Shemot: Women’s Misbehaving and Disobeying as the Key to Liberation by Ivy Helman.

imageThis week’s Torah portion, or parshah, is Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1).  This parshah sets the scene for the liberation of the Israelites from slavery both by introducing main characters and elaborating on just how difficult life was for the Isrealites under Pharoah’s rule.  The parshah contains many noteworthy aspects: the death of Joseph and the multiplication of the Isrealites in Egypt; the increasing wrath of the Egptians; the birth and adoption of Moses; Moses’ encounter with the Divine in the form of a burning, yet unconsumed, bush; the revelation of the divine name, G-d’s plan for Moses’ role in the liberation of the Israelites from slavery; Moses’ attempts to get out of his assigned role; and Moses’ first confrontation with Pharoah.   

In addition, there are many women, who are integral to the salvation of the Israelites, in this parshah.  For the most part, Jewish tradition has acknowledged their part when it comes to discussions of this parshah, especially Shifra and Puah.  Yet, their role is often overshadowed by Moses’ varied miracles, the mighty power of the divine, the revelation of the Torah, the wanderings in the desert, and so on.  However, the Israelites’ liberation from slavery would have looked quite different without women.   Continue reading “Shemot: Women’s Misbehaving and Disobeying as the Key to Liberation by Ivy Helman.”

Behaalotecha: Lessons and Questions for Feminists by Ivy Helman.

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oThis week’s Torah parshah is Behaalotecha: Numbers 8:1 to 12:16.  By now, much of what comes to pass should sound familiar. The parshah starts with another discussion of leadership and the priesthood.  It then prescribes a second Pesach for those who happened to be ritually unclean for the first one and describes the consequences of not participating in the first Pesach if you had been ritually clean.  Next, the Israelites’ wanderings through the desert are detailed which includes the divine appearing as natural phenomena and the very loud rumblings of the Israelites’ tummies. Finally, the parshah ends with a discussion of Moses’ wife and Miriam’s punishment.

While this Torah parshah contains one of my favorite images of the divine: as a pillar of fire by night and clouds by day, I’ve discussed it many times.  See these posts.  What I want to discuss is the Israelites’ hungry tummies.   Continue reading “Behaalotecha: Lessons and Questions for Feminists by Ivy Helman.”

Householders’ Superstitions and the Higher Truth by Oxana Poberejnaia

I watched this short video on facebook about Sisa, an Egyptian woman who spent forty years a man in order provide for her family. There is a longer version on YouTube. Sisa, a widow, decided to work to feed her children, and consequently grandchildren. In Egypt, a woman can only do unpaid jobs within a home. So Sisa had to pretend to be a man by wearing male clothing and head wear. She takes casual jobs, such as shoe shining or brick laying.

Then Sisa made the news and was honoured by governmental officials. There is footage in the report of Egyptian men watching that footage. Apparently, the men were impressed by Sisa’s efforts and they developed respect for her. One man, who knows Sisa personally, says for camera: “I treat her like a man, because she works like a man”.

The implication being, I assume, that Sisa is only worthy of respect because she acts like a man is expected to act. And another implication is that Sisa is an exception. He only prepared to treat her differently, as all the rest of the women in Egypt apparently cannot work as men.

Continue reading “Householders’ Superstitions and the Higher Truth by Oxana Poberejnaia”

And Thus God made a Covenant with Hagar in the Wilderness by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Freyhauf, Feminism, Religion, Durham, Old Testament, Blogger, BibleWe are familiar with the covenant God made with Abraham and Moses, but are you aware that God also made a covenant with Hagar?

In the wilderness Hagar encounters a deity at the well named Beer-lahai-roi (Genesis 16). Water and wells are important because they symbolize fertility and life. Wells for women are common places where they met their future spouses. Because wanderers in the desert need water to survive, water itself becomes a symbolic of life-giving or life.

In the seemingly barren dessert, the fertile Hagar finds out that she is pregnant and going to be the mother of many children. Hagar is promised progeny in a motherless state.  According to Pamela Tamarkin Reis, this is called the “after-me” descendants, which guarantees Hagar that her children will live for “immeasurable generations;” a pattern that fits within the scope of this promise. This same promise of progeny is also given to Eve in Genesis 3:20, providing and interesting parallelism between Eve and Hagar.

It is worth pointing out the irony exists in this promise.  Sarai uses Hagar to “build her up.” According to Nahum Sarna, to be built up in terms of the number of children that you have, implies that you are mother to a dynasty.  In this pericope, however, it is Hagar, not Sarai that is built up through this divine promise.

This patterns of promise exists within the birth narrative through the annunciation of Ishmael and the promise of progeny.  It is through this narrative that Hagar enters into a covenantal relationship with the deity.  According to J. H. Jarrell, birth narratives have six common elements that establish this relationship:  mother’s status, protest, offer, son’s future forecast, Yahweh naming, and acceptance of the contract. Hagar’s story contain these elements:

  1. Mother’s Status:  Hagar is without child because she is a virgin (16:1).
  2. Protest:  Hagar flees from her mistress (16:8).
  3. Offer:  Return to your mistress and submit to her authority (16:9).
  4. Son’s Future Forecast:  He will live at the east of all his brothers (16:12).
  5. Yahweh Naming:  You will bear a son Ishmael because the Lord has given heed to your affliction (16:11).
  6. Acceptance of the Contract:  She called the name of the Lord (16:13).

Continue reading “And Thus God made a Covenant with Hagar in the Wilderness by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Beyond “Liberal” Female Piety or “Women Read the Qur’an Too” by Amy Levin

I’m a teacher’s assistant for an undergraduate course at New York University called, “What is Islam?” The other day in class, my professor asked the students whether or not the Qur’an is considered a “book”. Fraught with anxiety over inheriting such a problematic scholarly tradition of defining and delineating what “religion” is, I kept quiet. While my professor was aiming more for something sounding like, “a book is read, while the Qur’an is recited,” I kept thinking about the physicality and sacrality of the Qur’an (among other authoritative religious texts) and the way it is handled, revered, preserved, loved, an constantly under interpretation. It was about a week later when news broke out that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan were guilty of burning several copies of the Qur’an on their military base, followed by an unfortunate slew of casualties including at least 30 Afghan deaths and five US soldiers. Continue reading “Beyond “Liberal” Female Piety or “Women Read the Qur’an Too” by Amy Levin”

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