Seven Mothers is a commentary, written in Hebrew, by Yochi Brandes, an Israeli biblical scholar and professor, about seven important biblical women. Mrs. Brandes is a former orthodox Jew who has dedicated her life to Jewish teachings, lectures, biblical studies and bringing Jewish religious and cultural issues to the general public.
Mrs. Brandes starts with Lot’s daughter, mother of Moab, who is the patriarch of King David’s linage. The author argues that if it weren’t for Moab’s mother’s bravery and wits, he never would have been born.
The author calls Tamar, the wife of Er, Judah’s eldest, a femme fatale. After being widowed twice (by law Tamar married her husband’s brother), Judah would not let her marry his third son even though she can still give birth. Tamar devises a cunning plan to get Judah himself to impregnate her by dressing up as a prostitute. In the narrative the author compares Tamar to Potiphar’s wife (who tried unsuccessfully to seduce Joseph), calling her an evil seductress while Tamar is the good seductress (Phoiphar’s wife just wants sex, Tamar wants an heir).
In an interesting side note, the author claims that she includes Bathsheba in the “evil seductress” category because she does not believe for one second that she went up on the roof to sunbath naked but to seduce King David. To be honest, she makes some excellent points.
When it comes to Miriam the Prophet, the author is obviously full of love and admiration. After all, without Miriam’s intuition, her brother Moses would not have survived. Even though she plays an integral part in the Bible and in the history of the Jewish people, Miriam is referenced only 12 times (her brother Aaron is mentioned 350 or so) and the story of her death merits only one sentence.
Pharaoh’s Daughter, who is never mentioned by name and is credited with pulling baby Moses out of the Nile (and named him), is the fourth subject of the book. The author states that even though she was Egyptian (heck, Ruth was a Moabite and Tamar was a Canaanite), this woman should be credited saving Moses and by extension the Jewish people.
Ruth, grandmother to Kind David, was a Moabite and even though her story is all about women, it not only starts with a man, his wife and his sons, but also ends with a “manly” list. The author thinks the ending was added later on so people would not forget about the man in this story about strong women.
With Michal, daughter of King Saul, wife of King David and a scorned woman, the author has a special relationship. Mrs. Brandes even wrote a whole book, Kings III, from Michal’s point of view. Michal is unique, she is the only woman in the Bible who “loved” at a time where women were basically considered property.
In the chapter on Queen Ester, Mrs. Brandes turns the world on its head. In the story, the author claims Ester turned from some sort of Barbie doll into a smart, brave woman who came up with an ingenious plan to save the Jews.
Seven Mothers is a fascinating book for those who can read Hebrew that turns some of the Jewish bible stories on their head by infusing new thinking from a modern woman into the stories which are much beloved.
After absorbing the author’s interesting and thought-provoking analysis of those women, using only biblical texts and interpretations as her sources, while also relying on her own mind’s eye, I don’t think I’ll ever read those stories the same way again. Mrs. Brandes points out the hidden words within, the details that are concealed or are found using a keen mind, a sharp eye and deep understanding of multiple readings of the biblical text.
Mrs. Brandes quotes much from the bible, as well as references the commentary of Chazal, the Jewish sages from the of the Mishna, Tosefta and Talmud eras (3rd – 6th century CE), whose interpretations are still read and studied today. But the author doesn’t simply let the reader try and decipher the interpretations, some of which are just as crypt as the text they decode, she also brings to light interesting points in her own, unique voice.
The portraits of these women who acted independently and mostly in secret, are interesting and a fodder for thought. The author tries to ask if the Bible is chauvinistic in nature but never really addresses the question outright (it might be chauvinistic, might be simply patriarchal), but finds feminist parts (feminism of 5,000 years ago, not in today’s terminology) in an old book.
Melachim Gimmel (Kings III) by Yochi Brandes
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