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  • Reflections on a Text, Ninth Century, Spain
  • Carol V. Davis (bio)

Sitting in a synagogue basement, we study a text over 1,000 years old       by Rabbi Joseph ibn Abitur:   Rules on a woman’s right to exit a marriage If the husband torments her — without cause — should she receive           severance?

To debate a word like hikkah “strike, hit” ranging from slapping (once)         to beating (repeatedly)     to make judgment

That slippery: without cause.

My neighbor berated his wife in front of us: a meal undercooked, a       grad school paper put off. Even the more serious — his betrayal, a baby dying, her fault.

Must there always be an explanation for an unraveling? My parents’ friend walked out on her marriage, leaving three young           daughters. Such beautiful children, my mother said, by way of condemnation.         A 1960s scandal.

  Who can say what goes on behind closed doors?

This woman abandoned the view from Coit Tower, winding streets,     fog pressing down on the bay. Traded wind-gnarled cypresses for Jerusalem’s stones, lit by a sun that brought warmth but not always solace. She struggled in a language that did not launch easily from her throat.

Upon marriage a Jewish groom is obliged to pay the bride a fixed       amount should divorce occur, yet the council of rabbis has the freedom to rule on cause or lack of it. [End Page 6]

Do we hold him to giving a writ of divorce, or do we hold her to dwelling with her husband? ibn Abitur asked.

  More than one kind of strangulation. [End Page 7]

Carol V. Davis

Carol V. Davis teaches English and creative writing at Santa Monica College and Antioch University Los Angeles. She is the author of Because I Cannot Leave This Body (2017) and Between Storms (2012) and won the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry for Into the Arms of Pushkin: Poems of St. Petersburg. Twice a Fulbright scholar in Russia, she taught in Ulan-Ude, Siberia, winter 2015. She is poetry editor of the Los Angeles newspaper the Jewish Journal.



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pp. 6-7
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