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#MeToo: The Saga of Bilhah, Zilpah, Hagar, and the List Goes On…

MetooAt its best, Judaism offers me an existential anchor in life’s difficult times­–for example, in the laws and customs dealing with death and mourning. But at its worst, Judaism’s patriarchal underpinnings and assumptions cause me both grief and anger. The Torah portions in the book of Genesis, which we read at this time of the year, are filled with stories of creation, of the world, of families, of nations and of the Jewish people.

But in full sight are numerous heart-rending #MeToos, sexually questionable and at times sexually abusive relationships between the men and women who are our forebears; for example, between Abraham and Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar, and between Jacob and the handmaidens of Rachel and Leah, namely Bilhah and Zilpah.  In both narratives, the wives offer up their slaves to become impregnated by their husbands. The slave becomes a kind of surrogate mother, enacting the hope that the “real” wife will thereby become a mother.