Category Archives: Purim

Purim, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras & more

parshat Tzav (Leviticus 6 – 7)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on March 17, 2022 on Clubhouse. Grab a drink as we explore this week’s Torah reading and how it relates to Spring Folly and Spring Cleaning. Exposed to the ingredients that are used in the sacrifices we realize that Hametz, Matzah and Bread (not to mention, hard liquor) have significance unrelated to the Exodus story and more related to the trials, violence as well as joys of life.

Sefaria Source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/392354

Transcript

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and that mADLIK we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz We host Madlik disruptive Torah and clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite podcast platform. Today, the gods of folly are shining on us, as Purim coincides with St. Patrick’s Day so grab a drink as we explore Purim St. Patrick’s Day Mardi Gras, and more.

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So welcome and l'chaim to you all. Thank you so much for joining us today. So Rabbi, are you struck as I am that here we have Purim the same day as St. Patrick's Day. And you know, Mardi Gras, which is I guess, before Easter, which is like Lent, and is also a kind of crazy, crazy holiday. And then I'm in LA with a lot of Persians and it's also Narouz. And so as far as I understand Narouz is also a New Year's holiday. It does have one interesting facet to it. I mean, it's a feast, a major feast, and I guess the Persians are like the Jews in that regard. The what's the point of celebrating if it doesn't include food. But it also includes an interesting aspect, which is shaking of the house where in some communities they actually take all the furniture out, they definitely shake the carpets. So there's an element in many of these holidays of both folly and maybe a little bit of alcohol and frivolry as well as a little bit of spring cleaning. Some refer to the beginning of Lent, as there's something called Clean Sunday. And they all obviously coincide with with spring. So is this a coincidence? Or do you like me think that there's some tzad Hashava, something that connects them all?

 

Adam Mintz  02:35

There has to be something that connects them. It's just like we've spoken in the past about the fact that in winter, everybody has a holiday of lights, whether it's Hanukkah, or Christmas or Kwanzaa, everybody has a holiday. And we understand that because it's when the days are short, and it's cold and it's dark, you need a holiday of lights, there must be something about the beginning of the spring that requires us to let go. And to start anew, there must be something there that connects all these holidays. And I look forward to exploring that with you tonight.

 

Geoffrey Stern  03:10

Absolutely. Now, I think the easy one for us because Christianity is so related to Judaism, is that certainly lent I understand the word comes from long, which is the days are getting longer. We just changed the clock for that very reason. And there's no question that we all know that Lent is a time where Christians are more observant, where Christians take upon themselves certain stringencies And I think the most obvious connection between Mardi Gras and Carnval in Brazil, and Lent is that this sort of a release before you begin TwshuvaI mentioned last week, St. Augustine said, you know, Lord, make me chaste, but not quite yet. And there's a little bit of that working here where you you go ahead and get wild and release. And then you get very serious. And I'm wondering, you spoke last Shabbat I believe in your synagogue between the connection between Purim and Pdsach. And I know that we're supposed to start studying about Pesach right after Purim ends, what was the connection between Purim and Pesach that you talked about?

 

Adam Mintz  04:34

So I what I talked about was the fact that Purim and Pesach both represent redemptions. Purim is one kind of redemption; Purim was the redemption of the Jews from Persia. And Pesach is a different kind of redemption, the redemption the Jews from from Egypt, but we made we put the two holidays next to one another. And the explanation that I talked about last week was The following that this year is a leap year. The Leap Year means that there are two Adars this year. And because there are two Adars is this year, the question is when to celebrate Purim? Should we celebrate Purim in the first Adar or the second Adar? And the Talmud says that we celebrate Purim in the second Adar so that we can connect the two redemptions to one another? So there's no question that they're connected. And another interesting thing that already you know, Purim has been over here in New York for about an hour. And already, there's talk that you have to start preparing for Pesach. The The Talmud says that 30 days before Pesach, you have to start studying the laws of Pesach. Maybe by talking about that law, we fulfill that obligation. And therefore tonight is 30 days before Pesach. Actually, four weeks from tomorrow night will be the first Seder. It's hard to imagine, but four weeks from tomorrow night will be the first Seder. In addition, some people have the tradition that they do not eat matzah, between Purim and Pesach. The Mintz family has that tradition. We're done with matzah. Until Pesach we are done with natzah we will not have matzah. And the reason is that kind of gets us excited about Pesach when we sit down and have Matza at the first Seder, it's something we haven't had in a month. So there definitely is a connection. Somehow poram builds up to Pesach somehow.

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:40

Do you think at all that drinking all of a scotch and beer is we're getting rid of the Hametz already 30 days before it is?

 

Adam Mintz  06:51

But I think that your question is a good question. And that is why is it that we drink on Purim? I think that is an interesting question. And you said that the Persian holiday also drinks. So where does the drinking come from?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:10

So the Persian holiday is like I said Narouz, and they have something called “khooneh tekouni”, which means literally shaking the house, and that's part of their cleaning thing. I don't know whether they drink Obviously, today, so many Persians are Muslim, that they probably don't drink. But now Narouz is a pre Muslim holiday. It's really going back, which is kind of fascinating. again, I reset the room, and we're talking about basically holidays that come from Persia before Islam. We're talking about Christianity that came out of Judaism, and then obviously, Judaism, and they all have these two different themes. One is some sort of release. It seems frivolry, folly before you get very serious, and the other one is cleaning. You know, we because we know of Western Christianity. We know about Ash Wednesday. But as I said before, there is this Clean Monday and part of the Clean Monday in the Eastern Church literally has to do with doing Teshuvah, they read the same psalms that we do before we do Rosh Hashanna. There is definitely a build up to the climax of redemption which we share. That is Pesach. And you pointed out that there is this inextricable connection between Purim and Pesach. I mean this year, you could make the case that had we not had an "ibur Shana" a "Shana Me'uberet' a leap year, I would be talking to you right now at the Seder

 

Adam Mintz  09:05

There's no quetion that that's right.

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:05

This would be this would be the Seder. And so I think that there's there's something about Purim. One of the beautiful Midrashim, or words that people say about Purim is that Yom Kippur is a "Yom ki Purim" that Yom Kippur is like Purim and Yom Kippur clearly as the most serious holiday of the year. And poem is probably the most frivolous. And there's no question that one of the things that we need to talk about tonight is the connection between the two, that these are the two extremes and are the two extremes connected at all? Are there pathways for some people to find God and spirituality and redemption through very serious introspection and for others from pure undulated Joy, I think that's another wonderful question that we can discuss.

 

Adam Mintz  09:12

That is a very good question to discuss. Yes.

 

Geoffrey Stern  10:14

So so, you know, the fascinating thing is that one of the connections that we have is that on Pesach, they are very stringent laws about what you can't have. And you know, I said a second ago, that is there a connection between drinking the liquor which is basically Hametz because it is grain that has fermented, which ultimately is what Hametz is, and what you're not allowed to do on Pesach. And so, you know, really at Madlik, we discuss the pasha every week. And in this week's Parsha, we have a fascinating insight into things that we normally associate only with Passover, and that is leavened and unleavened bread. So if you look at Leviticus 6 and 7, it starts going through the different sacrifices and what I love about the different sacrifices. And I've talked about this before. I think that in our synagogue services, we need to modify our synagogue services so just like, there's minha service, which is the afternoon service, but which is actually modeled after a particular sacrifice called the minha sacrifice. They have to be services for different people at different times, feeling different emotions and having different spiritual needs. But in any case, we go through the different sacrifices that are bought. And we will see in a second that some of them have no unleavened bread. And some of them have a mixture of leavened and unleavened, and some of them emphasize the leaven. So it's again, a kind of variation on the theme that I think we're talking about which of these opposites, there's a place for the opposites. So in Leviticus 6, the first sacrifice that it talks about, and you can almost read these as recipes is the תּוֹרַ֖ת הַמִּנְחָ֑ה the meal offering and and again, we have a service that we do every afternoon, that is modeled after that. And it says in verse 9, it shall be eaten as unleavened cakes, in the sacred precept, they shall eat it in the enclosure of the Tent of Meeting, it shall not be baked with lemon. So those of us who believe that the whole Simbiology of Leaven has to do with the Jews leaving Egypt and not having time to bake their bread have to take a step back here, because obviously, we're being exposed to a grammar, to a vocabulary that says certain things about a sacrifice. When it says, and this one, you can't use Leaven, as opposed to the sacrifice of well being the  זֶ֣בַח הַשְּׁלָמִ֑ים, and that is made of unleavened cakes with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil and cakes of Choice flour, the offering with cakes of leaven bread. So here, all of a sudden, in this other sacrifice, we have a mixture of leavened and unleavened. And there's a wonderful commentary that kind of drills down into this and says, Well, you know, this is a זבח תורת שלמיו it's about your peace. It's about your wholeness, and thanks, and it has to have the leavened bread. And it's fascinating that he says that, you have to eat it very quickly, which causes you to invite more people. So many of these sacrifices had to be eaten. We always think of a sacrifice as something that gets burned and destroyed. But most of the sacrifice, at least many of them had to be like the Passover sacrifice. They had to be eaten with a bunch of people. And so the one commentary which is the Emeka Davar, which I have in the source sheet and didn't have chance to translate it, but it talks about number one, if you're celebrating you have to have leavened bread. And two that you have a time constraint, which requires you to share your joy with other people. So I think the takeaway from all of this is that there is a much more universal vocabulary of what leavened means and what unleavened bread means. And we have to kind of enlarge our universe of discourse when we discuss these things, and it will help us on Passover, but it will also help us the rest of the year. What does leavened and unleavened mean to you, Rabbi?

 

Adam Mintz  15:39

So you gave a great introduction. Thank you, Geoffrey. And obviously, this is relevant thirty days before Passover, generally speaking, the rabbi's understand leaven, as a sign of wealth. Now that comes from the Pesach story, that matzah is called the bread of affliction the bread of poverty, right? Poor people can't afford a whole piece of bread. So that's why we break the matzah. You know, at the Seder, just looking forward to the Seder we we make the afikomen how do we make the afikomen we break the middle matza in half right. That's the tradition everybody breaks the middle matza.  One of the reasons you break the middle Matza in half is because matzah is the bread of poverty. Leaven; bread that rises is considered to be assigned of wealth, generally speaking, the rabbi's explain the Torah there are only two sacrifices that have leavened bread, the Toda the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and on Shavuot, on Pentecost, the Shtei halechem the sacrifice the represents the new crop. Those are the only two sacrifices the whole year that have leavened bread. And the way they explained it is as follows. Generally speaking, sacrifices are our sign of humility, as we stand before God. But two times you don't want to be humble. When we give thanksgiving to God, we want to throw everything to God, we want to give him the best, right? Because we're so thankful we want to give him even leaven bread. And the same thing with the sacrifice of the two breads, the Shei halechm, that's a celebration and we celebrate, then we want to do the best we can do we want to we want to kind of show off our wealth and our success. So actually, the idea of leaven and unleavened is very much connected to Pesach the idea of leaven being something, you know, wealth and prosperity and unleavened as poverty. But I think the key jump here is .... and this is a very important jump. And that is unleavened also means humility. And that you know, Passover is supposed to be a holiday of humility. They explain the Hasidic rabbis explained that Mitrayim, that's Egypt could also be a be pronounced the Mitzarim, which means tight places. Mitzrayim was tight places. It was a place where it was hard to get around, right with the Jews didn't have flexibility. They were slaves. They were in tight places. And only when they left were they able kind of to exhale. So the experience of slavery was was an experience of poverty, of difficulty of unleavened bread.

 

Geoffrey Stern  18:30

You know, I love the Hebrew Mitzrayim is like Metzar, which is a narrow place. Well, all of us know the the Yiddish or anglicized version of tzarot, Xtores, Gehakta tzores, it comes from the same word tzar, which is narrow. And then you talked about the bread, the Hametz is always associated with wealth, but the Hebrew word for wealth is Ashir Ashreynu also comes from that there's not always a negative connotation to being rich, because richness can be in material goods, but it can also be ASHRAE yoshveh vetecha those of us who are complete and whole and rich, in in spiritual things

 

Adam Mintz  19:28

And that's the idea of gratitude, that when we express gratitude, we want to be complete and rich and wealthy and give it up, give it all we got, I think is what we would say in English.

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:40

You know, it's amazing to me the part of the Haggadah called Maggid has only one requirement and it says in the Mishnah that you have to say the verses that are said, when you bring the Bikurim the Those loaves of the first, the first grain, which is amazing. If you think of it here you are at a meal that you are eating only Mtzah and not hametz. And you are quoting, you know, the part that begins with my forefather was a wandering Aramean. That is what somebody says, correct me if I'm wrong, when they raise up those the elevation offering two loaves of bread to thank god, is that also the a little bit of this duality here?

 

Adam Mintz  20:38

Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. It's a tension is, I would say a balance. But I think the better word is a tension. And I think that's really interesting that there's a tension between the idea of humility, and the idea of gratitude, you know, with all that we have.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:59

So you know, the word that is hametz, now that we've kind of pulled it away from the Passover Exodus story, and we talk in terms of, it's kind of a universal at least as far as the ancient Near East, it meant something, hametz meant something. And, and lechemmeant something. And I'd like to look at that for a second. The word Hametz can mean sour. You know vinegar in modern day Hebrew, is Hamutz. It's when something ferments, it also can mean something that has gone bad. It's deteriorated. It's gotten stale, so to speak. And I think one of the aspects that unites all of the responses to the spring is to kind of wipe away that which has kind of deteriorated over the winter, and look at the new crop and the new sproutings and spring has come. And I think there's a level of that is well here. You know, hametz has a sense of, you know, in the in the New Testament, they taught they criticize the Jews for being a hametz. And they took that right from our tradition, because in our tradition, the hametz obviously needs heat, which translates into passion to rise. It's been associated with redness with with the passion of anger and stuff like that. It's been associated. on the one hand we've seen with ashirut which is can be both richness in a bad sense. But clearly, richness also, in a wonderful sense. But then also, this aspect of the evil inclination and the passion of the moment, and then the deterioration and you want to wipe off the old and bring in the new.

 

Adam Mintz  23:28

Yeah, I mean, there's no question that That's right. And I think that's a tension that plays itself out in so many different areas. But sacrifices is one of those areas, and the holiday of Pisa is another one of those areas. On one hand, matzah is a bread of affliction. At the same time, matzah is the bread of freedom. How can it be that the matter of affliction is also the motto of freedom? The answer is that that's what we always that that's what we always, you know, have a tension between how to how do we look at things, you know, do we do we see things as our opportunity for leaven for opportunity for all of these things? Or do we say no, that we need to be humble? And I think the answer is it of course, both are true.

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:10

You know, and of course, bread, you know, takes us back to the sin of eating the apple. In Genesis 3, Adam is punished, and it says, By the sweat of your brow, shall you get bread to eat until you return to the ground. Every time we make a blessing over a challaha we say hamotzi Lechem min haAretz. And we are clearly making reference to this verse and again, it's a question Is this a curse? Is it a curse to work? Or is it the reality and the joy of being human? Because you know I'll never forget when the peace treaty was made between Begin and Sadat, the verse that Menachem Begin quoted was Hazorim b'dima yikzaru He who sows in tears will reap in joy. There's a part of our tradition that puts down labor. And there's a part of our tradition as we visited in recent episodes, that celebrates labor. And here too, there's this sense of struggle, we can not but admit the connection between Lechem and milchama...  and war, the struggle of life, the struggle between crazy people like Putin, who want more bread, who have a desire for more who need to have that struggle. It's all in here. Is there a connection between milchama and lechem?

 

Adam Mintz  26:04

I never thought of it. But you know, maybe there is maybe, you know, maybe that's what we fight for. And you know, maybe that's part of the challenge, milchama, Lacham, the word lachamand the word Lechem. I mean, it's no question the word lacham, and the word lechem is the same word. I wonder what the connection is between the two. That's very interesting.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:25

So the connection that that I made, I haven't seen that much, it seems clear to me, the connection that I think you find in the text of the Bible is the opposite. In other words, I go from war and conflict, to lechem which is the staple of life, and that at the end of the day, it's the fighting over territory, over turf. But the Bible goes the opposite direction. So in Numbers, when it talks about the spies coming back from seeing the land of Canaan, it says, כִּ֥י לַחְמֵ֖נוּ הֵ֑ם, they will devour us, they will eat us like bread. And they say אֶ֣רֶץ אֹכֶ֤לֶת יוֹשְׁבֶ֙יהָ֙ it's a land that eats its settlers. But there's no question that there is a connection between the struggle to eke out a living and to provide, and the struggle of limited resources. And war and conflict.

 

Adam Mintz  27:37

There is no question that that's right. I mean, and that, you see that so strongly, and you know, in what's going on in Ukraine, you know, what, what are we fighting about? Are we fighting lacham about Lechem is ultimately all war, about bread, about success, about you know, about being prosperous, is that what war is about is luck, calm and left him the same thing, or lacham and lechem opposite things?

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:09

So, you know, I think at the end of the day, this this conversation of lechem of bread and matzah and unleavened bread, and both of them have connotations that are very opposite. You know, as you mentioned, matzah can be both the lechem Oni, it can be the bread of the poor person. But it can also be the bread of the person who doesn't need those riches (whose self sufficient/fee) who's pure and doesn't require the passion has that that mindset of serenity. And the same goes for the bread, it it can be richness and material, but it can also be the ashrey Yoshvey the pure wealth of prosperity, and it can be this joy that people have when they bring the first fruits and they thank God for it. And I think this confluence that we see here in the sacrifices, but also in these traditions that we see that this connection between Purim and Passover.  think there's a line between the two and we all have to find a spot on that line or spots on that line. It makes it so fascinating this, this wonderful month that we are entering now, we make this transition from the giddiness of drinking to excess, and then sitting down at the Seder and redemption is somewhere in there. It's to me I just, I love Purim, I have to say it's one of my favorite holidays. I've been at Purim meals, where people have gotten drunk fathers have talked to their children, their grown children, and just kind of share their soul with them as one would never hear. And it's a beautiful holiday. And it's a surprise....

 

Adam Mintz  30:30

That is really a good word for Purim is a surprise, right? You never know what to expect on for every holiday, you know what to expect, you know what Yom Kippur is going to bring? You know how you're going to feel you know what the davening is like, you know what shul is like? It's very much the, you know, expected Purim is always a surprise. That's a very smart idea.

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:57

A pleasant surprise, and it can be a troubling surprise.

 

Adam Mintz  31:01

It could be a bad surprise, surprise, right? You never know. And I think you need to build surprises it. I wonder whether that's what the drinking, what the frivolity. I wonder whether that's part of it, the idea of having a surprise?

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:19

Well, you know, certainly one of the themes of Purim is Vinehapachu which means to turn things on their head, you know, we know you're supposed to get drunk. So you don't know the difference between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordechai. But I think our little exploration today that tied into to both the holidays that are celebrated by many different peoples on this day, and the Parsha that we're reading, certainly shared that with us. There's this delight that we can have this open tent that welcomes everybody, no matter what path they come from, whether it's joy or sadness, there's a message for all of you. And that's kind of also the message of the Parsha. As you read it this Shabbat, there's a sacrifice for everybody. And I think, again,I've been preaching that these aren't so much sacrifices, as ways of relating and ways of expressing different emotions at different moments.

 

Adam Mintz  32:21

I think that's beautiful. I want to wish everybody again, a Happy Purim for those people who still have for him a Shabbat Shalom, it's a confluence of Shabbat and Purim and all the good things right after Purim comes to Shushan Purim. In Jerusalem they're actually just beginning their celebration of Purim now, they celebrate the day afterwards, the 15th day of Adar. So Shabbat shalom. We look forward to next week to as we continue our travels through the book of Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus, Shabbat Shalom,

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:49

Shabbat shalom. Hag Purim samayach, to you all. We'll see you all next week.

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Sinning for God

Esther’s Purim message and how women save the world

Using Esther and other Biblical heroines we explore a feminist take on a Rabbinic theme of women sinning for the sake of heaven and for a greater good….

Listen to the madlik podcast:

The podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at a Kavanah session at TCS – The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, CT.

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notes:

Esther

Esther sent a message to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night and day; I also and my maidens will fast likewise, and so will I go in to the king, not according to the custom” (Esther 4:16). Rabbi Abba said: It will not be according to my usual custom, for every day until now when I submitted myself to Ahasuerus it was under compulsion, but now I will be submitting myself to him of my own free will. And Esther further said: “And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). What she meant was: Just as I was lost to my father’s house ever since I was brought here, so too, shall I be lost to you, for after voluntarily having relations with Ahasuerus, I shall be forever forbidden to you. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 15a)[i][ii]

לך כנוס את־כל־היהודים הנמצאים בשושן וצומו עלי ואל־תאכלו ואל־תשתו שלשת ימים לילה ויום גם־אני ונערתי אצום כן ובכן אבוא אל־המלך אשר לא־כדת וכאשר אבדתי אבדתי עד אשר לא כדת אמר רבי אבא שלא כדת היה שבכל יום ויום עד עכשיו באונס ועכשיו ברצון וכאשר אבדתי אבדתי כשם שאבדתי מבית אבא כך אובד ממך

Tamar

Ulla said: Tamar engaged in licentious sexual intercourse [with her father-in-law, Judah (see Genesis, chapter 38),] and Zimri ben Salu also engaged in licentious sexual intercourse [with a Midianite woman (see Numbers, chapter 25).]  Tamar engaged in licentious sexual intercourse and merited that kings descended from her and she also merited to be the ancestor of prophets [e.g., Isaiah, who was related to the royal family]. Conversely, with regard to Zimri, several multitudes of Israel fell due to him.

Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak said: Greater is a transgression committed for its own sake, i.e., for the sake of Heaven, than a mitzva performed not for its own sake.

The Gemara questions this comparison: But didn’t Rav Yehuda say that Rav said: A person should always occupy himself with Torah and mitzvot even not for their own sake, as it is through acts performed not for their own sake that good deeds for their own sake come about? How, then, can any transgression be considered greater than a mitzva not for the sake of Heaven?

אמר עולא תמר זינתה זמרי זינה

תמר זינתה יצאו ממנה מלכים ונביאים זמרי זינה נפלו עליו כמה רבבות מישראל

אמר ר”נ בר יצחק גדולה עבירה לשמה ממצוה שלא לשמה והאמר רב יהודה אמר רב לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמצות אפי’ שלא לשמן שמתוך שלא לשמן בא לשמן

Yael

Rather say: A transgression for the sake of Heaven is equivalent to a mitzva not for its own sake. The proof is as it is written: “Blessed above women shall Yael be, the wife of Hever the Kenite, above women in the tent she shall be blessed” (Judges 5:24 Etz Hayim p 425), and it is taught: Who are these “women in the tent?” They are Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Yael’s forbidden intercourse with Sisera for the sake of Heaven is compared to the sexual intercourse in which the Matriarchs engaged.[iii]

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: That wicked one, Sisera, engaged in seven acts of sexual intercourse with Yael at that time, as it is stated: “Between her feet he sunk, he fell, he lay; between her feet he sunk, he fell; where he sunk, there he fell down dead” (Judges 5:27). Each mention of falling is referring to another act of intercourse.

אלא אימא כמצוה שלא לשמה דכתיב (שופטים ה, כד) תבורך מנשים יעל אשת חבר הקני מנשים באהל תבורך מאן נשים שבאהל שרה רבקה רחל ולאה

א”ר יוחנן שבע בעילות בעל אותו רשע באותה שעה שנאמר (שופטים ה, כז) בין רגליה כרע נפל שכב בין רגליה כרע נפל באשר כרע שם נפל שדוד

Lots Daughters         Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Avin said that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa said: A
person should always come first with regard to a matter of a mitzva, as in reward of the one night that the elder daughter of Lot preceded the younger for the sake of a mitzva, she merited to precede the younger daughter by four generations to the monarchy of the Jewish people. The descendants of Ruth the Moabite ruled over the Jewish people for four generations: Obed, Yishai, David, and Solomon, before the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, whose mother was Naamah the Ammonite. (Babylonian Talmud Tractate Nazir 23:b)

א”ר חייא בר אבין א”ר יהושע בן קרחה לעולם יקדים אדם לדבר מצוה שבשכר לילה אחת שקדמתה בכירה לצעירה

זכתה וקדמה ארבעה דורות בישראל למלכו’

Eve

Starting with Eve and that damned apple, women have been depicted (and mostly condemned) as the willful and wily seducers of men: …Even the daughter of the patriarch Jacob, a woman who is the apparent victim of rape, is blamed by some of the more misogynistic rabbinical sages for provoking her rapist. And a minority tradition in the rabbinical literature reaches a similar conclusion about Lot’s daughters: “Lot is a warning example to men to avoid being alone with women, lest [they] should entice them to sin, as did Lot’s daughters.”

However, “an open-eyed reading of the Bible reveals that women play a crucial and dynamic role in the destiny of humankind, in both Jewish and Christian tradition. Inevitably, a woman figures decisively in the recurring theme of “the birth of the chosen one,” starting with the matriarchs of the Hebrew Bible and culminating with the Virgin Mary in the Christian Bible. As we have already seen, Lot’s daughters and Judah’s daughter-in-law are examples of how the bearer of the “chosen one” is not passively impregnated with the seed of a patriarch; rather, these women take it upon themselves to defy the will of powerful men and sometimes God himself in order to bring about the crucial birth. Indeed, the Bible frequently singles out “the woman as initiator of events,” as Ramras-Rauch puts it. “From Eve through Sarah and Esther, women have shaped sacred history through word and deed.””[iv]

Contemporary Feminist Interpretations of the “Sin” of Eve [v]

Mieke Bal[vi] does not see the action of eating the fruit as sin. Rather, Bal views the woman’s choice to eat as a way to gain the wisdom that will make her like God. Ironically, her choice also fulfills God’s intention of humanity made in the divine image (Gen. 1:27). By choosing to eat and gain knowledge, including sexual knowledge, the woman makes the continuance of the species possible, even though the individual will not be immortal. Her choice is a choice for reality. Her choice puts an end to the fantasy of individual immortality. It opens up reality as we know it.

Lyn Bechtel asks, why, if humans were created immortal, were they also created sexual? If they were created immortal, why were they made of finite clay? Why after eating the fruit do the humans fear their nakedness rather than death? Why is it considered punishment for Adam to be sent into the world to be a farmer, when Genesis 2:5 tells us that humans were intended to cultivate the ground? Bechtel interprets the Adam and Eve story as the story of human maturation…. Thus it is better to interpret this to mean that those who eat will become aware of the reality of death. That is what gradually happens as we mature. … After the humans mature, they are ready to enter the world where they will take up their life’s work, the work God intended them to do from the beginning. Although Bechtel sees the story as androcentric, she does not believe it is sexist. In addition, her reading has the advantage of placing life in the real world in a positive light. It is not a punishment for sin, but the world God created for mature men and women to share as partners.

Dutch scholar Ellen van Wolde discusses this problem in her treatment of the Adam and Eve story, which is similar to Bechtel’s. She sees the clue to the whole story in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” She writes: As man leaves his father and mother to become independent, so man, male and female, leaves YHWH God by means of his transgression of the prohibition in 3:1–7 to become independent. . . . The realization that verse 2:24 presents man’s process of development in a nutshell and the realization that a similar behavior can be observed in man’s attitude towards YHWH God, makes the reader aware of the fact that Gen 2–3 is really one extensive description of this growth.  Van Wolde sees the transgression as a necessary disobedience, because freedom is the one thing that God could not build directly into the universe. Freedom cannot be conferred. It can only be grasped.

Carol Meyers, one of the most important recent interpreters of the Adam and Eve story, treats Genesis 2–3 as a narrative of human origins, as a story that explains why certain human conditions are as they are, and as a parable or wisdom tale.  … The prominent role of the female rather than the male in the wisdom aspects of the Eden tale is a little-noticed feature of the narrative. It is the woman, and not the man, who perceives the desirability of procuring wisdom. The woman, again not the man, is the articulate member of the first pair who engages in dialogue even before the benefits of the wisdom tree have been produced. This association between the female and the qualities of wisdom may have a mythic background, with the features of a Semitic wisdom goddess underlying the intellectual prominence of the woman of Eden.

[i] See also Tosefot Ketubot 3b “Lidrosh”

[ii] According to Rabbinic tradition, Esther was married to Mordechai: The verse states: “And when her father and mother were dead, Mordecai took her for his own daughter” (Esther 2:7). A tanna taught a baraita in the name of Rabbi Meir: Do not read the verse literally as for a daughter [bat], but rather read it as for a home [bayit]. This indicates that Mordecai took Esther to be his wife. (Babylonian Talmud Megilla 13a)

ובמות אביה ואמה לקחה מרדכי לו לבת תנא משום ר”מ אל תקרי לבת אלא לבית

[iii] Alternative reading in Babylonian Talmud Tractate Horayot 10b: Who are these “women in the tent”? They are Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, and Yael is more blessed than they are. Apparently, a mitzva performed not for its own sake is a negative phenomenon.

אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק גדולה עבירה לשמה ממצוה שלא לשמה שנאמר (שופטים ה, כד) תבורך מנשים יעל אשת חבר הקיני מנשים באהל תבורך מאן נינהו נשים באהל שרה רבקה רחל ולאה

[iv] Kirsch, Jonathan. The Harlot by the Side of the Road (pp. 58 and 251-252). Random House Publishing Group.

[v] See: Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes – Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible by Alice Ogden Bellis, 2007 chapter 2 The Story of Eve

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