The scarf and the toothache: Cross-dressing in the Jewish folk theatre

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The aim of this chapter is to examine the significance of cross-dressing and representations of femininity in the Jewish folk play the Purimspiel.1 It will be argued that this traditional festival performance was a vehicle for social comment and protest, expressing resistance by the weak against the strong on two levels: by asserting the identity of an oppressed Jewish minority culture within a dominant Gentile culture, and by registering the perspectives of the poorest and least-powerful male members of the Jewish community within that community itself. However, I shall contend that while the inverted world of masks and disguise found in the topsyturvey world of the Purimspiel afforded a means of expression and release of social tension for the men, it offered no such expression or release for women. On the plane of gender relations and positionalities, these ostensibly oppositional and even radical performances uncritically reproduced and reinforced the subordinated status of women within the Judaic culture of early modern Europe and beyond.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMasquerade and Identities
Subtitle of host publicationEssays on Gender, Sexuality and Marginality
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)0203164822, 9781134530717
ISBN (Print)0415251060, 9780415251068
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2003


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