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Winona Lake, ID: Eisenbrauns pp. Tigay, ed. Nili S. Williams, Winona Lake: Indiana, Eisenbrauns , pp. Oleg Grabar, Benjamin Z. The first section contains five articles in which the authors offer portraits of the teachers who most influenced their lives. The second section contains essays on biblical passages that have special meaning to women, such as the stories of the infertility of the matriarchs, the claims of the daughters of Tslafchad, and the personalities of Esther and Deborah.
The third section contains studies of Rabbinic texts that deal with such issues as the images of King and Daughter in midrashic parables and the creation of the human being in the Image of God. And the last section contains a melange of essays on the themes of exile and redemption. The perspectives that the authors bring to their topics in this book range from linguistics and psychology to kabbalistic symbolism and classic rabbinic methodology. Would that we had the space to give the reader at least a taste of many of the chapters in this collection.
Let this one example suffice to represent the rest. Five of these women draw powerful portraits of the teachers that have most influenced their lives. One of the most moving is Gilla Ratzersdorfer Rosen's portrait of the impact that hearing just one talk by Rabbi Soloveitchik had on her. She went to the yahrtseit lecture that he gave in memory of his wife, in which he spoke of the two different personality types, the Father type and the Mother type. The Father-figure is restrained; the Mother-figure is affectionate.
As the child matures, the Father-type moves towards letting go. The Mother-type moves towards intensification of the bond between herself and her child. For she can never really let go of the child who was once within her.
And then she goes on to show that for the Rav, both these types are aspects of the Image of God. God has both these qualities. He disciplines but never severs the connection with us. He legislates from above and draws us close. God is Father to the people of Israel when He chastens them, in order to instruct and improve them. And God is Mother to the people of Israel when they are in need. And then, and this was the remarkable quality of the Rav, he moves from abstract philosophy and theory to excruciatingly personal testimony when he says: "Let me not refer to biblical verses but to ourselves: at times we run to the Almighty for advice and encouragement, like a confused son who did not perform well, at times we cling to the Shechinah like a child in utter despair.
There is the mitsvah of studying so as to know. And there is the mitsvah of fixing a time for study so as to have a rendezvous with the Torah and with the Shechinah who trails behind the Torah. Rosen says that she did not sit in the Rav's classes for many years as others did: she did not attend to him in his old age as others did; but she was nurtured and her identity was formed in the encounter with this lecture.
As she says, "he taught me things in that talk at a moment when I needed to learn them. He not only interpreted Bible and midrash and Rambam in that talk. He told a story of personal loneliness, transcended and turned towards God. He taught me not to fear my aloneness for within it reverberates the call of God. For centuries we have been deprived of the voice of women and of the perspective of women, at least in our formal study of Torah. But even so, we learned Torah from our mothers as well as from our fathers.
Rabbi Soloveitchik provides personal testimony to this when he writes in tribute to his mother:. She taught me that there is a flavor, a scent, a warmth to mitsvot. I learned from her the most important thing in life--to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting on my frail shoulders. Without her teachings, which quite often were transmitted to me in silence, I would have grown up a soul-less being, dry and insensitive.
If he, the God seeker of the Halachah, could write that were it not for his mother he would have grown up soul-less and dry, what should the rest of us say? We hope that this book, Torah of the Mothers , will be the forerunner of many more such studies that will bring the voices of women into the dialogue of the generations with the ancient texts. In certain ways, these essays do not differ much from other contemporary Torah commentaries here, as in similar works, are close readings of Torah and applications of its meaning to modern life.
Yet these women are aware of the complexity and irony of their situation, as they reflect on themes such as the exile of the Shekhinah or the search for authentic identity. For example, Sarah Schneider writes: "If [the rabbis] are to imitate Moshe then they must find a place of deep and authentic compassion for the women who approach them with halakhic petitions. Highly recommended. These women seem very comfortable with texts that go beyond standard Talmud, Midrash, and Bible commentaries; many also refer to hassidic and kabbalistic masters see especially Miriam Birnbaum's fascinating study of the imagery of spiritual exile and Ora Wiskind Elper's description of hassidic images of the feminine in Exodus While some of the essays deal with biblical women Deborah, Serah Bat Asher, Esther or feminine imagery, most are simply thoughtful, creative readings of conversation with a broad range of traditional sources.
Esther Shana'an's concluding essay reflects on the authenticity of the new "Torah of the Mothers. She writes, "If I am worried about my ritual I am losing touch with the essentials of Judaism. Mothers have a special ability to imbue their children with what Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik called the "living experience" of the Torah because of the love and trust they share with them.
In this book of essays, a group of Orthodox Jewish women scholars who are not rabbis or feminists, have written about a number of issues that are relevant to Jewish community including: the Torah personalities who critically influenced their development; infertility of the matriarchs and the problem infertility today; the model of inheritance of the daughters of Tzlafchad as way of traversing the issues of feminism and Orthodox Judaism, Abraham's relations with non-Jews ; rabbinic views of Creation, the meaning of self-affliction on Yom Kippur, the process of repentance, the importance of Jerusalem; the experience of the Jews in Egypt and in the desert, and Moses as an adopted child and his struggle to be a leader.
They have clearly demonstrated that you can adhere strictly to Halacha, without compromising in any way your ability to learn, interpret and teach Torah. The twenty-one contributors all come from the so-called Modern Orthodox community, all have learned or teach in one or more of the institutions for higher Torah education for women in Jerusalem, all have university degrees, three have doctorates, and two more probably have by now. The book is best summed up by Tamar Goshen-Gottstein's advice: "Do not be limited by my current perspective of the texts. Every year open your life anew; notice details in the text that may never have caught your heart before.
Ponder the life issues they pose. The modern world is inundated with quantitative knowledge. We need "Torah of the Mothers," Torah that grows, emanates and nourishes The book is divided into four sections. Other sections look at biblical and rabbinic texts. The final section discusses exile and redemption.
Only space constraints prohibit me from discussing all of the worthy essays. Only a handful deal with female topics such as infertility, the daughters of Tsalofhad, Devora, Serah bat Asher, and the Exodus and the feminine in the teachings of Rabbi Yaakov of Tsbica. There is much here to relearn and think about, but I would buy the book just for the concluding essay by Esther Sha'anan.
A lawyer who has taught at Shearim and Midreshet Rachel, she describes the anguish of being a divorced mother of four young children. She suggests that "wondrous words of Torah with a uniquely feminine bent whose time has come to be revealed in the world" should include "the Torah of hesed and the highest possible standards of personal ethics. Sha'anan describes what it's like to be marginalized and ignored, sitting, yet again, as a guest at another's Shabbos table, and seeing a fatherless child walking into shul with no one to help him with his prayers.
Do we offer to sell a widow's hamets or phone her before holidays to say hello? Congratulations to Urim Publications of Jerusalem for Torah of the Mothers is a collection of essays, divided into four general categories: encomia for 20th-century teachers such as Rav Soloveitchik and Nechama Leibowitz: readings of biblical texts: readings of rabbinic texts: and then a series of essays based on the theme of exile and redemption. I enjoyed Gilla Rosen's essay on her personal recollection of a lecture by Rav Soloveitchik, which includes a defence of a God of both genders and none The chapter on the daughters of Tzelaphchad is a fascinating insight into the struggle of Orthodox women Each of the women offers genuine intellectual stimulation, and tries to create a bridge between the emotional world and that of the mind, and this book is a valuable staging-post in the journey of women's scholarly writing.
Each author generously allows us into the world of the Orthodox woman scholar I look forward to the next collection from these women. Contributors to Torah of the Mothers include academics in fields such as literary studies, linguistics, biblical and Jewish studies; teachers in religious seminaries; and independent scholars".
For example, Jane Falk, in a beautifully written essay, employs a tight linguistic methodology, analyzing what she considers to be the "rhetorical" complaining of the Children of Israel in the desert. Sarah Idit Susan Schneider--uses her discussion of the daughters of Tzelofhad's persistent yet respectful appeal to Moses for inheritance rights, and his empathic and ultimately favorable response, as the basis for suggesting a similar mutually beneficial relationship for contemporary Orthodox women scholars and the rabbis to whom they must still appeal for legal decisions.
Schneider says, "If women felt that rabbis had this kind of empathy with their yearning for more formal study or fuller participation in community life, any decision even a bitter one would still also be sweet. When instead, they are admonished for their urge to express themselves in ways that are deeply rooted in Torah but not in keeping with the traditional female role, an adversary relationship develops.
The preface to Torah of the Mothers concludes with the following blessing: "May this book give birth to many 'children,' to students blessed with the strength to build and to spread peace in the world. Sha'anan's essay is a moving description of the Orthodox community's failure to support, no less acknowledge, the deeply lonely experience of a divorced mother raising four children alone while trying to build a career for herself and, more importantly, maintain ties to Orthodoxy. She describes the experience of a mother leaving synagogue early with her children in order to avoid the hubbub of husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, for whom single women remains largely invisible during post-service socializing.
She tells the story of a woman who threatened to dress as a man so she could sit with her son on the men's side of the partition in synagogue and help him find his way through the high holiday prayerbook when no man would volunteer to do so independently. Sha'anan's essay, the last one in the volume, is a powerful testament to the necessity for any community that calls itself learned, any community that dedicates itself to study, to put into practice the ethical tenets which ground its existence.
The book is divided into four parts. In Part 1: Students and Teachers, five contributors reflect on their educational experiences and describe the qualities of their own teachers and mentors that most impressed and influenced them. The educators so honored are the Rav Rabbi Joseph B.