Literacy and Power: The Shiyour as a Site of Subordination and Empowerment for Chabad Women
Once a week, late at night, a group of otherwise very busy Jewish women of the Orthodox Jewish Chabad community leave their children, husbands, and homes to attend a shiyour—a religious lesson given by and to adult women. Within a situation of restricted access to literacy, the teachers use specific texts and language to reproduce cultural knowledge regarding group and personal identities. Deconstructing the shiyour will demonstrate the function of these literacy events in reiterating group borders and creating social and temporal networks, while covertly serving to uphold the traditional gender hierarchies that allow only men of the community access to public power and formal status positions. Some women, however, manage to turn around this literacy practice into an empowering and equalizing experience.
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