ISSUE 72 | 67
effective rainmaker than he (Tan. 23b). From the portrayal of women’s
we learn something important: in giving
the personal touch is literally best. While all
giously significant, the
stresses the religious superiority of this
personal, human touch. By following a textual trail beginning with a
Talmudic reference in a “Post-biblical Interpretations” essay, we’ve ar-
rived at an important insight into
practice – one which the
Talmud represents as characteristic of women and which it explicitly
favorably compares to men’s
practice. By providing many,
many more such opportunities for intertextual detective work, the
Post-biblical Interpretations” will help us make the
ON THE “ VO I C E S ” S E C T I ON
A S A N O C C A S I O N F O R D E E P
F E M I N I S T )
T O R A H
S T U D Y
Dr. Wendy Zierler,
Associate Professor of Modern Jewish Literature
and Feminist Studies, HUC-JIR/NY
or years, a primary goal of my teaching at
HUC-JIR and other settings has been to
show the ways in which modern Jewish and
particularly modern Hebrew literary works can
be read as an additional layer of interpretation
of the Bible and our classical sources. In all my
courses I insist that modern Jewish literature
sources be considered part of our sacred, spiri-
tual canon. More specifically, as a scholar of the beginnings of modern
Hebrew women’s writing, I ask my students to consider what happens
when after centuries of literary silence, women begin to write works
of literature in Hebrew and address and enter into this canon. What
new answers do they provide about the text and what new questions?
How do they re-imagine the old stories and what kinds of counter-tra-
ditional interpretations do they offer?
You can imagine my delight, then, to see this approach to study-
ing literature with and as
canonized’ in the “Voices” section of
Torah: A Women’s Commentary
Here is a Bible, meant for syna-
gogue, ritual use, that actually places women’s literary sources in a
hard-bound, gold-lettered volume, along with exegesis by so many,
wonderful women scholars. The range of contributors is truly breath-
taking, including Yiddish, Israeli, German, British, American,
Canadian women poets and writers, from the 18th, 19th, 20th, and
st centuries, poems by rabbis, poems by women rabbis, by eminent
Hebrew women poets, among them the first women to write poetry
in Hebrew, poems written explicitly in response to biblical materials
as well as others that the editors, through creative juxtaposition, have
brought into a meaningful conversation with the biblical text, by
thinking to print them alongside a particular
The material is vast, and there is no way to survey all the kinds
of interpretation that emerge from this writing. What I’d like to
demonstrate for you today by way of two examples is how one might
use the “Voices” section of the
as a resource and an oc-
casion not merely for quick reflection, but for deep
Specifically, I want to explore the “Voices” selections as feminist
showing how they borrow the method of rabbinic
building upon and responding to classical
as well as creat-
ing or uncovering stories and ideas that found no canonical expression
in the prior, written tradition.
The first example that I’d like to refer is Lynn Gottlieb’s poem,
Awakening,” which can be found on page 32 of the
Shekhinah gazed upon the sleeping form of HeShe.
I shall divide this being
So HeShe can find loving companionship
Like the other creatures in the garden.”
HeShe lay asleep in the grass
Curled up like a snake in the warm sun
Dreaming of angels.
Which part of the body
Shall I take to form the woman?
Perhaps from the mouth
So she can tell stories like Serach,
The woman who smells of time.
Perhaps the eyes
So she sees the inside truth of things
Like Soft Eyes Woman Leah.
Perhaps from the neck
So she walks with pride
Like the daughters of Zelophehad
Who are Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
Perhaps the ears
So she hears my laughter
Like See Far Woman Sarah.
Perhaps the heart
So she flows with tender mercies
Like Soft Hearted Woman Rachel.
Perhaps the arms
So she heals and restores with touch
Like the Hebrew midwife women.
Perhaps the legs
So she goes out seeking wisdom
Like Truth Seeking Woman Dinah.
Perhaps from the flower of her passion
So she enjoys the fruits of her body
Then Shekhinah blessed every part of woman’s body, saying,
Be pure of heart
and always know you are created in My image.”
Then she awoke, first woman.
Lynn Gottlieb, a pioneering woman rabbi, is known for her book
She Who Dwells Within
which attempts to bring a
sense of the female presence of God into people’s lives. Fittingly then,
her poetic re-imagining of the Creation of woman refers to God as
The source references that preface as well as follow the