THE OBLIGATED SELf: Maternal Subjectivity and Jewish Thought

winner of the

2019 American Academy of Religion Award

for Excellence in the Study of Religion, Constructive-Reflective Studies

2018 National Jewish Book Award finalist

Women’s Studies category

Toronto photo.jpg

University of Toronto: Professor Naomi Seidman and graduate students

My most recent book, The Obligated Self: Maternal Subjectivity and Jewish Thought, puts maternal experience into constructive conversation with central themes in Jewish theology. It joins other innovative volumes in the New Jewish Thought and Philosophy series at Indiana University Press.


The physical and psychological work of caring for children presents theologically fruitful — but largely unexplored — terrain for feminists.

In this book, I demonstrate that attending to the constant, concrete, and urgent needs of young children invites caregivers to grapple with profound religious questions: how can we responsibly use our power in unequal relationships? What is our obligation to respond to human fragility and vulnerability? And how do relationships like those between parents and children reorient our concept of the self? Drawing on Jewish sources from the Talmud to modern philosophy, The Obligated Self takes up the challenge of bringing a theological, feminist perspective to parenting.

Reviews in print:

Susan Sapiro, Motherhood and Godliness,” Lilith magazine (Winter 2018-19)

Dustin Atlas, for Reading Religion (March 2019)

A richly imagined work that brilliantly captures the complexity and contradictions of the experience of parenting and then uses that experience to shed light on the nature of God .... Few readers will come away from this book without being stimulated, challenged and enlarged by it.
— Judith Plaskow, Author, Standing Again at Sinai
One of the most creative projects in Jewish feminist thought in a long while. Benjamin turns a feminist examination of maternal subjectivity into a critical lens for Jewish thinking about the self. She draws on a wide range of resources, beginning with biblical and rabbinic texts, putting them into conversation with modern Jewish thought and various types of feminist literature to create as rich and deep a Jewish conversation as possible.
— Charlotte Fonrobert, author of Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reconstructions of Biblical Gender

Rosenzweig’s Bible

Rosenzweig’s Bible: Reinventing Scripture for Jewish Modernity (Cambridge University Press, 2009) examines the high theological and political stakes of Franz Rosenzweig’s creation of a textual home for the Jewish people in modern times.

My study of this titan of modern Jewish thought and philosophy places Rosenzweig’s best-known work, The Star of Redemption, at the beginning of an intellectual trajectory that culminated in a monumental translation of the Bible. I argue that Rosenzweig’s response to modernity was paradoxical: he challenged his readers to encounter the biblical text as revelation, reinventing scripture – both the Bible itself and the very notion of a scriptural text – in order to invigorate Jewish intellectual and social life, but did so in a distinctly modern key, ultimately reinforcing the foundations of German-Jewish post-Enlightenment liberal thought. Rosenzweig’s Bible illuminates the complex interactions that arise when modern readers engage the sacred texts of ancient religious traditions.

In this nuanced and noteworthy book, Mara Benjamin shows how the great German-Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig struggled to define what the ancient Hebrew liturgy could mean to Jewish existence under the radically altered conditions of late modernity. Textually precise without ever losing sight of the broader context of Weimar-era theology, Rosenzweig’s Bible makes a lasting and significant contribution to the current debate concerning Rosenzweig and the modernist reinvention of Jewish tradition.
— Peter E. Gordon, Harvard University