The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Construction of Gender Ideals in the Newspaper Sulamith 1806–1820: A Discourse Between Reform, Renewal, and Restoration

Sulamith, founded in 1806, was the first Jewish newspaper in the German language. The name is related to the Hebrew word for „peace“ and is a female name found in Shir haShirim. The founders David Fraenkel (1779-1856) and Joseph Wolf (1762-1826) were well connected to the second generation of Maskilim, of whom many wrote articles in Sulamith. There is an ongoing discussion on how representative the newspaper was for the general German Jewry but it is unquestionably representative of the second generation of Maskilim. As such, it is an important historical source for the development of Jewish history – a discourse balancing between Jewish reform, renewal, and restoration.

Gender expectations and ideals are changing in this discourse and a new type of men- and womanhood appears. These ideals can become especially clear in the discourse on the education of boys and girls. Education, as a tool to form the ideal future men and women, was a central topic in the Sulamith with around 10% of its article dedicated to this subject.

By means of these articles, this paper will analyze the construction of gender ideals for women and men. A special focus is made on the discourse on reform, renewal, and restoration. The paper will investigate educational programs for boys and girls and how these programs were justified. The findings will show that the second generation of Maskilim not only constructed female gender ideals but also male ones. The paper goes on to analyze where the differences and similarities between the ideals of women and men. The exploration of gender expectation and ideals provides a great insight into the important historical discourse of the second generation of Maskilim – a generation that balanced on a slippery rope between both the demands for a reformed Judaism and the criticism of a Judaism in decay.