Nehama Aschkenasy 1986 Eve's Journey,
Univ. Philadelphia Pr., Philadelphia.ISBN 0-8122-8033-4
Evil, Sex and the Demonic
For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold of Sheol. Prov 5:3
The ancient tale revolving around a female figure that had the greatest influence on the literary treatment of women in earlier times is undoubtedly the Genesis story of Eve's defiance of God's command and the subsequent expulsion of the primeval couple from the Garden of Eden. The first female became the prototype of all women and her story a paradigm of female existence. The most complete poetic treatment of the Eve story as the original precedence foreshadowing future feminine experience, as well as the best example of the sexist slant that the story received, is found in Milton's epic Paradise Lost. In this poem Eve emerges as childishly irresponsible, susceptibleto flattery, and predisposed to evil. Her vicious and jealous nature is revealed when she vacillates between offering the fruit to Adam and withholding it from him. If her mental capacities have indeed been augmented as a result of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, so she reasons, then by sharing the fruit with Adam she runs the risk of making him as wise as she has become. If God's threat was real, however, and she has become mortal as a result of her violation of His command, then by keeping the fruit away from her mate she would enable him to survive her and marry another woman.' By contrast, Adam's motives for tasting from the forbidden fruit are purely noble: he would rather die than live without Eve. Many of the characteristics attributed to Eve by Milton, and the various details that he adds to the biblical story, such as the motivation of the characters and their attitudes before and after the act of disobedience, are already found in the Midrash, in the form of short dramatic fables and exegetical homilies scattered in various Aggadic texts. In the many transformations that the prototypical figure of Eve has experienced in her journey both in Judaic literature and outside it, three main strands are consistently manifest: First, Eve has become closely associated with evil, since she is the one who first surrendered to temptation and violated God's law. Her story is thus seen as a parable of the moral weakness and the strong proclivity for evil that characterize the female of the human species. Her corruptibility is matched by a tendency for insubordination, a shameless defiance of moral norms, and the power to seduce man and introduce evil into his life. Second, in many exegetical documents, bothjewish and Christian, which elaborate on the story of Eve's original act of transgression, there is an identification of the woman with carnal desires.' Woman is seen as primarily a sexual being whose moral weakness is coupled with sexual power which she puts to evil use. Woman's sexuality is for her the weapon with which she gains mastery over man and eventually destroys him. From the object of male lust woman has become the cause of it, and the story of Eve is seen as the introduction of sinful sex into the realm of human life. In her struggle for dominion, woman uses her erotic appeal to bring man down to her bestial level. The female has thus come to represent that part of the human composite that is more physical than spiritual and is more defenseless against the weaknesses of the flesh. Third, in the biblical story it is only Eve, and not Adam, who has dealings with the serpent; therefore, in her many literary incarnations Eve was described as having a special affinity with the devil. And since she was the harbinger of death, Eve, as the eternal woman, was believed to have a demonic side to her being. This close association with the devil and the ability to bring man unto death through her wiles and manipulations are interconnected, and are manifest in many of Eve's literary descendants. In sum, the three traits of the biblical Eve that were assumed to prefigure the essence of womanhood are a proclivity for evil, a destructive sexuality, and a demonic-deadly power.
Eve and the "Strange Woman" in the Bible and Midrash
In our attempt to trace a development from ancient tales that have gained through the ages the power of archetypal myths, to modern stories that have incorporated in them early feminine prototypes, we have to start with the biblical text itself. Our reading should be free of the preconceived notions implanted in our collective consciousness with regard to the Genesis story of Eve. Is Eve in the Genesis story (chapters 1, 2, and 3) an evil, sexual or demonic being? How has she come to be perceived in this way, and how did this literary figure evolve through the various phases of Hebraic literary history? The biblical narrator is reticent with regard to the serpent's motives in approaching the female rather than the male iii the Garden of Eden. Is it because he saw that Eve was less intelligent and more suscepti 'ble to temptation? Our storyteller prefers not to make any comment here, yet he does explain very clearly what brings Eve to eat from the forbidden fruit. Scriptural style is known for its terseness and economy of language; it also rarely delves into the protagonists' inner deliberations. Therefore, the brief but condensed sentence that divulges Eve's reasons for picking the fruit and eating it is extremely meaningful. Eve saw that the tree "was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise" (Gen. 3: 6). To Eve's mind, the fruit is endowed with all the gifts that life has to offer: it pleases the palate and satisfies hunger ("good for food"), it provides aesthetic pleasure ("pleasant to the eyes"), and it increases one's intellectual abilities ("to make one wise"). In one brief second, Eve has a vision of the total range of the human experience, and by eating from the Tree she expresses a lust for life in all its manifestations. The act of violating God's order is not described by the biblical author as the surrender to temptation of a silly, empty-headed person, but as the daring attempt of a curious person with an appetite for life to encompass the whole spectrum of life's possibilities. To the extent that Eve enters into a pact with the devil (though we should remember that the -serpent in this story is no more than an animal), she takes on a Faustian dimension. Eve can be seen as epitomizing the human condition in her tragic eagerness to make the most of the limitations of existence and taste as much of life as she can. In her thirst to exhaust the whole gamut of the human existence, and in the price that she pays for it, Eve is the precursor of the tragic Dr. Faustus who made a pact with the devil and paid dearly for it. The Genesis narrator is surprisingly silent about Adam's motives for eating the fruit. However, this narrative vacuum is consistent with the characterization of Adam throughout the story as a passive, acted-upon character. He has no part in choosing his mate, and Eve comes to life when he is asleep. The polarity created in this story between Adam and Eve is not between good and evil, morality and sinfulness, but rather between a passive, lackluster personality on the one hand, and an intellectually curious, aggressive individual, on the other.' Interestingly, when Adam tries to shake off his responsibility for the violation of God's law, he excuses himself by claiming that Eve "gave" him the fruit, using the verb from the stem ntn, which implies the mechanical way in which he acted. Eve, on the other hand, uses the unusual, richly connotative verb from the stem ns', when she explains that she was deceived, or seduced, by the serpent. The difference in vocabulary implies the difference in verbal abilities as well as intellectual maturity between the man and the woman. To the narrator of this story, Eve, in her prelapsarian state, is not the "other" to man; rather, she occupies center stage as the character around which the dramatic story revolves. The change in Eve's position comes only after the couple's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, when Adam becomes the active partner and Eve recedes into the background and turns into the passive helpmate: "And Adam knew Eve his wife" (Gen. 4: 1). Is Eve seen in this story as a sexual being, connected with things of the flesh? There is no hint here that Eve is a sexual threat to the man, or that she uses her erotic appeal to persuade man to eat from the fruit. Furthermore, while Milton sees in Eve's sudden burst of hunger a decisive factor in her impulse to eat from the fruit, the biblical narrator makes it clear that Eve was motivated by a complex set of inner drives, anchored not only in her physical, but also in her intellectual nature. The connotations of sexuality with which the Genesis story has been burdened throughout generations of exegetical endeavors are due most probably to the prominence of the stem yd', to know, that serves as a leitmotif in this tale. The forbidden tree is associated with morality in general, but not specifically with sex; it is described as 11 the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." In fact, many commentators regard the phrase "knowledge of good and evil" as not restricted to moral awareness only, but as denoting a "full possession of mental and physical powers."' The verb 'to know' becomes linked with the sexual element and with the physical differences between male and female only after Adam and Eve have sinned, when they suddenly "knew that they were naked." The culmination of the sexual meaning of the stem yd', 'to know', comes only when the narrator uses it to indicate the first sexual intercourse between Adam and Eve after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, since the Genesis text gives no hint that it conceives of the serpent as more than an animal, albeit an unusual one, Eve's relationship with the serpent is not seen as an affiliation with a Satanic power. Unlike the serpent in the Miltonic epic, who is Satan in disguise, and the serpent in the midrashic version, who stands for Satan and the "evil inclination," the Genesis serpent never transcends his concrete existence as one of the animals in the primeval garden. Therefore, within the boundaries of the biblical text, Eve's dealings with the serpent carry no demonic connotations. Eve's special link with death and her supposedly deadly powers are also not an integral part of the original tale. While both Adam and Eve become mortal as a consequence of their transgression, it is the nature of Eve as life-giver that is emphasized in the aftermath of her sinful act. Immediately after God's harsh words to Adam that end with "for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return," there comes a surprisingly conciliatory tone: "And Adam called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living" (Gen. 3:20). This is an affirmation of life and of Eve's role as a life force and mother. A selection from the Aggadic Midrash will clearly exemplify how the rabbinic exegetes and storytellers picked up some of the strains of the biblical story, while at the same time they tried to suppress other elements of the ancient story that did not conform to their patriarchal norms. The rabbinic sages offer a different etymology to Eve's Hebrew name, Hawwa, from the one given by the biblical text itself. By relating Eve's name to the Aramaic word hiwya which means serpent, the rabbis tighten the link between the woman and the serpent. Hawwa thus means "Female Serpent," and in naming her so Adam implied, according to the Midrash, that Eve functioned as his serpent, or seducer.' But the harshest 'udgment of Eve as a figure closely linked with the devil is pronounced in the statement: "As soon as Eve was created, Satan was created with her."' If the serpent represents Satan, then this rabbinic saying seems to suggest that the serpent started as a simple animal and took on demonic powers only when Eve came into being. Yet in spite of this devastating commentary that not only puts woman in one league with the devil but actually sees in her the origin of cosmic evil, most of the midrashic stories revolving around Eve are of a very different kind. Generally, the image of Eve in the rabbinic tales is not that of a dangerously evil creature, but rather that of a silly and childish female. The rabbis filled the narrative lacuna in the Genesis text regarding the serpent's motivation for approaching Eve rather than Adam, by reconstructing the serpent's inner deliberations that conclude with his observation tht women are light-minded and therefore he would fare better if he used his cunning on Eve.' In spite of this derogatory remark against women in general, it is significant to note that the serpent's reasons for allying himself with the woman are not based on the fact that he has found in Eve an evil soul mate, but on his assumption that Eve, as a woman, is silly and can be easily manipulated. Another tale, found in three different versions, again illuminates the rabbis' attempts to reduce the stature of Eve to that of an emptyminded, jealous housewife. What follows is a summary of this parable:
This is a parable of Adam and Eve. Adam is like a husband who filled a cask with figs and nuts. Before fastening the top, he put a scorpion in it. He said to his wife: "My daughter, you have free access to everything in the house, except for this cask, since it has a scorpion in it." After he left, an old neighbor came in to borrow some vinegar. She asked the wife: "How does your husband treat you?" The wife answered: "He treats me with every kindness, save that he does not permit me to approach this cask which contains a scorpion." "It contains all his finery," the old woman said, "he wishes to marry another woman and give it to her." What did the wife do? She inserted her hand into the cask, and the scorpion bit her. When her husband came home he heard her crying out with pain. She told him that the scorpion bit her and he said: "Did I not tell you that you can have anything in the house except this cask?"'
The main impetus behind this story is clearly the wish to convert the biblical conflict between Adam and Eve to a domestic squabble, and to diminish Eve's figure to that of a silly woman. The near-heroic dimension that the Genesis Eve gains when her motives are elaborated upon is nonexistent here. Instead, we have a wife who is patronized by her husband ("my daughter"), distrusted by him, and who finally pays for her excessive curiosity. A faint misogynist echo is heard in the punishment that the woman gets; being bitten by a scorpion is a penalty too harsh for the crime. Yet if the hapless woman in this tale is excessively curious, she is far from being evil incarnate. Unlike the biblical narrator who uses a somber tone to describe Eve's downfall, the Aggadic voice is frequently comic. Eve is described as the stereotypically comic nag who gets her husband to surrender to her will not through her cunning manipulations but by pestering and badgering him. Eve prevailed upon Adam to take the fateful step by crying and weeping over him.' A derogatorily comic assessment of the nature of women in general is presented by the following homily:
Said He (God): "I will not create her from Adam's head, lest she be swell-headed; nor from the eye, lest she be a coquette; nor from the ear, lest she be an eavesdropper; nor from the mouth, lest she be a gossip; nor from the heart, lest she be prone to 'ealousy; nor from the hand, lest she be light-fingered; nor from the foot, lest she be a gadabout; but from the modest part of man, for even when he stands naked, that part is covered." And as he created each limb He ordered her, "Be a modest woman." Yet in spite of all this . . . "I did not create her from the head, yet she is swell-headed . . . ; nor from the eye, yet she is a coquette . . . ; nor from the ear, yet she is an eavesdropper . . . ; nor from the heart, yet she is prone tojealousy . . . ; nor from the hand, yet she is light-fingered . . . ; nor from the foot, yet she is a gadabout." "'
Chaucer's Jankin the Clerk, the misogynist husband of the Wife of Bath in the Canterbury Tales, who knew more proverbs about women "than there are blades of grass or herbs in the world," was undoubtedly reading a similar text when he recited to his wife the comic foibles of women." While the rabbis' overall attitude to Eve and women in general is more condescending that condemning, their greatest disgust is reserved for the serpent. The serpent is described as the basest of animals, whose physical repulsiveness is matched by his moral corruption. In the midrashic homilies the serpent becomes the prototypical slanderer and informer, as well as money lender and ususrer. " The Midrash introduces the erotic dimension to the biblical story by attributing to the serpent sexual lust. One midrash tells us that the serpent wanted to kill Adam and marry Eve. " The Zohar picks up the theme of the serpent's lust by going one step further and suggesting that the serpent not only desired Eve but actually had sexual relations with her that produced Cain." The biblical Eve, then, may be seen as epitomizing the human predicament in her wish to transcend her limitations and expand her horizons. The midrashic Eve, on the other hand, is a mundane housewife, frivolous andjealous, who needs man's wise guidance and often tries his immense patience. A different version of feminine evil, closely linked with death and damnation, is incorporated in the image of the "strange woman" (or "stranger woman" as suggested by the Anchor Bible edition), who is a frequent subject of discussion in Proverbs. In fact, it is the "strange woman," rather than Eve, who plays the role of the sexual, moral, and cosmic "other." She is a wanton seductress who introduces the innocent young man to "stolen waters" (8:17) and to a moral and spiritual nether land that can only lead to death and damnation. But the "strange woman" is not meant by the teacher in Proverbs to epitomize the entire feminine realm; she is only one aspect of womanhood. Nevertheless, in the figure of the dangerous temptress and adulteress, Proverbs embodies all the elements of potential feminine evil that are muted in the Eve story in Genesis. Proverbs not only sermonizes about the dangers of the 11 strange woman" but actually creates dramatic scenes in which the stereotypical image comes to life as an individual and is seen as trying to entrap the gullible young man: I
For at the window of my house / I looked out through my lattice, And beheld among the simple ones / I discerned . . . a young man void of understanding. Passing through the street near her corner / and he went the way to her house.
In the twilight, in the evening / in the blackness of the dark night. And, beheld, there met him a woman / with the attire of a harlot, and wily of heart. She is noisy and ungovernable / herfeet do not remain in the house. Now she is outside, now in the streets / and she lies in wait at every corner. So she caught hold of him, and kissed him / and with an impudent face said to him: I have had to sacrifice peace offerings / this day I paid my vows. So I came out to meet thee / diligently to seek thy face, and Ifound thee. I have decked my bed with coverings / with tapestry of the yarn of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed / with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take ourfill of love till morning / let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home / he is gone on a long journey. He has taken a bag of money with him / and will come home at the full moon. With her much fair speech she causes him to yield / with the smoothness of her lips she seduces him. He goes afier her at once / as an ox goes to the slaughter / and as a man in chains to the chastisement ofafool. Till a dart strike through his liver / as a bird hastens to the snare and knows not that it isfor his life. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Her house is the way to She'ol /going down to the chambers of death. (Prov. 7:6-27)
This is a powerful dramatic scene that portrays the "strange woman" luring the young man into her house and seducing him as an archetypal human situation. The woman and the young man are not named, nor are they anchored in a specific period or place. The instructor of Proverbs means to create a recurrent human drama, in which man and woman enact a typical experience. The woman appears as the sexual seductress, the evil influence, and the agent of death and hell; the man, as her foolish victim. Yet in spite of the archetypal power of this scene in Proverbs, the "strange woman" is not meant to represent womanhood in general. The balanced and fairminded conception of women in Proverbs is exemplified in the admirable feminine figure that stands for Wisdom. The woman Wisdom is the antithesis of the woman Folly, and the "strange woman" is one of the variations of the woman Folly. Moreover, the "strange woman" is not described as a threat to all men, but to the foolish, inexperienced young man. If he succumbs to her, he might be harmed socially and financially, and eventually find himself at death's door. The tone of this poem is rather practical, cautioning the young man against getting involved with the promiscuous woman, not so much for moral reasons alone as for pragmatic reasons. The poet of Proverbs seems to vaci 'llate between giving this seduction scene universal symbolism, on the one hand, and keeping it within the boundaries of a particular human threat that can be avoided, on the other. At the imaginativepoetic level, the scene seems to reenact an archetypal human drama; at the didactic level, the teacher gives the scene a hypothetical quality, regarding it merely as a pedagogical device that dramatizes to the young man the evils of a particular kind of woman. To mitigate the somberness of the picture and its ability to release in man a primordial fear of women, the narrator employs a comic tone in his description of the restless, corrupt woman: "She is noisy and ungovernable / her feet do not remain in the house. Now is she outside, now in the streets / and she lies in wait at every corner." But if the biblical poet ultimately refrains from depicting the wanton seductress as the eternal woman, this feminine image reemerges as a universal female symbol in the literature produced by the Essenes, the Jewish sect that lived around Christ's time. This group, which advocated self-denial, extreme physical purity, and-in some cases-even celibacy, left its legacy (so some scholars believe) in the famous Qumran scrolls. One scroll fragment from the Qumran cave exhorts men to beware the wiles of the immoral temptress, who "lies in wait" for a gullible young man, and seeks out "a righteous man" in order to lead them astray. The men who act sinfully are exonerated, and the blame falls on the wanton woman whose eyes "glance hither and thither," and who "displays herself" in such a seductive way that even a "perfect man" stumbles when he comes under her influence." Unlike the teacher of Proverbs, who balances the scenes of the "strange woman" with the idealized image of the "woman of valor" (31:10-31), the delectable "wife of your youth" (5:18), and the exalted Wisdom as a female figure, the Essenes focused only on the evil of women. The dead sea scrolls reveal the Essenes' abhorrence of sexuality and their misogynic contempt for the female flesh. In fact, there is a close similarity between St. Paul's disparagement of the married state and his disgust of sexual relations and the Qumran fragments that deal with women and sexuality. While St. Paul anchors his theological distrust of women and condemnation of sex in the story of the Fall, it is obvious that he reads more into the story of Genesis than it really contains." It is very possible that his misogyny was fueled not so much by the Genesis story as by the ideas and modes of thinking represented in the Qumran writings, of which the poem on the wanton woman is an example. The image of the woman as the deadly seductress who leads man to death and hell is twofold. In Proverbs and the Qumran poem the female figure is an actual flesh-and-blood human being who plays the role of the agent of sin and damnation. But the converse aspect of the same image is that of the diabolic female as a phantasmic figure, existing only in the man's heightened imagination, or that of a chimerical figure who looks like a woman but is actually the devil in disguise. The image of the female seductress as the human embodiment of the devil appears in various midrashic tales. The following story is told in two versions:
Rabbi Meir used to mock at sinners. One day Satan appeared in the likeness of a woman on the other side of the river. As there was no ferry boat, he seized the rope bridge, and went across. When he was halfway, Satan vanished, saying, "If they had not called out from heaven 'beware of Rabbi Meir and his Torah', I would not have assessed your blood at two farthings." "
A similar story is told of Rabbi Akiba. Satan appeared to him in the form of a beautiful woman on top of a palm tree. The rabbi began to climb the tree, but when he was halfway, Satan vanished, making the same remark as he did after the attempted seduction of Rabbi Meir. In both cases, the rabbis learned to be more understanding towards sinners. Aside from the obvious moral message of this type of story, which teaches tolerance and recognizes the power of temptation, these two tales are not without their comic side, especially when they describe the two dignified rabbis overcome by uncontrollable lust and acting impulsively and irrationally, rushing to seize the spectral figures and returning empty-handed. However, the implications of these two stories regarding the Talmudic conception of the nature of women are far-reaching. The interchangeability of Satan and woman is disturbing. In the cases of Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiba the devil impersonated a woman; when can a man be sure that the beautiful woman that he desires is not really the devil masquerading as a woman? On the other hand, if the feminine body is used by the devil as a tool of temptation, the real-life woman is exonerated, and the blame for succumbing to sin is put either on the tempter, Satan, or on the male's strong sexual drives and stimulated imagination.
Indeed, while the Midrash establishes the affinity between woman and the serpent-devil on a number of occasions, it also offers a tale that reverses the Genesis account of the corruption of the woman by the serpent. The following is a summary of the story about Rabbi Akiba's daughter and a snake:
From Rabbi Akiba we learn that Israel is free from planetary in fluence. For Rabbi Akiba had a daughter. Now astrologers told him that on the day she enters the bridal chamber a snake will bite her and she will die. He was very worried about this. On the day of her wedding she took a brooch and stuck it into the wall and by chance it penetrated into the eye of a serpent. The follow ing morning, when she took it out, the snake came trailing after it. "What did you do?" her father asked her. "A poor man came to our door in the evening," she replied, "and everybody was busy at the banquet, and there was none to attend to him. So I took the portion which was given to me and gave it to him." "You have done a good deed," said Rabbi Akiba to his daughter. Thereupon Rabbi ' Akiba went out and lectured: "But charity delivereth from death" and not merely from unnatural death but from death itself."
The tale about a young woman who is in mortal danger of a snake reenacts the biblical drama of Eve and at the same time introduces a twist to the ancient narrative by suggesting the other route that it could have taken. Rabbi Akiba's daughter defeats both the snake and the deadly prediction by performing a good deed, while Eve is overpowered by the snake and by death itself when she violates God's law. While the main thrust of this Talmudic legend is moral and didactic, in its fictional dimension it refashions the earlier text by giving a domestic setting and a historical reality to its characters. It also redeems the Genesis tale by presenting the woman as a positive force, capable of thwarting cosmic evil. In a way, the essence of this tale stands in opposition to the general tendency of the Midrash to enlarge Eve's culpability and her frivolous surrender to evil. It also seems that this tale seeks to sever the mythic ties that connect the female with the serpent. In many ancient cultures, woman was conceived of as having a special relationship with serpents; snakes were frequently a sexual symbol. The myth of serpents in young girls' vaginas combined man's terror of woman's sexuality with his age-old fear of snakes.' It is true that the main purpose of this Talmudic story is to exemplify the didactic principle that "charity delivers from death"; it therefore diverts the thematic focus from its underlying redemptive view of womanhood, to the universal moral lesson that it wishes to teach. Nevertheless, the woman's innate goodness is seen as triumphing over cosmic powers and their evil agent, the snake.
Lilith in Person and in Disguise: Woman as Obstacle to Redemption
The culmination of the perceived link between woman and the devil appears in the Kabbalistic figure of Lilith, the winged she-demon who joins men at night and bears them demonic offspring. As we have seen, unlike in Christian Bible exegesis, the figure of Eve in Judaic tradition did not take on the aspect of cosmic evil. It seems that the character of Lilith, instead, came to assume the role of the sexual, demonic, and deadly feminine image. Interestingly, an illustration in a sixteenth century Italian translation of josephus' Jewish Antiquities depicts Lilith with the face of a woman and the body of a snake lurking behind the trees in the garden and spying on Adam and Eve." This drawing'seems to capture the specific roles that Lilith and Eve came to play in the popular mind. It transfers the affinity with the serpent from Eve to Lilith by envisioning the latter as the devil's tool, and thus absolves Eve of the stigma of being the serpent's original soul mate. Adam and Eve are seen in this illustration as the innocent couple, while the figure of Lilith is merged with that of the serpent, representing the jealous, evil force that preys on the unsuspecting victims, planning to convert their paradisal idyll into catastrophe. The Talmud does not dwell much on Lilith, though it mentions her several times as a demon. The main story comes in a late midrashic work, Alpha Beta diben Sira. Lilith was Adam's first wife who, like him, stemmed from 'adamah, 'earth'. However, when Adam wanted to subjugate her to his will, she refused and fled from the Garden of Eden. jealous of her successor, Eve, she became especially dangerous to infants newly born to Eve's descendants. Lilith became an important protagonist in the Zohar's conception of the cosmic drama of good and evil. The Zohar tells us that Lilith roams the universe at night, when the moon is on the wane, seducing men and then afflicting them with sickness. Lilith is also a threat to women, especially at childbirth. By becoming the enemy of women Lilith is thus relegated in Kabbalistic thinking to a limited role; she is not the epitome of womanhood, but only one aspect of the male conception of feminity. Lilith's antithesis in the Kabbalistic picture of cosmic structure is Matronit, the daughter in the mystical holy tetrad. Together, Matronit and Lilith embody the many contradictory aspects attributed to womanhood by man. Matronit is an affirmation of life, the mother and bride, while Lilith threatens life; she stands for the dark forces in the cosmos and in man's psyche in her role as seductress and killer. The evolutionary line that leads from the Genesis Eve through the strange woman" of Proverbs and the Talmudic "Satan in disguise" to Lilith of the Kabbalistic mind exemplifies the transmutation of the female figure in the male consciousness. Woman is seen as introducing man to the concept of sin and of the violation of moral order; she then proceeds to seduce man and attempts to pull him down to hell, She'ol, metaphorically and physically. Yet man, the Subject, the "I" who experiences the world, is engaged in an eternal struggle to recapture his original purity and innocence and redeem his faulty earthly existence. Now the female becomes an obstacle to redemption, an impediment in man's progress towards the salvation of his private soul, as well as in his attempts to bring about cosmic redemption. Within this frame of thinking, the figure of Lilith has gained an additional dimension; she becomes linked with man's failed attempts to bring about the Messiah. Lilith reappears in the various versions of the story ofjoseph Della Reina, the Kabbalist who was thwarted in his attempts to bring an end to Satan's power and hasten the arrival of the Messiah. In a story that was widespread in Safed, Joseph Della Reina had to overcome Samael and his permanent female partner, Lilith, before bringing about redemption. Joseph succeeded in overpowering these two archdemons, but erred later when he burned incense before Satan, which caused his undoing. After his failure, Joseph never recovered from his fallen state and sank further into evil, becoming an ally of Satan and the lover of Lilith. Lilith dominated him completely and even brought to his bed the wife of the King of Greece." The emergence of Lilith as demon and as representative of that element in womanhood that would forever try to stop man from precipitating the process of personal and cosmic salvation is a doubleedged sword. On the one hand, it might signify the shifting of male fear of women from womankind in general to one aspect of femininity, that which belongs to the exotic and occult. On the other hand, the figure of Lilith as the rebellious, independent first mate of Adam had all the ingredients to become prominent in legendary lore as well as an attractive subject to writers drawn to the mystical and demonic. But if Lilith had feminine form, perhaps many flesh-andblood women are really Lilith in disguise? The literary and imaginative preoccupation with Lilith thus enhanced the identification of the female with the demonic.
The role of Lilith as the universal and psychological impediment to salvation, a force representing at once the moral and cosmic "other side" as well as the dark side in the human soul, was picked up by the Hasidic imaginative genius and attributed to woman in general, not necessarily to Lilith, and sometimes even to actual historical figures. In the Hasidic tale, the demonic woman is very often man's dark double, a projection of his evil inclination, yeser hara', as well as of his fears and anxieties regardin,9 evil both in the human nature and in the universe. The motif of the woman as the devil in disguise that appears in the Aggadic tales on Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Meir reemerges in the Hasidic tales with some variation. Martin Buber reconstructs the story that the great Hasidic rabbi, known as the Yehudi (Ya'akov Yitzhak of Pshysha), tells the Zaddik, his teacher, about an incident in which the devil entered into a real-life woman and tried to seduce him:
In the house there lived, too. . . . a married daughter . . . One night, while I was studying by the light of the candle, she came into the room. She stood still and looked at me silently . . . as though she wanted to throw herself down before me and did not dare. She was in her night garment and her feet were naked. I perceived that she was beautiful, a thing I had not known hith erto. A compulsion went out from her humility. I admired her beauty and felt a burning compassion for her humanity. Simul taneously that compulsion attacked me and now it used the forces of both my admiration and my pity. Suddenly, I was aware that I was looking at her naked feet. "Do not compel me!" I cried. The woman apparently did not understand me. She came nearer. And so I leaped out of the open window and ran a long distance through the March night. A long time thereafter . . . the woman came to see me and with tears begged me to for give her, something had come upon her on that occasion which she had never understood. "I know," I consoled her, "the master of all compulsion incarnated himself in you. Thus he had first to compel you to become his vestiture. " "
The story recreates an archetypal male-female situation. The setting is the dead of the night, the conventional hour of temptation, and the actors are the saintly man and the beautiful seductress in her nightly attire. The man's last-minute escape is a reenactment of the Joseph episode in the Bible. In addition, the man is seen as momentarily transfixed by the woman's naked feet which, in Hebraic sources, especially in biblical exegesis and Kabbalistic literature, carry sexual and erotic connotations. The word regel, 'leg' or 'foot', is often interpreted as a euphemism for intercourse, and a woman's exposed leg is meant to represent the nakedness of her body." Thus this nocturnal scene is weighted with traditional symbols and associations that endow this particular incident with universal symbolism. Interestingly, though, the woman protagonist who plays the role of the temptress is not blamed. She is seen as temporarily possessed by the "master of all compulsion," the evil inclination or Satan, and doing his will unconsciously. The woman here is not a demon, but she unwittingly serves as the devil's agent. If the story does not condemn the woman as evil or diabolical, it nevertheless views the feminine body as the devil's instrument, which can cause the downfall of the great man. As a response to this story, the Yehudi's rabbi then recounts an incident that happened to him:
"Once upon a time," said the Rabbi, "when in my youth, I had a similar experience, I found that one need not leap out of the window. On an icy winter evening . . . I lost my way. Suddenly I saw in the forest the illuminated windows of a house. In the house there was no one except a young woman. Until then I had looked upon no woman except the one to whom I had been wedded and from whom I separated myself because I saw upon her forehead not the symbol of the divine but a strange sign. After I separated myself from her, she did wander forth among the strangers. The woman in the house in the forest gave me food to eat and mulled wine to drink. Then she sat down beside me and asked me whither I had come and what my plans were and, finally, what I had dreamed about the night before. I was frightened by the magic which her eyes and her voice exerted upon me. The fright pierced to the very bottom of my soul, where hitherto there had been nothing but the fear of God and a shy attempt to love Him. When now this terror touched the bot tom of my soul, love shot up like a flame and grasped the whole power of my being. Nothing remained without me; all the pas sionate power which rested within me was devoured by this flame. At that moment I looked up. There was no woman, no house, no forest. I stood on the road that leads straight to Lisensk. " "
The Zaddik's tale interweaves the image of the "strange woman" of Proverbs with other traditional motifs. Like the "strange woman," the female in this Hasidic tale lures the young man into her house with the promise of food and wine and then proceeds to seduce him. The man is on a 'ourney to Lisensk, to see the great Hasidic master Rabbi Elimelech. The journey is geographical as well as mental. The delay in the man's progress is seen as caused by inner forces since the woman and her seductive paraphernalia turn out to be a projection of the young matfs agitated and sexually aroused psyche. When the young man solves his inner conflict, when the power of the love of God overcomes his bodily urges, the woman and her house vanish. In other words, the feminine figure here is not a reality but a mental image, an embodiment of the young [email protected] own "evil inclination," reminiscent of the phantasmic females who try to ensnare the two Talmudic rabbis. In both Hasidic tales, the female figures share much in common with the legendary Lilith in that they appear at night, exert a pernicious, magic power over the young man, and are warded off only when their potential victims are aided by the power of their faith. Furthermore, in line with the general tendency of the Hasidic tale to convert the demonic from a cosmic reality to an inner, psychological force, these two stories shift the focus of interest from the images of temptation to the man who creates these corporeal feminine figures out of his inner anxieties and stimulated imagination." Nevertheless, the women in these tales are divested of any realistic dimension and are viewed only in their relation to man, and in their role as an obstacle on man's road to salvation. The idea that getting ri 'd of the woman is a step on the man's way to redemption, a necessary act in the process of the cleansing of the self, is implied in the Zaddik's dismissal of his wife. In the Zaddik's story, the wife is seen as unworthy of the man, who observed a Cain-like sign on her forehead. However, this narrative element links up with an ascetic, selfdenying motif that runs through some Hasidic stories in which the legitimate, real-life wife of the rabbi is conceived of not as a "helpmate" but as an enemy, an instrument of the sitra ahra. The culmination of the motif of the woman as the creator of a psychic and cosmic disharmony that hinders the arrival of the Messiah appears in the story entitled by Buber "A Seder That Went Wrong."" The protagonists in this story are the historical figures of the Yehudi and his wife Schoendel. In many other stories, Schoendel plays the role of the stereotypical comic nag, the contentious wife who pesters her husband with her poisonous tongue and long tirades; in the present story, however, Schoendel is given an additional role. The event narrated in this story is tied to Napoleon's invasion of Russia, viewed at the time by some Hasidic leaders as the beginning of redemption. The defeat of the Emperor who emancipated the Jews and who was regarded by many European Jews as a friend signified to the Hasidic mind another failed opportunity to bring about a Messianic era. Significantly, the day before Napoleon set forth from Paris on his Russian campaign that ended in disaster was Pesach. The night of the Seder was designated by the Seer of Lublin as the time when a concerted effort on the part of that generations great rabbis would hasten the arrival of redemption. On the Pesach Eve, during the Seder, all the rabbis and their disciples and followers were to concentrate with their entire soul on salvation, ge'ulah. They also had to conduct the details of the ceremony according to the Seer's specific instructions, so that all their actions were to be in synchrony. However, in the middle of the Seder in Lublin the rabbi suddenly cried: "It has failed, the Seder is disturbed," and then he whispered "Pshysha," and "all is lost." It turned out that it was Schoendel, the Yehudi's wife, who disrupted the coordinated efforts and wreaked havoc on the cosmic harmony that was needed for the era of redemption to materialize. As the family members were preparing to take their seats at the Seder table, Schoendel flew into a rage and demanded to sit at the Yehudi's side, the place that was customarily her mother-in-law's. This potentially comic domestic squabble turned into a nightmare when Schoendel appeared to be possessed by an evil spirit. She tore the cushions and covers from the seats around the table and shrieked in irrational fury. This incident took up much time and this lost time could not be retrieved. The Seder in Pshysha was out of tune with the Seders in the other rabbis' tables, and this discordant note was enough to destroy the perfect harmony that the Seer of Lublin wished to achieve. Schoendel is a real flesh-and-blood person who is temporarily possessed by the forces of evil that fight the rabbis' efforts to hasten the arrival of the Jewish and universal "end of days." Thus, if the woman is not a demon herself, she becomes the seat of a demon, if only for a short while, and through her the devil's work is done. The historical Schoendel is blamed for a cosmic accident, and with her, womanhood is condemned as a disruptive, unredeemable element, that by its nature is opposed to universal harmony. Interestingly, Schoendel is not viewed as a witch possessing magic powers but as the cantankerous shrew that she has always been; this time, however, her actions have repercussions beyond the domestic. The same Schoendel appears in a disturbing dream that the Yehudi recounts. As in the case of the dreams of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, we do not know whether the rabbi is retelling an actual dream, or whether he uses the dream element as a literary device that would allow him to free his story of the rules of rationality and consistency." It is clear, however, that by using the dream as a framework for his story the rabbi is employing the confessional tone, and that he is aware of the fact that the protagonists of the dream are projections of his inner fears and anxieties and have a psychological, but not necessarily realistic, validity. In that dream a staff turns into a snake and is then transformed into a doll with naked feet."' The doll's head identifies itself first as Foegele, the Yehudi's dead first wife, and then as Schoendel, his second wife. The dream strings together the elements of man's subconscious fear of woman, and the close affinity, almost interchangeability, between snake and woman. Schoendel, the Yehudi's second wife who appears in the Hasidic legends recreated by Buber in Gog umagog, is a protean figure of many dimensions and various literary functions. In some stories she is depicted realistically as the typical nag, a neurotic, discontented woman who turns the life of the saintly Yehudi into hell. In this chain of stories, there is even a comic element to the narrative, in line with the satirical tone with which the stereotypical nag is generally treated in literature. However, in other stories, Schoendel is divested of her human traits and becomes associated with the demonic, with the dark forces in the cosmos, which constantly attempt to defeat the Yehudi in his strivings to attain redemption. If one aspect of the association of the female with the demonic views woman as the devil's vassal who is forced to do his bidding, the other aspect is that of the demon who appears like a real woman. The theme of the demon in a woman's form is dominant in the narrative yarn spun around the two saintly Hasidic brothers, Rabbi Elimelech and Rabbi Zusha." In this tale, the two brothers are still in their "exilic" period, that time in their lives when they wandered around the countryside as part of preparing themselves for their future role as Hasidic leaders. The two brothers stopped at a country house owned by two young jewish sisters. The young women invited them in and offered them food. The brothers were afraid to touch the food since, though the women claimed to be devoutly Jewish, their wanton demeanor and appearance belied their claims. In the middle of the night, when the brothers got up to meditate, as was their custom, they were suddenly seized by a sense of impurity and lewd desire. When they peered into the women's room they saw them leading animals into the room and taking off their harnesses, at which point the animals turned into men. The sisters then had sexual relations with the men, after which they transformed them again into animals. The brothers realized that the women were witches whose purpose was to reduce men to animals and engage in unnatural sexual acts with them. The rest of the story describes the brothers' struggle to free themselves from the witches' power and rescue the other men from the animal bodies in which they were imprisoned. The main interest of this story, which belongs to the literature of demonology, lies in the fact that this incident is part of the trials and tribulations that the saintly brothers had experienced before they became known as worthy of leadership in the Hasidic community. These women are not real figures, but neither are they perceived as solely the pr 'action Oi of the rabbis' imagination. They belong to the twilight zone of fantasy, where the rabbis' stimulated erotic desires become embodied in the female figure, as well as to the realm of the folktale, where man encounters evil in the form of a demonic witch or a fiendish sorcerer. The destruction of the sexually seductive and depraved female figures signifies the holy brothers' spiritual fortitude and their mental readiness to confront and defeat the powers of evil in themselves and in the universe.
Woman and Oppression
And the spirit ofjealousy came upon him and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled; or if he bejealous of his wife, and she be not defiled. Then shall he bring his wife to the priest. . . . And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causes the curse, and the water that causes the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter. . I . Then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causes the curse shall enter into her and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shallfall away, and the woman shall be a curse among her people. Num. 5:11-28
From that time she (the moon as a female figure has had no light of her own, but derives her lightfrom the sun. At first they were on an equality, but afierwards she diminished herself; for a woman enjoys no honor save in conjunction with her husband. Zohar 1, 20a
Patriarchal structure provided the woman with protection and shelter. She was declared the sexual mate of one man only, not to be touched by the other males. At the same time, the woman became the chattel of that male, part of his worldly possessions, and she lost her freedom to choose and decide for herself. In biblical times, women of childbearing age were constantly confined id the home, tending to the children and domestic matters. The socioeconomic realities were such that a person's worth was measured by his or her labor input. Consequently, female children were less desirable than male children, since they were not able to offer the same manpower to the family as the male children. The responsibility for supporting the family was man's, but this created a male-dominated unit in which the woman was economically completely dependent on her father and later, on her husband. A woman's earnings belonged to her husband, and she did not share in her father's estate. If the Bible cannot be blamed for conspiring to subjugate women, its male-dominated laws inevitably perpetuated the image of women as subordinate to the male and inferior to him. Two types of feminine oppression come to the fore both in ancient works and, in subtler ways, in more modern texts. As a minor and a dependent within the law, the woman found herself, in ancient times, within a legal system that was male-centered and designed to protect men's rights and interests. The woman also existed in a certain social and cultural ambience, not defined by the law, in which her femininity-her ability to arouse desire in man, and her reproductive powers-was regarded with a mixture of awe and jealousy. This resulted in a situation where the woman's sexuality was both guarded and exploited, and where she was often seen as a being tyrannized by her own anatomy, who had to pay the price not only for her own excesses but for those she may have aroused in the male.
Women and the Patriarchal System
A large portion of biblical legislation touches upon women's lives and roles in the family, society, and cultic practices. As we turn to the narratives, however, there are very few examples in which fully individualized women, rather than a collective legal entity, are actually seen to come in contact with the law. In those few cases where a law that affects women is at the center of a dramatic tale, the female characters in question do not fare badly and are described as taking an active role in either the implementation of the law or its modification. An episode that describes women's contribution to the understanding of the law is that of the daughters of Zelofbad whose petition for an amendment in the law was accepted by Moses under God's orders. Significantly, instead ofjust stating the amendment that gives certain privileges to women, the Bible tells the origins of that legal addition, and how women had a role in initiating that particular law. The Bible narrates that by special legislation, daughters were permitted to inherit where there were no male heirs. When the children of Israel were divided into tribes and families for the purpose of distributing the land, the daughters of Zelofhad approached Moses: "And they stood before Moses, and before Elazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the Tent of Meeting, saying, Our father died in the wilderness . . . and had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from his family, because he has no sons? Give us a possession among the brethren of our father" (Num. 27:1-5). The daughters ask for the land not for their own sake, but in order to perpetuate their father's name. Yet the daughters' initiative triggered the special legislation that allows women to inherit from their father where male descendants are lacking. The only constriction that accompanied this amendment was the requirement that the daughters marry within their own tribe, so that the land will not pass to another tribe. The biblical narrator is not oblivious to the dramatic potential inherent in the story. This episode follows a detailed listing of the Israelite tribes and subtribes; the social structure is patrilineal and women are not mentioned. Yet out of the faceless, anonymous multitude of women in the background, the names of five women are listed. Soon after, these five women suddenly separate themselves from the rest and become individuals; the name of each of the five daughters is again spelled out. It is obvious that the daughters need to muster all the courage that they have, since they approach not just the head of their own tribe or family, but Moses himself. The text therefore lists all the awesome male authority figures whom the sisters have to confront: Moses, the High Priest, and the heads of the tribes. The sisters challenge the law and give voice to other women who may find themselves in the same predicament in the future. The women's speech is wisely and diplomatically structured. They start by telling their background, emphasizing that their father was a worthy man and did not take part in the rebellion against Moses; they ask a rhetorical question, "Why should the name of our father be done away?" and they then proceed to make a demand: "Give to us a possession among the brethren of our father." Zelofhad's daughters make sure that their claim stay within the patriarchal legal system; they ask for a piece of land for their late father's sake. They are also careful not to seem rebellious against the basic tenets of the patriarchal ideology. Therefore, they do not question the logic behind the law that bans daughters from sharing in their father's inheritance. Instead, they focus on their particular predicament, emphasizing that they want land "among the brethren of our father." The sisters understand implicitly that if they appear to wish to change the status quo and question the patriarchal worldview and social system, they would fail. Their careful and shrewd speech is calculated not to antagonize the patriarchal authorities, yet at the same time to insist on thejustice and logic of their demand. Moses is so overwhelmed by the power of their rhetoric that,he immediately consults God. Significantly, God, too, seems to be impressed not only with the women's argument but with their carefully worded speech: "The daughters of Zelofhad speak right." This is one of the few biblical occasions when the woman's voice is raised and is being noted. The Midrash felt the slightly argumentative tone in the women's address and broadened it into a questioning of the patriarchal system. In the midrashic recreation of this story, the women imply that in the present social structure there is solidarity among men against women, and a tacit agreement to protect men's rights; while God's outlook, so they believe, is egalitarian and nondiscriminatory: "They said: The compassion of men extends to men more than to women, but not so is the compassion of God; His compassion extends equally to men and women and all." 1 Surprisingly, the Midrash sages, who were often intolerant of any indication of women's independent spirit and challenge to patriarchal authority, are quite sympathetic to Zelofbad's daughters. They see in the women's request for an allocation of territory in a land that has not yet been conquered an indication of the women's strong feeling that the divine promise will soon become a reality. The sages thus juxtapose the women's implied faith in the Israelites' eventual possession of the Land of Israel with the periodic surge of doubt and lack of faith that characterized the generation of the desert: "The daughters of Zelofhad said to Moses: 'Give unto us a possession among the brethren of our father.' Rabbi Nathan said: The faith of the women was, therefore, stronger than that of the men. For the men had said: 'Let us make a captain, and let us return to Egypt."" It seems that both in the biblical text, and in the midrashic version of this episode, the daughters of Zelofhad are commended and rewarded for their spunk, their attempt to whip the biblical law into a somewhat more egalitarian record, and, simultaneously, their implied faith in the Mosaic legal system and its historical promise. Another example of a woman who moves within the patriarchal legal system and shapes it to her advantage is Ruth the Moabitess. The Book of Ruth describes how the childless and destitute Ruth, shrewdly and subtly, and with her mother-in-law's help, alerts a man to his legal obligations. She cunningly brings to Boaz's attention the levirate law that requires a man to marry the childless widow of his brother. Furthermore, Ruth succeeds in making Boaz understand the spirit of the law, rather than cling to its narrow meaning. She makes him realize tht the law itself does not always cover all the cases confronted in real life. With Ruth's subtle help, Boaz broadens his conception of the levirate custom to include in the obligation not only the widow's brother-in-law, but even a more distant male relative.
The institution of levirate marriage works in Ruth's favor. It saves her from destitution and enhances her cultic and social assimilation into the society of ancient Israel. Yet the same law, still adhered to in the nineteenth-century shtetl, is seen as an irrational, myopic, and stringent dictum, left over from primitive times, that ruins a woman's life and her chances for happiness. The poem that illustrates the evil of this custom is Y. L. Gordon's "Shomeret Yabam" ("Keeper of Levirate").' To understand the background of this poem we have to remember that the Bible offers a way out for the brother who does not wish to perform his levirate duty and marry his childless sister-in-law. In a specific religious ceremony, the man is released from his obligation towards the widow. If this biblical edict was initially intended to alleviate the financial burden that marrying another woman meant for many men, it has also offered more freedom to women in postbiblical times. In reality, the levirate custom became obsolete and, in cases where it applied, the man and woman concerned underwent the religious ceremony that freed them both from any obligation to each other.' The poet Gordon, who was ardently committed to "enlighten" his fellow Jews and make them realize the backwardness and outdated character ofjudaic law, creates a dramatic situation in which a woman is seen as victim of Jewish law as well as of its standard bearers, the contemporary rabbis. The female protagonist of this poem is a young woman by the name ofjonah. She is first described as she is sitting at the deathbed of her beloved young husband, who suffers from a terminal disease. jonah has been married for three years, yet God has not blessed her with a child. Ironically, jonah's mother-in-law has just recently borne another child, so that the young woman will have to wait until her newly born brother-in-law reaches legal age and is able to release her from the levirate obligation. Her parents are aware of their daughter's difficult situation and, after much deliberation, decide to approach the dying young husband and ask him to divorce his wife. lfjonah is a divorced woman, there will be no legal tie between her and her brother-in-law and she will be able to remarry while still young and pretty. The dying man is finally approached by his own mother, and he agrees to divorce his wife. The rabbi who is summoned to perform the hasty ceremony demands an exorbitant fee, however. The family, already impoverished as a result of the medical costs incurred through the young man's illness, begs the rabbi to reduce the fee, but the man stubbornly refuses. While the negotiations go on, the young man dies, and the childless widow will now have to wait for many years until her infant brother-in-law reaches the age of thirteen and is able to release her. The young woman is thus victim not only of an antiquated law that puts her at the mercy of a man, but of a corrupt patriarchal system in which the legal authority, always a man, is ruthlessly insensitive to the predicament of women, and sees in their legal plight a way to pad his purse. Gordon's poetic barbs are especially poisonous in his depiction of the rabbi; he uses bitter sarcasm to portray the "holy" man whose hypocritical sense of the sacredness and importance of his position will not let him reduce the fee for a simple legal procedure that will rescue the young woman from disaster. The unyielding rabbi is a simple charlatan, a criminal in whose hands the fate of the young woman is placed. Beyond that, Gordon questions the validity and wisdom of adhering to a religious-legal code that oppresses women and wreaks havoc in their lives. The young widow is seen as a pathetic figure, and while her predicament is real, her individuality does not come through. She is tritely described as beautiful, gentle, modest, and innocent. But it is obvious that the poet is not interested in his heroine's personality, in those qualities that would make her unique and different from other women; she is simply a case history that illustrates a prevalent situation. The poet ends with a tongue-in-cheek lament for the rabbi who, through the death of the young man, lost a chance to perform a divorce and make some money. Religious inflexibility and masculine despotism combine to destroy the life of another Gordon heroine in the poem "Ashaka DeRispak."' The title of the poem is taken from the Talmudic story that portrays how a board that fell off a carriage caused the destruction of the city of Bethar. The Talmudic epigram that says that Bethar was plundered because of a board is used here for its metaphorical message that a tragedy can be caused by a minor, unimportant thing. The poem opens as the family of a poor wagon driver is sitting at the Seder table, conducting the ceremony to the minutest details, and waiting for the mother of the house to serve the long-awaited meal. As the woman busies herself in the kitchen, she suddenly observes a grain of wheat in the soup; this means that the meal is not fit to be served on Passover, since a leavened ingredient has found its way to the soup. For the woman this means a catastrophe of the first order; her kitchen has not been properly "koshered" for Passover, and the lavish meal that she slaved over should be immediately removed from the premises. The unhappy woman tells her husband what happened and prepares to go to the rabbi and ask for his advice. Her uncouth, boorish husband, who is hungry and tired after days of hard work and insufficient food, forbids her to ask the rabbi's advice and commands her to serve the meal to her famished family. The pious woman reluctantly feeds her family, but does not taste a thing herself. When, on the next day, she finds another grain in her pot, she hurries to the rabbi, without her husband's knowledge. She relates to him the problem and also adds that her husband threatened to beat her if she consulted the rabbi. Gordon now slows down the story and gives rhetorical vent to his anger. "Do you think," so Gordon asks his reader, "that the rabbi provides the family with kosher food for the rest of the holiday?" The answer is, of course, no. Instead, the rabbi strictly forbids the woman to serve any of her food to her family, and orders that the impious husband be arrested for violating the Passover law. The rabbi is completely insensitive to the plight of the impoverished woman, who now has nothing to feed her young children for the rest of the holiday. When the woman's husband returns fromjail, he beats her up, then throws her out of his house and later divorces her. To describe the abuse that Sarah, the poem's protagonist, suffers at the hands of her husband, who is named Elipelet, Gordon comically paraphrases the biblical verse that tells how God remembered the ancient Sarah and rescued her from barrenness: "And Elipelet visited Sarah as he had said / And Elipelet did to Sarah as he had spoken." Elipelet's making good on his threat to beat up his wife as soon as he comes out ofjail is a parody of "And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said / and the Lord did to Sarah as he had spoken" (Gen. 2I : I), which introduces the story of the matriarch Sarah's giving birth to her son. Interestingly, by evoking the biblical phrase in which a woman is treated kindly and lovingly by God, Gordon avoids condemning the Bible itself Rather, he implies that, if biblical law was good for its time, in its presently fossilized state it is only destructive and oppressive. The object of his attack is therefore not the biblical record itself, but the irrational tradition that perpetuated these ancient laws and insisted on applying them to contemporary situations. Gordon's most vehement attack against the oppression of women by jewish law and its zealous keepers is presented in his poem "Qotso Shel Yod" ("The Point of a Yod"),' which opens with a 'eremiad on the fate of the Jewish woman, whose life is "eternal slavery," devoid of pleasure andjoy. The poem's heroine is the beautiful Bat-Shu'a, the stereotypical "daughter of Israel," who has been blessed with every possible virtue. The poet is excessively effusive in his description of his heroine's perfect physical and moral nature and her many talents. When her time comes to be married, her rich father finds for her a Talmudic scholar, and the marriage is arranged without asking for the girl's opinion. The young bridegroom is described sarcastically; he may be knowledgeable in the faded leaves of the Talmud, but he lacks social graces, is completely ignorant in worldly matters, and is physically unattractive to boot. Bat-Shu'a does not say a word as the wedding preparations are under way, but there are rumors that she cries at night. The young couple is generously supported by the wife's father while the husband continues in his studies and the young woman starts a family. After three years, however, Bat-Shu'a's father loses his fortune, and the young people are left to fend for themselves. The husband decides to go abroad with the hope of returning to his wife and children after he succeeds in making a fortune. BatShu'a is left to support her young children by herself and waits to hear ftom her husband. As time passes and she gets no word from him, she is regarded by her townspeople as an 'agunah, a woman whose husband's whereabouts are unknown. She cannot be released from her marriage bond since she is still legally married. After a while, a report arrives in town that the ship which the husband had boarded sank in the ocean with no survivor left. The rabbis, however, refuse to grant Bat-Shu'a the legal status of a widow, claiming that they have no solid proof that her husband is indeed dead. It is also learned that the young husband left a document in which he divorces his wife in case he disappears and the woman is left an 'agunah. Thus the woman has a double claim to being released from the limbo state in which she finds herself. Bat-Shu'a is now anxious to be declared a divorced woman since she has, in the meantime, fallen in love with an "enlightened," liberal-minded man who wants to marry her. The deed of divorce is brought before the local rabbi for approval and all seems to go well until the sanctimonious rabbi finds a fault in the document. The husband's name is spelled without a yod. The name Hillel in Hebrew can be spelled both with the letter yod or without it; yet the rabbi stubbornly maintains that the only acceptable way is with a yod. He declares the deed of divorce invalid, in spite of the fact that the two other scholarly authorities, the rabbi's subordinates, see no fault in the spelling of the husband's name. Bat-Shu'a's fate is now cruelly sealed. She refuses to be supported by the man who loves her, not only for fear of the scandal that this might arouse, but also because her piety forbids her from maintaining any kind of relationship with another man, as long as she is considered married in the eyes of the law. The cynical community has in the meantime, gossiped about Bat-Shu'a and her admirer, implying that the woman compromised herself, although the two have behaved chastely. For the sake of her children and her good name, Bat-Shu'a is now forced to sever all ties with her suitor. The last glimpse that we have of her is that of a miserable peddler, old and withered before her time, offering her meager merchandise at the train station, with her poorly clothed children at her side. The numerous tales focusing on the predicament of the 'agunah, the deserted woman who is in a limbo situation in the eyes ofjewish law, point to the prevalence of this unfortunate phenomenon in the East European pious communities. But Gordon's perspective was one-sided and tendentious. He aimed at exposing the absurdity of clinging to a custom that had originated in a primitive socioeconomic culture but was no longer viable in a modern reality. He also wished to deprecate the rabbinic authorities, whose pedantic adherence to the letter of the law and intellectual obtuseness to the needs of their people in changing times, rendered them incompetent to lead their flock into the modern, secular world. The literature of the turn of the twentieth century offers other aspects of the encounter between the woman and the rabbinic authorities. In S. Y. [email protected] novella, "And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight," the domestic situation is similar to the one in Gordon's poem. The protagonist leaves home for the purpose of collecting alms and after a while stops sending letters to his wife. In the meantime, a dead beggar is found in a distant village and on his body the letter of recommendation that was given to the protagonist by his rabbi before he left town. Taking this document as evidence that the protagonist is dead, the town's rabbi declares the woman a widow, free to remarry. The rabbi behaves in a reasonable and humane way; the husband has long stopped writing letters to his beloved wife, and now the rabbi's letter has been found on a beggar's body in one of the towns that the husband planned to visit. The rabbi does not ask for more proofs that the corpse is indeed that of his townsman, in order not to prolong the misery of the protagonist's wife. As the reader knows, however, the corpse is not that of the protagonist; the latter sold the rabbi's letter to another beggar, who soon after died. The rabbi's lenient, rational decision leads to tragic results when our protagonist returns home only to find that his wife has married another man and is now the mother of a small infant. Agnon's story seems to be a response to Gordon's poem, and offers an example where the rabbi's supposedly liberal, benevolent decision turned out to be a hasty, ill-advised act. The converse side of Gordon's tragedy, as described by Agnon, is not a happy situation, either, but another kind of tragedy, though motivated, perhaps, by entirely different attitudes. Agnon's story sheds a new light on Gordon's tale in that it directs us to see the rabbi's stubborn rigidity in a new light. These two works-one presenting a vindictive, hostile patriarchy, the other a lenient, humane one, yet both ending in disaster-comment more on the ironies of life and of the narrow, circumscribed existence of both men and women in the East European reality, than on the roles of the rabbis in causing the respective tragedies.
The works of a woman, the short story writer Dvorah Baron (i887i956), provide many examples of women coming in contact with pedantic, God-fearing male authorities and with various manifestations of a domineering patriarchy, in the Lithuanian shtetls at the turn of our century. In the tales that Baron spins she conjures up vividly and powerfully the bleak, poverty-stricken and persecutionridden reality of Lithuanianjewry. Baron's work is significant for the character sketches that she offers of men and women in dire straits. Though she is careful not to stereotype, generally speaking, many of Baron's male characters are hardened people, whose tough life and the meager living that they eke out in sorrow and hard work make them embittered, withdrawn, and unable to show affection. Most of Baron's character portraits are those of the shtetl women who contend courageously and proudly with poverty, lack of love, barrenness, and various other disasters. The speaker in Baron's stories is the girl Hannah, the rabbi's daughter and undoubtedly the writer's alter ego, who tells of the cases that came before her father. Mainly these were cases related to death, loss of business, or divorce. The heroine of the story "Family,"' which narrates one such case, is a young woman who escapes an unhappy home situation by marrying a hardworking, innocent young man. The first years of the couple's life together are idyllic, but as time passes and the woman does not conceive, the man's family begins making unpleasant remarks to the woman, and the community as a whole starts taunting the man for not producing heirs. Though the young people never fight, they understand that when the customary ten years of marriage are over without their having produced offspring, they will have to be divorced. For the fragile young woman who has no family of her own and who regards her strong husband as a rock that protects her against the sorrows of life, the divorce would be a catastrophe. Hannah the narrator now intrudes into the scene and describes her father, the saintly, sickly rabbi, as he prepares himself for the divorce ceremony over which he is soon to preside. As a rule, so Hannah tells us, her father fasted on the day of a divorce, and spent the night before studying the case and reading the law pertaining to it. The rabbi also explained to his children that the noun for divorce in Hebrew, kritut, meant 'excision', and that it signified the attitude ofjewish tradition to divorce as a violent tearing off of one soul from another. When the hour came, the rabbi's chamber was filled with family members and other idle witnesses. Suddenly, perhaps because one of the women fainted, or because another began to cry, the hand of the old scribe trembled and one of the letters in the deed of divorce came out disjointed, like an "amputated leg," and the ink dripping from it as from a "dark wound" in the script (35). The rabbi then decided to invalidate the document and postpone the ceremony to another time. The rabbi appears to be unduly particular; after all, the man and woman both have given their consent to the divorce in front of witnesses. He seems to reveal the same kind of pedantic inflexibility that the rabbi in Gordon's poem does. This is another case where the small 11 point" of a letter makes the deed of divorce invalid. And yet, the ending of this tale is different. The young couple, still lawfully married, go home together, and after nine months the wife gives birth to a healthy, strong son. The same kind of rabbinic rigidity that caused a tragedy in Gordon's poem, results in a happy ending in Baron's tale and rescues an innocent woman from a life of sorrow and misery. The heroine's name, Dinah, is significant in this context. It foreshadows the woman's encounter with Jewish law since it enfolds in itself the noun din which means 'law' in Hebrew. In this case, the rigid and uncompromising law is revealed as benevolent, since it is because of the rabbi's adherence to the letter of the law, the din, that Dinah the woman gets another chance and is saved. Yet not all of Baron's tales end happily; in fact, most of her female protagonists appear to be doomed women, whose emotional and economic dependence on men is always exploited either by callous, uncaring males, or by a tyrannical system which views women as slaves and instruments of reproduction. If a woman has the misfortune of being stricken with paralysis (as in the story "The Thorny Path"),' or being barren, then it seems that the whole community, both men and women, turns against her, and questions her right to live within the family. In spite of the humane, saintly rabbi who figures in some of Baron's stories as the narrator's beloved father, Baron seems to condemn a system in which men could divorce their wives very easily and effortlessly. In the story "Excision"' Baron discusses two kinds of divorces that the narrator witnessed in her father's court. One type of divorce was a result of the husband's sudden falling out of love with his wife. No matter how many years the couple had lived together, how devoted the wife was, and how many children she had borne her husband, he could suddenly, on a whim, decide that he no longer loved his wife, and that would be ground enough for the rabbis to grant him the divorce. Within the Judaic legal system, the woman had nothing to say in the matter, and even the saintly rabbi was unable to help the doomed wife. The other reason for divorce was the wife's barrenness, and in this case, too, the husband was granted a divorce easily; he usually remarried immediately, and his first wife was destined to a life of poverty and destitution.
Between the biblical examples of women benefiting from the patriarchal law (Ruth), or bringing about a change in the law that protects their interests (Zelofbad's daughters), and the nineteenth-century tales in which women are often victimized by the very same legal system (such as Gordon's poems), lies a large body of Hebraic letters that illustrates the oppression of women, on the one hand, and the protection of women within the Mosaic code, on the other. In terms of social premises, too, a dual attitude towards the place and role of the woman is reflected. Though it was relatively easy for a man to divorce his wife, the Talmud asserts that "when a man divorces his first wife, even the very altar sheds tears over him."" The wife's positive influence on her husband is reflected in the midrashic story that tells how a man had to divorce his pious wife because she had no children. The man married a bad woman, and she made him bad. The woman married a bad man, and she made him good."
In another context the Talmud declares that "when a man's first wife dies, it is as if the Temple were destroyed in his day." 12 Yet the constrictions set on a woman's existence, and the spatial and mental limitations imposed on her are evidenced in the following homily: "'All glorious is the kings daughter within.' Rabbi Jose says: When a woman keeps chastely within the house, she is fit to marry a High Priest and rear sons who shall be High Priests." " A woman's place is within the four walls of the patriarchal household, and her only fulfillment is through her husband or her children; she can thus experience life only vicariously and secondhand, through the achievements of the males in her life. Post-Talmudic literature holds fast to the tenets of patriarchy. The Kabbalistic conception of the Shekinah as the feminine principle in the deity introduced a renewed element of respect towards women and a certain egalitarian attitude towards gender, with masculinity and femininity both seen as cosmic forces of equal magnitude. Yet when it comes to real-life situations, the Kabbalistic work the Zohar states unequivocally that "a woman may not do anything without the consent of her husband,"" and "a woman enjoys no honor save in conjunction with her husband."" The Hasidic stories were narrated and written for and by men; therefore, the woman's voice is rarely heard in them. The Hasidic masters, the Rebbes, are portrayed as saintly figures who were generally loving and kind towards men and women alike. In the Rebbes' homilies and sermons, mutual respect between husband and wife and harmony in the household are seen as necessary for a sane and pure existence and for obtaining mental, and sometimes even cosmic, redemption. In theory, the oppression of women was tantamount to the creation of domestic, psychological, and cosmic disharmony and chaos. The Hasidic thought had a built-in egalitarian quality, since it started as a populist movement that opposed the elitist structure of Jewish society in Eastern Europe. Yet in reality women were victimized by a system that encouraged male bonding, where only the men congregated in order to form a spiritual environment of religious fervor and mystical closeness to God. In the East European communities the custom of leaving the family and staying at the Rebbe's court for long periods of time, even years, was quite prevalent. The wives were left to take care of the business and rear the children. The agony that this custom caused the women and the havoc it wreaked on their lives are described in the literature outside the Hasidic world, for instance, in Sholem Asch's novel The Tehilimjew. In spite of the democratic spirit that characterized the Hasidic movement at its inception, the Hasidic masters portrayed in the tales that originated in the movement itself are seen as awesome authority figures and strict patriarchs. Martin Buber tells the story of Rabbi Mendel of Rymanov who ruled that the daughters of Israel should not wear gay-colored, lavishly trimmed dresses, and who severely persecuted a young woman who dared go out in the street dressed in the latest city fashion. " Other stories, on the other hand, reflect the Rebbe's compassion, especially towards poor, hard-pressed women. In one such tale involving the Rabbi Yitzhak of Vorki, a widow sued some merchants who refused to pay her the debts that they had owed hcr late husband. To discredit the woman, the merchants told the Rebbe that she had borne a child out of wedlock after her husband's death. Instead of censuring the woman for immorality, the Rebbe expressed sympathy for her, explaining that her destitution had caused her to lose her sense of self-esteem. 17
The Sephardic Jewish community had its own brand of strict, oppressive patriarchy that maintained its old-fashioned ways even after the male-dominated East European Jewish family began to erode rapidly under the onslaught of Jewish Enlightenment and outside influences. The novelist Yehuda Burla, himself of Sephardic origins, portrays the customs, mores, and family values of the Jewish community in Jerusalem in the early years of the twentieth century. The various Jewish communities that originated in Arab countries and came to settle down in the Land of Israel, or those families that had lived in the Land for many generations, led a far more insulated existence than their contemporaries in the Europeanjewish ghetto. They conducted their lives with a mixture of genuine orthodox piety and religious superstition that they shared with their Middle Eastern neighbors. The story of the female protagonist in Burla's novel His Hated Wife (I 920) " evokes the memory of the prototypical "hated wife," the biblical Leah, who wonjacob through trickery, bore him six sons and one daughter, yet was never able to gain his love. In the biblical story, Leah's status as the "hated wife" is doubly enforced; first, when God himself realizes it, and then when Leah admits that she "was hated." Leah's predicament as the unloved wife in jacob's polygynous family is amply illustrated. She is seen as the victim of both her father and her husband. Her voice is not heard in the episode describing the tricking ofjacob, yet she grows quite vociferous when her life as the rejected wife becomes unbearable and as she starts shifting her dreams and affection from her husband to her sons. Interestingly, though it was Jacob who was duped, his anguish is not elaborated on; after all, seven years later he also wins his beloved Rachel. Burla's novel, however, is written almost exclusively from the point of view of the man who reluctantly marries a woman that he finds unattractive and then suffers all his life from emotional starvation and longings for a passionate love relationship. ironically, Buria names his female protagonist after the biblical woman who was ardently loved by her husband, Rachel, and he also sets the first meeting of the young couple at Rachel's Tomb in BethLehem. Like Jacob the patriarch, the young Daud marries a woman who is not his first choice, yielding to the pleading and threats of his domineering mother. He finds the timid young woman unattractive because she is short and dark-skinned while he is tall and fair. As the years pass and the family grows, Daud's passive resentment towards his wife turns into violent hostility as he periodically beats her up, throws her out of his house, or falls into long depressions, refusing to talk to her for days at a time. Likeiacob, Burla's protagonist discriminates between his sons; he loves the firstborn, who looks like himself, and dislikes his second son, who looks more like his wife. Daud is afraid to divorce his wife because, in his superstitious mind, he ties his financial success, which coincided with his marriage, with his wife's good fortune, and regards the woman as an amulet that can ward off financial disaster. During the years, Daud often threatens to take a second wife, a practice that was accepted, yet slightly frowned upon, in the Sephardic community. While the man's point of view dominates the novel, Burla does not refrain from describing Daud's darker side. If the reader is made to sympathize with the love-starved man, he is also made aware of Daud's grave faults; he is mean-spirited, stingy, and even ruthless. Daud has his lavish meals by himself, and rarely invites his wife and children to Join him. They usually have the leftovers in the kitchen. The wife's point of view is revealed only indirectly, when Burla offers us a glimpse into the letters that she writes to her mother in Hebron. The analogy with the biblical Leah is also apparent here; in Leah's case we also learn of her suffering indirectly, through the different names that she gives to her sons, all depicting her plight and her diminishing hopes of winning her husband's love. In the case of Burla's heroine, the letters reveal the tragedy of a woman who loves her husband hopelessly and passionately, and whose love seems to grow even as his attitude turns into open hostility. Burla's Rachel is seen as a pathetic victim, a figure not strong enough to gain the reader's interest, since the novel's mainspring is the man's anguish and his frustrated existence. Burla's preference for the husband's point of view speaks much of the social attitudes of the era that he describes. Morally, the wife is superior to her husband and would therefore be more deserving of the reader's sympathy and attention. Yet socially, within the structure that subordinates women and pays no attention to their feelings, Rachel's point of view cannot become of pivotal interest. Thus by choosing the male's perspective, Burla comments on the mores of a patriarchy for which love is the male's domain and his indisputable right, very much as it was in ancient biblical times.
Male Tyranny and Women's Sexuality
The area where male authority and patriarchal domination manitested themselves most clearly and oppressively was feminine sexuality. In ancient Israel polygyny was a normal practice and the male's extramarital sexual activities were accepted. A woman's sexuality, however, was regarded as the exclusive property of her husband, just as her virginity was jealously guarded by her father and brothers before she was married. A woman's main contribution to the family was her sexuality, her ability to provide pleasure to her husband and manpower to the family. The penalty for adultery was death for both the woman and her lover; they both were considered to be robbing the husband of that which was exclusively his. The laws dealing with sexual transgression recognize not only man's rights but also the complex web of emotions that his relationship with his intimate female partner might arouse in him. The Bible acknowledges sexual jealousy as a legitimate male experience. In the example cited in the opening to the present chapter, a husband who suspects his wife of infidelity, but has no proof of it, may require her to submit to a humiliating ordeal. If she is found to be innocent, the husband will have to pay no penalty for his false accusation; the emotional scar that this incident might leave on the woman is not considered. Similarly, rape is not seen in terms of the emotional damage it may cause to a woman, especially the young girl, and the perpetrator is not regarded as a vicious criminal. He must simply marry the girl, and make the appropriate marriage gift to her father. In matters of the heart, too, only the male's point of view is considered. Isaac loved Rebecca, Jacob was fiercely in love with Rachel, and Elkanah loved his barren wife Hannah. But we are not told of the women's response, although a great part of the narratives about these men shows the women in various states of mental agony. The woman's right, or ability, to love a man of her choice was not a matter of concern to the biblical narrator; only a man's amorous feelings were of importance. The Apocryphal work The Wisdom of Sirach, composed around i8O B.C.E., sums up the patriarchal conception of the differences between the sexes with regard to erotic choices by claiming that a woman can "receive" any man; yet for the male, one girl "surpasses" another." In other words, a woman has no special sensitivity when it comes to choosing a sexual partner, since all men are alike to her; yet man's erotic discrimination is extremely developed, so that he prefers one girl over the other. This epigram seems very simplistic and imperceptive as a psychological observation, yet it is possi 'ble that the speaker meant it as a social comment that revealed cultural attitudes. It is not that women are lacking in sexual sensitivity, but that, in reality, whether they possess this quality or not is immaterial, because society allows only the man to act upon his fastidious taste in choosing his female sexual partner. Woman's sexuality was thus regarded not so much as part of her feminine being but, rather, as an exclusive form of male experience. If the patriarch had indisputable rights over his wife's erotic life and her heart, his attitude towards his daughter's sexuality was even more complex. Within the context of ancient cultural attitudes, the daughter epitomized the family's honor, and her sexual transgression constituted a stigma for the whole family. The daughter was, therefore, protected in the home by both her father and her brothers, since her virginity and purity symbolized the family's power that manifested itself in its ability to protect its women. The Wisdom of Sirach describes the daughter as the cause of sleeplessness to her father. When she is young, the father is concerned that she will "pass her prime," and when she is married, he is afraid that she will be hated by her husband. When she is a girl, the father is afraid that she will be "profaned, " and when she is married, he worries that she will not be able to have children. And the strong-willed daughter, who is not closely watched by her father, may become the "talk of the town," and fill her father's enemies with "malignant oy. 11 20 The daughter is a source of concern for her father, mainly in matters that have to do with her sexuality and with the threat that it poses to the family's name. Interestingly, love and affection are not recognized among the feelings that a father may have for his daughter.
The story that best exemplifies the daughter's predicament and her precarious and paradoxical status in the family is that of Dinah, Jacob's daughter, narrated in Genesis, chapter 34. This story has come to be known as the tale of the rape of Dinah. The truth, however, is that the main focus of the story is not the girl who has been violated, but rather the tense and complicated relationship betweenjacob and some of his sons. It is not a story about a woman, but about men, with the woman as the element triggering certain events but taking no active part in the actual plot that develops. Prior to the present tale Dinah is mentioned only as Jacob's daughter by Leah. Although her parentage is known to us, the narrator repeats it at the opening of the present chapter. Dinah is mentioned not asjacob's daughter but, surprisingly, as Leah's daughter byjacob. The narrator's intention is, undoubtedly, to bring to the fore the special circumstances ofjacob's household. Dinah is the daughter of the unloved wife who won jacob by trickery. The tension in jacob's family where, ironically, the unwanted woman is fruitful, while the beloved wife Rachel is barren, is made clear in previous episodes. The fact that Dinah is Leah's daughter certainly plays a part in the ensuing events. The story opens with the woman: Dinah "went out to see the daughters of the land." While the narrator does not stop to describe the particular predicament of the only daughter in a tribe that attempted to separate itself from the neighboring communities, Dinah's going out to look for women friends implies her sense of loneliness and isolation. The biblical narrator does not judge Dinah for the act of "going out" and explains her motivation as quite innocent. From our modern perspective, the mere fact that a woman should be raped on her first venture out of the confines of her immediate family tells about women's circumscribed existence in ancient times, and their status as easy prey. However, the verb yz', to 'go out', is replete with sexual associations in the Hebrew language; both the Hebrew and the Aramaic nouns for prostitute are coined from the root to 'go out', yz'(yaz'anit and nafqa'). It is hard to say whether the connotations of sexual promiscuity linked with this verb had already existed in biblical language or came into being later, partly as a result of our story. There is no indication in the biblical material that our storyteller, or for that matter any of the protagonists, condemns the girl. It is significant, however, to know that in its Akkadian and Aramaic equivalents this verb can connote coquettish or promiscuous conduct." In a sequence of three verbs, the narrator describes Dinah's ordeal; Shekhem the Hivvite "takes" her, "lies" with her, and "forces" (or "tortures") her. He then falls in love with the young girl and decides to marry her. Jacob's reaction is that of the stern patriarch, not the loving father. Jacob's initial response is a cultic evaluation: his daughter has been "defiled. " For Jacob, Dinah now has a new status within the religious frame of thinking; she is in a state of defilement and impurity. But Jacob has no reaction to his daughter's feminine and human predicament; he does not think about her suffering and personal humiliation, but reacts as head of a religious community that has specific cultic terms for the particular state in which Dinah now finds herself. Jacob further acts as the diplomatic and responsible head of the tribe, but not as the concerned father, when he decides to wait for his sons, who are in the field, before he reacts. We knowjacob from other episodes as a highly passionate man; he bursts out crying the first time he sees Rachel, and he is inconsolable when Joseph is lost. Therefore, his apparent lack of emotion and his sober, calculated reaction, while politically wise, seem to reveal a certain coldness and lack of fatherly affection for his daughter. Is it because Dinah is Leah's daughter, or simply because she is a girl? It is hard to say. The reaction of Dinah's male siblings, however, is markedly different and stands in obvious opposition to the father's attitude. The brothers' initial reaction is emotional and human: they are sad, in other words, they feel sorry for their sister. This is followed by anger at the offense against the moral values of the Abrahamic family, "because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel," as well as against basic human norms that ought to be universally accepted: "Which thing ought not to be done" (v. 7). The following scene describes the marriage negotiations between Jacob and his sons,and the Hivvites; here, too, Jacob has a very passive role, and it is the brothers who do the talking. The Hivvites' position may seem rather human and their offer generous, especially if we consider the Israelite tribe's position as nomadic foreigners who are at the mercy of the masters of the land. Shekhem offers to pay as much bride price as the sons of Jacob would demand; yet it is made clear to us thatjacob's sons only pretend to be negotiating and that no monetary compensation would mollify them. The brothers regard the act of rape as an atrocity that requires severe punishment, and the Hivvites' failure to apologize, coupled with an attempt to bribe the brothers, only intensifies the latter's sense of injustice. From our modern perspective we can sympathize with the brothers' reaction to the molestation of their sister in a way that, perhaps, biblical man could not. The girl's father, for instance, gives no indication that he, too, thinks that the penalty for rape should be something more severe than mere monetary payment. Furthermore, the Hivvites' offer seems fair and human only because the biblical narrator cunningly withholds a very important detail that he discloses only later; while the men are negotiating, the woman is still held hostage in the Hlvvites' home. The cards are in the Hivvites' hands; if the brothers did not agree to a settlement, the girl would still remain in the Hivvites' home. The Hivvites thus emerge as less generous than they first appear to be; they negotiate from a position of strength, giving the brothers no real option but to agree to their request.
The brothers refuse to speak about a monetary settlement and, instead, introduce a religious and cultic aspect to the discussions: anyone who marries their sister must be circumcised. We know that this is only a trick to make the Hivvites vulnerable and unable to defend themselves. At the same time, the brothers sincerely indicate that if the Hlvvites refuse to be circumcised, the family will be pleased with just getting the girl back. Unlike the Hivvites, the brothers offer a real alternative to the party that they negotiate with; either the Hivvites subject themselves to circumcision, or they should release the girl, "then we will take the girl, and we will be gone" (v. I7). At this point, the brothers are very far from appearing bloodthirsty and anxious for revenge; after all, there is a chance that the Hivvites would not agree to the exorbitant demand of circumcision and would prefer to release the girl. The brothers are eager to get their sister back, either in a peaceful manner or through violence, but they refuse to strike any deal in which they will enrich their coffers at their sister's expense. Thus, when the brothers finally resort to violence, we understand that this was [email protected] only option open to them. Dinah is still within the walls of the city of Shekhem, and the only way to get her out is by force. If the excessive killing might seem unnecessary, we must remember that the only way to get to the imprisoned Dinah, and to insure her safe return, is by clearing the route that leads to the place where she is held. Dinah's two full brothers, Simon and Levi, force their way into Shekhem's house, killing all the males, and then take their sister and leave. The other brothers, however, both Dinah's fulland half-siblings, stay on to plunder the city and loot it. At this point, the underlying family tension that has always existed injacob's household erupts. Jacob's wrath is directed only at Simon and Levi, the two sons who did not take part in the looting. After a long silence jacob finally speaks up; but he has nothing to say about his daughter's ordeal, nor does he find it necessary to talk to the girl herself Instead, Jacob exhorts his sons for acting recklessly and endangering the entire clan. Jacob thus betrays his dislike for the sons of his unloved wi 'fe, as well as his lack of paternal affection towards the daughter born to him by this wife. Later, whenjacob is on his deathbed he also censures Simon and Levi severely for the violence and cruelty that they supposedly committed: "Cursed be their anger so fierce / and their wrath so relentless" (Gen. 49: 5-7). Ironically, while Jacob singles out Simon and Levi to condemn them, in the story itself they stand out as more sincere and devoted to their sister, and less greedy, than the other brothers. The biblical narrator, however, allows the brothers to have the last words, thus subtly implying that his sympathy lies with the fierce brothers. After listening to their father's rebuke, the brothers answer with a rhetorical question: "Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?" Dinah is now no longer "Jacob's daughter" but "our sister" whose honor will be loyally guarded by her male siblings .21 While the brothers' reaction to their sister's ordeal might seem excessive to some, or admirable to others, the woman's silence is extremely significant. The biblical narrator does not give expression to the girl's point of view. Did she feel humiliated and violated? Did she thank her brothers for rescuing her? How did she react to her father's silence and aloofness when she was finally returned home? We are not told, and thus, what should have been a woman's story became a tale about the power struggle in a polygynous family that had four different sets of male half-siblings. Furthermore, although the brothers appear to genuinely care for their sister, their attitude to her is somewhat impersonal and very possessive. They do not refer to Dinah by her name, but only as "our sister," implying that their concern for her is also motivated by the fact that whatever happens to their sister reflects on them.,In a sense, if the daughter is molested, the whole tribe is seen as raped, and by courageously rescuing their sister, the brothers are making a political statement to the neighboring tribes, signaling to them that they will not tolerate any form of threat to their honor. The brief episode of the rape of Dinah, inserted within the larger story of the early Israelites' struggle to strike roots in the Land of Canaan, is a correlative of the geopolitical tension as well. Forjacob's sons, who attempt to transform their status from that of foreign nomads to lawful residents and landowners, the violation of their sister by the son of the lords of the land is a political warning. The age-old close identification of woman with land and earth is meaningful in this context. It converts the story of the woman to a parable about men's fight for a land, and the real woman is once again submerged and forgotten. Dinah's silence, her father's coldness, and the narrator's reticence about the woman's feelings might suggest that one of the links in the story has been intentionally suppressed. As we know, the only available males in the Hebrew tribe were Dinah's own brothers; the question of whom she could marry is not addressed in the biblical text. Is it possible that she was looking for a man? One might also conjecture that Dinah preferred to stay in Shekhem's home when he asked her to marry him because she knew that her chances as a deflowered girl were slim. Did she, then, cooperate with her violator once she was "defiled" and realized the gravity of her social situation? If so, perhaps the father's enigmatic silence indicates his anger and disapproval of his daughter's actions. Furthermore, the language that describes the rescue of Dinah implies that the brothers had to use a certain degree of force in order to take their sister out of Shekhem's home, when, in fact, they had already killed all the males and there was no need to use force in order to set the woman free. The text describes the act of releasing Dinah from captivity with the verb 'to take', the same verb that it employs when Shekhem "takes" Dinah by force. Did Dinah resist her brothers' attempts to release her since she was reluctant to come back to the family that would view her as a "defiled" woman? She most probably knew her father's state of mind and figured his reaction to her. If she were not yet aware that Shekhem had been killed, she may have felt that staying in the home of the man who professed to love her was preferable to returning to a strict, unloving, forbidding father. As in many biblical tales, the terse, economical language puzzles the reader and teases him into asking more questions. But more than in other cases, it is clear that the many narrative lacunae in the Dinah tale are not only a matter of style but that they point to a deliberate attempt on the part of the narrator to shift the focus of the story away from a delicate problem that is best kept untouched. Whatever the reason for the narrator's decision to highlight some aspects of his story and leave other aspects in the dark, he has successfully and powerfully portrayed the sexual predicament of the woman in a malecentered environment. If she is curious and daring, she runs the risk of being molested. If she stays within the four walls of the patriarchal tent, she surrenders her freedom to choose for herself. Her virginity is no more than a pawn in the power struggle that takes place within her own family and that which occurs between her tribe and the other communities. If the biblical narrator saw Dinah mainly as a victim, the Midrash sages viewed her with very different eyes. Their treatment of Dinah is, perhaps, the earliest example of men accusing the molested woman of being responsible for her own victimization. The Midrash suggests that the phrase used to describe Dinah's venturing out, "And Dinah the daughter of Leah . . . went out," deliberately evokes Leah's earlier "going out" to invite jacob to her bed (Gen. 30: i6). For the Midrash it is clear thatjust as Leah "went out" in order to ask a man to sleep with her, so Dinah, her daughter, "went out" with the intention of luring a man sexually. Moreover, unlike Jacob, the Midrash condones the actions of Simon and Levi, but blames the young woman for causing the savagery because she behaved immorally. The Midrash also calls Dinah a "gadabout," and tells us that she deliberately exposed her arm. Furthermore, the sages' sensitive reading of the biblical text focuses on the verb 'to take' which is used both to indicate Shekhem's forceful seizing of Dinah, and the brothers' rescuing her. They unequivocally state that the repetition of the verb indicates that Dinah refused to leave her tormentor's home: "Rabbijudah said: 'They dragged her out and departed.' Rabbi Hunia observed: 'When a woman is intimate with an uncircumcised person, she finds it hard to tear herself away'."" Dinah is thus accused of seducing Shekhem, of enjoying the sexual relations with him, and of refusing to return to her family. In the eyes of the Midrash, then, Dinah is completely to blame for this unfortunate episode. Unlike the Bible, the Midrash explains Dinah's motives and actions clearly and unequivocally, and leaves no doubt in the reader's mind that the young woman was promiscuous, that she was looking for a sexual adventure, and that she is to be held responsible for the bloodshed, for turning her brothers into bloodthirsty savages, and for the rift in Jacob's household. The paradigmatic nature of the tale of Dinah and, particularly, of the male attitudes to the "fallen" woman revealed in the ancient documents is borne ojjt by later works which manifest similar values. Shakespeare's Leonato, father of the falsely accused Hero, is concerned only with his own grief when he learns of his daughter's supposed indiscretions. Like Jacob, he shows no compassion for the suffering daughter, and without looking into the circumstances, he hastens to label her "fallen," lamenting that ". . . the white sea / Hath drops too few to wash her clean again" (Much Ado About Nothing, Act 4, scene i). In the same episode, the young woman is treated as a damaged piece of merchandise, a "rotten orange," by her intended husband. In general, the young woman is regarded merely as a commodity in a business transaction by both her father and fiance. Hero's voice is only faintly heard, while the men who surround her are allowed to give vent to their rage and humiliation, using the occasion for their own histrionics. The paradox of the daughter's pivotal role in her brothers' and father's destinies, on the one hand, and the complete suppression of her voice, on the other, is also central in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. The promiscuous Candace, a latter-day version of the "defiled daughter," becomes the focus of a variety of male anxieties and hostilities: she is the cause of her brother Quentin's suicide and her father's untimely death, as well as the victim of her evil brother Jason and the only glimmer of hope in the bleak existence of her idiot brother Benjy. Furthermore, as in the biblical context, the daughter's wrecked honor is subtly but inextricably tied to larger questions regarding the future survival of the family and the ownership of land, as well as to cultural and regional transformations. The rape of the woman as an "objective correlative" for the clash of cultures is also at the heart of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, where the frail Blanche is the "raped" South, deprived of its former glory and taken over by strangers. Furthermore, underlying the ancient Hebraic mind that produced the tale of Dinah is the merging of the concepts of sin and guilt. Jacob the father, for whom Dinah is unequivocally in a state of defilement, does not concern himself with the question of his daughter's moral guilt. Yet the Midrash sages probably felt the subtle paradox in Dinah's state as sinful in religious terms and innocent in moral terms. The rabbis therefore interpreted the story in such a way that Dinah's cultic "impurity" became not only a matter of an arbitrary sectarian definition, but it coincided with the woman's personal guilt. In the Midrash, therefore, Dinah is both sinful and guilty. Nevertheless, this paradox inevitably surfaces in the works of modern writers who are still steeped in the biblical spirit yet at the same time are attuned to secular definitions of morality and guilt. Critics have long been puzzled by Hawthorne's seeming inconsistency regarding his heroine Hester's guilt; to Hawthorne, the bearer of the "scarlet letter" is sinful and pure at the same time. As the violator of the Puritan religious code and biblical law, Hester is the sinful adulteress. Yet in psychological terms as well as in broader secular and humanistic terms, Hester has not committed any violation. A similar ambivalence pervades Tolstoy's treatment of his heroine Anna Karenina. Although he sees in his female protagonist more of a victim than victimizer, Toistoy, who opens his novel with the New Testament verse on divine vengeance, finds it necessary to ultimately "punish" Anna for her sins, while at the same time maintaining her psychological and moral purity.
If Dinah's voice is suppressed in the early sources, it is fully heard in the poem "The Dinah Affair" (or "The Dinah Portion," 1936) by Saul Tchernichovsky." The poem starts with a prose section that imitates the style and cadence of the biblical text. The opening lines fill the narrative vacuum that exists in the Bible regarding Dinah's life after she was rescued from Shekhem. Dinah's first words are that she wants to die. She later finds out that she is pregnant, and she prays for the innocent child to live. When she bears a daughter she remarks on the bitter irony of bearing a child to a hated man. She is so disgusted with her violator that, during her difficult labor, when she thinks that she is about to die, she begs to be buried in Egypt and not in Canaan, so that her ashes will not mingle with his. When she thinks that she is on her deathbed, she calls eleven of her brothers (excluding the youngest, Benjamin) and delivers a blessing to each of them, very much in the manner that Jacob does before he dies, and in imitation of his language patterns and imagery. Her father is, significantly, missing from this family gathering. At this point Dinah becomes the forceful speaker, and the brothers the passive, respectful listeners. This reversal of the biblical situation-with the family depatriarchalized and centering around the vocal woman-is accompanied by the reversal ofjacob's blessings. While she uses the language formula of the biblical text, Dinah mostly twists and parodies Jacob's blessings (Gen. 49). She subtly rebukes all the brothers, except for Simon and Levi, for not responding quickly and decisively on her behalf and for cowardly seeking a compromise. But she praises Simon and Levi for their fierce anger and courageous action, mocking and overturning her father's harsh words. Jacob said, "instruments of cruelty are their swords," while Dinah says, "Instruments of nobility are their swords." Thus whilejacob singles out Simon and Levi for condemnation, Dinah singles them out for praise. As the poem evolves, Dinah survives the agonizing childbirth and raises her daughter with tenderness, protecting her fiercely because, she says, a woman is like a "wild flower" that anyone "can pick." The poet Tchernichovsky, who was also a physician, records the state of mind of the molested woman with almost a clinical precision that, nevertheless, does not dilute the biblical-poetic language. Dinah experiences many of the symptoms connected with the aftermath of rape; she comes to resent her own femininity, and she pities her daughter for being a woman. She refuses to get married because the memories of the rape, of the forced kisses and physical contact with 11 the pig," have handicapped her sexually and mentally. Tchernichovsky thus corrects the narrative imbalance of the early sources, which did not find it necessary to consider the feelings of the violated woman. He also offers a new perspective to the Dinah affair, by making the reader aware of the crippling effects of rape on a woman, and by letting Dinah express her gratitude to the brothers who cared enough to risk their lives and save her, Simon and Levi. If Dinah is almost nonexistent in the biblical story, except as an object to be acted upon, it is Jacob who is absent in Tchernichovsky's poem. Dinah addresses her other brothers with a mixture of condescension and affection; she chastises them for dragging their feet and not acting swiftly and decisively, but she is not very angry at them, either. In contrast, her failure to discourse with Jacob or even mention him indicates the bitterness and anger that she feels towards the father who did not behave in a fatherly fashion.
Tchernichovsky's Dinah shuns any physical contact with a man because the memory of the rape has made the thought of an erotic experience nauseating and sickening. Thus, although she recovers physically, she will forever carry the emotional scars of being violently invaded at a young age. The other side of this experience would be the point of view of the man who falls in love with the "defiled" woman. This perspective is offered by S. Y. Agnon in his powerful tale "The Doctor's Divorce."" The biblical tale of Dinah is an underlying structure in this story, reinforced by the name of the female protagonist, which is Dinah. The story itself, though, is set in Vienna, in the years prior to World War 11, and revolves around a physician and his wife who is a nurse. Three circles of consciousness, which represent three different narrative points of view, manifest themselves in the story. The first circle, that of the physician who is actually going through the ordeal described in the story, is the narrowest and most limited, since the protagonist is so embroiled in his experience that he is unable to look at the events objectively. The second circle is that of the same man, who now tells the story from a distance of time and place. The firstperson narrator of the tale is the physician who records a traumatic episode in his life that happened quite a few years ago. The man is obviously no longer practicing in the Viennese hospital that serves as a background to the story, and it is doubtful that he is still in Vienna. The tale is narrated after the War, since the teller has information about the torture-dcath of the head physician of this hospital at the hands of a Nazi. The chronological and geographical distance of the narrator from the subject of his story enlarges his perspective; the broader point of view enables him to look at the events as they occur and then to remove himself from the situation and comment on the events from an outside vantage point. The third circle of consciousness is that of the writer himself who listens to the doctor's confession and then transforms it into a story. Agnon's voice is not heard directly since the writer himself never intrudes openly into the scene. But the tight narrative structure, the sets of grotesque images interlaced in the story, and the implications of the heroine's name, especially in view of the anonymity of all other characters, suggest the presence of a third point of view, that of the writer who controls the tale and has a much broader perspective than his own protagonist. In terms of the history of this tale, it is significant that it started as an episode in Agnon's novel A Guest for the Night and only later became an independent story." In the novel, the identity of the physician as well as his name and family background are given. Furthermore, while the teller of the episode in the novel is the same physician who speaks to us in the independent story, the novel sets a dramatic scene, in which the doctor confesses, and the writer, the latter's childhood friend, listens. Agnon's persona is absent from the independent story, and therefore the dialogue that is possible in the novel between the listener-writer and the teller has also been eliminated. The story itself fails to give much information about the physician, and, with the listener and the element of dialogue removed, the story concentrates solely on the single-minded, obsessive preoccupation of the physician with his wife's past. The heroine's name becomes significant precisely because all the other characters, including the protagonist himself, remain unnamed. The story opens with a description of the beautiful, tender nurse who is loved by patients and colleagues alike. She is first mentioned not by name but by her profession; the patients keep calling for her: "Nurse, nurse come to me" (135). The noun for nurse in Hebrew is sister," and thus, when the nurse's private name is finally disclosed, sister Dinah" of the story evokes the biblical "sister Dinah." The narrator confesses that he was drawn to the beautiful nurse the very first time that he saw her; he also describes the color of her eyes several times as being a mixture of both blue and black. The system of opposites that dominates the whole story is thus foreshadowed in the colors of Dinah's eyes, which signify innocence and experience, openness and secretiveness at the same time. Already the very first lines of the story contrast the strict discipline of cleanliness and order, instituted in the hospital by the old professor, with the chaos and irrationality of the Nazi regime when this old man dies of a blood infection, after having been tortured by a sadistic soldier. Prewar Vienna is described as a curious mixture of civilized gentility, on the one hand, and decadence and disease, on the other. Images of beauty, good taste, and decorum suddenly give way to grotesque, heinous scenes that seem to come from a subterranean existence. The motif of duality or of a bifocal vision is reinforced on the doctor's first date with Dinah when he suddenly sees her as "a new person," and her charm "doubles" with this "metamorphosis" (137). Finally, the theme of the duality of opposites finds its expression in the doctor's attitude to his beloved Dinah after he learns that she had a sexual affair with another man in the past. When Dinah tells her fiance that she was "once involved with another man," the doctor's reaction is ominous: "A chill ran through me and I went weak 'nside. I sat without saying a word. After a few moments I told her, 'Such a thing would have never occurred to me"' (141). While our protagonist claims that "I treated her just as before, as though she had in no way fallen in my esteem," his protestations imply the opposite. From this moment on, the doctor becomes increasingly obsessed with Dinah's past. He torments her with questions, expresses his disappointment that her former lover was 'ust a low-ranking clerk, and constantly returns to the subject of Dinah's blemished past. The doctor now vacillates between two states of mind and two visions of Dinah's affair and character. As a rational, liberal-minded man, he genuinely tries to dismiss Dinah's previous sexual experience as unimportant, and Dinah as an innocent victim of a crafty, more experienced man who took advantage of her youth and gullibility. Nevertheless, the doctor seems to be governed by feelings and attitudes that are beyond his control, even as he knows that they are wrong and irrational. Although he does not say it in so many words, the feeling that Dinah is now "defiled" cannot be shaken off from his mind. Dinah's name and the biblical character that it evokes become significant. The doctor shuttles between the biblical rendering of the episode in which Dinah is the victim of a brutish man, and the midrashic reading of the story, in which Dinah is described as a prostitute who seduced the man. Moreover, the doctor alternates between a precivilized, primitive attitude that considers a woman who had sexual relations before her marriage as tainted and blemished, and a modern, enlightened attitude to a premarital experience. His treatment of his wife is domineering and patriarchal. On their wedding night the doctor tells Dinah, "You don't have to wait, your lord has already come" (I45). The doctor's possessiveness toward his wife implies that, in spite of his secular education and scientific training, the male in him is still the primitive head of the family who regarded his wife as chattel. For the protagonist, Dinah is now a damaged piece of merchandise that he "bought" in an unthinking moment. The doctor gradually descends into a manic state of mind, when he can no longer control his tormented imagination. But the doctornarrator recognizes the duality not only in his conception of Dinah but in the modern male culture: "We are -enlightened individuals, modern people, we seek freedom for ourselves and for all humanity, and in point of fact we are worse than the most diehard reactionaries" (I46-7). He confesses his hypocrisy: "for I was pretending to be decent while my thoughts were contemptible" (I47). Dinah's married life starts with a disastrous wedding night during which her husband suspects that the courtesy roses which have been placed in their hotel room are a gift from her former lover. Her husband keeps hearing footsteps from the next room that he attributes to the clerk. The wedding ceremony itself forebodes disaster. It is a grotesque affair in which the witnesses are "miserable creatures who an hour ago were called for a funeral and now were summoned for my wedding" (142). The bridegroom imagines that one of the heinous witnesses looks at his wife in a lewd manner, and finds out that he is a clerk who was recently fired. In his obsession, the protagonist keeps seeing his wife's former lover everywhere; when he kisses her, he hears "the echo of another kiss that someone else had given her" (146). The lowly clerk is constantly on the doctor's mind until, at last, the doctor actually comes in touch with him when the latter enters the hospital and becomes the doctor's patient. Images of disease, infection, and foulness dominate the story. Yet the afflicted person is the one who is supposed to be the healer, the doctor himself, while the person who is regarded as contaminated, Dinah, is actually healthy and sane. The obsessed protagonist knows that he is mentally disordered and, unconsciously, he tries to demoralize his strong wife and shake her mental stability. When she falls sick, he says, "I healed her with medicines and battered her heart with words" (148). In Agnon's story the modern Dinah is almost as reticent as her ancient namesake. Whereas the biblical Dinah is declared "defiled" by her father, however, Agnon makes it clear that it is not his heroine, Dinah, who is "defiled"; rather, it is the man whose mind is polluted and who needs help. Agnon's Dinah withstands her trial with fortitude and dignity, and never loses her sanity. Jacob's description of his daughter as unclean is both sub . ective and cultic. In our story, which is secular in its orientation, the cultic aspect is nonexistent, of course. We have the doctor's subjective point of view, which regards the woman as contaminated, and the writer's point of view, which is nonjudgmental and enlightened. Moreover, though the writer does not let us into Dinah's innermost thoughts, we understand from her behavior that she sees herself as the potential healer of her husband's mind, trying different tactics to help him overcome his irrational prejudices and jealousy. When at last she understands the depth of her husband's agony and feels that he is beyond cure, as far as his attitude to her is concerned, she suggests a divorce. The theme of disease takes a new turn when Dinah's former lover becomes the doctor's patient. The protagonist treats him with special care, with a compulsive, insane dedication, and refuses to let him leave the hospital even when the patient is cured. He makes sure that the clerk has the best food, and simply forces the latter to eat and drink until he becomes almost disfigured by obesity. The doctor confesses that the patient disgusts him physically, and yet at the same time he continues to feed him and see to his needs. This forced attention and excessive care is a form of revenge that the doctor takes on his patient; he tries to kill him with kindness. At the same time, it is clear that as the patient begins to get better, the physician sinks more and more into madness. The nature of the doctor's obsession, its primitive roots and its link to the biblical story are made clear in a strange dream in which the doctor's monomania becomes clear and focused. In the dream, his wife's lover appears to him, and his face seems sickly but, surprisingly, also likable. The lover turns to the doctor and says: "What do you want from me? Is the fact that she raped me any reason for you to have it in for me?" (iSS)." This new interpretation of Dinah's affair sounds very much like the midrashic recreation of the Dinah story in which the woman is condemned for seducing the man. The doctor, in his poisoned state of mind, goes even a step further; he blames Dinah not only for seducing the clerk, but for actually raping him. The midrashic tendency to blame the woman takes here a grotesque twist and points to the depth of the doctor's obsession. When the doctor tells his wife about the dream, she understands that she will never be able to cure him, and at the same time she pities him; she embraces him in love and pity and realizes that the only cure for him would be removing herself from his life. And it seems that Dinah was right. The first-person narrator of the story is no longer the manic protagonist whose mind is contaminated by his primitive prejudices. He seems to be cured of his sick obsession and is even able to criticize his past behavior and explain its origins as the heritage of precivilized times. Yet the man is now sane and rational only because Dinah is already a memory and is no longer with him. He will never be completely rid of this possessive, unhealthy, and basically primitive conception of woman's sexuality. Beyond him stands the writer of the tale, who knows his hero's limitations and sees them as a collective male problem, deeply seated in the male consciousness and not easily eradicable. The doctor's treatment of Dinah combines the prejudice of Jacob the patriarch, who sees his daughter as "defiled," the fiercejealousy of the brothers, and the biased, one-sided, judgmental attitude of the Midrash sages. While Agnon adheres in his story to the biblical principle of telling the tale from the male point of view, his story contributes a modern perspective to the Dinah chain of tales. By giving a biblical substructure to his story, Agnon attempts to trace the roots of man's irrational 'ealousy towards the woman's sexuality and expose it as unhealthy, primitive, and wrong.
The story of the rape of Dinah, and especially the male attitude to the event, seems to have fertilized the imagination of modern writers precisely because of the enigmatic and unexplained reaction of the girl's father, as well as the twist given to the story by the Midrash rabbis. A similar incident, repeating almost identically the different reactions of the father and brother to the daughter's molestation, and set against more civilized times, is recorded in 11 Samuel 13, in the tale of the rape of David's daughter, Tamar, by her half-brother Amnon. The rape of the daughter becomes here the pivot of a political power struggle and of a son's attempt to dethrone his father that results in civil war. Again, the woman's tale recedes into the background and serves only as the initial link in a chain of male intrigue and conspiracy. The story's interest, however, lies also in the fact that it traces the violator's changing feelings towards his female victim with a psychological insight not always provided in the biblical story. The story first introduces Tamar as the beautiful sister of David's son. Tamar may be named Absalom's sister rather than David's daughter, just as Dinah is the sister of Simon and Levi, rather than the daughter of her indifferent father. Some commentators suggest, however, that Tamar indeed was not David's daughter but the daughter of Absalom's mother from a previous marriage. The latter possibility seems reasonable in view of the fact that Tamar later suggests that Amnon marry her. Amnon's obsession with his half-sister (if Tamar is David's biological daughter) or with his step-sister (if she is only Absalom's sister), is initially depicted as manic and diseased. He desires her so much that he becomes sick. Later he feigns sickness in order to lure his sister to his bedroom. When Amnon tries to seduce Tamar, she refuses, and describes the act as a violation of the Israelite moral values, using the same words that Dinah's brothers did when condemning Shekhem's act: "For no such thing ought to be done in Israel" (v. 12). When an appeal to Amnon's sense of morality fails, the woman points out the social stigma that this act will create for both of them: "And 1, where should I carry my shame? And as for thee, thou shalt be as one of the base men in Israel" (v. 13). Tamar now realizes that Amnon is in an irrational state of mind and tries another tactic, in an attempt to gain time and, perhaps, avert the disaster. She suggests that Amnon ask David for her hand, and expresses her conviction that David will not withold his consent. If Tamar is not Amnon's biological sister, then this argument makes sense. However, if she is, then Tamar's tactic, suggesting an incestuous marriage, proves her despair. She probably realizes that Amnon is so mentally disoriented at this point, that he might accept such an improbable solution. The scene where the woman pleads with her attacker, and uses both rational and irrational arguments in order to stave him off, is absent in the Genesis tale of Dinah. In the present case, the biblical narrator removes any blame from the woman, the innocent victim, who still has the presence of mind and strength to reason with the crazed man and try to save herself. Yet Tamar, though using the right tactics from a modern, psychological point of view, fails, and she is brutally raped by her brother. Amnon's mood in the aftermath of the attack is clearly recorded by the narrator: "Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, Arise, be gone" (v. i 5). Now that he is rid of his obsession, Amnon blames the woman who, unwittingly, aroused his desire and clouded his rationaljudgment. In Amnon's mind, Tamar turns from the object of his desire to the cause of it; when his desire is spent, his "love" changes into hatred. Shakespeare's memorable verses about lust in Sonnet 129 aptly describe Amnon's shifting moods: "Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight / Past reason hunted; and no sooner had, past reason hated . . . . " It is clear that the biblical narrator is in full sympathy with the woman and understands her predicament in a male-centered society; he describes her as virtuous and intelligent. Tamar's words after the rape might help the reader understand Dinah's state of mind, too. While we must assume that Tamar hates Amnon for what he has done to her, she pleads with him to let her stay in his home. If this is surprising to the modern reader, within the patriarchal culture in which a woman like Tamar is now "tainted," the woman prefers to stay with her hated violator than go back to a life of social isolation. Thus, if the Genesis storyteller implies that Dinah was not anxious to leave Shekhem's house, the attitude of a sensible woman like Tamar helps us understand the reason behind Dinah's reluctance to return home. Unlike the female protagonist in the Genesis story, the victimized woman in the Samuel story emerges as an individual with a distinct personality who has a strong and intelligent voice. But even such a woman fares badly in a closed-minded and rigid society: Tamar "remained desolate in her brother Absalom's house" (V. 20). The woman's father, David, is as silent as was Jacob the patriarch, but his reasons are different. Unlike Jacob, he does not label his daughter as unclean; he is also described as very angry, though we do not know whether he feels any compassion for his suffering daughter. David's silence and lack of active reaction is due to the erosion of his own moral stature at this particular moment. The rape of Tamar follows the Bat-Sheba episode in which David's own morality has been put into question. Within the narrative framework of the David saga, the story of the rape of Tamar is not an independent episode but serves as a link in the growing chain of tales that trace the deterioration and demoralization of the house of David in the aftermath of the Bat-Sheba episode. The rape of Tamar is followed by the murder of Amnon at the hands of Tamar's loyal brother, Absalom. As a result, Absalom has to flee the court, and though he returns later at David's request, he harbors plans to rebel against his father and usurp the throne. As in the case of Simon and Levi, we never know whether the act of revenge is motivated solely by feelings of righteousness and anger, or whether it is also intended as a political gesture. In Absalom's case, it seems more likely that Absalom seizes his sister's rape and the killing of Amnon as opportunities to assert his political power, display his defiance of his father, and expose the growing political and moral impotence of the king. The story of the rape of Tamar displays more compassion and respect towards the female victim than its Genesis counterpart. It also allows the woman to speak and thus reveal her personality. It seems a more enlightened story, less confined to cultic dogmas, and more interested in psychological processes than the Genesis tale. It is similar to the Genesis story in that the function of the brother, rather than the father, as keeper of the daughter's virginity and purity is again confirmed. Yet the fate of the violated woman in the days of King David was as bleak as in the days of the nomadic tribes. The female protagonist quickly recedes to the background, as her story gives way to the momentous, historical events that follow, and in which only men take part.
The cultural postulate that the daughter's femininity is the father's property which he can use as a bargaining chip or payment of a debt or compensation for favors is behind the David-Michal story in i Sam. i8. The unfortunate King Saul, the first monarch of ancient Israel, decides to entrap David, his armor-bearer and musician, who is increasingly gaining in popularity among the people. Saul offers David his daughter Merav on the condition that David fight the Philistines. Saul's inner motives are made very clear to the reader: he hopes that the young man will be killed on the battlefield. But publicly, of course, the gesture of giving the daughter as an award to the brave warrior is a form of incentive that seems to be a prevalent custom, and does not arouse any suspicion. The fact that the girl's opinion is not solicited is also within accepted social premises. While Saul does not ask for his daughter's consent, the Bible surprisingly tells us that in the midst of the negotiations, Merav was given to someone else. One might conjecture that the girl refused to have David; but this is very unlikely. Merav is not seen as choosing another man; rather, she "was given" to another man. It seems that the withdrawal of Merav is part of the kings machinations and has nothing to do with the girl's wishes. The very next verse introduces a new character, Saul's other daughter, Michal, and a new fact: Michal is in love with David. Robert Alter, in his insightful reading of the story, correctly points out that this is the only instance in the Bible where we are explicitly told that a woman loves a man." This outstanding piece of information colors the whole relationship between David and Michal and foreshadows future events. While the Bible states twice that Michal loves David, it ominously omits David's response; when David finally marries Michal, he will not be motivated by amorous feelings, but by political considerations. Apparently, Michal is so much in love with David that her passion becomes public knowledge, and the word finally reaches her father. From this point on, the tale of the tumultuous history of David and Michal is told in fragments that are interlaced in the long narrative dedicated to the rise of David and the establishment of his dynasty. The story is not that of the woman, but that of the man, David, and the woman appears only periodically on occasions that are presented as landmarks in the progress of the hero from a lowly armor-bearer to a glorious monarch. Michal seems to be a doomed woman from the very first moment that she appears on the scene. For her father, she is an instrument through which he plans to get rid of David. First, Saul demands a very unusual bride-price, one hundred foreskins of Philistines, in the hope that David will get killed while trying to perform this feat. When David survives, Saul sees in his daughter a spy who would help him entrap David in the future. But Michal's greatest vulnerability lies in her love for the ambitious David, for whom she is no more than the reward due to him for his heroic deeds, and a symbol of his rapid climb in the kings court. Michal starts as a rather independent woman who, contrary to cultural attitudes and norms, is not ashamed to make public her love for a man. She also succeeds in marrying that man, although we do not know what would have happened if her love for David had not coincided with her father's conspiracy to destroy him. Michal's initial actions as David's wife display her great love for him as well as her assertive and independent spirit. She defies her father and helps David escape when Saul's men come for him. In the ensuing events, Michal emerges as crafty and quick-witted. First, she puts a dummy in the bed to mislead Saul's messengers into believing that David lies sick in bed, thus allowing David enough time to reach safety. Secondly, when the ruse is revealed and her father asks for an explanation, Michal quickly answers that she was forced to help David because he threatened her life. Michal's allegiance is now clear and unequivocal, and yet the narrator's silence regarding David's feelings towards the woman does not bode well for the future. The biblical text now abandons Michal and follows David's career as a fugitive from the law, on the run from the wrath of a paranoid king whose world now centers on destroying the charismatic young warrior. The reader is left to wonder about the fate of the smart, enterprising, and very loving woman, Michal, who was left behind. The next time that Michal is mentioned, she is only referred to passingly, and does not appear in the scene directly. In chapter 25, the story takes a pause from the narration of the military and social adventures of Dayid the outlaw, to tell us about the man's marital doings; in this connection, there is a brief statement to the effect that Saul gave his daughter Michal to another man. While we do not get a direct glimpse of Michal, her compliance, or her silence as this transaction goes on, points to the metamorphosis that this young woman has probably experienced. Earlier, she dared to defy her father and blatantly lie to him, yet now she does not even put up a fight. She may be disillusioned with David, who did not send for her and has married two other women, or she may have lost her spunk during the long waiting at the home of her obsessed father. David's reaction to Michal's marriage is, typically, not mentioned, and it was probably nonexistent. When Michal next appears on the scene, she is the typical woman in a patriarchal society: she is being acted upon. The occasion is David's rise to the throne after the death of king Saul. Saul's loyalists are now ready to make peace with David who, in turn, demands Michal back. His claim is couched in a legal, not emotional language; he wants his wife back not because he loves and misses her, but because she is legally his, and he paid the bride-price demanded by her father: "Deliver me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to me for a hundred foreskins of Philistines" (11 Sam. 3:14). At this sensitive point in David's political life, the return of Michal to his home will mark the final surrender of the former royal family, and would serve as a symbol of the consolidation of power in David's hands. Michal's husband cries bitterly as he accompanies the woman to David's place, yet Michal does not say a word and is probably much less heartbroken than her present husband. Again, one might surmise that Michal understands David's motives and does not delude herself as to his feelings towards her, yet perhaps she still hopes that the long lost love would be rekindled. Later, when David dances before the Ark as it is brought into "the city of David," Michal criticizes him for making a spectacle of himself and behaving in an unregal manner (11 Sam. 6:20). She is now identified as "Michal the daughter of Saul," which implies her isolation in the court of her father's successor. Some commentators see in Michal's words an expression of nostalgia for the older regime that was less populist and more regal. Yet we know that Michal was happy to betray her father and help David in any way that she could. Michal's words are those of a woman scorned, and they display the last stage in her career: from David's lover, she has turned into "Saul's daughter." The Michal narrative ends with the statement that "Michal, the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death" (V. 23). This piece of information follows the angry exchange between Michal and David in which the former criticizes the king for not behaving regally and the latter crudely reminds her that God has taken the kingdom from her father and given it to him. The biblical narrator does not explain the connection between the two events, but the proximity between the last episode in which David and Michal are seen together and the fact that the woman had no children is meaningful. We can read the statement about Michal's barrenness as an explanation of what has transpired before; Michal's bitterness [email protected] David is due to the fact that, though he forced her return from her second husband, David did not receive her as a wife but as a symbol of his political triumph. Thus her acid words mark the eruption of the pent-up anger that the humiliated Michal has long felt towards her neglectful husband. On the other hand, Michal's barrenness can be seen as a consequence of the last episode; after the hostile exchange David withdraws his sexual favors from the woman he never really loved. The four episodes in which Michal appears, while spread out and interspersed into the main narrative, which is about David, still form an independent literary unit. The first and last episodes echo and reverse each other, thus giving the Michal story an envelope structure. Both when she makes her first appearance, and when she makes her final exit, Michal acts and speaks out, while in the middle episodes she is silent and is being acted upon. Yet the parallelism between the first and the last episode draws our attention to the woman's transformation from a spirited and independent young woman, motivated by love and hope, to a bitter and neglected wife, shrunken in stature and depleted in spirit. In her first appearances, Michal is verbal and expressive about, and for the sake of, her love. In her last scene, she is also outspoken; yet her cutting sarcasm and acrimonious tirade reveal a tortured woman who no longer shares in her husband's triumphs and joys. The David and Michal story seems to be an ironic reversal of a romantic tale, precisely because it starts with all the right ingredients. We have the dashing, brave soldier, beloved by men and women alike, and the kings daughter. Michal's looks are not mentioned, and this omission might be meaningful in understanding the nature of the relationship between David and her. The story consists of daring adventures and last-minute escapes, and yet the spirit of romance never materializes. It is partly due to the nature of biblical narrative, which stays away from both the heroic and the romantic. Yet in the David saga the Bible comes very close to creating a larger-than-life hero in the epic tradition with more than a dash of romance. Michal initially seems to be the right female counterpart of the romantic hero, yet her career ends in disillusionment and pain. If she presents herself in the role of the heroine of a romance of adventure, David denies her the opportunity to play this role in his life. We know that, while persecuted by Saul, David still managed to meet with Saul's son, Jonathan. It is very likely that Michal expected David to come back for her, and we know that she was daring enough to risk her life in an adventure that would unite her with her lover. But this did not happen. It seems that David's lack of love for Michal, and the latter's excessive, unconditional love for David, reiterated in the text, caused Michal's tragedy. After Michal's barrenness is noted, she disappears from the biblical arena, traveling into her bleak future childless and loveless, alienated from her husband and his court. The cruelty of Michal's fate and David's part in contributing to the woman's tragedy were felt by the Midrash sages, who tried to mitigate the harshness of the woman's destiny. They interpreted the biblical verse that said that Michal had no children to the day that she died as implying that on the day she died she did have a child, in other words, that she bore a child and died during the delivery." The Midrash prefers to overlook the link that the Bible suggests between the tense and unloving relationship of David and Michal and the latter's childlessness. David is thus exonerated of treating the woman ungratefully and heartlessly, and Michal is redeemed of her biblical role as the deserted and humiliated wife. The attempts of the Midrash to soften the dreariness of Michal's life do not take away from her role as the sexual pawn of the two patriarchal figures in her life, her father and her husband. Saul uses his daughter's sexuality as a prize that he bestows on the person he favors, and that he withdraws when that person falls out of his good graces. Similarly, David punishes Michal's womanhood when he no longer cohabits with her, thus degrading her as a wife and denying her the only other feminine fulfillment known in ancient times, motherhood. A romantic and idealized version of the Michal saga is offered in thepoem"TheLoveofDavidandMichal"byY. L. Gordon.'Gordon remolds the biblical text into a romantic story that glorifies the eternal bond between the two lovers, David and Michal. He explains the estrangement between the two as a painful sacrifice that David has to make in order to devote himself completely to the burdensome task of monarch and conquerer who puts his national mission ahead of his personal life. Gordon also sees in David's polygynous practice a necessary evil which does not imply betrayal of his beloved first wife, Michal, but rather, indicates the man's dedication to establishing a dynasty and securing a stable monarchy for his people when he dies. It seems, however, that both the Midrash version and Gordolfs fictionalized treatment,of the Michal story, in their efforts to relieve the somberness of the ancient tale, further highlight the frustrating and even disastrous fate of a biblical woman who dared to deviate from the feminine mold by unabashedly making known her sexual desire for a man and then committing herself fully and unequivocally to the choice of her heart.
One of the most disturbing tales in Hebraic letters about man's use of female sexual vulnerability as a form of punishment, or as an attempt to put the independent woman in her "right" place, comes to us in an enigmatic legend about the charismatic Beruria." Like her husband, the venerable scholar Rabbi Meir, Beruria was counted among the Tana'im, the rabbis who produced the Mishna. In her several appearances in Talmudic literature, Beruria's scholarship, intelligence, and rightjudgment are exhibited. She is a unique case in Talmudic literature in that she is regarded as the intellectual equal of her male contemporaries and as a respected rabbinic authority. The legend tells us that Beruria used to challenge and ridicule the rabbis' famous saying that "women are light-minded." She cited her own profound knowledge of the law as an example which refuted the rabbis' denigrating comment on women's intellectual capacities. To teach Beruria a lesson, her husband asked one of his students to seduce her. Beruria submitted to her husband's student but later, overcome by shame and guilt, she committed suicide. While this tale's origins are shrouded in mystery, its message is clear: even a knowledgeable and extraordinary woman like Beruria was tyrannized by her feminine body. If Beruria's mind offered her the intellectual freedom to teach and challenge the male authorities, she was still a prisoner of her anatomy, following the dictates of her biological nature over which she had no control. But Rabbi Meir's position is extremely puzzling. In other encounters with his wife he seems to listen to her and show deference to her 'udgment. Nevertheless, the relationship between this unusual couple must have been often put to the test in a society where only men were expected to devote themselves to studying the Torah. Indeed, the classic story about a woman and learning, that of Rabbi Akiba's wife, puts on a pedestal the woman who gladly accepted poverty and destitution in order to allow her husband the freedom to study. The woman defied her father by marrying an ignorant shepherd, and later allowed her young husband to stay away for twenty-four years so that he could devote himself completely to his studies." Against this cultural background, it appears that there must have been some kind of intellectual rivalry between Rabbi Meir and his wife that finally culminated in an outrageous scheme devised by the husband in order to put his hubristic wife in her place.