BEGINNING ANEW: A Woman's Companion to the High Holy Days by Gaff Twersky & Judith A. Kates--Eds. Reimer

BEGINNING ANEW: A Woman's Companion to the High Holy Days

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Fascinating essays on Jewish women, holidays, and conception, as seen through the eyes of feminist thinkers. This elegant series of articles focuses on the relationships of the Jewish matriarchs to the women around them. The book opens with the Bible passage describing the events between Abraham, Sarah, Hagar (Sarah's handmaid and Abraham's concubine), and the sons both women bear. These writers go beyond the inherent cruelty of the story (Hagar is twice cast out into the desert) and try to grasp the feelings of the real women involved. Rosellen Brown beautifully describes a friendship between Sarah and Hagar, and envisions Ishmael and Isaac growing up as brothers. Others seek to understand Sarah's anger and imagine her fury at her barrenness, which is God's will, and at Abraham's willingness to conceive a child with another woman. Several writers point towards the concept of teshuva (repentance, or literally ""turning around"") to portray Sarah as a woman with passion and regret, not simply as a spiteful harridan, and point out that when God remembers Sarah, it implies that at some point she had been forgotten. Barren women give birth to heroes, writes Francine Klagsbrun in her brilliant essay on Hannah, and they always conceive on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Hannah's strength is her ability to pray silently to God for a son. Her silent method of prayer becomes not only the standard for Jewish prayer but is answered by the opening of her womb by God. Hannah's sacrifice of her son, Samuel, to the temple priests is rendered both moving and awful by these writers. One even warns of Samuel's future nemesis by noting how closely his name is tred to the root for Saul's name. The essays are surprisingly modern given the subjects, and the writing is uniformly excellent. Insightful, thought-provoking, and wise--a treasure for all Jewish women seeking insights for the New Year.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1997
Page count: 364pp
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster