Feminist aggadah

From poet and critic Alicia Suskin Ostriker’s wonderfully iconoclastic The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Visions and Revisions (Rutgers UP, 1997):

“To the rest of the world the Jew is marginal. But to Judaism I am marginal. Am woman, unclean. Am Eve. Or worse, am Lilith. Am illiterate. Not mine the arguments of Talmud, not mine the centuries of ecstatic study, the questions and answers twining minutely around the living Word, not mine the Kaballah, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet dancing as if they were attributes of God. These texts, like the Law and the Prophets, are not-me . . . ” (p. 6)

“Touch me not, thou shalt not touch, command the texts. Thou shalt not uncover. But I shall. Thou shalt not eat it lest ye die. I shall not surely die.” (p. 8)

“Reader, you are supposed to ask: does God exist. Is the Holy One in that book real or imagined. And then what about Abraham, Moses, and so on, what is their status vis-a-vis ‘reality.’ Is Abraham in other words a body, a material fact, or is he a spirit, an imagined fact. I confess these questions do not interest me. For who among us, solid flesh though we are, is not partly fictional. And who among us supposes herself the inventor of her own fiction. And who is not just such an aggregation of scraps, just such a patchwork as Abraham, a basket containing millennia. Is God a myth? A set of myths? Then so am I, so are you.” (p. 13)

No doubt an analytic philosopher would laugh us both to scorn, but that’s always the way I’ve reacted to those kinds of questions, too. But here’s the part I really wanted to quote. This is from Ostriker’s commentary on the Garden of Eden:

“Between a child and a parent the initial game is hiding and showing. At first the parent takes the initiative, leading the child into the game. The child is lying flat on her back in the crib, kicking her heels rhythmically, gazing devotedly up at the face of the parent, who gazes in her usual devoted way down at her. Now the parent has the impulse to stimulate extra happiness. So she covers her face for two seconds, then removes her hands, beaming at the child, who instantly breaks into chuckles, wriggling her fat body and beating her fists and feet against the crib mattress. Every time the parent plays I’m-gone-I’m-here, the child laughs, gurgles. To laugh is to understand. To understand is to laugh. Later the child herself will play I’m-gone-I’m-here, putting her fat hands over her face, perhaps peering through her fingers but confident that she herself is invisible or rather pretending to be invisible and then opening her hands and flinging them apart to show her radiant face . . . ” (p.20)

One begins to see the enormity of the sages’ error in barring women from the garden of the text!

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