"On Account of the Cushite Woman that Moses Took": Race and Gender in Modern Hebrew Poems about Numbers 12
Abstract

If Hebrew poems on biblical subjects can be read as forms of modern midrash, the diversity of this midrashic form may be considered by examining the ways in which three modern Hebrew poets reread Numbers 12, which narrates Miriam's response to Moses' "taking" a Cushite woman. The first part of this paper looks at "Vatedaber Miriam beMoshe," a ballad-sermon by American Hebrew poet Ephraim Lisitzky (1885–1962); inspired by the form and content of Negro sermons, it indicts Miriam as a kind of southern white racist. The second part considers two poems by Yokheved Bat-Miriam (1901–1980) that champion Miriam as a foremother of women's poetry and prophecy. The final section is devoted to a poem by Rivka Miriam that reads Numbers 12 against the grain of both earlier poets, focusing instead on the symbolic role of the Cushite woman. Reading these three poems side by side creates a poetic engagement with Numbers 12 that highlights and accentuates the tensions and perplexities arising from the text and illustrates how different ideological points of view actually play out in three poems that happen to take the same biblical chapter as their takeoff point.


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