Norich (p. 6) discusses how Hebrew is, as she puts it, the “Father Tongue,” in that it has been more influenced than Yiddish by “the tradition,” which “signals the patriarchal domain.” To paraphrase Norich, since women were historically denied access to the tradition, how could they possibly join in the conversation? Further, how could they “rewrite” and “subvert” without “access to the already written?”
Norich uses the Yiddish goldene keyt (“golden chain,” a traditional formulation) to describe this tradition of male study and commentary in Hebrew.
Her usage is interesting to me, in that this term, goldene keyt, in my secular Yiddishist experience, has always signified the overall Jewish/Yiddish tradition of culture, artistic expression and yes, religious (but not exclusively religious) tradition.
For example, in Kadya Molodowsky’s poem “Efnt dem toyer,”
Efnt dem toyer, efnt im breyt,
S’vet do durkhgeyn a goldene keyt:
Khosn-kale in mitn
Af a goldenem shlitn.
Open the gate, throw it wide open,
Through it must pass a chain that is golden:
And among them, a bride and groom, happy and gay,
Riding upon a golden sleigh.
(Hellerstein, Kathryn, trans. Paper Bridges: Poems of Kadya Molodowsky. Pages 206-207.)
By goldene keyt, is Molodowsky referring to the exclusively male tradition of Hebrew/Aramaic study and commentary?
I certainly don’t think so. Here, the goldene keyt refers to the family (including the female members of the family). By extension, I think, she’s writing about the “chain” of Jewish generational continuity.
Actually to me, (and yes, it’s subjective), di goldene keyt means something veryyidishlekh, in the sense of referring to Yiddish secular culture, and not the “male” Hebrew traditional culture.
There is more to all this in Moldowsky’s poem that relates to class as well as gender, but that’s for another blog post.
A parallel phenomenon would be the varied ways that the term yidishkeyt would be used, on one hand, by a Satmar Hasid, or on the other hand, by the KlezKanada Institute of Jewish/Yiddish Arts, a largely secular Yiddishist enterprise (where I used to be the artistic director). The same Yiddish term has wildly different meanings in the two contexts.
I’m not quibbling with the way Norich is using the term goldene keyt. I’m sure that she knows what she’s talking about when she uses it to refer to the religious literary tradition.
But thankfully the current Yiddish secular scene (often referred to as yidishland) is a much more socially wide-open place than most parts of the traditional Hebrew religious study world (with, let’s be grateful, some exceptions, such as JTS).
Women within the Yiddishist goldene keyt are not only accepted but celebrated. That’s agoldene keyt that I’m very happy to be a part of.