Mar 22, 2008

Lots Daughters; Ezra and Nehemiah

Here are a few points from our class on February 7, 2008. 

I owe thanks to the works that I am currently studying, including Women’s Bible commentary by Carol Newsom and Sharon Ringe and Women of the Bible and In the Wake of the Goddesses, both by Tikva Frymer Kensky.  My teachers at Hebrew college are very helpful, in particular Professor Judith Kates and Rabbi Natan Margalit.

I would recommend that everyone read the Book of Ruth.   We will not get to it for a while, but you may wish to have some knowledge of it as we go along.   It’s quite short.

1          We talked first about filters - how it is not possible to approach the texts objectively, but that we have filters, such as feeling that women in the bible are mistreated, or that the bible is nonsense, or that it's important to identify with our ancestors, or that it doesn't matter.  In fact, everything author we read has filters  We identified some of our personal filters.  The key thing is to try and be aware as we study of filters. 

2.         Review of last week:  Note that Lot’s daughters did not use sexual wiles – we rally don’t see that until the book of Judith, definitely written under Greek influence.  The story can support different meanings and it’s good to be able to hold several points of view.   Maybe the story tries to provide a reason why Israelites are at odds with the Moabites, maybe the story supports  the idea of there being a strong feminine guidance of Israel’s destiny.  My hope is that people will not in general go away from class thinking that we have all found “the answer” together.

3.         We studied some of Ezra- Nehemiah in order to see an extreme case of not intermarrying with foreign women.    Ezra takes place around the time when the was Temple rebuilt following the return from the Babylonian Exile (516/515 BCE),  and Nehemiah a bit later when the walls of Jerusalem were restored and rededicated (445/444 BCE).
We looked at most of these texts listed below.  We talked to understand the reasoning behind the prohibition against intermarriage, about whether the prohibition was cultural, religious, economic, racial; whether the resettlement in the land after the exile was perhaps driven by the Persian king wanting to control the land; we considered the prohibition on intermarriage as a possible tactic of a minority trying to establish itself.  It’s not clear if the returned exiles were tying to isolate themselves from Canaanites and Moabites and the like, or from Judahites who had not gone into exile.   We mostly agreed that this was not a polemic against women per se.   For further reading, David Weiss Halivni (Revelation Restored) makes a compelling argument for Ezra as being on a level almost with Moses in restoring the Torah to the Jewish people.
  • Ezra 9-10  Intermarriage prohibition “expel the women and children”  no intermarriage with people of the land– whatever the reason, women were important.  It’s not the women themselves who are bad, but it’s marrying into the foreign culture.  Not much said about taking foreign husbands. 
  • Neh 10:30-40 – pledge includes women 10:29
  • Neh 10:31 we will not give our daughter or take their daughters or buy etc
  • Nehemiah 13:  separate the alien mixture from Israel – no ammonite can enter
  • Nehemiah 13:26  foreign wives caused even King Solomon to sin

4.         We began on background for understanding Ruth 4:11  “May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the House of Israel.”  (spoken to Boaz)
Some things to look for as we begin studying the women - are women portrayed as essentially different from men (like Sumerian/Mesopotamian background), or are texts misogynist (like some Greek and rabbinic texts), or is there a human equality, albeit within an androcentric society?  What is the role of women in building up the House of Israel?   Here is a quote  by Adele Berlin in Reading Ruth  (pg 258) that you may find interesting to wrestle with (accurate, not accurate?).  I did not read it in class.  It’s the perfect type of quote for an essay assignment like “Do you think this is true or not true?  Support your arguments with references to the text.”   “The amazing thing about these stories is that , although lineage is defined through the males, it is the women who take responsibility for the continuity of the family and the guardianship of its lineage.  It is the women, often despite their husbands, who ensure the birth of the next generation and direct the proper line of inheritance.”  
We only looked at a couple of texts about Sarah and will continue next week.  Many people are interested/worried/concerned about Sarah’s treatment of Hagar and why this is part of our Rosh Hashanah service.  For now, we will focus on a only a couple of aspects of Sarah in regards to the part of women in “building up the house of Israel,” and we will study Sarah and Hagar extensively in Elul. 
·         Gen 16:2  Sarai shall be built up thru Hagar – there is a pun on son and build.  Sarai asks to be built up through having a son.  We noted that the text indicates that the heir to the covenant between God and Abram will have to come from Sarai, and that for some reason it will have to be a son of Sarai, not of her handmaid.  This is a topic to be explored more fully next week.
·         Gen 16:10 – Hagar’s offspring are too numerous to count, although they are not granted land as Abraham is.  It is unusual to see so much attention paid to a lineage which is outside the group covenanted with God.

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