Torah scrolls. Some women even participated in daily fasting, prayer, and even abstaining from all pleasures.

Some Jewish girls were lucky enough to receive a complete Jewish education in Italy. However, many in society feared educated girls, but realized that illiterate women would not make for good homemakers or mothers. Because of this realization, daughters were taught how to write in Italian and some even learned Hebrew. This education was mainly taken care of at home, but some girls attended school. Occasionally women became teachers of Hebrew—they were called rabbit or rabbinate. These teachers would also get involved with healing, midwifery, and other domestic practices, not just Hebrew teaching.



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