Jewish, Jewish, Everywhere, & not a drop to drink
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
PURIM AND FEMINISM :
FEMALE ROLE MODELS:
Attention: Even though you might not be thinking about being married now, you might find the following of some use sometime in the future.
Feminism is defined as "militant advocacy of equal rights and status for women" (American Heritage Dictionary). It follows then, that Judaism and the Bible have something to contribute from all sorts of unusual perspectives.
The "War of the Sexes" is there at the outset of creation: Adam needs a wife because he cannot cope with loneliness. Eve, and her alter-ego, the demoness Lilith, are locked in an eternal struggle to create her own individuality.
Who shall rule, and how shall they rule? Who is superior, equal, or inferior?
Eve seems to be trapped in a conflict to overcome her perceived subjugation to Adam. Her question is how to do it? It is one of the questions any revolutionary or militant must ask, as well as: Do you plan to maim or kill your opponent? Do You use legal or extra legal sanctions? Do you employ political power or unconventional force? Do you wage psychological war or pretend that men don't exist? Do you self-immolate? Do you hate yourself or "them"? And even if you do all these things, what guarantee do you have that you'll win your war?
If we turn to the Bible again we can find some guidance. Consider the following cases presented in the Scroll of Esther:
Brazen Queen (Vashti) refuses the request of her husband the King (Ahasverosh) to show off her amazing physical beauty in the nude. Her refusal is taken as a sign of rebellion, and she is executed. This is to be a lesson for the women of the Persian Empire not to rebel against their husbands.
Problem! What's the big deal about showing off a little skin?
A Jewish girl (Esther, some say she's married to her uncle Mordechai) is abducted to appear in a beauty contest selecting the next queen. The King falls hopelessly in love with her and appoints her the next Queen. She lives with him forevermore in the palace, thereby saving her people (the Jews).
Problem: What's a nice Jewish girl doing in a palace (sic) like this?
Cunning woman (Zeresh) married to chief minister (Haman) hatches rub-out plan to remove rebel leader (Mordechai) by hanging. A gallows is built, but as fate would have it, there is a mix-up and her own husband gets the noose.
Problem: Who needed her advice in the first place?
From the perspective of the modern-day feminist, the situations in the three cases are less than ideal. They all portray the women in a "second place" position. But if we are willing to consider that all the women obtained power by being close to power-brokers, then we are in fact dealing with the "power behind the throne"-literally. There are some very interesting differences and similarities in all three scenarios.
All three women have considerable influence over events, directly or indirectly. They each choose modes of confrontation with powerful men and thereby unleash forces that they are unable to control.
It's the reverse genie: She rubs the jar and out he comes with a lot of surprises. And so...
In case one, there is an outright loss of power. Maybe it's the fate of a "weaker sex"?
In case three, there is also a loss: A boomerang result that sees the victim become the victor. Instead of annihilating that "other" man, she slams her very "own" man.
In case two, the heroine plays her cards and cues just right! She doesn't go for the full, frontal attack and she worries about any boomerang results. Knowing her strength as queen, she waits for the right moment not just to save women, but to save the Jewish People.
Ironically she herself becomes the sacrificial lamb by not receiving her own personal freedom from the King.
These Biblical lessons for feminists are interesting because of what they reveal about the truth of all male-female relationships. The Jewish feminist should acquaint herself with the stories of Vashti, Esther, Zeresh, as well as Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Tziporah, Yocheved, Miriam and more.
These women from the Torah should provide living models of what to do and not to do. By all means, do what you desire, but is it what G-d desires?
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