Chukat: Miriam, Feminists, and the Power of Water, by Ivy Helman.

This week’s Torah portion is Chukat.  It covers a lot of ground.  There are the mitzvot concerning purification with a red cow, the deaths of important individuals, and the continued wanderings in the desert, which are rife with complaining Israelites, plagues of snakes and destructions of enemies.  It would be impossible to cover all of these events well in the length of this post, so instead I will am going to concentrate on a theme: water.  I also want to explain some of the ways Jewish feminists have enriched our connection to water. 

Water is first associated with the prophetess Miriam.  Miriam is first called a prophetess in Exodus 15, when she takes the women of the community out to sing about their deliverance from Egypt by way of the Re(e)d Sea.  Her “Song of the Sea” is thought to be, by many scholars, one of the oldest written texts of the Torah.  Yet, the connection between Miriam and water starts earlier in the Torah.   Miriam is Moses’ and Aaron’s sister and the one who watches over Moses when his mother, Joheved, hides him in a reed basket on the edge of the Nile (Exodus 2:4).  She approaches the Pharaoh’s daughter to secure a milkmaid for her brother (Exodus 4:7).  

Continue reading “Chukat: Miriam, Feminists, and the Power of Water, by Ivy Helman.”

Eve, Revisited by Jill Hammer

About six months ago I was hired to write a curriculum for a Jewish organization on biblical women in ancient and contemporary midrash.  Midrash—the ancient process of creative interpretation of sacred text that began two thousand years ago and continues to this day—has been one of my fields of expertise, and women in midrash is a particular specialty.  I knew the first lesson I wrote would be on Eve (Chava in Hebrew), the first woman of Genesis.  Yet as I began to write lessons, I started with Sarah and Hagar, then proceeded to Rebekah and Lot’s wife, Rachel and Leah, even Asnat (Joseph’s wife) and Naamah (Noah’s wife).  It became clear over the months that I was avoiding Eve.  Whenever I began to think about beginning “her” lesson, I grew anxious and immediately began to think of something else. Only when I had already written six of my ten lessons did I finally, reluctantly, begin to research ancient legends and modern feminist poems on the first foremother of the Bible.

Why was I avoiding Eve?  In part, because she seemed like such a huge topic.  Generations of Jews (and, of course, Christians) have had a great deal to say about Eve, her creation, the fruit of knowledge, the serpent, Eve’s relationship with Adam, and more.  How would I encapsulate it all?   And then there was Lilith, Eve’s alter ego, and all of the legends about her.  Choosing a handful of midrashim out of this vast corpus seemed impossible.  Plus, there was a whole literature about the relationship between Eve and ancient Near Eastern myth I wanted to allude to—Eve as a kind of human version of the Goddess with her Tree.  How to choose what to put in and what to leave out? Continue reading “Eve, Revisited by Jill Hammer”

Vayera and Women’s Agency by Ivy Helman

imageThis week’s Torah parshah is Vayera (Genesis 18:1– 22:24).  The parshah contains the the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the questionable hospitality of Lot, the incestual sexual relationships between a drunken Lot and his daughters, the revelation of Sarah’s pregnancy, the birth of Issac, the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael from Abraham’s family, and the legendary story of the binding of Isaac.  Needless to say, there is much that can be said, but today I want to focus on the women from Lot’s and Abraham’s families.

Women figure prominently in Lot’s family.  In the parshah, we first meet Lot as host. Two male visitors (angels) come to stay at Lot’s house.  When some of the male inhabitants of Sodom learn of this, they come to Lot’s door wanting to harass and sexually assault the guests.  To protect his guests, Lot offers his unmarried daughters to the men instead. Later in the text, we learn that Lot can safely leave Sodom because he is righteous (although what may have spared his life more is the fact that Abraham is his uncle). Continue reading “Vayera and Women’s Agency by Ivy Helman”

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