Genesis is in. Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and yes, even Lilith, are popping up in every new book. Everyone and her mother wants to reexamine the compelling story of Genesis. PBS has even launched a series of televised group discussions entitled “Genesis: A Living Conversation.” But’ these new hooks are not only appropriate for the solitary book reader. Biblical women make a provocative theme for Rosh Chodesh programs, both formal and informal, and for havurot and other adult-education venues. Take advantage of the current brouhaha over the Book of Genesis and its sister texts. To give you an idea of what’s out there, here is the LILITH Genesis book list, complete with books we love, and some, well, that would make your average book group discussion a bit rowdier. . .
•Biblical Women Unbound: New Counter-Tales by Norma Rosen (Jewish Publication Society, 1996, $29.95). Fiction writer Norma Rosen uses her novelist’s gifts to elaborate on the biblical narrative. Here’s Eve:
First she had to find the language for loss. God hadn’t given that. “This is good,” God said. And this is good. And over there is forbidden.”
That was all.
None of the animals died. Nothing disappeared. Nothing was lost. Adam came back to their nest in the grass every night. So how could she speak of it when it happened! There were pleasant days and nights, and sweet smells, the friendliness of all the Garden’s creatures, the late-afternoon visits from God, the sense of everything belonging with everything, nothing left out and no one lonely.
Suddenly, the whole world was gone. In her travels, her exile, she picked up phrases. From Yiddish: Vos geven iz geven, iz mer nishto. “What was, was, and is no more.” From French: Ou sont les neiges d’antan? “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”
For a long time Eve ran around the world, pleading her own case, like a defendant without a lawyer. “What did I do?” she asked. “Was it so terrible? Really, what did I do “? There was the tree. Everything was beautiful and good in the Garden. God said so, too. There was my own intelligence, and that was also good. The snake was someone I respected. Why should I set myself up against the advice of a neighbor?
“You see how innocent we all were? Adam at first tried to mate with a goldfish. Abraham didn’t know which pan of himself to circumcise. Cain didn’t know how to kill his brother. “We were all innocent!”
• The Five Books of Miriam: A Woman’s Commentary on the Torah by Ellen Frankel, Ph.D. (Grosset/ Putnam, 1996, $30.00). An extremely well-crafted exploration of the Torah from the perspective of women. But not just any women. Frankel invents and names a cast of women (e.g. Hulda the Preacher) among other rabbis, modern-day feminist heroes, mothers, daughters and bubbes. These characters are brought together to question, discuss and illuminate the text, each with her own perspective and way of seeing the world.
• Genesis: The Beginning of Desire by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg (Jewish Publication Society, 1995, $34.95). A brilliant literary scholar, Zornberg draws on modern philosophy, psychology and art, as well as traditional commentaries such as Rashi and Rambam, textured to create an understanding of character and plot development in the human and divine relationships of Genesis. Zornberg, a professor at several yeshivas in Israel, also appears in the PBS special.
• In the Image of God: A Feminist Commentary on the Torah by Judith S. Antonelli (Jason Aronson, 1995). Though this book calls itself a “feminist commentary,” unfortunately, it is a misnomer. Antonelli has nothing but scorn for Jewish feminists (often quoting them from LILITH). She also has choice words for other Jewish women, who have become alienated from Judaism “simply because they have had Jewish fathers who were sexist, domineering, or even physically and/or sexually abusive” (our italics). For many, this collection of explanations on the Torah will be frustrating, but might spark some interesting discussions.
• In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis by Karen Armstrong (Knopf, 1996, $20.00).The author of the best-selling A History of God, who also participated in the Genesis television series, delves into the lives of many biblical heroines as well as giving a historical perspective to the Bible.
• Reading the Book: Making the Bible a Timeless Text by Burton L. Visotzky (Schocken, 1996, $13.00). “In the good old days die good ol’ boys read midrash and scripture in a rather exclusive club (no women, thank you),” writes Visotzky, die rabbi whose discussions at the Jewish Theological Seminary were die precursors to the TV series. This book, however, is not only a collection of traditional midrashim but also Visotzky’s explanation and, even, midrashim on their midrashim. Visotzky is also the author of The Genesis of Ethics: How the Tormented Family of Genesis Leads Us to Moral Development (Crown, 1996, $20.00). This book concentrates on the moral lessons to be learned from various parshiyot in Genesis.
• Wrestling with Angels: What the First Family of Genesis Teaches Us about Our Spiritual Identity, Sexuality, and Personal Relationships by Naomi H. Rosenblatt and Joshua Horowitz (Delacorte, 1995, $12.95). The authors, a psychotherapist and a teacher respectively, are wrestling with more than angels! They claim “the Bible clearly espouses many sexist attitudes toward women” and at the same time assert that the Bible offers a “basic affirmation of gender equality.” Rosenblatt leads seminars on the Bible for Washington politicos and is also a participant in the Genesis series.
• Our Fathers’ Wells by Peter Pitzele (Harper Collins, 1995, $12.00). Pitzele, a psychodramatist creates a long midrash that follows the story of Genesis and draws on the relationships among men in his own family for insights into male relationships in the Bible. An interesting exploration of the emotional landscape of the Torah.
• Talking about Genesis: A Resource Guide, Public Affairs Television (Doubleday, 1996). A fascinating collection of short essays by Jews, Christians and Muslims all on the topic of Genesis. The collection also contains sample questions and discussion topics for your group to ponder. Genesis: A Living Conversation by Bill Moyers (Doubleday, 1996, $29.95). Transcripts from the PBS television series hosted by the author.
• Talking with Eve Leah Hagar Miriam: Poems by Helen Papell (Jewish Women’s Resource Center, 1996, $6.00). These four women of Genesis are the taking-off point for contemporary musings. Among the poems under “Hagar” are “The Vietnam Wall” and “Carrie Nation at the South Street Seaport.”
• The Torah: The Five Books of Moses. Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Jewish Publication Society, 1996, $15.95). A new English translation of the Hebrew Bible.
• In conjunction with the PBS television series “Genesis: A Living Conversation,” LILITH has collected the articles on Biblical women that have appeared in the magazine over the years. You can order “Meet the Matriarchs” by sending $12 to LILITH, Suite 2432, 250 West 57 St., New York NY 10107.