Spoilers for Yentl. You really do want to be surprised by this film, so if you have any desire to watch it, please do before reading.
The important plot points of Yentl:
- women were not allowed to read religious texts;
- the way students studied the Talmud is through lively debate with a study partner or their professor;
- there were a pair of religious laws that were plot-relevant.
One of the characters (Yentl) disgused herself as a man to study the Talmud. She had a study partner (Avigdor), who was a student of the Talmud. She also had a wife (Hadass) who had never read the texts. As far as the latter two were concerned, Yentl was a man.
Feelings that stem from this:
Hadass only knew about the plot-relevant laws that finally gave her agency in her relationship with Yentl because Yentl had started teaching her the Talmud in secret. If she did not have access to those readings or to community, in effect, all she would know about what the laws actually were would come from her husband. In denying a gender access to the laws, religion becomes like a game that everyone has to play, but where one half of the people playing are denied complete access to the rulebook. This means that for an isolated woman, a husband could change the rules on her. It makes complete sense that a society with this tenant would have really, really protective fathers. If your daughter was not allowed to directly read the rules of the game, and if she was not allowed to have private company with others she could trust that would teach her the rules of the game, effectively you were the only one who could protect her through your knowledge of the rules. When you were finding her a husband, you were trying to guage is this a person who will be honest with my daughter about what the rules are, and help her follow them.
Access to the Talmud meant access to debate. When Yentl or Avigdor spoke to each other, there was a negotiation, a play, that would occur. They were exploring the world together, and could argue about the world they wanted to build. When Yentl or Avigdor spoke with Hadass, the conversation was one-sided. Being one-sided meant that there was less intimacy, but it also meant that Hadass had less control over the world she wanted to build. Throughout the film, plot was a thing that happened to her. In comparison, Avigdor/Yantl were the drivers of the plot. The first time she had any actual agency in the film was after Yentl started teaching her the Talmud. I wish she had more agency at the very end of the film to thematically tie this together. Even just a scene where Avigdor proposes his desire to marry Hadass to Hadass, and she expresses that she too desires this (as opposed to them just appearing together at the end, which implies her marrying Avigdor was just something that happened to her in the aftermath of Higher-Agency Characters making decisions for her future). Or a scene where Yentl confesses to Hadass, and Hadass is the person who encourages Yentl to come out to Avigdor. I think if Hadass had a consistently escalating degree of agency as the film progressed, knowledge == agency would be the second most coherent theme in the film. The most important theme being, of course, that people with hair so curly no hat can contain them, are very cute.
This is making me think of my earlier romantic relationships where I gave away some aspect of my intellectual agency to my partner. I let them make decisions for certain contexts, because I thought they would know better. Everytime I delegate intellectually to someone else, I am essentially delegating that portion of the world we build to them. This is not a decision to take lightly, and it is a decision we lightly make all of the time. The higher the stakes the knowledge will have, the more important it is for me to ask questions.