Sisters at Sinai
New Tales of Biblical Women
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Jewish Publication Society
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In the very middle of the Torah are two words: darosh darash (he shall surely seek). The context is a priestly rite, but the context, as any rabbinic midrash will assert, is unimportant—every verse of the Torah applies to every other verse, every time and every place. Midrash, the creative interpretation of the Torah invented by the Sages and carried on in various forms into the present day...
Notes to the Reader
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Commentary upon each of these stories appears in the back of this book. Notes include a list of biblical texts upon which each story was built, information about which rabbinic sources were used, and some commentary on how the story came to be written and why. Translations of biblical verses come from the new Jewish Publication Society...
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Eve crouched on the green world-carpet. Her feet were pleasantly nestled in the soft grass. She was watching the goats and peacocks perform their favorite dance. She did not have the heart to call to them and tell them the world was ending. Instead, she watched over them, hoping they wouldn’t figure it out themselves...
The House of the Mothers
Naamah and the Hummingbird
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In the garden of Solomon’s queens, anything seemed possible. One might say that a walled garden by its nature cannot seem boundless, but this garden was an exception. Orchids grew by banana plants. Melons hung by roses. It was a garden of contrast and contradiction. Solomon added new flowers every day...
The Arranged Marriage
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The house of Terach, minister at the court of Ur of the Chaldees, buzzed with excitement. Guests were due to arrive. The inner chamber was softened by bright tapestries depicting local gods. Nevertheless, the walls echoed with angry voices. Terach was helping his son get dressed. Avram combed out the strands of his black beard and arranged the golden robe beneath it...
The Revenge of Lot’s Wife
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Stop scratching! Believe me, you don’t want this stuff under your fingernails. Sulfur and brimstone are bad for the circulation. Trust me. Wait a minute. Maybe I appreciate your scratching my nose, considering that it’s been four thousand years since I scratched it myself...
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It was somewhere between the time that the words “burnt offering” left the Divine Throne and the time that it arrived in Abraham’s mind that I began to cry. God told me that he would not actually demand Isaac’s life, that he would substitute a ram, but that did not console me. If Abraham was going to lift a knife to his son’s throat, it meant the end of all my dreams, for him, for Isaac...
The House of the Matriarchs
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As I rode into camp, I saw how the peaks of the tents echoed the peaks of the mountains. This is a mountain family, steep and sheer. Esau stopped our caravan at the center of a circle of blue cloth slopes. I felt a wave of homesickness and wished for my mother, Aisha...
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Leah’s hands were cramped from holding her reed pen. It was one of the many she had taught herself to shave and use. She stretched her arms out above her, feeling tired. She was always tired now. It took an effort to be content. It was hard work to pour herself onto words on parchment...
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They were sitting just on the border of the shade, the sharp line between blinding brightness and succulent gray. Tamar sat in the sun, her coppery skin like a battalion of soldiers with shields. Bilhah sat in the shadows. Her hennaed hair had been doused in well water moments before. Strands were dripping onto the rust-colored cushion beneath her...
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The guards of Pharaoh’s vizier were garbed in impeccable white. Their jewelry glistened as they took hold of his arms. Shimon’s brothers stared, horrified. Levi grabbed his wrist, but was brushed away by the stone-faced Egyptians. Shimon was so awestruck that he did not fight the guards as they led him away from the throne room...
The House of the Midwives
The Tenth Plague
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Even during the hail, Yocheved had gone to deliver babies. Life does not stop even for acts of God. Egyptian women had special need for midwives who would not be waylaid by hailstones or hungry locusts. The plagues, Yocheved had said, were no excuse for failure to do one’s job. But tonight Yocheved’s biting voice was absent. She had run to the communal ovens to bake...
The Bones of Joseph
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The lead coffin rested on the bank. It seemed to Moses that the noise it had made as he set it down still echoed beneath the voices of the night insects. It was a wet noise, the noise of tearing earth, of burial. Beside him, Serach panted in the darkness. Her lined and sweating face glinted in the splendor of the full moon. It was the night of the final plague. Slavery was dying...
The Least of the Handmaids
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At midnight, the people fled from Egypt, their sandals slapping, their timbrels jangling, their thin goats bleating. The Egyptian army followed them with its thousand wheels. The Israelites who fell behind screamed or sat down sobbing, and were pulled along by others. The people camped before Pi-Hahirot, facing the sea. The pillar of cloud was all around them. Everything in their vision became blurred...
The House of the Prophets
Miriam under the Mountain
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And Miriam remained at the foot of the mountain. There were those among the women with her who turned their necks upward like swans to gaze at the fire, and their eyes glowed like garnets, so passionate was their desire to join with the flame. There were others among the women who hid their faces with their hair, for they were afraid to look at God...
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When the Israelites received the Torah, they did not, at first, know what to do with it. Parts of it were law. Parts of it were story. Parts of it were poem. They began to read it, and discovered that every time they read it, it had a new meaning. They also discovered that the new revelation seemed more clear if they studied it together...
The Daughters of Tzelafchad
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The night my father died, I dreamed of reeds. A riverful of reeds, green and swaying in the wind. I broke a stem off in my hand, sucked at it with my teeth. It was sweet inside. That was what my father wanted all along, that sweetness you can find by a river when the soil is thick and the land is good. My mother was an orphan who used to cut flowers in an Egyptian nobleman’s garden. She brought my father the little blue hippopotamus figurine...
The House of the Judges
And the Walls Came Tumbling Down
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They fought all the time. They fought over what to name the coconut brown cows that the Israelites herded through the wilderness. They fought over what to call their daughters. They fought over whether it was too hot to use the red woolen blanket that Joshua had taken from Egypt. They fought over whether it was wrong to have sex for money...
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The tent was cramped. The dirt floor smelled of blood. Achsah pushed her black hair out of her sweaty face. She longed to be outside in the spring air, but her father needed her attention. Although wounded, he directed battle plans from his bed. Men shouldered in and out of the tent flap day and night, relaying plans for the conquest of Kiriat-Sefer. Kiriat-Arba had already fallen before the tribe of Judah...
The Song of Devorah and Yael
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Great gusts of laughter stormed across the campfires and rippled the vats of wine. Veterans jested with their peers, slapping the scabbards of their swords and the taut drums of their chests. Bits of song broke out here and there, echoes of the afternoon’s glory. Men of Zebulun laughed with men of Issachar. Benjaminites saluted drunkenly at men of Naftali...
The House of the Queens
The King’s Harp
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There was a silence in the round chamber. A wrong silence. It pervaded the dry air and clung to the bed curtains. It swept over the open books on the cedar table and strummed on the strings of the harp that stood at the head of the bed. Avishag stood in the half-circular doorway and peered into the darkness where there should have been a lit candle...
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When Bosmat, daughter of Solomon, returned from the house of her first husband, her younger sister was waiting for her in the oval courtyard of their father’s palace. A few months before, the tender-hearted Tafat had wept as her sister departed to be the wife of Achinadav, governor of the district of Mahanaim. Now Bosmat had returned home...
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I, Soferet, was Solomon’s scribe in Jerusalem. When I was young he sang The Song of Songs, and my ink was like the wing of a bird against the sky. When I was a mother of young men and women, he declaimed the Proverbs, and I wrote in thick liner. My letters were the branching pillars of a cedar house...
Vashti and the Angel Gabriel
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Icould not tell you now the color of his eyes, nor the length of his hair, although he seemed a man to me then. With men I was always observant of such things, for men’s vanities were useful in devising flattery and misdirections of all kinds, but in that hour, my eyes learned to see some inner thing, with neither hair nor eyes...
The Words in the Scroll
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Everyone wants to know if I wrote it. You want to know too, hmmm? Did Huldah write the Book of Deuteronomy, that inspiring, bullying tract? Did she sneak it into the Temple while the priests’ watches were changing? Well? What do you think? Do you suppose I tell everyone everything the first time she asks?...
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Index of People and Places
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Publication Year: 2010