Was Sarah Right to Drive Her Maidservant Hagar from Her Home?

The Chapter of the Bible in Which Four Nations Are Born

If the first chapters of Genesis explore the universal origins of humanity, this week’s Torah reading of Lekh l’kha (Genesis 12-17) turns to a more particularistic narrative. Beginning with God’s command to Abraham to uproot himself from his father’s home and travel to an unknown land, it caps the command with a divine promise:

I will make of you a great nation,
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great.
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
And curse him that curses you;
And all the families of the earth
Shall bless themselves by you.

To this, God adds: “I will assign this land to your offspring.”

But there is one problem: Abraham and his wife Sarah are unable to have children.

Thus, the very beginning of the Jewish people’s existence is framed within the context of marriage and of marital discontent. If Sarah can’t conceive, the fulfillment of God’s promise is in jeopardy. Both Abraham and Sarah must struggle to reconcile that promise with their immediate reality. Although they will ultimately overcome this and other tests of faith, Sarah’s conduct in particular has been subjected to censure in both traditional and more modern Jewish sources.

The full essay appears in this week’s Mosaic Magazine.

 

5 Things I Learned About Marriage While Reading Genesis

Genesis famously offers two “versions” of Adam and Eve’s creation. The first, in the first chapter of Genesis, is a broad overview: “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

The second chapter of Genesis presents a more detailed narrative: God forms the man Adam from the dust of the earth (adama), Adam dwells in Eden for a bit, and then God proclaims that “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” Afterward, God borrows a rib from Adam when he is sleeping, which he fashions into a woman. This act has profound symbolic significance, which Adam himself relates in a kind of poetic mode: “This one at last/ Is bone of my bones/And flesh of my flesh./This one shall be called Woman (isha)/For from man (ish) was she taken.”

In examining the verses of both creation stories, we learn important lessons about not only the origins of human beings and our relationship to our creator, but also about what marriage should involve.

Embracing Genesis’ messages about marriage may require departing from certain sacred cows of modern Western life. But Genesis suggests that the tradeoff is worth it. Here’s my take on it:

Read the rest at the Forward.

Gender and Judaism: A Sophisticated View from the Haredi Camp

Circle Arrow Spiral: Exploring Gender in Judaism by Miriam Kosman Targum Press (2014)

Review by Sarah Rindner

Recent debates about women and the Orthodox rabbinate yielded a range of interesting, impassioned and also banal observations by various Jewish professionals and laypeople. Although sociological and legal arguments abound, a broader philosophical discussion of the nature of gender roles within Judaism is lacking. The assumption in these debates seems to be that the challenge before us is how this issue in Judaism will play out alongside a movement from inequality to equality, from backwardness to progress, in American or Western society. Those who resist this movement and believe that a straightforward march toward gender egalitarianism is neither desirable nor in the spirit of traditional Judaism have yet to articulate what, precisely, a theory of Jewish gender difference could, and should, look like. That is, with the exception of a small coterie of mystically inclined haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, women based in Israel who have been exploring precisely this question for years

Continue reading “Gender and Judaism: A Sophisticated View from the Haredi Camp”

“In my end is my beginning”: T.S. Eliot, Kate Atkinson, and the Yearly Torah Cycle

This year on Simchat Torah we experienced that wonderful transition, repeated every year, when we conclude the Torah and then start over again with the creation of the world out of chaos and void. While the book of Deuteronomy, set as the Jews prepare to enter the land of Israel, may itself be read as a kind of beginning rather than an ending, it also functions as a tragic denouement for Moses. Moses is, of course, prevented from entering the Promised Land he spent his whole life moving toward, as God tells him, “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross there.” This line, as well as the moment we learn that Moses will buried in an anonymous burial place somewhere in the land of Moab, never fails to move me. Deuteronomy may partly be intended to capture the rousing national entry to the land of Israel, but the very end of it is pure tragedy. It is the human story of Moses, the greatest prophet to ever arise in Israel, who nevertheless succumbed to human frailty and human limitations.

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Continue reading ““In my end is my beginning”: T.S. Eliot, Kate Atkinson, and the Yearly Torah Cycle”