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This illuminating study explores a central but neglected aspect of modern Jewish history: the problem of abandoned Jewish wives, or agunes ("chained wives")—women who under Jewish law could not obtain a divorce—and of the men who deserted them. Looking at seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany and then late nineteenth-century eastern Europe and twentieth-century United States, Enforced Marginality explores representations of abandoned wives while tracing the demographic movements of Jews in the West. Bluma Goldstein analyzes a range of texts (in Old Yiddish, German, Yiddish, and English) at the intersection of disciplines (history, literature, sociology, and gender studies) to describe the dynamics of power between men and women within traditional communities and to elucidate the full spectrum of experiences abandoned women faced.
Prologue: Finally Out in the Open
1. Abandoned Wives in Jewish Family Law: An Introduction to the Agune
2. Doubly Exiled in Germany: Abandoned Wives in Glikl Hamel’s Memoirs and Solomon Maimon’s Autobiography
3. The Victims of Adventure: Abandoned Wives in Abramovitsh’s Benjamin the Third and Sholem Aleykhem’s Menakhem-Mendl
4. Agunes Disappearing in “A Gallery of Vanished Husbands”: Retrieving the Voices of Abandoned Women and Children
5. An Autobiography of Turmoil: Abandoned Mother, Abandoned Daughter
Bluma Goldstein is Professor Emerita in the Department of German at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of Reinscribing Moses: Heine, Kafka, Freud, and Schoenberg in the European Wilderness (1994).