In the formative years of women’s and gender studies in the field of rabbinics, inquiries into the Talmudic concept of gender took the shape of liberal feminist readings. These studies concentrated on rabbinic attitudes toward women, and had titles such as How the Rabbis Liberated Women, Women in Jewish Society in the Talmudic Period, and The Status of Women in the Mishnah. The purpose of these studies was to quantify and qualify the rabbis’ approach toward women, concentrating solely on the attitude to or images of women in the Talmud. Even when men are referred to in these works, their function is usually to provide a mirror image of women, emphasizing the low status or offensive representation of the latter group. Judith Baskin’s comments on a series of homilies in the Babylonian Talmud (Niddah 31b) discussing the physiological differences between men and women are a classic example:
Males are said to come into the world well equipped to function fully in society and to leave progeny after them. Women, in contrast, come into the world with nothing. They are dependent upon male largesse for their very survival and, as empty womb, they must wait for male agency in order to become bearers of children (15).
Men were hardly an issue in this type of studies, which struggled to escape the male-centeredness of classical rabbinic research. This seemed to be true both for studies discussing the status of “real” women, and for those dealing with representations and images.
Ishay Rosen-Zvi, “The Rise and Fall of Rabbinic Masculinity”, Jewish Studies Internet Journal 12 (2013), 1-2.