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Articles - Tagged Real Housewives of the Bible

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Rabbi Norman Cohen of Hebrew Union College began class by reminding students that Biblical texts and midrashim are meant to mirror our own lives and who we aspire to be. As in the case of other Biblical women, reconstructing Miriam’s story depends on sewing together shards of information into a portrait of a life journey to sustain, teach and challenge us.

Mentioned only 4 times in the Bible, Miriam first appears as Moses’ watchful guardian, which cements the continuity of the Jewish people. Her life is caught up with water and in fact, her name reflects that. We meet her next as a prophetess and equal to Moses when she joins (or perhaps leads) Moses in the Song of Songs. According to midrashim, she foresaw Moses’ birth and the miracles that led to Jewish redemption therefore elevating her status in the text. Read more

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In an apt tribute to International Women’s Day, Rabba Yaffa Epstein of Jerusalem’s Pardes Insitute sought to explain how a pro-conversion story about a non-Jewish woman named Ruth became a part of our essential Jewish texts. Against all odds, she plays a vital role in Jewish history as the great grandmother of King David. The great message of her story is to choose faith, love and kindness as merits for joining the Jewish people. The convert is therefore more beloved by God than the multitude who stood at Sinai because they needed signs to believe, while converts accept the subtleties without miracles. Like Abraham, Ruth’s story reminds us that Jewish practice is a choice for every one of us.

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IMG_4510Touting female empowerment, Rabbi Rachel Ain of Sutton Place Synagogue started off class by quoting Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg saying, “Women need to sit front and center if they want to be heard.” Similarly, the Bible’s matriarchs led by example demonstrating their rich influence and strong presence be known. Rebecca lied to Isaac to protect her son’s birthright thereby propelling Jewish lineage. As in the cases of Rebecca, Pharaoh’s midwives and Queen Esther, Rabbi Ain tied and defended these ethical missteps in light of the harsh stakes at hand. Faced with undue pressure under difficult circumstances, these women made complicated and sometimes messy choices to balance their own needs, the needs of their families and the Jewish community. Did the ends justify the means? Absolutely.

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Before there were any real housewives of the Bible, there were Adam and Eve. Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park East Synagogue reminded our students that the early Biblical text has implicated the way we talk about gender ever since. In turn, patriarchy and misogyny have thrived in many traditions.

The first human was created in the image of God yet entirely mortal thus falling somewhere between angels and other animals. Rabbi Cosgrove went as far as to suggest that the original human created by God may have actually been a woman or perhaps a hermaphrodite since there’s nothing in the text to suggest otherwise. This proto-human being was the first to receive the rule not to eat from the tree of knowledge so when Eve goes for it later, we are not quite sure if she knew it was forbidden. Soon, a fitting companion was cast from the the side of the first being, which cements the enduring hierarchical relationship.

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Once they eat from the tree, their perception changes at once and they are soon banished from the Garden of Eden and punished with hard labor and childbirth respectively. The man will be the woman’s object of desire, but he shall cling to his wife. As a consequence, Eve is renamed because she is no longer derivative of man, but mother of all life. This story may be about Adam OR Eve, but perhaps the larger story is about the tragic figure of God who wrestles with parental duty and disappointment when humanity’s weaknesses shine through.

imageLast night, Rabbi Barry Schwartz of New Jersey’s Congregation Bais Emuno and director of Jewish Lights Publishing revealed a sympathetic portrayal of Batsheba or as he put the saga, “…far beyond House of Cards.” Using iconic Western artworks, literature, film and varied midrashim he reminded us just how deeply pervasive and far reaching the temptress archetype still holds. Read more

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At last night’s first of nine Real Housewives of the Bible classes, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of New York’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah set the bar high to provoke and compel contemplation and participation. She deconstructed the story of Abraham’s Egyptian concubine, Hagar, from a uniquely feminist standpoint to 150 eager students. She explained how Hagar became a hero for the African American church during the 19th century as both an ex-slave and single mother who secures redemption and exits as a survivor. Read more