Abstract

The language of Bialik's poem "Be'ir hahareigah" links the memory of catastrophe with bodily witnessing, so that even the secondary witness absorbs and internalizes sensory impressions of the pogrom. At the heart of the poem, symbolizing the essence of atrocity, is a brief but graphic narrative of rape. The most extended narrative moment in the poem, the rape of the Kishinev women, includes the cowardice of the Kishinev men, who hide in the background. This essay reads this narrative against the backdrop of Jean Améry's use of rape as metaphor in his essay "Torture" and relates Bialik's use of rape to issues of power and masculinity. In looking at ways that Bialik's poem anticipates literary responses to the Shoah, the essay compares the place of rape in "Be'ir hahareigah" to the function of rape scenes in Holocaust narratives. Looking at Bialik's poem alongside the 1943 poem by Hillel Bavli about ninety-three martyred maidens — two poems used liturgically to stand for Jewish historical experience — the essay explores the role of gender in shaping Jewish cultural memory about catastrophe and loss. Examining these works through the lens of gender reveals ways in which depictions of violated women shape a discourse about masculinity, politics, and ideology.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3311
Print ISSN
0272-9601
Pages
pp. 73-85
Launched on MUSE
2006-01-31
Open Access
No
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