by Beatrice Gormley
Eerdmans, $6 paper
The Deeper Song
by Patricia Curtis Pfitsch
Simon & Schuster, $16
In that awkward state between childhood and adolescence, I remember reading The Babysitters Club, Fear Street and the Sweet Valley High series. These books—about babysitting, murder, fashion, gossip and boys—did not give me a clue to puzzling out my identity as a Jewish female. Having now read Miriam and The Deeper Song, I wish I could give my younger self a copy of each. Both authors make a superb effort to write women back into Jewish history; they help the reader feel that she, too, can have an important role in Jewish life.
Miriam is the story of how the young Miriam saves her baby brother Moses and follows him to Pharaoh’s palace. The lavish royal setting and the promise of power and prestige tempt her to abandon her gift of prophecy, her family and her religion.
Gormley fills her book with powerful, clever women aside from spirited Miriam; Jochabed, her pious mother; Shiphrah, her daring aunt; Bint-Anath, the regal daughter of the Pharoah; and wise Nebet, Bint-Anath’s chief lady-in-waiting. The author fulfills the mission to which Judith, the protagonist of The Deeper Song, commits herself: to “give women a place in the … sacred stories of Yahweh.”
In The Deeper Song, Judith is the daughter of a priest in the time of King Solomon. Disgusted with the patriarchal nature of Judaism—”a woman may not speak to God”—she becomes a worshipper of Asherah, the Goddess. Judith’s cousin Samuel entreats her to use her gift of storytelling to write the sacred stories of the Jewish people. Judith finds no reason to comply until she witnesses soldiers destroy the temple of the Goddess and murder Her worshippers. She feels compelled to redress this terrible loss by writing down the stories, to keep women from slipping out of their place in the religion. Author Patricia Curtis Pfitsch suggests that a woman may indeed have written the Bible, and emphasizes the feminine aspects of biblical stories—”Yahweh … used the soil from which all life springs [to create the first man]. Isn’t that part of the Goddess?”
In the end, the need to assure women a place in the religion and the fear that her loved ones will be punished for worshipping the goddess bind Judith to Judaism. However, she vows to “teach [her] daughters about [the Goddess]” and prays that “someday, for them, it will be different.” These and other difficult issues such as sexuality, the abuse of women and destruction of women’s spirituality make The Deeper Song better suited to older readers. Miriam is appropriate for ages 7 to 11.
Naomi Goodman is a sophomore at Brandeis University.