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View Diary: D'var Torah: Deborah, Jael, Miriam, and the problem with "Girl Power" (116 comments)

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  •  FYI, the modern transliteration is Yael not Jael. (10+ / 0-)

    Some people write Ya'el.

    It's a very common modern Israeli name. One of my nieces is called Yael.

    IMHO the most feminist character in the Old Testament is not any of the 3 you mention - but the first Tamar, in Genesis (chapter 38 AFAIR). She was the daughter-in-law of Yehuda (Judea), married to his eldest son 'Er.

    She became widowed before bearing any children. And according to ancient-Hebrew patriarchical law (which still formally holds among Orthodox Jews and those under their power, e.g. all Israeli Jews) she became property of the second son.

    But he (perhaps having a non-standard sexual orientation, we don't know) preferred to "throw away" his sperm. That's why to this day masturbation is also known as Onanism (his name was Onan). In modern Hebrew this is both the formal and colloquial term for the act.

    God decided to intervene, killing Onan for his sin.

    Now, Yehuda feared for his 3rd son and refused to mate him with Tamar, turning her - in that uber-patriarchical natalist society - into useless baggage at her young age (probably early to mid-20's, max).

    That's when Tamar gears into action. She dresses up as a prostitute, and sits by the road junction. Yehuda passes by, and - you know, a man has his needs and Tamar apparently could turn quite a few heads (although not poor Onan's) - he has sex with her. But pre-credit card, he had no means of payment on him, so per her demand, he gives her his personal staff and seal.

    Well... a few months go by, and Tamar becomes pregnant. Again - according to the enlightened patrio rules of ancient Hebrew society, Yehuda orders that Tamar be burned to death for her whorish ways (that's literally how it's described in Genesis).

    This is when Tamar produces the staff and seal.  And lo and behold, she carries the day. Yehuda admits, "She was more righteous than I." She is not punished, and the first of the twins she gives birth to become the formal heir to Yehuda's main line, and eventually the ancestor to the kings of Judea many centuries later.

    I find this story amazing on so many levels. But there is no question that the first Tamar pulled off a stunning underdog upset, all of her own making, in a playing field totally rigged against her.

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