Volume 14, 2009 : Women in Israeli Judaism

Eve or Lillith?
The View of Women's Physical Attractiveness in Jewish Sources:
A Critical Perspective

Ya'arit Bokek-Cohen
Department of Sociology
Ariel University Center of Samaria, Israel

Nitza Davidovitch
Director of the Department of Academic Evaluation and Development
Ariel University Center of Samaria, Israel

In Judaism, women's beauty is considered a positive value only when it is subordinated to a superior goal. The role of beauty is only functional but it is irrelevant and even dangerous if it becomes an experiential phenomenon by itself. What are the superior goals which women's beauty serves? Finding a mate, establishing a family, and keeping its continuity by childbearing as well as pleasuring her husband. Women's beauty is perceived as a desired phenomenon if it serves these important goals. Yet, if there is any potential threat for the patriarchic social order and male hegemony, it is considered as promiscuous and sinful. The paper argues that the Jewish view of women's beauty is ambivalent: on one hand, a woman should be attractive for her husband, but on the other, her beauty is threatening and forbidden as potentially disastrous to the Jewish family and undermining the traditional patriarchal structure of the Jewish community.

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