“1. And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2. And Sarah died.”
Chayei Sarah – the portion of the Torah about the life of Sarah – begins with her death. Rather than recounting the life of our first matriarch, it focuses on her passing, burial, and Abraham and Isaac’s mourning.
It is a distinctive phenomenon of the Torah that women are absent. If they appear present physically, we find their voices often missing.
When Abraham takes Sarah’s only child – the child she thought would never come – into the wilderness to sacrifice him, we hear nothing of her opinion.
This troubled the rabbis of old who saw her death, which came immediately after this most disturbing of events, as a reaction to trauma.
One way Progressive Torah scholars have tackled this problem is to write Sarah and other women back into the text, seeking to hear their voices in the subtext of what was there before. Such an examination of Sarah reveals a woman loved by her husband and son, one who was strong and caring, but also hard and jealous at times. In other words, like most of us, a complex individual who was a product of her childhood, her youth, her mid-life and her old age.
The most troubling aspect is that in 2018, thousands of years on, many women still feel silenced. We’ve seen the success of campaigns such as #metoo and a rise in women in leadership. Hopefully this is the rewriting of a new history.
So as we write women back into our ancient scriptures, let us seize this opportunity to ensure women’s stories are told today, so we don’t wonder why our children and grandchildren are still saying “me too”.
- Charley is Liberal Judaism director of strategy and partnerships
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