Write on Lilith! (Write on Eve!) by Ivy Helman

Over the past few months, I’ve been struggling to write posts.  This month is no different.  I am currently sitting with four different half-drafts on three semi-related topics, none of which I seem to be able to complete.  I’ve gone back to each of them numerous times.  I write.  I erase.  I rewrite.  I copy bits of one into another to save for some other time.  I’m left with one sentence:  this week’s Torah parshah is Bereshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8).  Great.  Glad to know that.  Now what?  

When writing, I often find myself in one of two camps given the current state of the world.  Either, I have so much to say that I have no clear idea where to start, so I write three pages of more or less nonsense.  Or, I find myself just so inundated with information that I don’t know where my opinion begins and another’s ends.  I write another 3 pages of completely different nonsense.  I get fed up with both.  I start praying better thoughts will just write themselves.  They don’t.  

Continue reading “Write on Lilith! (Write on Eve!) 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”

What We Lost When We Became Monotheists by Ivy Helman

imageThe Tanakh, Jewish scriptures, predominately call the deity king and lord and use the masculine pronoun.  These images evoke a certain level of power. Just how powerful the deity is in then multiplied when “he” is addressed as  “G-d of Gods,” “Lord of Lords,” judge, almighty, all-powerful, and warrior-like with vengeance, fury and flaring nostrils. Events like war, army invasion, disease, drought,  and famine are often described as divine punishments for wrongs done throughout the Tanakh.

All of these images bring forth a certain mindset regarding who the divine is and what “he” does.  Indeed, such images may well have been crucial in those ancient days when famine, drought, war, and disease  were ever present and, day-to-day survival was often extremely difficult. People sought understanding as to why they were suffering, and the workings of divine beings offered such explanations.   Continue reading “What We Lost When We Became Monotheists by Ivy Helman”

Lessons from Shofetim by Ivy Helman.

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oThis is the first part of a series of reflections on the weekly Torah portions.  For those of you unfamiliar with Judaism, we read the Torah in sections.  There are 52 parshot (or portions), one parshah (portion) is read each week (most often during Shabbat morning services).  It is common for rabbis, prayer leaders or someone of the congregation to offer reflections on the week’s parshah at Shabbat services.

The parshah for this week is Shofetim.  It is Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9 and will be read this Shabbat, 18 August.  Shofetim discusses a range of topics: setting up of a system of judges to make important decisions for Israel; the entitlements of the Levites; the rules of warfare; the importance of justice and just governments; and the acknowledgment of G-d as the true and highest Judge.  It also warns Israel against false prophets and practices of idolatry.  Shofetim contains a number of well-known verses including ‘justice, justice you shall pursue…(16:18),’ and notorious punishments like “…a tooth for a tooth; an eye for an eye…(19:21)”  Continue reading “Lessons from Shofetim by Ivy Helman.”

Michal the Priestess: Midrash, Multiplicity, and the Tales of King David by Jill Hammer

When I was in my late teens, I discovered midrash: the Jewish exegetical process by which commentators weave creative and additive interpretations into the sacred text.  Midrash comes from the word “to ask,” “to seek,” or “to divine.” For example, the tale in which a well follows the prophetess Miriam through the wilderness is an ancient midrash. The story in which God stops the angels from singing as the Egyptians drown in the Sea of Reeds is a midrash. Each of these stories derives from a particular close reading of text, whether a Torah text or a verse elsewhere in the Bible.  Each of them allows a new generation to add its own perspectives to the tradition.

Contemporary feminists, and many other contemporary artists, writers, and exegetes, have used a modern form of midrash to add liberatory perspectives to Jewish tradition and to biblical lore.  From Miriam to Vashti, female biblical characters shine in the creative interpretations of feminist midrashists.  Judith Plaskow’s “The Coming of Lilith” made a huge impact on the reading of the story of Eve and the legend of Lilith. Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent changed the conversation on Dinah forever. Alicia Ostriker, Norma Rosen, Veronica Golos, and many others have joined in this creative play which highlights marginalized voices within the text.  Wilda Gafney has made contributions to a Christian and womanist form of midrash.  Voices like Andrew Ramer and Joy Ladin have invited us to see queer and trans themes in the text. And of course many others, from poet Yehuda Amichai to bibliodramatist Peter Pitzele, have added to this rich tapestry.

Continue reading “Michal the Priestess: Midrash, Multiplicity, and the Tales of King David by Jill Hammer”

Who Is Jephthah’s Daughter? The Cost of War by Carol P. Christ

carol-christIn a provocative essay and heart-breaking painting, Angela Yarber asked us to consider who Jephthah’s daughter is in our time. Angela reminded us that Jephthah was a heroic warrior in the Hebrew Bible who swore in the heat of battle that if his people won, he would sacrifice the first person he would see on returning home. That person turned out to be his unnamed daughter.

Reading Angela’s post and looking at her holy woman icon of Jephthah’s daughter, my mind turned to the story of Agamemnon’s daughter.  In this case, the daughter is named: Iphigenia.  Agamemnon had gathered his troops to sail to Troy, but lack of wind prevented them from setting off.  According to the myth, Agamemnon was told by the Goddess Artemis that he must sacrifice his daughter if the ships were to sail. He did.

In his powerful rewriting of the myth of the sacrifice of Iphigenia, Daniel Cohen questions whether the Goddess requires human sacrifice Continue reading “Who Is Jephthah’s Daughter? The Cost of War by Carol P. Christ”

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