Women of Faith: Jewish Perspective

Hand of Miriam

Hand of Miriam

There are not that many female heroines in the Bible, in fact, there are not that many named women at all.  And even when they are given a name, they are often flawed secondary characters.  In the Book of Genesis, the very first woman identified is Eve, created from the rib of man, who first act is to seduce Adam to sin by eating of the tree of life.  Sarah, Abraham’s wife, is another challenging figure, laughing at God who allows her to have a son at the age of 99, and sending off Hagar and her son Ishmael to die in the desert once she is pregnant.  Rebecca incites her 2nd born son Jacob to trick his father Isaac into giving him the blessing.  Leah and Rachel fight over Jacob to be the favorite bride.  But upon close examination there are women who stand out for their leadership – and as the Jewish holiday of Passover is coming up soon, let us focus on one who stands out for her bravery and passion, Miriam, the sister of Moses.

Her name means “sea of sorrow”, as she watches over her baby brother Moses as he floats down the Nile in a basket.  When the daughter of Pharoah finds and rescues him, she quickly takes the opportunity to suggest a woman to wean the baby, and surreptitiously takes Moses back to his birth mother for this important first phase of life.  Later in Exodus after the people are led by God to safety through the waters of the Red Sea, she leads the dancing and singing for freedom, authoring the words of praise and love for God and God’s miracle.  She is a true leader and a great example for us today in her ability to lead the people through crisis and triumph, her originality in prayer and her expressions of joy that encourage others to join in the celebration.  While she has an important role to play, it makes you wonder what other women were doing during these transformative moments in the history of the Jewish people.  This theme is captured beautifully in a poem written by Merle Feld:

Miriam finding Moses on the Nile

Miriam finding Moses on the Nile

We all Stood Together

My brother and I were at Sinai
He kept a journal
Of what he saw
Of what he heard
Of what it all meant to him 
I wish I had such a record
Of what happened to me there 
It seems like every time I want to write
I can’t
I’m always holding a baby
One of my own
Or one for a friend
Always holding a baby
So my hands are never free
To write things down
 And then
As time passes
The particulars
The hard data
The who what when where why
Slip away from me
And all I’m left with is
The feeling
But feelings are just sounds
The vowel barking of a mute 
My brother is sure of what he heard
After all he’s got a record of it
Consonant after consonant after consonant 
If we remembered it together
We could recreate holy time
Sparks flying

The author reveals the challenges of bringing forth women’s voices into our tradition, with a hope that in the future brothers and sisters can find common ground and share together holy time and space.  That despite the shortage of famous female personalities in our bible, they are there and we can learn a lot from them, about leadership and vision.

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