Jewfem Blog

Parashat Ki Tetze: The Beautiful Woman in Captivity and other stories where the men forget to ask the women about our experiences

 Dvar Torah by Elana Sztokman, 25-8-2018, Minyan Renana, Modi'in Parashat Ki Tetze is the Torah portion (parasha) that is most packed with no less than 74 commandments between men – or to be more precise, commandments between men and other men, or between men and the women who didn't do anything to them. You might call this parasha, "When you ...

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What REALLY makes the Israelites a chosen people? Dr. Lea Mazor teaches me how to read the Bible...

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Dr. Lea Mazor packs a powerful punch into a tiny frame. This brilliant retired professor of Bible and walking encyclopedia of ancient Israel is teaching us a course in Gender in the Bible, one of my favorite topics. And every week she blows me away all over again with her knowledge, scholarship, and verve. There isn’t an issue that she hasn’t already thought about at length, and there isn’t a verse that she doesn’t have a fabulous personal anecdote about. The first week, when she interrupted her main thesis to share a story about the time she wrote a personal note to Professor Uriel Simon to tell him about the mistakes he had in his book, I made that mistake of saying – my pen furiously glued to my notebook – “Wait, can you please finish your sentence?” She responded, “Of course not!” (Actually, what she said, was, “Ma pit’om”, which literally means “What, suddenly”, but has the effect of a mix between, “No way!” and “Are you kidding me!?”) She did actually, finish her sentence eventually, and we have all learned to follow her along her effervescent stream of consciousness which tends to lead to mind-blowing places. This is a woman with a lot to share, and I don’t want to miss a beat.   Last week, we were exploring the issue of sexuality in Genesis. Big topic, I know. She has a particular thesis that she is demonstrating to us, and it is riveting. The Israelites – that is, the twelve clans that derived from the family of Jacob – were a relatively small bunch of shepherds surrounded by some big empires of ancient Mesopotamia. The Egyptians, the Sumerians, and the Assyrians were among the massive neighboring cultures that were advancing in areas of technology, engineering, medicine, art, and writing, among other things. Modern-day scholars are still in awe about the things that the Egyptians were able to do. (To this day, nobody knows how they built the pyramids.) And so these little Israelites needed a way to preserve their identity and to maintain their own uniqueness and singularity. They needed to create a narrative for themselves to remind themselves how they were Different. Special. Chosen. The way the Tanach chooses to relay how different Israelites are from the Other Nations is along one particular thesis: Sexuality. If you read the text closely, even from the beginning of Genesis, the idea that the Israelites’ distinction is based on purer sexual behaviors is clear. This narrative, Dr. Mazor tells us, is apparent from many texts. For instance, the story of Noach after the flood, in which his son, Ham, and grandson, Canaan, “saw his nakedness” – a euphemism either for rape or castration according to Rav and Shmuel in the Talmud  (BT Sanhedrin  70a) – pointedly aims to justify why Canaan is destined to be servile to the descendants of Shem. The Israelites will have no choice other than to conquer Canaan and his evil sexual deviance. The story of...

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