PROVOKING GOD: SACRED HOPE, SOCIAL JUSTICE, AND THE HEBREW BIBLE
Richard J Tilley
© 2017, 2018, 2023 Richard J Tilley
All Rights Reserved
For my best friend, Brandon, who is waiting for me on the other side. Nineteen years since I lost you and I haven’t forgotten any characteristic. I feel you prodding me to live up to this life.
For my mother, without whom many things would not be possible, not the least of which is this project. You excel beyond what should be expected in care and love.
You can beat us with wires
You can beat us with chains
You can run out your rules
But you know you can’t outrun the history train
I‘ve seen a glorious day
Paul Simon, “Peace Like a River”
And these prayers are
The constant road across the wilderness
These prayers are
These prayers are the memory of God
The memory of God
And I believe in the future
We shall suffer no more
Maybe not in my lifetime
But in yours, I feel sure
Paul Simon, “The Cool, Cool River”
Table of Contents
Forward: Title and Gender Pronouns
Introduction: Constellations of Sacred Justice
Chapter 1: Disputing Cruelty
Chapter 2: Hannah and Hagar
Chapter 3: Nuclear Religiosity
Chapter 4: Curds and Honey
Chapter 5: Blessed are You, Adonai, Creator of Twilight and Dusk
Chapter 6: The Knowing of Deliverance
Chapter 7: “Let me not look on as the child dies.”
Chapter 8: We, Too, are Accountable
Chapter 9: Conclusion: The Bull and the River: Radical Kindness Towards the Absence of Disparity
Forward: Title and Gender Pronouns
Locating the space where God commands us to restore justice and where the Creator commits to enacting justice in return is a matter that can serve both the faithful and those outside of faith but holds to pluralistic standards in the quest for parity and good governance. Discovering the parameters of justice in our approach to confronting the Creator demands a feminist reading of the Hebrew Bible. In our acts of justice we can counter the dialogue, public discourse, and Biblical texts and challenge God according to a mission for the Creator to restore justice according to intersectional feminist principles. This project argues that through justice we can provoke God to intervene towards justice and establish a grounded, humanistic language that promotes peace, security, and harmony.
All scripture cited in this book comes from Oxford University Press’s The Jewish Study Bible: Featuring The Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation (2004). I have a preference to the language of this translation. If other translation are utilized it is noted in the text. The first portion of this text comes from my master’s thesis at Johns Hopkins University, which was written under the guidance of Dr. Christopher Paris. I believe my many teachers throughout the years, which I have been fortunate to have, also come through in this book. I am grateful to the stability I had in my life through the course of the better part of the year it took to complete this project.
Initially, the title of this book was Provoking God: Sacred Hope and Social Justice in the Hebrew Bible. However, I found it more reasonable and less misleading to change the title to Provoking God: Sacred Hope, Social Justice, and the Hebrew Bible. It is not my wish to promote myself as a formal Biblical scholar. However, it should be stated for the purpose of clarification that I do not approach this project as someone new to scripture as I have my own lifetime of acquaintance, close reading, personal research, and contemplation, never intrepid and often fearful.
There was an element of experimentation in the writing of this book. My citations are a bit of touch and go instead of rigorous investigation and litigation. This was intentional and I enjoyed the process. I understand if it may seem as without though I hope the reader may see my course of action in dealing with cited texts in accordance with the central argument of this project. There was a delegation to follow and I feel I have met its standard, though I understand other perspectives and anticipate hearing such comments. Still, I do hope you will come to some shared conclusion that I have portrayed, if not in total agreement than at least a witness of the time and love that has driven me to make this statement.
This text does not denote God in male pronouns. I refer to God as She/He, Her/Him, or a title devoid of gender pronouns. It is my position to make clear that scripture was written and prepared under the auspices of patriarchal influences, which promoted a male God. I do realize that if I were being true I would make each reference to God as Her/Him/Them/Hir. I do not outright address the most obvious position that God does not have a gender. It is also not my intention to state that by referring to the Creator as She/He I am making God whole through binary composition. What I am offering is an introductory, alternative door to how we address and envision God. My intent is that we should not assume masculinity though scribes have made it so.
Introduction: Constellations of Sacred Justice
Blessed is S/he Who spoke, and the world came into being – blessed is She. Blessed is S/he Who maintains Creation; blessed is S/he Who speaks and does; blessed is S/he Who decrees and fulfills; blessed is S/he Who has mercy on the earth; blessed is S/he Who has mercy on the creatures…1
Constellations of justice restored according to the frame of God’s promise is what we desire and do so in such a manner that there is a meting expectation for immediate and prompt intervention. There is a path that one takes to meet the Creator in such a way that impacts one’s life with certainty and resolution. There is a path to find a location where we encourage the Creator to act, either on our behalf or on the behalf of others suffering injustice. The Hebrew Bible is a promise from God that S/he will act. The Creator owes us in a sense, that is, in the sense that we should expect acts of justice. Certainly, traditionally, it is a sin to speak so boldly and wage demands of God. Firestone writes about the “Three Vows” from Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4, as indicative that we should not “forc[e] God’s hand” in seeking movement and action from God to bring about redemption until God so chooses to act.2 Indeed, there is great merit in the simple appreciation of waking up in the morning, of breathing, of being grateful for what one has and not expecting anything more than that which is according to God’s will, but God’s will is justice, justice in the city and in the home, for all our days and manners. God responds to our actions that demonstrate our openness to each other and to the Creator. It is in this matched consensus that we can prod God to act on our behalf.
A goal of this project will be both to compel the reader to reassess the texts from a feminist perspective as well as highlight that we can prod God to act through thoughtful assertion of justice that is both personal and communal. Though there is the common feeling that the predominant community that acts as sentinel to God is closed and exclusive, we can find God is receptive to that which is open and inclusive. In the process, I argue, we can find a loving God that can intercede and right social wrongs if only compelled and persuaded through mature and thoughtful assertion that there is a need for the Creator’s action through consensus.
With this project, I will navigate stories from the texts of the Hebrew Bible and offer feminist readings of those texts with the help of critical scholarship and the end goal of offering contemporary and critical, humanistic hope that could be presented to both the casual reader as well as the scholar. The reservation and injunction against forcing God to act is interpreted by some in the Jewish world as indicative of anti-Zionist sentiments. To others it is completely unholy without reservation. If, in fact, it is our solemn duty to uphold justice and seek out the origins of true parity in how we treat one another and establish systems of law that enforce these protections then we can truly only expect the same model of treatment from the Creator towards us. It is our holy directive to have the complete expectation of God’s aid, assistance, and intervention according to promises that fulfill a state of tranquility and established peace among communities that will no longer be subject to the will of authoritarian and capitalist doctrines of nuclear religiosity.
I call nuclear religiosity that space where white cultured, capitalist identity of the nuclear family meets religious-like proliferation of custom and cultural exergue onto the landscape of our collective communities. There is also the potential for nuclear religiosity to be extended to competition for nuclear arms, but that is beyond the scope of this project. Colonial fabrications of truth, subject to social immersion and projected as intrinsic variables, presented as verifiable stalwarts of domestic and international priorities weave through layered social systems and perpetuate themselves from colonial projects to the home and influence how children are raised and competing nations govern as well as seek out their own nuclear ambitions. Competing narratives that infiltrate societies and act this way is not unlike what Václav Havel discussed in which referred to “post-totalitarian” structures that uphold and maintain systems of domination, stating, “[t]he whole power structure […] could not exist at all if there were not a certain metaphysical order binding all its components together, interconnecting them and subordinating them to a uniform method of accountability, supplying the combined operation of all these components with rules of the game, that is, with certain regulations, limitations, and legalities.”3 In fact, to quote Havel at length one sees the root of that which is in opposition of post-totalitarian frameworks is what is issued in terms of solidarity and transnational harmony.
Self-confidence is not arrogance. Quite the contrary: only a person or a nation that is self-confident in the best sense of the word is capable of listening to others, accepting them as equals, forgiving its enemies, and regretting its own guilt. Let us try to introduce this kind of self-confidence into the life of our community and, as nations, into our behavior on the international stage. Only thus can we restore our self-confidence and our respect for one another as well as the respect of other nations.4
The combative austerity of nuclear religiosity is engrained in historical epicenters of device and counter-information. There is a very specific history of campaigns of rhetoric that utilizes this dynamic to advance the agendas of power and authority.
Royal ideology is entrenched in Biblical literature as Crouch demonstrates with Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations. Crouch puts forward that the oracles were “derived from the royal military ideology that was current in Jerusalem prior to the exile, and that the oracles constitute a direct attempt to incorporate the experience of exile into this ideology.”5 There is a focus on the vindication of Yahweh’s name.6 Crouch ties Ezekiel’s rhetorical illustrations to mythological conceits, but within the methodology elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible is the borrowing of other nation’s charge of identification of the Creator, such as from Egyptian poetry, which is in a sense poetic artifice. Hilary Marlow identifies that Isaiah was heavily influenced by Egyptian poetry of “national distress” and the “juxtaposition of warfare and social disorder.” 7 8 This doctrine of hostility in defense of naming signifies the rhetorical devices of impregnated nationalism as social conscience. Niccacci notes that from Isaiah’s framing and resituating of Egyptian dialogues, “the Lord will directly influence the Egyptian society” as we see counter-claimed in Marlow’s examples of Egyptian poetry for their heavenly reticence.9 In our pursuit of social justice, we must not inoculate these transcribed demeanors, but hold them to the light for the Creator of the Universe to redistribute the core eschatological insinuated, breathing spells of social order in the face of chaos as that which God can rectify in our own struggles against disparity. God pursues us with hymns that we may internalize commandments of justice.
Spare Me the sound of your hymns,
And let Me not hear the music of your lutes.
But let justice well up like water,
Righteousness like an unfailing stream. (Amos 5:23-24)
The above passage from Amos is an example of the type of social justice ideology among the Israelites in the eighth century BCE.10 Amos exemplifies what works best in the Biblical texts in how we should hold ourselves up to a higher moral light and expel that which weighs down solid principles.
It is true that there is the general teaching not to challenge God or even reinterpret the texts for fear of overstating our own place in the natural order. God’s stories at times exemplify injustice, especially injustice towards women. I hold that upon obtaining a certain level of education and intimacy with the Bible we may inquire of the Creator of the Universe as though to say: how about you? The merit in inquiring of the Creator Her/His stance is to search out the Creator’s position and in so doing we act in terms of grace that compel Her/Him to act according to the bounds of justice. Thus, in the process, we are living up to the command to:
Seek good and not evil,
That you may live,
And that the Lord, the God of Hosts,
May truly be with you,
As you think.
Hate evil and love good,
And establish justice at the gate;
Perhaps the Lord, the God of Hosts,
Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)
The goal is to find that space where the Creator does, indeed, dwell with us. As we “establish justice at the gate,” so, too, does God locate the terms in which to approach us. We must remember that Moses set an example when he compelled God to turn his anger away from the Israelites. Just as Moses advocated on their behalf, he worked through a form of intercession that we in kind hope to see from God. Our acts of intercession are a form of advocacy that can be held up before the Creator to offer an exchange of vows from which we seek God’s direct action. The prophet Malachi even demonstrates – what I feel is very important – that God states, “put Me to the test […] I will surely open the floodgates of the sky for you and pour down blessings on you” (Malachi 3:10). This is essential to the terebinths of justice.
To achieve this space in commanding justice bring forth her leverage, we must embrace Otherness. As Isherwood and Harris note, “feminist theology relies on, indeed rejoices in, otherness and difference, for it is here that transformation is thought to lie, not in bodies conforming to the heavy weight of a patriarchal society.”11 We must reject the narrative of social order that perpetuates negative différance. The Biblical texts can be sources of wisdom that replace power-gripping status quo as “[w]hen under the influence of state power, culture and philosophy, the story of God becomes the story of totality, of a closed system, of the One that excludes the ‘other’ and becomes a rigid and impenetrable story of One.”12 The escalation of monotheism in history transferred that which was central to replacing social order to that which maintained it. As Benjamin D. Sommer discusses, the Hebrew Bible is indeed a monotheistic text. Despite much discussed early Israelite practices of polytheism, there is much weight given to that majority practice of monotheism and that the Hebrew texts on a whole exhibits the “consistent omission of unambiguous polytheistic themes.”13 Through the text and within the context of ascribed social application, othering became that which is placed as critical to social order, which leaves room for a feminist analysis. Readings of the texts became monolithic and have disjointed the very openness the texts justify should be our quest. As Emmanuel Levinas wrote of othering and the other, in unfortunate though universal male context, “To suffer by the other is to take care of him, be in his place, consume oneself by him.”14 We must practice in our theological imagination and in feminist explication of Biblical texts a consideration of the other through an intersectional lens.15
In Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology, Kwok Pui-lan ties the perpetuation of exclusionary Biblical stances with the colonial imagination. She references Vandana Shiva in stating that development practices exercised onto the Third World are the “new project of western patriarchy” and that Western capitalism is “based on exploitation and degradation of nature, the exclusion and exploitation of women, and the erosion of other cultures.”16 Rabbi Johanan Ha-Sandelar once stated:
Every community which is established for the sale of heaven will in the end endure; but one which is not for the sake of heaven will not endure in the end.17
The project of imperialism is uniquely tied to the perpetuation of patriarchal subsets of the maintenance of discourse of the Biblical texts without the connotations of interpretation that works within a feminist pedagogy. Instead, it is a feminist practice and endeavor to
Learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)
Zechariah 7:9-10 commands us to “Execute true justice; deal loyally and compassionately with one another. Do not defraud the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor; and do not plot evil against one another.” The postcolonial imagination that has illustrated power of the discourse of the Biblical texts allows us to challenge the pervading norms within the context of the very Biblical social justice it seeks to dominate the Other with.
When Proverbs 31:9 contends, “Speak up, judge righteously, Champion the poor and the needy,” there is the apparent proclamation of social justice, but it is presented as being in opposition to preoccupation with women and strong drink. As Gale A. Yee notes in her study of Proverbs 1-9, “the seductive woman is the antithesis to the object of desire sanctioned by the Jewish upper class.”18 However, the advice in Proverbs 31 comes from a woman, the mother of Lemuel, king of Massa. This counsel can be compared to Solomon’s mother warning not to take too many wives and perhaps works well within a feminist critique of upright, moral behavior. Still, if one takes an intersectional approach and also considers class and socioeconomic designations along with gender, it can be seen that the utilization of a justice proclamation should come under further scrutiny. We must not defraud the spirit of the texts by alienating that which does not measure along with the texts’s generalized and arching proclamation of justice.
The goal of this project will be to illustrate an optimistic portrayal of Biblical teachings that we can foster to aid and assist feminist pedagogy without overlooking that which must be brought up for critique. We must not forget the Levite’s concubine from Judges 19, who though she remains unnamed, suffers the most extreme form of violence, being subject to rape, murder, and dismemberment. As Phyllis Trible notes, “violence and vengeance are not just characteristics of a distant, pre-Christian past; they infect the community of the elect to this day.”19 We must remember the women of the Bible and illustrate the context in which they are portrayed to counter the closed system that strives to hold its grip on the dominant discourse. This thesis will heighten women’s voices and attempt to offer hopeful commentary that shows we can lift up the very texts that subjugates women as that which can liberate and in the process challenge the dominant social order as well as prod God to act.
We can look to the stories of Hannah and Hagar as that which builds a platform of endurance. It is my suspicion that in this practice of endurance we can compel direct interaction with God and seize Her/His decisive interlocution. In our quest for social order through communal acts of justice, we are in dialogue with the historical manifestation of that which measures accounts of diabolical deceit in social framing of God and the language of the Creator’s will and intent. It can be and should be our will to elevate God’s doctrine of compassion and forgiveness as that which we can model and propel towards an opposition of menaçant distilled parody, and it is our will that bends towards the light that causes social dissemination of the Good Creator to act on our behalf in both the personal capacity to live well and in communities of harmonious, humanistic sentiment.
1: Disputing Cruelty
A rabbi I deeply respect who has established herself as a public intellectual, whom I will not name here, was arrested along with almost two-dozen other rabbis in protest of Trump’s first travel ban.20 Most of the rabbis arrested are associated with the wonderful and always forward acting organization, T’ruah. Someone stated on social media that these rabbis were “doing God’s work.” She replied that it was not God’s work but their work personally and that that work belonged to the people. It was everyone’s work. While she certainly captures the spirit of the action and invests in the motivations of direct action, is not social justice a work of God? Is God separated from social justice? Have we abandoned God in our quest for social justice? We can behave justly in the absence of God’s act, but God’s absence of intervention is not an indicator of the absence of God’s justice. These are thoughts that we must consider in our quest to provoke God to act in the face of overwhelming solicitation and invocation of structural greed and oppression.
Cruel practices practice cruelty. The maintenance and production of culture, that is both accepted and fought for among various factions, reinforces the means through with cruelty becomes cyclical. This is evident in capitalist systems as well as family life in the home. It is also evident in religious practices and the perseverance of certain interpretations of text as being manifest of the experience of God that is concrete and as that that extends from monolithic traits. However, certainly God makes manifest the Creator’s own practices and in that we can measure the grain of our doings for good against the weight of climate and culture and proceedings avenged for the capture of our endeavored intentions that last for millennia and cost the poor their place from a proper moral economy. In matters that cross culture and belief, politics is performance and performance is political. Whereas there are traditions that actively work to promote cruel practices and standards, there are also beautiful traditions less seen that demonstrate perseverance and acts of restoration in the face of false religion.
In Judith Plaskow’s classic text, Standing Again At Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective, she states:
To speak of God is to speak of what we most value. In attributing certain qualities to God, we both attempt to point to God and offer God’s qualities to be emulated and admired. To say that God is just, for example, is to say both that God acts justly and that God demands justice. Justice belongs to God but is also ours to pursue.21
Finding a cohort with just angels of the Creator of the Universe in doctrines of personal and public justice is the creation of our ties to each other and in that we can counter the weight of proscribed injustice that pervades our walk with God. Justice is the signature attribute that we must achieve. In that quest we can and should demand God’s intervention. This is nothing short of what we ask for in prayer, but we should take this to a higher step and attempt to capture Hashem’s direct negotiation of our territorial lives with the spiritual bounty of coterminous peacetime warfare that is adured and sacred.22 Intercession is sacred hope. It is through our acts of justice that we meet the demands of advocacy for the Creators interaction with our lives.
What we should remember always is that God is not inexorable. Torah promotes this fact. We have the testimony of Moses turning God away from completely abandoning and destroying the Israelites, and we also have this evidence in Abraham’s understanding of God as capable of pardoning Sodom. In attempting to persuade us towards justice, Hashem shows that we should be like Her/Him and not sustain hearts of stone. The book of Jeremiah proclaims, “They have made their faces harder than rock, They have refused to turn back” (5:3). What other reason should we be so moveable than to create along with God a social wellness that is devoid of inimical structural doctrine? As Amos so clearly and repeatedly defines,
This said the Lord:
For three transgressions of Israel,
For four, I will not revoke it:
Because they have sold for silver
Those whose cause is just,
And the needy for a pair of sandals.
[Ah,] you who trample the heads of the poor
Into the dust of the ground,
And make the humble walk a twisted course! (2:6-7a)
The “twisted course” is both direct structural oppression as well as the intimate concomitant shared experience of living alongside communities of oppression without seeking out redress of holistic and considerate degrees. In our vain search for commercial exploits and class values, we lack the stalwart directness to prevent and obscure totalitarian and post-totalitarian affairs. Indifference is infectious and the overt discourse of human bondage breeds capitalist staples of propensity for indulgence of classist frailty and seemingly insoluble distortions of reality. However, the grounds for justice become vague when the Creator obscures Her/His true intent. We must weigh the absence of justice with the absence of direct action from God and in that we must seek out direct action ourselves to invoke responses from God that alter social and public history and make calculable the desires of our lives.
Historically, capitalism itself has been the story of a prosperity doctrine that promotes the myth of the good being rewarded and poverty and sickness as the result of having done something wrong or having made poor choices. There is space among the prophets that counter this narrative and offer hope and the promise of God’s restoration. We owe it to ourselves to make claims on this tradition in the light of ever-present anti-humanist advances. Patriarchal readings and defenses of biblical literature disseminate from power-holding cultural institutions in which reading culture is tied to dominate classes in societies. With this in consideration, we have to put the texts under the microscope and question at what point did the curators of biblical literature seek to maintain power begin and at what point does God’s own message end?
In reading history and the history of reading, we have altered from the path that denotes the impartial doctrine of proscribed truth that can only be embarked and established with a thorough affair of repentance for malfeasance and wayward public holdings. Having learned to read as a matter of public discourse, we have demonstrated a lack of separation from cultural-bound interpretations of the text and a doctrine of manners in Western hegemony. Nowhere is this hegemony more transparent than on the social station of women’s proscribed otherness. Plaskow writes that the “different socialization of men and women, present different ways in every culture, nurtures divergent experiences of the world. But also, insofar as women are projected as Other, women’s experience is doubled in a particular way.”23 The doubling is sustained through misogyny of casual socialization as well as the political, in trade, negotiations, commerce, and cultural and social authority.
The doubling in no small part has been engendered through religiopolitical readings and provided in the Biblical texts. As Plaskow states, “[t]he prophets [..] couch their pleas for justice in the language of patriarchal marriage. Israel in her youth is a devoted bride, subordinate and obedient to her husband/God [while] idolatrous Israel is a harlot and adulteress, a faithless woman whoring after false gods.”24 Womanist scholar, Renita J. Weems, cites what Terrance Fretheim refers to as “controlling metaphor.”25 Weems writes that,
[T]he marriage metaphor brings together for an audience language and activity from the unconscious level that effectively give coherence to biblical thinking about God. Thus, when God and Israel were construed as husband and wife, a gamut of images associated with the drama of such a relationship emerged out of the controlling metaphor.26
Biblical language imbued the association between partnered difference and religiopolitical and familial hierarchy that has persisted and pervades retribution on a global scale. From “courtship [to] covenant[,] divorce [to] reconciliation,” Weems writes, “the marriage metaphor had the potential to bring coherence to a host of unstated assumptions and imperceptible rules that shaped behaviors, attitudes, and reactions, which communities share and by which they governed themselves.”27 What is key to challenging gendered and sexist traits in society is challenging the text’s contribution to them. Paternalistic doctrines of capitalist institutions that maintain cruel practices both from the local perspective and on a global scale must be that which we compel God to address through the sanctioned promise of justice for the oppressed.
There is a risk of becoming too theoretical in our quest for feminist justice. Ben Ager writes “feminist theory needs to achieve distance from as well as dialectical contact with the everyday exigencies of personal and political struggle in order to theorize autonomously above, as well as about, the fray.”28 There must be actual practice resulting from theory and rhetoric. Consider the petition of David,
Have mercy on me, O God,
for men persecute me;
all day long my adversary oppresses me.
My watchful foes persecute me all day long;
many are my adversaries, O Exalted One. (Psalms 56:2-3)
David’s repetition in his admiration for God’s saving powers denotes the mercies of the Creator as being more than able to transgress the line between living and Divine and intercede in the actions and goings-on of human misery. Global feminism acts as a measure from which we can count the rivets of justice, as activists and coordinators active in lower income nations will testify to. The prosecution from global riches enhances and reframes the directness of our tempered pose. Ager puts forward that critical theory subsumed labor struggles in a previous generation just as it does with feminist struggles in our generation. Joan Wallach Scott takes a position that complements this perspective, stating, “[b]y refusing to take gender seriously, labor historians only reproduce inequalities that their principles commit them to ending.”29 Just like David’s textual repose, we can reframe our arguments to make clearer our dedication for corresponding action and expectation of Divine witness to the transparencies of wickedness and testimonies of those living under the subjection of authoritarian doctrine and inequalities.
It could be argued that there is the riveting potential for defense of sexualized language and that the primary problem lies in translation. Consider the NRSV reading of Hosea 4: “My people consult a piece of wood, and their divining rod gives them oracles. / For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they played the whore, forsaking their God. / They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains, and make offerings upon the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good” (Hosea 4:12-13). Hosea continues, “Therefore your daughters play the whore and your daughters-in-law commit adultery” (Hosea 4:13). Interestingly the placement and correspondence of female promiscuity as a translation of cheating on God does not warrant the punishment of the women because the problem is understood as structural and it is the men that God warns, “Do not enter into Gilgal, or go up to Beth-aven, and do not swear, ‘As the Lord lives’” (Hosea 4:15). The use of women as placeholders for sexual indulgence and, thereby, a literary illustration for cheating on God clearly has historically promoted a difference and gendered blame that God must account for in any just accommodation from the Divine.
While ultimately such gendered language promotes and protects sexist institutions, it is important to untie the precise point being made by the author(s) of Hosea. Sharon Moughtin-Mumby, in her wonderful book, Sexual and Martial Metaphors in Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, gives us a better interpretation of this language. Moughton-Mumby writes Hosea 4:12-13 as “And they prostituted from beneath their God! Upon the mountain-tops they sacrifice, And upon the hills then burn offerings, Beneath oak, and poplar, and terebinth” and Moughton-Mumby reads Hosea 9:1 as “For you have prostituted from upon your God! You have loved hire Upon every threshing floor.”30 The implied difference and the directness of the language should more uniformly tie the act of prostitution to a priest or priests who are “encouraging” the people to err and who are “warned that they will no longer gain as a result of encouraging the people to sin.”31 Women have had to shoulder the social burden of scripture directed toward erring priests.
The sexist and classist language of Israel as a prostitute or engaging in prostitution should be cause for alarm. However, it more accurately denotes the actions of leadership and the shepherds of the people. It is the offerings that are acts of prostitution as a result of their wayward leadership and in that the people are lost and must return to God post a repentant state. As such, because of the parental intent of this message, we can challenge Hashem to withdraw from sexist metonymy and metaphor as a method of communicating Her/His commitment to a pure and sacred offering from the people. As such, we can seek redress and in that act still maintain the message behind the message that the author(s) of Hosea pervaded through more adroit circumstances and methodology.
Upon and beneath every gendered consequence, we must challenge Hashem to demonstrate the might of the Creator in parsing and enveloping structural institutions that refuse to placate bewildered men and sustain the perpetual atrophy of remorse and indifference that rarely leads to a true borrowed concurrence with just and noble communication. Certainly, one can argue that absence of direct action from those who are seemingly partial to siding with just causes can be attributed to the lack of overt direct action from the Creator as that which clarifies intent and reason. This is not to say that God does not act. On the contrary, it is my belief that God does intervene in ways we do not expect and in ways that do not always meet our expectations. However, with such demonstrations of Holy interaction, judgment, and embellishments of love, we must ask for continuances of embarked matrimony of interaction between the Creator and the created, all sustaining our select gifts at the doors of longing, reproving, and embattled intelligence.
A feminist reproving with attention to the global women’s community is a starting point for our journey into the sacred and ascetic. The global women’s movement, with attention to structural oppression and care for all women through an intersectional lens is the height of our structured cause. We are determined and organized and in the absence of regale antiphonal redress, we are awake and astir in solemn song. In explicating gendered, sexualized, racist, sexist, classist, ableist, nationalist, and xenophobic exteriors and interiors or immovable indicators of the wellspring of indifference, we capture the struggle for just closure and composure and compel direct action through confrontation and in the case of an eclipse, establishing common ground through differences, as consensus is the key to active empowerment so long as demands are not conceded.
Margaret D. Kamitsuka, in her book, Feminist Theology and the Challenge of Difference cautions us against essentializing women’s oppression and from monolithic terms of power in her poststructuralist and Foucauldian interpretations. As Kamitsuka states, “the oppressed person is also always an agent to some extent, and the oppressor is not the sole possessor of power.”32 To quote at length from Kamitsuka’s discussion of the terms of power:
Genealogical investigation is oriented to uncovering not only an “endlessly repeated play of dominations” but also the breakthrough of resistant power/knowledge. Genealogy unmasks: (1) how putatively monolithic power structures are disseminated in local social and institutional networks (some feminists call this a microlevel analysis of power helpful for analyzing complex, context-dependent social/legal problems like flirting versus sexual harassment); and (2) how broad-ranging cultural meanings are inscribed on psyches and bodies to create macrolevel power/knowledge regimes, which are then used to label whole groups of subjects as, for example, delinquents, insane, and sexual deviants. From this genealogical perspective, what liberation theologians call social or structural sin could be analyzed for how those structures of domination subjugate on micro and macrolevels. Furthermore, because this theory also exposes how power circulates (nearly) everywhere, it would not thereby essentialize women as victims of these various subjugating “isms.” Quite the contrary. Genealogy’s interest is subjugated knowledge can open up possibilities for perceiving the disruptive emergence of women’s liminal identities and transgressive practices.33
With this in considerations, how should one condense structural oppression as monolithic? Indeed, it is not. However, readings and historical and cultural motivations and explications of text that privilege economic and culture-bound syndromes of institutional and indoctrinated terms of difference are monolithic despite the terms of resistance and objections from corners of the globe. It is not enough to say embodied resistance refutes structural power when these institutions persist and dominate discussions outside academia and culturally sensitive localized groups and communities. Women’s “transgressive practices” and participation with oppressive structures are certainly internalizing the oppressor towards the ends of subjugating other women. Nevertheless, these personifications of embodied power dynamics speak to monolithic identities and must be transgressed and are echoes of that delivery and mode or impartiality – however wayward they embark on that journey these modes are evidence of disruption from conquest that is absent of socialized birth. Power is monolithic. Divergence from power can be subsumed in its take. The reading of biblical texts has been monolithic through history, as these interpretations have not overturned dominant holds. Milk and honey does not exist in this world but in small personal patterns of accomplice to justice.
Feminist divergence from institutions is direct action that sees to the accomplice to justice on a global scale through localized action that is holistic that imparts that action on cultural, economic, and familial grounds to the ends of realized revolution. To that end, we can and should prod God to act. Just as we act we should retain the expectation of God’s participation. Jeremiah 5:20-31 situates God’s willingness to act in ways that are jealous and protective, “Who set the sand as a boundary to the sea, As a limit for all time, not to be transgressed? Though its waves toss, they cannot prevail; Though they roar, they cannot pass it. / Yet this people has a wayward and defiant heart; They have turned aside and gone their way” (5: 22-23). Jeremiah proclaims the costs of indifference and subjected corruption. The people are held to account when “They will not judge the case of the orphan, Nor give a hearing to the plea of the needy” (Jeremiah 5:28). There is a difference to distinguish between those who ask and those who need. That is to say, in asking Western society is transfixed on socialized differences between accepted norms and calculated subjectivity while those who actually need sustenance, housing, medical care, and monetary recourse are typically relegated to underfunded but so-called “good spirited” charity work. The cause of the orphan and the widow dates as early as 2400 B.C. that we know, though certainly before that.34 In the Ancient Near East protecting this group fell upon the advocacy of moral leaders and was the pride of kings in good times. Still, just as is made clear in the books of the prophets, this measure of social justice fell out of practice in periods of moral dissolution and members of this group could be sold into slavery.35 We should question any period in history, which distributes the cause of the needy to terms to be thought of, and practiced, outside of capitalist models and condemn any such era as being on terms with historical periods of moral desolation.
The difference often revealed in terms of need and desire is rigorously subject to relativistic standards. Eugene B. Borowitz writes, “[i]f our universal language remains unqualified by a strong argument for particularity it will not only delegitimize the particular but that, in turn, will destroy what gives the universal language its commanding power […] An imperialistic assertion of the primacy of the particular has not infrequently given rise in religions to a demonic chauvinism and fanaticism.”36 Post-structuralist proponents, in the past, have put forward to remove feminist dialectics from universalism in favor of subjectivity. Universalism is tyranny. However, it could be better said that tyranny under the guise of universalism in the Western world is a better framing of what justice is combatting. Borowitz continues, “our human insight into religious truth, while great enough to stake our life on, is always limited and not absolute. Those whose piety differs from our own may therefore well have another true if similarly limited sense of the Ultimate, and thus we must be practicing religious pluralists.”37 As pluralists, we cannot make absolute the sovereignty of the rule of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God is not as concerned with what god one worships (or no god at all) as S/he is with (1) how one treats others, (2) what one does with their lives, and (3) how one treats themselves. It is in this spirit that God commands us to love and practice love towards the pursuit of collaborative justice. The case of the orphan and the plea of the needy are indeed universalistic measurements of the applied justice of a society or community, the details of which cannot be subject to the particular in how that justice is matted out as it must be thorough and complete to all ends.38
Kamitsuka comments on the complications of collaboration towards justice on the subject of solidarity. She cites M. Shawn Copeland who states, “Solidarity is grounded in the confession of Jesus as Lord.”39 As Kamitsuka rightly puts forward, “Copeland appeals to nothing less than solidarity based on the eucharistic power of the ‘mystical Body of Christ’.”40 In this Copeland orchestrates a sisterhood that is closed and defies progressive means of solidarity. Solidarity based on personal identification with one’s select deity finds no common ground with the marginalized or suffering, but instead, enforces a colonialism of terms of grace with which we are truly saved and, therefore, is the absence of solidarity with those subjected to traditional and nontraditional imperialist conquests.
We must break away from identifying with others based on the terms of those who are exactly like us, or believe like we do. There is nothing sacred in shared theology that sees subjection to one’s own beliefs as the only path to participation and worth in ascribed truth. Solidarity should reify universal participatory motions that confirm the worth of the individual regardless of belief. To uphold one religion over another in the search for justice is no different than perpetuating racism, ableism, sexism, and classist tendencies and it is evidence of internalizing the oppressor. The personal becomes particular in the quest for shared identity and is a toxic proposal for solidarity. Rejecting social inequality on the terms of one’s personal theology as needing to be shared and responded to in like is authoritarianism and the practice of internalized despondency. Hope lives blindly in those in disdain as they attempt to devalue those who do not share their own toxic qualifying. Sacred hope values difference and lifts up the “case of the orphan” and the “plea of the needy” without regard to likeness or share belief (Jeremiah 5:28).
Consider the limits of our textual reality. Lawrence Kushner, in discussing Midrash as that which “appears in the spaces in between,” writes that the “poet Joel Rosenberg has gone on to suggest that Scripture itself is a form of Midrash but, alas, we have lost the Ur text for Scripture. We are in possession not of the dream itself, but only of its next-morning memory. Once a dream is told, it becomes something else.”41 42 As something else it may be subject to our explication and response. What we may unravel are truths that we may identify with but cannot hold others to account to that which cannot stand the test of the shared universal good that communicates one’s community’s best interests. That is both one’s local community and global community, for we are not out of reach from one another no matter how isolated we are intent to constraining ourselves to be. Such isolation is indifference and harms our own cause. Without the shared hope for that which is right, we cannot hope to make a claim on any truth as that which upholds our highest standards. All standards become weightless in isolation. To see “the spaces in between” we must attempt to explicate the Ur community with all its spatial and lignifying composure and composition.
Of the dangers of universalism, interpretations of text informed by communal contact, and historical underpinnings comes Prof. David A. Lambert’s text, How Repentance Became Biblical. Prof. Lambert argues the familiar phrase, “Return to YHWH,” referring to the need for us to engaged in repentance, occurred over the development of a later community taking on Greek thought and later readings into the text what were cultural and communal.
[I]n the writings of the eight-century prophets, among whom this usage is said to have begun, we are missing the components necessary for a complete narrative of return. In direct connection to the phrase “return to YHWH,” we do not find a sense of a prior state of closeness, a current state of distance, or a possibility of renewed closeness to YHWH. In fact, the so-called “covenantal usage” only receives clear expression in later biblical passages, as in the following: “You admonished them in order to turn them back to your teaching” (Neh. 9:29). Here to anthropomorphism of “return to YHWH” fades into the background and is replaced by an explicitly nomistic concern for obedience. 43
Lambert (re)categorizes the interpretation of shuv (return) as more closely meaning “a dramatic change in direction, motion that is opposite in some fashion, a turning away/aside/around/back/off.”44 In this it can be highlighted that cultural reading is just as important as close reading in how communities have traditionally marked their identification of God’s will. Just as there has historically been a bridge between literacy and oral culture, many factors have sustained an impediment between literacy and orality that have traditionally been very powerful. As Barry Reay makes clear in Popular Cultures in England, 1550-1750, in his chapter on “Orality, Literacy, and Print,” the expense of learning and practicing the work of reading and literacy created barriers that forced an orchestration between orality and literacy among populations.45 Cultural reading is just as endemic as literary exposition and in turn the state, culture, and community informed that exposition that existed.
Cultural influence, perhaps, should allow us to question traditional spiritual practices, however familiar it may have made itself. Understanding political powers, economic influences, and cultural maintenance of reading culture gives us a better gaze upon the history of interpretation and practice. It is indeed worth questioning if patriarchal text and expositions are inherited from communal practices and not true intent from the Creator. Stories handed down and transcribed within a culture of male dominated organization structures would have sought to secure and justify such organization as later rabbis did with explications. We should question if the true text was appropriated just as its interpretations has historically been subject to.
With consideration of historical forces shaping readings of biblical literature, it can be seen that there is the continuous need to reevaluate theology and debate the merits of the end goals of our indoctrinated values. We must hold our claimed values up to the standards of practice and results that achieve the mission of our statements. This is why we can say readings have resulted in monolithic tidings, in spite of spirited dissent. We tend to trace our history through the development of dissent from powers, but refrain from acknowledging implied practices that have yet to yield the true ends of resulting justice. Intersectional feminism gives us a guide to illuminate our shortcomings and target or moments of inspiration with actual valuable content. Growth is the redress of our indifference. Provoking God, in hopes of acquiring a state of gratitude and peacemaking, requires that acknowledgement.
Ellen M. Umansky demonstrates questioning shared past with the intent towards justice as she writes, “I am not convinced that my forefathers (including the Biblical prophets and the rabbis of the Talmud) equated a just world with a non-sexist society. Perhaps for some women Judaism’s general emphasis on seeking justice led to the conclusion that one has a responsibility – as a Jew – to fight injustice in accordance with one’s own definition of what justice is.”46 Certainly, we should commit to this reevaluation towards justice-seeking that elaborates on our historical detachment from realizing the dream of our shared commitment towards peace with our neighbors and love for our local and global communities. The intent of our differences are better made straight in the halls of devaluing divergence from iniquity, and it is an iniquity to hold anyone or deity in higher esteem than our shared path towards peace. As such, we have the expectation to demand justice from the Creator as we peer through our vows in different ways, all to see the passion of our comfortable learning and esteemed gratitude for each other.
In Anson Laytner’s seminal work, Arguing With God, he cites Deuteronomy 26:15 as written in a prayer book. The context of the following is that one has accomplished completing the work that was required of that person and, therefore, God should reciprocate with blessings.
Lord of the Universe! We have done what You have decreed for us, so too should You do as You have promised: “Look down from Your holy dwelling, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel in the land which You gave us –as you swore to our fathers – a land flowing with milk and honey.”47
Laytner places this rhetorical device under the motif of taking God’s words and offering them again to Her/Him. This quest for action does not fear an injunction from a dismissive God, nor does the speaker mistake God’s duty as coming without having offered something up first and therefore having the right to make the request. To utter, “so too should You do as You have promised” requires a humble confidence that the appropriate steps have been taken to warrant such a mighty request. Those having done the work of justice have the right to question God why there is no “land flowing with milk and honey.” This perspective is both legalistic as it is a doctrine of compassion. God, embodying compassion, cannot move across the heavens without desiring the tranquility of the public. All who ask should justly have. All who earnestly require should have their needs met. In the absence of such a living community, God must assist the realization of the complete putting away of embankments of distress and the putting on of armor of compassion. Laytner poignantly summarizes the intent some have attempted in holding God accountable in his chapter “Poetry as Prayer and Protest,” stating, “[b]y bringing to God’s attention the promises He made, and contrasting these with her present state, Israel hopes to awaken God’s memory, stir His mercies, and speed the fulfillment of His word.”48 The longing to hear God respond to one’s prayer sets in motion the spirit of compassion and identifies oneself with God if there is a motivation towards justice and equal endowment of necessities that we should strive to live up to and actively promote in a just society.
Through a close reading of God’s mercies, we may counter the argument that Hashem is detached just as Hannah saw through to God’s compassion in asking for a child.
In her wretchedness, she prayed to the Lord, weeping all the while. And she made this vow: “O Lord of Hosts, if You will look upon the suffering of Your maidservant and will remember me and not forget Your maidservant, and if You will grant Your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to the Lord for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head.” (First Samuel 1:10-11)
Hannah’s maternal instinct prodded God to act. The longing for motherhood created an opening and her invocation was fulfilled. Motherhood elevated Hannah to a participant in the creation story. Her project is the upbringing of a Nazirite. The sequence of the prayer, first outlining her current state, then what she will do in return if her prayer is heard is common. What then, if common, places her on a trajectory to have her prayer answered? Her demeanor was detached. She was in a deeply meditative state as First Samuel 1:13 informs us, “only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard.” She was not engaged in the usual method of prayer. The novel displacement of her voice to a place where only God could hear demonstrated a faith that though her voice did not ring out, she would be heard. Likewise, we must act as though there is no one to witness our work. There is only the deed in our minds and the actions we take that see that the spirit of our expectation for God’s intervention is fulfilled and in doing so we share with God the invocations of our plea for justice just as one might plea for a child.
Perhaps God expects us to provoke Her/Him into action through our shared participation. Perhaps we are called to be movements in the creation symphony. Hannah’s recitative exclamation informs a justification for feminist readings of Biblical literature. Unlike Sarah, Hannah harms no one in the act of her plea to be a mother. There is the universal treatise of parental bonds that explicates the messages for the reader that we ought to seek out the Creator in our creation stories, in whatever manner that takes. When we are called into question for the path that we have chosen, we can lift up our voices from the bottom of our hearts and sing into our stomachs words that no one hears.
It is worth noting that those who profess solidarity often mistake it as their place to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. It is a common saying to speak up for the voiceless, but ironically those referred to as voiceless are rarely so. There is no such thing because those most often subject to marginalization are more than capable of speaking for themselves. What they often lack is a platform. Instead, it should be the duty of solidarity to lift up the voices of those most often shouted over give them room to make their case with their own voices. In a sense, when those who stake the claim of solidary attempt to put their own words in the mouths of the oppressed they are like those who attempt to resituate scripture in their own terms to purposely silence those marginalized in effort to push forward with their own agenda. We cannot have an agenda in our merits of solidarity other than to see that those silenced are indeed heard. Mistaking those forcefully silenced, either by institutional structures or just a few actors, and unable to articulate their disposition gives rise to authoritarian demarcations according to the will of the oppressor and distances ourselves from acts that could better persuade God to listen to our voices. It should be permitted to address God in the cause of those marginalized in our quest for intervention, but we must not insert our own voices, understanding, and perceptions, in place of those whom we seek to benefit from God’s actions.
2: Hannah and Hagar
In the quest to provoke God to act, we should look to Hannah’s act of fulfilled emotional munitions and apply that as a resource for fasting and prayer, which tends to have a powerful ability to pivot God in the direction of overseeing or, even, lack of oversight in matters both managerial and sublime. What shall we call the moment of utterance when deep in our emotions we express the pain and sorrow of living that motivates action? Hannah spoke softly, in which she could barely be heard though in that the Creator heard her, listened, and responded. Just as peacemakers have called on a conscious public for direct action, we should lift our actions and call for direct interaction from the Creator motivated from our prayers in what form that takes. Through the mimicking of Hannah’s prayer we can find a place where we can restore our faithful actions. We can recall her whisper and note that the second line of The Shema is said in an undertone.49 However, certainly there must be a next phase of applying the force and power of Hannah’s prayer, not as an act of coercion, but instead as the power of a vow. Vows embark on the principle of our intentions to restore common good, that which is in the interest of the greater community and the individual. The power behind our vows is demonstrated and accomplished from having proven to God the will of our predisposition and the justice of our cause. God notes our predisposition and takes root in our clarion call for justice.
At times acts and love share the same space, and it should be our sacred hope that God concedes to our prayers and does not equivocate a divine response to our pleas. Vows restore common good and lift up the community. Numbers 30 demonstrates the problematic separation of gender in who is responsible for vows and who must be held to them. In Numbers 30, a man “shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips” (Num. 30: 3). However, the chapter continues, a young women is only held accountable by God to her vow if her father does not protest. Upon marriage the weight falls on her husband; if he accepts her vow as legitimate then God will as well. The neder (vow) was distinct as that which must be fulfilled if and only if the prayer was granted.50 Here the issue in Numbers 30 is male control over women’s ability to negotiate within the household. The primary concern is that a young woman’s vow might bring negative results to the family, hence, men having final say over her vow as “[t]he laws perhaps indicate men’s concern that the vow of a woman in their household could lead to a destabilizing loss of property.”51 Widows and divorcées were not bound by these laws.52 Certainly, it can be taken that women’s neder, and by extension, her testimony before the Creator was not given as a fundamental right and we can see there is doubt placed on their narratives.
Leigh Gilmore writes that in contemporary society there is “preponderance of neoliberal life narratives that promote norms of gendered authority, affect, and agency.”53 Women’s voices are not trusted and in “addition to the verbal record of testimonial discourse, women’s bodies are scrutinized as evidence of lying as much as truth.”54 Being a faithful witness and being faithful to a vow branch from the same argument. Whereas it is maintained from an inherited response that women are not eligible to participate in truth-telling, there is the constant witness of our determination that we must present ourselves as witnesses to our own testimony. Just as the voice only audible to God, there are the acts of our history existing in memory that God can extract and make visible in the light. The surveillance state is truly not able to negotiate the contours of our memories in the same way that God can concede our internal and physical acts of justice and bring our memories before the angelic courts so that our testimony can be heard and our duties rewarded though a response from God. Hence, women’s vows in male dominated societies can be adhered to and solidified even under the most severe designs of oppression.
In order to make room for God to take root in demands and expectations for justice, we must abandon the familiar music of patriarchy. In Western culture the popular explication of patriarchy is most often examined through a corporate expedience of feminism in which there is the expectation of women’s participation in the highest degrees of corporate welfare. However, many feminists have called not for might to make right, but for the assertion of public justice to be enforced in how women direct their energies over corporate patriarchy to resist the dominance of monetary enterprise that perpetuates poverty as well as racial, ableist, class, and social isolation. A perfect example of this reframing of contemporary feminism and situating it in the discourse of becoming of instead adhering to is in what Jessa Crispin writes, that, “We keep losing women to participation in the system, instead of insubordination to the system. The idea that you can make the strongest impact by influencing the culture from the inside is naïve at best, disingenuous at worst.”55 Feminists, simply put, must carve suppression out of institutions, not become part of the institution towards the quest of soft power to enrich oneself and make token efforts to address the marginalized. The quest for soft power is no different than the tradition of White moderates and liberals telling African Americans that they sympathized with them, but that now is not the right time for full equality. Soft power kills.
Isolation has no footing in the bounds of justice. Justice is communal just as it is individual. Through the community we free ourselves and through ourselves we free the community. The liberation of justice must be practiced in the home. Isolation is the sexualization of individuality. Patriarchy seeks out corners to infect and finds itself in the home. As Patricia Hill Collins notes, “Black women’s vulnerability to assaults in the workplace, on the street, at home, and in media representations has been one factor fostering [the] legacy of struggle,” that is, “multifaceted legacies of struggle, especially in response to forms of violence that accompany intersecting oppressions” (my italics).56 Just as intersections of oppression are internalized in the individual, these patterns are manifest in the home. We should question the sociocultural beliefs that take the position that sexuality is inherently susceptible to acquiesce the bow of social hierarchy.
bell hooks examines that in a patriarchal society, sex becomes pathological and men are trained and encouraged to be sexually predatory. According to hooks, “the underlying message boys receive about sexual acts is that they will be destroyed if they are not in control, exercising power.”57 This declaration calls to mind Ernest Becker’s observations about men’s quest for power. Essentially, we strive for power and conquest because we inherently reject our own mortality. However, we should note Becker transcribes Neo-Freudian modes of transitions from sexual horror to power-quests:
The horror of sexual differentiation is a horror of “biological fact” […] [T]his is the hopeless terror of the castration complex that makes men tremble in their nightmares It expresses the realization by the child that he is saddled with an impossible project; that the causa-sui pursuit on which he is launched cannot be achieved by body-sexual means, even by protesting a body different from the mother. The fortress of the body, the primary base for narcissistic operations against the world in order to insure one’s boundless powers crumbles like sand. This is the tragic dethroning of the child, the ejection from paradise that the castration complex represents. Once he used a bodily zone or appendage for his Oedipal project of self-generation; now, the very genitals themselves mock his self-sufficiency.58
Becker’s Neo-Freudian examination lacks the contexts of Western hegemony over proscribed intelligentsia. There should be caution over a synthesis that might suffer from and be subject to gender binarism or ascribes to an implicit male, heterosexual orthodoxy. However, we can ask what happens when a Beckerian mode of male power seeking comes into contact and conflict with women’s accumulation of social and economic independence within a sexualized and patriarchal, emotion-sharing civilization in the home and society?
Patricia Hill Collins and bell hooks write that some form of punishment follows. In the home of an economically empowered woman, a man “may simply confiscate her paycheck and use it as he desires, thus rendering her dependent. He may increase his demands for sexual favors, and if that does not work, he can simply withhold sex, thus making a working woman who desires sex feel her power undermined,” as hooks posits.59 Hill Collins writes that for the African American woman who ventures out of her socially constructed place in the home there is a double stigma: “Many Black women are the sole support of their families, and labeling these women ‘matriarchs’ erodes their self-confidence and ability to confront oppression. In essence, African American women who must work encounter pressures to be submissive mammies in one setting, then are stigmatized again as matriarchs for being strong figures in their own homes.”60 The home is an extension of civilization and in a complex set of directives should be centered in the individualized and nurtured quest for balance and parity that should accompany beneficial familial settings. Conditioning and internalized stigma at times makes this next to impossible. What is more is that we place blame on women for not liberating the home in manners that meet our patriarchy-influenced expectations or, in some segments of society, according to capitalist expected edifications. However, before capitalism came covetousness hostile to critical thinking.
The poison of home-based patriarchal oppression is inherited and we should question God in the historical and cultural preservation of difference. The sage’s acceptance of Hannah’s prayer illustrates this double standard of contempt for women and sexualized acceptance under fair weather conditions. Leila L. Bronner makes great observations about Hannah’s prayer and the rabbis’s conditional acceptance of Hannah as ideal for women and men. From one perspective there is the explication of justice. Bronner explains that in her prayer, Hannah “presents herself as a person deserving attention not because she is great in virtue and power but because she is a sincere and unhappy servant of God.”61 Sincerity and discomfort are remarkable starting point from which to initiate a petition. Furthermore, Bronner notes that “[d]espite their marked gender consciousness, the rabbis never once comment on the fact that Hannah is female when discussing her brilliant aptitude for prayer. They seem to look past Hannah’s gender to her humanity to emphasize that in personal prayer there is only a human trying to communicate with God.”62 In the contact between communal longing and higher authority in the Bible, “a connection is forged between prayer and barrenness” and it is this theme that Hannah negotiates, in a sense, as a model human emissary.63
Bronner takes the unique approach of comparing Hannah’s plea with that of Moses (Deut. 3:24-26) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:2-3) and illustrates a distinction: “Whereas Moses begins with praise of God’s greatness and Hezekiah reminds God of his own record of faithfulness, Hannah depicts herself as a suffering ‘maidservant’.”64 The repetition of her status centers her disposition, and it is in modeling herself in humility that she is in a position to earn God’s concession to grant her prayer. Humility, then, is a cornerstone from which to address God to hear our own station and liberate us from social ills. One can easily contrast their own position in the guidance of one’s own explication of otherness and being robbed of sustenance and necessity. In that we can identify those who most deserve to be heard just as we do ourselves. Those who can speak for themselves and are silenced are engaged in spirited debates with the Creator in some personal or cultural way.
As to Hannah’s invocation,
She debates and pleads with God, as do the early heroes of the Bible. The Babylonian Talmud even says that, like Elijah and Moses, “Hannah spoke insolently toward heaven.” All of them, Hannah included, were judged to be justified in their argument and tone. The rabbis are willing to accuse her of insolence, but, in their admiration for her abilities in prayer, they promptly excuse her.65
To return to my earlier question: What shall we call the moment of utterance when deep in your emotions you express the pain and sorrow of living that motivates action? Shall we call it insolence? Some may call it “good trouble.”66 Hannah’s prayer did not threaten the sages instructions and engrained beliefs about separateness. It was men who issued prayers for the community. Hannah’s successful “petition is not a prayer based on learning, and thus rabbis found in it nothing to disturb their ideas about the unimportance of learning in the lives of women.”67 What is remarkable is that in spite of gender difference the sages upheld Hannah’s prayer as exquisite and model. It can be said that she succeeded in not only convincing God, but also her culture and community and in spite of the entrenched patriarchy in her culture, her softly spoken voice continued to be heard. She served a significant purpose, as “Hannah’s story allows the rabbis to demonstrate that the commoner is as likely as the prophet to get an answer from God if the prayer is offered with a humble heart and with sincerity.”68 The trajectory from barren and being accused of drunkenness to being rewarded by God and continuously heard in a separated society demonstrates the power of her motivation and is something we can learn from and apply to our lives. Judith R. Baskin poignantly discusses that only men retained the imperative commandment to have children.69 There is a subtle disruption present in Hannah’s story that we can escalate to radical beneficence. The best of humanity is love between acts.
Love is what best situates Hannah as a starting point to provocation of the Divine. However, there is the constant theme of possessiveness in male dominated societies in which we must combat. It is perhaps interesting to contrast the concerns of men with property in Numbers 30 with the situating of women’s ability to offer gifts to God. Exodus 25:2 reads: “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts from every person whose heart is so moved.”70 This command for gift giving makes clear in later verses that both men and women were expected to participate, if moved to do so, “as [Exodus] 35:22, 29 and 36:6 make explicit. This assumes that women had their own resources and control over them; presumably they could decide for themselves what to offer to the project.”71 Exodus 25:2, from Parshat T’rumah, is read through a lens of gift giving as social justice.
Rashi, thinking about these issues in the 11th century, writes, “T’rumah [means] ‘something set apart.’ [T]he meaning is: let them set apart from their possessions a voluntary gift in My honor” (Rashi on Exodus 25:2). Rashi gets this reading by focusing on the end of the verse, which talks about the “person whose heart so moves him.” Rashi uses the root of the word yid’venu, “so moves,” and likens it to the word n’davah, meaning “good will.” With this connection, Rashi sees the gifts demanded by T’rumah not as dictated practice but rather as an intentional choice. Not only are the gifts voluntary, but also Rashi suggests they come from the heart as expressions of good will.72
The concept of giving gifts to God has been interpreted as how we act in the world under the merits of tikkun olam.73 Tikkun olam means to repair the world and should be understood in terms of some form of direct action that works to bring justice into society or engage in social justice. Hence, giving gifts as that which benefits others is how one gives to God. Furthermore, it is argued, “we can consider our acts of tzedakah and g’milut chasadim, ‘good deeds,’ not only as the Jewish edict to fix the world as an end in itself, but also as a way of demonstrating religious commitment and spiritual connection.”74 Therefore, a woman’s God-given and God-directed ability to engage in direct action and disseminate good will is how she gives to God gifts that build up the sanctuary of the Creator’s home on Earth. It can further be extrapolated that gift giving in the form of social justice is God’s home on Earth and to conduct oneself by such standards calls God into question in how the Creator should respond and engage in kind to our acts. Those acts are pleas of holy invocation meriting a response.
Susan Eckerstein studied collectivistic-rooted volunteerism and gift giving and how it differentiated from individualistic-grounded volunteerism. In describing the characteristics of collectivistic-rooted volunteerism, Eckerstein notes that “groups […] coordinate the activity and determine what is given, when, how, to whom and why.”75 Additionally, the effort and form of giving collectivistic-rooted volunteerism engages in “has group effects.”76 In the tradition of giving, “[g]ifts are a system of reciprocity.”77 One of the distinguishing factors of the value of group giving showed that “[t]ogether, the values, as put into practice, blur boundaries between kin, group and neighborhood, and encourage collectivistic-grounded generosity.”78 Generosity and group negotiated gift giving unites communities and from this we should concede a pluralism to our coordinated antagonizing of the Creator. To contrast the idea of communal giving, let us consider the concept of gratitude in how it is a conduit for religious gratitude that might enhance one’s motivation to seek out communal giving.
Rosmarin, et al. wanted to see if there was a correlation between gratitude and religion and how that related to gratitude in the general population not motivated by religion. Interestingly, they found an immediate and direct connection between stronger forms of gratitude and those who identify that with a Creator.79 Specifically, however, it is religious commitment that yields the higher correlation.80 They found that “religion promotes gratitude by providing unique opportunities to experience this trait” and that “[b]y contrast, non-religious gratitude is constricted by the perception of physical agents, and this can only occur in interpersonal contexts.”81 Further, they conclude that higher instances of the feeling of gratitude might motivate an individual to strive to connect with the spiritual.82 So then, is there room under a pluralistic tent to exchange the merits of gratitude that motivate and consolidate a form of tikkun olam or direct action, both with the non-religious as well as those identifying with a higher power in some form or another? Absolutely. That motivation to act is prompted by intersectional oppressive forces that constricts free movement and that immobility heightens and places the individual, regardless of spiritual affiliation, as the cornerstone of that which must be acted on both as a community in gratitude equally with those in need of a response from God. We should better consider gratitude in shades of expression and not delineate the otherwise affiliated as out of touch with the call and response tradition, above identified as resourceful and more highly esteemed gratitude. In the depot of oppression, the gratitude of the unaffiliated and those associated with spiritual fulfillment is undistinguishable under the precinct of sacred hope. It is this identical distribution that entitles the public to God’s mighty rejoinder to enable repose.
Gift giving is an act of justice in terms of expression of tikkun olam and nurturing community oriented social and legalistic development. As gift giving is an act that merits God’s response in kind, it is also an intentional act on history. Our acts, personal and communal, functions as weights that we measure the degree to which we can call God’s responsibilities into question. We can look to Hannah again as an adroit source of inspiration and motivation that can be applied in multiple contexts. Just as Hannah’s voice was only audible to God, there are the acts of our history existing in memory that God can extract and make visible to the light. I have considered that God acts on communities this way in which the Creator enforces circumstances that brings out (to the light) the very best and the very worst of people. In such circumstances, the forward and logical see the imprint of injustice as well as those colluding to enforce it. In such light we can see the encampment of law that creates a barrier between those in positions of power, authority, and privilege and those that Lisa Marie Cacho refers to as “ineligible for personhood.”83 Cacho explains that the very structure of democratic institutions is built around oppressive othering and that to say that some in society are marked as carriers of the weights of justice situates them in powerless positions. Cacho summarizes,
To say that some groups form the foundations for law is to say that law is dependent upon the permanence of certain groups’ criminalization. These permanently criminalized people are groups to whom I refer to as ineligible for personhood – as populations subjected to laws but refused the legal means to contest those laws as well as denied both the political legitimacy and moral credibility necessary to question them.84
If God encourages communities to take root in structural opposition to justice than, as I have said, God notes our predisposition and takes root in our clarion call for justice. If God allows structural opposition, or worse, encourages it, than the Creator must respond to the diction and articulation of our reframing and intellectual challenge. We can look to Heschel corresponding to this diction of action, in which he states that “[f]aith is not a silent treasure to be kept in the seclusion of the soul, but a mint in which to strike the coin of common deeds. It is not enough to be dedicated in the soul, to consecrate moments in the still of contemplation.”85 Within this temperance of justice within confines of the law, there has been God’s example of vindication outside the law and refuting being subject to that which was unjust, such as Hagar’s escape from slavery. We can see her cause was just in that she was granted the blessing if naming God El Ro’i. There must be direct action that while seeking consensus to active empowerment does not yield on demands.
There is the personal, the interpersonal, and the transnational stillness of power that we must call into question as it relates to God’s interaction with the world. There are places on Earth that we can most notably condemn God’s inaction in spite of popular and personal action. What first comes to mind is Myanmar/Burma. For a brief time I worked with a friend and collected books here in the U.S. to donate to libraries for Burmese, and other ethnic groups from Burma, to refugee organizations throughout Southeast Asia. Burma was and continues to be a perfect example of how we can call God into question. With mass rape as a military weapon, mass extortion of the public, highly organized censorship, human trafficking, and complete state abuse with complete impunity, we can see that even after so-called democratic reforms and election of the long-standing champions for the people, the National League for Democracy, reforms have still left the military with state power there has not been steps to ameliorate the situation to warrant and justify considering the nation a democracy as has occurred within the country and from the international community, perhaps perfectly symbolized by a state visit from Barack Obama in 2012. Even Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Noble laureate and former freedom fighter now in control of the elected wing of the government, has defended the militaries continued campaigns of rape as a weapon as war, has failed to bring harmony to ethnic divisions or deter the razing of villages, and according to interviews of Rohingya refugees, almost half have been subject to rape from the military and in many cases this was gang rape.86 87
In Syria God has also abandoned the people. Steven Pinker is wrong to argue that the world is getting better.
Pinker points out that during World War II, the human population lost 300 of every 100,000 people each year. During the Korean War it was in the 20s, before dropping into the teens during the Vietnam era. In the 1980s and 1990s, it fell into the single digits. For most of the 21st century it’s been below one war death per 100,000 people per year.
There has been an uptick globally as a result of the civil war in Syria, doubling from 0.5 per 100,000 to 1. But Pinker says “you can’t compare 1 with 15 or 25 or 300.” Everywhere else in the world, the stats are still trending downward. The same is true for homicides. 88
It is a logical fallacy to say that we must dismiss a crisis of casualties on one location of the world because of internationally collected trends. This misplaced rationalization also dismisses collective movements towards authoritarian sympathies, which are on the rise in the West. Pinker’s position trivializes trends towards sympathies with dictatorships as well as the death, rape, and murder of entire communities, communities “ineligible for personhood.”89 One could suppose Pinker also dismisses the fate of the young girls from Kavumu in the Congo where dozens of times “men in groups had kidnapped a girl of between 18 months and 11 years old from her bed, raped her, and either returned her to her home or left her in a nearby field.”90 Had the world given as much attention to the girls of Kavumu or Rohingya refugees as celebrity tendentious politicians in the West there would be greater movement towards collective action and accountability.
Lauren Wolfe, author of the Guardian article on Kavumu, began a campaign to raise money to cover medical bills for the victims. The campaign only raised approximately $12,000 of the $20,000 goal in the first two months while efforts to raise money for less pressing matters and technological gadgets raise tens of thousands of dollars more in such a time frame.91 Pinker’s argument is relatively obscene. Pinker is in error from a station of privilege. We must learn to embrace the other and become the other as only then will White society begin towards the path of measuring accountability and understand the weight of justice that still must wake. Pinker’s dismissal aims to the West as well, disregarding the “85,000 women and 12,000 men [that] are raped in England and Wales every year- the equivalent of 11 rapes of an adult per hour.”92 The depth of the obstinacy and arrogance of public intellectuals who push aside public health and turn a blind eye to collective and individual harm threaten the public good and our personal well being.
Let us return to Hannah’s prayer from First Samuel 1:11. Hannah appeases God in asking the Creator to “look upon the suffering of your maidservant.” Hannah is appealing to God-as-witness. The Creator entrusts us to see the world and our circumstance as God sees it and to establish a unison of testimony were we become one with God from our vision to God’s own. There is a connectedness that is established and in that we can command God’s intervention. As Bronner established, we can compare Hannah’s appeal to Moses and Hezekiah. Hezekiah prayed facing a wall, stating, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before You sincerely and wholeheartedly, and have done what is pleasing to You” (2 Kings 20:2-3). What is key is asking God to commit to one’s sincerity. Moses appeals to God to “let Your servant see the first works of Your greatness and Your mighty hand” (Deut. 3:24). Moses appeals to God as having created a witness. Suffering, sincerity, having been a witness; these are elements that are less penitent than asking to be in unison with God and as such earned a response. We also see these elements in the story of Hagar. Hagar suffered in servitude and banishment, she was sincere in desiring to be free from her bond, and she was a witness to God-as-angel in Genesis 16, naming God El Ro’i meaning “One who looks upon me,” which captures the element of God-as-witness.93
Genesis 21:9-21 tells the story of Hagar’s and Ishmael’s final trial and tribulation in the ongoing narrative of the patriarch, Abraham, before reaching their own promise land and attaining a promise from without by exiting Abraham’s and Sarah’s family and narrative. It offers great room for critique on the actions of Abraham and Sarah who abandon Hagar and Ishmael after the birth of Isaac and once they have attained their own promise of an heir independently through the intervention of God. Still, a reader of conscience must critically assess the actions of the patriarch and the undercurrents of the motives and justifications used that drive action in the narrative. This pericope can be read independently but, as Robert Alter advised, should be read in the context of the whole and extended chapters including chapters 16 and 22.94 The actions of Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael deserve to come under the critical lens of an astute reader for analysis of the motives of patriarchy and influences of discourse.
Narrative obtrusions are verses in which the narrator offers explanations that might anticipate the reader drawing conclusions that do not favor the desired interpretation of the text or, sometimes, function to protect the character of the individual in the story. The omniscient narrative obtrusion navigating Genesis 21:9-21 is verse 11, “And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight on account of his son.” This verse does several things. It lifts up Abraham’s intentions, as it is not something he wants to do and does care for his son. It also sets up God’s statement to Abraham to do what Sarah says to do with Hagar and Ishmael. The verse clarifies for the reader that Abraham here knows about what will happen to Hagar and Ishmael and invites a discussion on nature of Abraham’s responsibilities. Is Abraham here a delinquent father or a prophet?
I do make the atypical argument that Genesis 21:11 is an obtrusion according to the parameters Dr. Paris discusses.95 It does indeed shape the readers view of Abraham and his act of carrying through with Sarah’s wish to banish Hagar and his own son, Ishmael. Though the verse reads as omniscience, letting the reader know what is on the mind of Abraham, it also alters and frames the entire context of the chapter. It is used to justify an act that would typically cost Abraham judgment from the reader. Further evidence can come from the following chapter in which there is a more accepted obtrusion, Genesis 22:1. There the reader knows the act is a test so as not to judge Abraham. Yvonne Sherwood draws a parallel between the acts in Genesis 21 and 22. She notes that chapter 22 mimics 21 in that “Genesis 22[,] with the words ‘After these things’ (22.1)[,] as if deliberately to being Genesis 21 to mind and then (guiltily?) tells the story of the almost-death of Isaac in a way that seems to mimic the vocabulary and structure of the almost-death of Ishmael” should bring us to consider the relationship.96 Genesis 21 prepares us for, and is an addition to, Genesis 22. Both require justification to the reader for Abraham’s acts and both require an obtrusion to prevent injury on the part of the patriarch who in both cases, it is portrayed, is acting in God’s stead. As Dr. Paris notes, “While every obtrusion naturally relies on the omniscient perspective of the narrator, every omniscient comment is not an obtrusion.”97 Through obtrusions, the texts pardon the character by offering a framing for the action taking place. Paris clarifies, “the narrator […] uses obtrusions to protect characters” such as in Gen. 34:13-14, Josh. 10:14 and Gen. 22:1.98
In Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror she notes God’s use of words in Genesis 21:12. Both the 1917 translation and the 2004 translation of the Jewish Publication Society’s version of the Tanakh stay true to what Trible sees as God reinforcing Sarah’s language by referring to Hagar as “bondwoman” (1917) or “slave” (2004), a “description that emulates the vocabulary of Sarah.”99 This is particularly interesting given that God is giving linguistic authority to Sarah while He is instructing Abraham to do what Sarah tells him to do. A further fascinating note is that Hagar and Ishmael interact with God directly. The angel who visits them in the wilderness when Hagar cries out and tells Hagar that God has heard Ishmael goes on to say, “I will make a great nation of him” (Gen 21:18). The angel is presented as the Creator. There is a very overt turn of language in verses 17-18.
Delores S. Williams’s Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk centers Hagar’s alienation and exploitation. Williams explicates the text with an analysis that is attentive to race, gender, class, and power. To provide context for Genesis 21, one needs to know Genesis 16 in which Sarah initially gives Hagar, her handmaid, to Abraham for the purpose of reproduction. Hagar escapes slavery and her condition of forced motherhood but God speaks to Hagar and instructs her to return to Abraham and Sarah, “Go back to your mistress, and submit to her harsh treatment” (Gen 16:9).
In chapter one of Sisters in the Wildness, Williams focuses on Hagar’s condition of forced motherhood and her class as a slave. Hagar’s impending situation and her being forced into the desert speaks to her role as a woman who is on a quest to survive from which it is God who comes to her aid. Hagar lives under the reality of sexual exploitation and coercion from her master, Sarah. Hagar comes under the duress of Sarah’s will for the second time when Sarah instructs Abraham to send her and her son away. Williams notes that such a decision was Abraham’s to make and at under law Hagar would have at that point been considered Abraham’s second wife and of equal status to Sarah, which is exactly what she protested. According to Williams, when Sarah states “Drive away that slave-girl and her son,” it is clear she doesn’t consider Ishmael her own son as would have been the custom under such an arranged pregnancy.100 She is also clearly reinforcing Hagar’s status of servitude by referring to her as a slave though in all practical terms she had been given to Abraham as a second wife.101 Still, as instructed by God Abraham relents to Sarah and does what she wishes.
Having been abandoned, any official adoption of Ismael by Abraham would have been voided. If such a status remained this would have helped them in the wilderness to secure a safe adoption with another tribe.102 The question of Ishmael’s age is also important to consider because if he were 17 he would have negotiating power.103 The Jewish Study Bible (featuring The Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh translation) also comments in a footnote about Ishmael’s age stating that he was at least 16 as Ishmael was 13 when Isaac was born and Isaac’s weaning which would have happened at age 3 has already occurred.104
Despite the consideration of Ishmael’s age, it is clear from Genesis 21:15-16 that Ishmael is vulnerable from the elements and dying as though he were a young child, “When the water was gone from the skin, she left the child under one of the bushes, and went and sat down at a distance, a bowshot away; for she thought, ‘Let me not look on as the child dies,’ And sitting thus afar, she burst into tears” (Gen 21: 15). This is the condition where they are found out by God:
Again, as in Genesis 16, God asks Hagar a question. This time, however, Hagar is not given a chance to speak. God gives her a command that, if obeyed, will end the separation between mother and child (Ishmael is under a bush and Hagar is some distance crying). Tender loving care is in order.105
God steps in as provider alleviating their homelessness, distress, exploitation, and condition of servitude and sets them up as the founding of a people. They are progenitors with their own history. There is something to consider in the fact that “Hagar is the only person in the Bible to whom it is attributed the power of naming God, who has ministered to her and empowered her.”106 She is given power from complete powerlessness. She is taken from outsider and sex slave to mother of her own nation.
Williams initiates an interesting discussion about the text and Hagar’s virginity. The word used in Genesis 16 to describe Hagar is šiphâ, meaning “a virgin, dependent maid who serves the mistress of the house.”107 This means that Hagar was a virgin when she was made to lie down with Abram. Williams notes, “Female slaves, especially those owned by slave masters, were often rented out as concubines by their masters. Obviously, Sarai had not allowed such a fate to befall Hagar.”108 Williams goes on to question whether such a fate would have been understood by Hagar as a double condemnation, both the condition of forced (m)otherhood as well as loss of her status as a virgin among female slaves. Conversely, Sarah would have experienced loss of status when Hagar became pregnant considering that it was something she could not do herself.109 It is important to consider who was holding Hagar in bondage. Hagar was Sarah’s slave but she became that of Abraham’s. It was Sarah who wished for her to be abandoned, but it was Abraham who carried the act out. Sexual exploitation is not an act committed by the hand of just the patriarch or the matriarch, but they act in unison in the deed just as they do in banishing Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness where it is God’s direct intervention that offers safety and security.
Susanne Scholz, in Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible, narrows in on what she calls “rape texts” in the Hebrew Bible. The story of Hagar represents such a narrative. For Scholz, Hagar is raped by Abraham. As a slave she was forced into her position and role she played in Abraham’s and Sarah’s quest for an heir. Scholz writes that an “enslaved woman is forced into sexual intercourse. Her consent is irrelevant because as a slave she has to do what her owners ask of her.”110 We should read the text “within the paradigm of combined gender and class oppression.”111 Scholz astutely notes that Hagar “is reduced to her fertile body.”112 We should be reading the text within the larger of narrative of the birth of Isaac and how that prompted the need for Abraham and Sarah to dispose of Hagar and Ishmael. Ishmael was no longer the primary heir and, therefore, an occasion was needed to simply get rid of them as their forced service was no longer needed.
Considering Scholz’s comments that Hagar “is reduced to her fertile body” places the exploitation of women into the context of the relationship with sex slavery and exploiting the land. Such exploitation is no more evident that the in the ongoing plight of Indigenous women in Canada. In the short documentary, Peace River Rising, Helen Knott discusses the violence against the land and its direct relationship with violence committed against women. Knott is Dane-Zaa.Nehiyah and a social worker. She is also a survivor and a prominent activist.113 In the documentary, Knott discusses how she eventually developed an understanding that there is a connection between violence against Indigenous women and the land. The documentary states that “93% of Indigenous women surveyed reported having experienced violence” in Fort St. John.114 Pipelines have consumed the area and the territory is a place when women suffer violence. Activist Patti Larsen also carries this point when she stated, “Follow the oil trail, and you’ll find the girls” referring the missing girls near the Bakken oil fields.115 The narrative women tell about this violence must be lifted up as testimony of the acts of men, commerce, and capitalist infrastructure committing violence in trying to claim women’s bodies as they consume the land.
In Gen. 21:1-5 the narrator lifts up God and informs the reader that God has fulfilled the promise that Sarah would have a child. Isaac is welcomed in the overarching narrative of the patriarchs. The narrator paints a picture of a jealous person when Sarah sees Isaac and Ishmael playing and then demands that Abraham casts Hagar and their son out. Again, dialogue is the moving frame here when Sarah states in verse 10, “Cast out that slave-woman and her son, for the son of that salve shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” It is here in the next verse that we have an obtrusion: “The matter distressed Abraham greatly for it concerned a son of his” (Gen 21:11). I argue this verse is an obtrusion because it functions to validate Abraham’s act of banishing Ishmael and Hagar. It works to influence the reader because the narrator exceeds merely providing particulars regarding the individual’s emotional state. Clearly, the motive of the obtrusion is to absolve Abraham which works in conjunction with the following verse “But God said to Abraham ‘Do not be distressed over the boy or your slave; whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you. As for the son of the slave-woman, I will make a nation of him, too, for he is your seed’” (Gen 21:12). Here, Abraham is given a reason for the act of banishment and directly so is God. There in an interesting question on whether the blame is being shifted to Sarah in summation or unduly. Regardless, the reader has been thoroughly influenced not to blame Abraham for Hagar’s and Ishmael’s trial in the wilderness which on the surface was his own act.
Abraham is first absolved for what is about to happen as well as God. What the text is doing is demonstrating that Abraham is God’s servant whom He has blessed above all others and, secondly, that God is in control. Indirectly, Sarah has been absolved as well since God will make Hagar and Ishmael a great people. Still, God doesn’t say that Sarah is acting on the Creator’s behalf. The next paragraph consist of the narrator informing the reader about Hagar being banished with very little food and water and the two of them arriving to a point where they face death. God intervenes and speaks directly to Hagar. “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water,” (Gen 21:19) the narrator explains. Hagar’s eyes are opened just as she had called God El Ro’i, the God who sees, in chapter 16, which was the last time God intervened for her in the wilderness.
Verses 22-34 take a complete about face but interestingly are about wells which feature prominently in the narratives. Abimelech, accompanied by his chief Phicol, essentially apologizes to Abraham for his servants seizing Abraham’s wells. Abimelech acknowledges God is with Abraham in all that he does. Considering this as a whole unit, this also adds to the intertextuality that the chapter is written from a perspective of absolving Abraham of any wrong doing with Hagar, which some could say is an act of God as God personally speaks to Abraham to allows Sarah’s wishes to move forward and in the fact that Hagar and Ishmael are saved, blessed, and become their own nation.
Something else interesting happens in this section of chapter 21 in verse 31, “Hence, that place is called Beer-sheba, for there the two of then swore and oath.” It is written as though the place had just received the name but earlier in verse 14 after Hagar and Ishmael were expelled the text reads, “And she wondered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.” This could be explained away that since the narrator knew the name of the land s/he referred to it sooner than the naming of the land. This could also be put forward as a mistake, an oversight by the compilers of the text that proves a redaction.
However, if this is a whole text one might do well to consider another explanation. In verse 33, after the oath between Abimelech and Abraham we learn “[Abraham] planted a tamarisk at Beer-sheba, and invoked there the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. And Abraham resided in the land of the Philistines a long time” (Gen 21:33-34). Perhaps this invoking points to a spiritual cross-current in the text. Beer-sheba means well of oath. Earlier, in verse 14 when the narrator first invokes the name of the land it is regarding Hagar who is roaming in the wilderness and who in verse 15 is certain her son will die. However, God had already told Abraham that He would make a nation from Ishmael. God had already made an oath. Because of this oath, God has absolved Abraham’s act of banishing Hagar and Ishmael. If this is the case, using the name Beer-sheba before verse 31 makes sense because the oath made between God and Abraham takes precedent over the oath made between Abraham and Abimelech.
The narrator does not let on to a personality in chapter 21. The narrator first works to lift up God and then to lift up Abraham. Those who bless Abraham are blessed (Abimelech). Ishmael is blessed mightily. If I am correct in the first use of the name of Beer-sheba, it would also explain why verses 1-21 and verses 22-34 take up the same chapter. It could be argued that having compiled from a number of sources, one such source listed Beer-sheba first in the text with Hagar and the compiler wanted to stay true to the text but weaved verses 22-34 into the chapter in such a way that it would not be a mistake but an important theological undercurrent.
To initiate this chapter, Abraham has a feast celebrating Isaac being weaned. Abraham and Sarah are in high spirits and one would expect them to share the joy but the plot turns dark suddenly. In verse 8 they are having a feast. In verse 10 Sarah demands Hagar and Ishmael be cast out. In other translations verse 9 states that Ishmael mocked or made fun of Isaac but in the Jewish Publication Society’s (2004) version it states, “Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing” (Genesis 21:9). Just playing. The footnotes suggest that playing is a pun on Isaac’s name suggesting that Ishmael was “taking Isaac’s place.”116
This is also an abrupt change for Sarah. We had just seen her celebratory and jubilant. She stated, “God has brought me laughter, everyone who hears will laugh with me” at the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:6). Now she is sending Ishmael who by customary law is her son and Hagar who is her co-wife out into the wilderness conceivably to die or at least be subject to the elements. Considering the hostility between Sarah and Hagar after Ishmael was born we could infer that this act is vengeance and that she views herself free to act out in any way she pleases now that she has given birth to an heir, Isaac. Hagar no longer serves a purpose and Sarah no longer has to invest in her or Abraham’s child.
We see Hagar in a very vulnerable state in this pericope. What we have learned about her before is that she has already tried to escape her forced relationship with Abraham and Sarah only to be told by God to return in chapter 16. She is also in a vulnerable situation at that time but we see God’s intervention give her clarity. She will be blessed. It is interesting that in this pericope she doesn’t think about the promise God made when sets Ishmael by a bush, having run out of water, and says to herself, “Let me not look on as the child dies” (Genesis 21:16). This can be read as an explication of Hagar’s misery in a state of complete vulnerability and as such doesn’t consider the promise from God in the face of certain death. Here, we are witness to be Hagar’s exploitation and the circumstances of the conditions in which God saves her. What we learn in chapter 16 is that she is a fighter and it makes sense that her son is prophesied to be as well. Given the character of those who God blesses in the Tanakh, I think we should not lose focus on the assessment of Hagar as a fighter, a fighter who is blessed by seeing God through an angel not once, but twice. Repetition is important. Twice she communicates with God and this should emphasize that she is blessed.
Hagar presents a complicated image for the reader to digest. In the end, Hagar finds justice, but not before being instructed by God to return to a state of forced servitude and sexual exploitation. Where do the vulnerable of the Earth find themselves now? Have they not been instructed in a sense to remain while God delays a proper response? Is there a connection between the actions and acting of the pubic and the adjoining action of God? In our direct action we can better appeal to God’s intervention for we have shown that we are willing and in that are prepared for the promises of justice proclaimed by the prophets. Hagar’s act was that she tried to get away and in doing so she was confronted by God and told she would become the mother of a people. How can we actively flee oppression in a way that invites the intervention of God? Hannah teaches us that in our most hushed voice God hears us. Hagar teaches us that in our most daring escapes God sees us. We, therefore, can have reasonable expectation for God’s intervention. As Hezekiah did, we can proclaim that we have been sincere. Like Moses we are prepared to see God’s mighty works. However, without doubt, there is room to argue it is God’s place to act where we cannot and to demonstrate fierce protectiveness where the public will not.
3: Nuclear Religiosity
Any religious practice that mandates colonial enterprises that professes that one must conform and convert according their structuralist beliefs in order to be loved or rewarded by God is psychological terrorism. Justice is in exile, if not complete dialectical arrest, when the polar fragmentation of faith is subsumed by specifications and demarcations of arbitrary demands of the exposition of God’s love. Consider the women of the Greenham Common protests. Their spirituality was not subjected to sterilized weights of Western patriarchy and they moved missiles.117 This extends to the earlier discussion of nuclear religiosity. The oligarchy of Western dispositions of sexist sociological godhead figures, either in the form of missiles or perpetuated fathering, substantiates our claims for desired retribution.
Patriarchy as an institution for interpreting and expounding on God’s identity is misplaced. There are images of God represented in the feminine, such as in Exodus 16:4, 19:4; Numbers 11:12; Deuteronomy 32:13, 18.118 Whether the creator is depicted in the masculine or feminine is rooted Ancient Near East traditions that predate biblical literature and function to display aspects of the Creator for purposes of illustrating placeholders for characteristics that relate the individual to the Divine. Therefore, the institutionalization of a male figurehead is mostly a power play to maintain dominant cultural manifestations of inherited practices.
The propagated imitation of discernment in bestowing man with God-relatable qualities is endemic of stabilizing power shifts and sexual currency throughout cultural history. This aspect of nuclear religiosity is perpetuated in political and economic disparities. In this practice, femininity and (m)otherhood is under erasure from pernicious stones that stun and issue violence towards women. In the arena of the paternal imagination, the element of possession seems closely tied to the specter of the marvelous. Patriarchy thrives in transmitting itself in new geographies that distill and corroborate with localized power grabbing doctrines manifest in both intrapersonal and intranational delinquencies. The contemporary systematic intimidation of formal knowledge and knowing is little more than annotation of human development away from a more grounded and humanistic perspective; annotation as anarchy.
However, the institution of nuclear religiosity is cemented in biblical literature. Deuteronomy 22 initiates its discussion with a law concerned the returning of oxen and sheep to its rightful owner (Deut. 22:1). This tone of ownership in the chapter is further devoted to proving a woman’s virginity with the consequence of being subject to stoning if it is “proven” that the bride was not a virgin (Deut. 22:13-22). In this way has women’s sexuality always been under suspicion and subjected to legal ramifications according to the alibi of men’s unsubstantiated claims of devotion. Deuteronomy 22 is a vital chapter in women’s history, and we must confront God in this affront to human dignity that aided and abetted the process of engraining societies with violence against women. Further in the chapter a woman who is raped is to be killed if “she did not cry for help in the town” (Deut. 22:24). It is assumed that there will be witnesses to hear her scream or that there is only one way to react. Additionally, as Susanne Scholz notes, verses 23-24 “[do] not address the issue of the woman’s consent. The omission is part of androcentric ideology, which ignores a woman’s viewpoint and distrusts her words or actions.”119 Contemporary discussions that advocate for women’s protection in the courts have attempted to move the needle on this cultural idea that screaming in protest is the so-called natural way to respond when in reality, a woman may be too overwhelmed with terror and shock to have the capacity to raise her voice in accordance with the expectations of men that are without empathy or understanding.
Sexual violence continues to be enforced in Israeli politics. In December of 2016, Eyal Krim was made chief rabbi, though the process was mired in protests over comments he made that men serving the in military were allowed to rape non-Jewish women. Krim, who was formerly the “army’s second-highest-ranking religious official [but] was elevated to the rank of brigadier general,” was posed the question of whether it was legal for IDF soldiers to rape women and girls to which he responded, “Even though fraternizing with a gentile woman is a very serious matter, it was permitted during wartime … the Torah permitted the individual to satisfy the evil urge.”120 It could be argue rape culture being made acceptable in Israeli politics and military is a continuation and consequence of the representation of women in biblical literature.
As is transparent, biblical testimony on the subjection of women and girls to male sexual violence is at the core of nuclear religiosity. It is bold to state that we must confront God for permitting and perpetuating this advance of sexual terrorism. However, as women and men of conscience, we are expected to think critically about the social implications of the acts of others and, therefore, should be permitted to cross-diagnosis the Creator of the Universe’s role in transcribing violent forms of patriarchy into our systems of law and practices. To confront God means to confront violence, and there is no higher office than the mystical elevation of moral consequence.
I would further put forward, that considering such dire cultural, economic, and military practices, it is called for that we pursue merkabah experiences in elevating ourselves to the Divine Presence and inquire about God’s actions, responsibilities, and culpability. On another point, there are some mystics that hold that since God is the Creator of everything that God is responsible for all that occurs. It is not my belief that God is the actor in all that men do. The compilers of biblical literature do so according to that which served their own interests of engrained beliefs. However, there is some merit in provoking God to address that which is conducted in Her/His name according to dominant gender roles and holy violence. Rape as a weapon of war is one example of that which we should be expected to confront God to rectify and act in accordance to transmitted accounts of justice elsewhere in the Bible. Doing so offers the Creator an opportunity for implied debridement in the ordained matrimony between Creator and the Created.
Male dominated societies that offer bromidic accounts of justice centering nobility of the soldier class and respective militaristic political powers enforce structural and essentialist classifications that should compel the activist to provoke acts of mercy in the form of celestial intervention. We must hold the Creator to pikuach nefesh just as we would pursue according to our own merits and, therefore, cannot be limited by evangelistic doctrines that God wills suffering for the purposes of instilling acceptance as a virtue.121 Though light can be found in darkness, there is no light that justifies darkness. This teaching that we are to cope with suffering and violence as a natural part of life seeks to justify and condone the acts of men. Any philosophy that placates righteous anger at injustice is in a pact of unity with oppression and tyranny. Though it is my belief that God does sometimes judge in this life and does not limit Her/His judgment to the breaking of the world to come, it is that evidence of judgment that we can expect intervention from the Celestial Being and Her/His legion of dangerous angels. God’s will is as complex as it is essential to our merit of inquiring for justice’s sake. We must remember the martyrs of this dialogue of mercy, such as Rachel Corrie who acted on behalf of peace, protecting Palestinian homes from destruction and was killed for her deliberate act of intervention.122 We must embark on a prevention economy if we are to restore the Promised Land according to our moral principles.
Military conquest in biblical literature is intimately tied to representations of gender. Cynthia R. Chapman writes “the marriage metaphor [of God as husband and father and Israel and wife and daughter] offered more possibilities […] with its multidimensional kinship aspects allowing for the introduction of sisters, children, second wives, and multiple lovers.”123 This targeted sexualization of gender in conquest and “metaphorical versatility resulted in Jerusalem-as-woman becoming the central symbol and interpretive key for the prophets understanding of Jerusalem’s conquest by foreign nations.”124 These metaphors were not stable and functioned to symbolize different motives of the biblical authors. For example, “Isaiah and Zephaniah focus on Jerusalem alone either as a confident, jubilant woman who gets her revenge against Assyria or as the overconfident and whoring woman who is courting danger and death.”125 Isaiah demonstrates God’s turbulent relations with Israel,
The Lord has called you back
As a wife forlorn and forsaken.
Can one cast off the wife of his youth? (54:6)
Chapman summarizes that “[i]n Deutero-Isaiah’s memory of the Exile […] Yahweh did not punish his whoring wife, but rather he admits to having ‘abandoned’ […] her in a ‘moment of anger,’ but now he will love her again ‘with eternal devotion (54:8).’”126 Nuclear religiosity is instilled at the center of war language in gendered retribution. Such a history in the accounts of God as both Creator and perpetrator of gendered violence allows us the opportunity to interrogate the Creator’s motives and question Her/His responsibilities as a just parent or lover in effort to provoke a response. Gendered language in biblical literature can function as episematic for either hostile forces or merciful witnesses depending on one’s perspective. God must make known that which can be purposefully confused and distorted by those in positions of authority.
God perpetuates and centers this narrative of nuclear religiosity in Leviticus 21:17-23 in which She/He proclaims, “No man of your offspring throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his God. No one at all who has a defect shall be qualified: no man who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long” (Lev. 17-18). The ableism that is rooted in this text is paramount to culpable discrimination that is more serious and continuous in our culture than is realized by abled individuals.127 There was a generation that stated that racism would be the last frontier in conquering discrimination. There was also the generation of Bayard Rustin and others that stated bigotry against the LGBTQIA community would be the last frontier in conquering discrimination. I have no intent of stating that discrimination that is rooted in racism or discrimination against sexual difference has subsided, but we cannot rate those degrees of discrimination against ableist exploitation and inequality and say that such is not as severe or pervasive. Those disabled (including those who reject that term) are the strongest allies towards others facing cultural, sociological, and structural adversity because they live with it everyday. Whether it be schizoaffective disorder or ehlers danlos syndrome, there is not the accommodation that stickers on courthouses would have many believe.
Deuteronomy 28:28 continue this theme: “The Lord will strike you with madness, blindness, and dismay. You shall grope at noon as a blind man gropes in the dark; you shall not prosper in your ventures, but shall be constantly abused and robbed, with none to give help” (Deut. 28:28-29). Here, God is admitting to a culture of abuse towards those the diabled. In order to hold God to our collective esteem we must account for our Creator as the same who promised ventures of happy tidings at the initiation of Deuteronomy 28 for obedience to a higher order.
Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the country.
Blessed shall be the issue of your womb, the produce of your soil, and the offspring of your cattle, the calving of your heard and the lambing of your flock.
Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings.
The Lord will put to rout before you the enemies who attack you; they will march out against you by a single road, but flee from you by many roads. (Duet 28:3-7)
The same Creator who blesses those who hold to account the prosperity of ordained law that is in accordance with love and moral soundness must acknowledge our retreat from indifference and hold Her/Him to account for discriminatory language and the abuse of reason. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson forwardly articulates the position that (dis)ability must and should be incorporated in our defense of justice from an intersectional perspective, stating,
Disability is one such identity vector that disrupts the unity of the classification of woman and challenges the primacy of gender as a monolithic category. Disabled women are, of course, a marked and excluded —albeit quite varied—group within the larger social class of women. The relative privileges of normative femininity are often denied to disabled women […].128
There is the marking in our quest of holy dissent that upholds the markers of spiritual justice that God must recognize and utilize in Her/His assessment of our cause and position towards and integrated harmony of interaction with the Divine. The (perhaps, many) routes towards celebrations of justice that act in harmony with God’s justice must be recognized as kosher and polemic against routine spiritual inquisition that is fermented in the dominant discourse that has traditionally been controlled by the white, Western, syllabus.
As Robert Alter puts forward in The Art of Biblical Narrative, we must consider biblical literature collectively and not single verses in opposition with one another. It is a whole piece. As such, I believe, we can maintain our presence in the blessings and promises from God if only we demonstrate our moral conviction warrants a positive post in the halls of our retributive disposition, which therefore resists imposition and demands reconciliation. Eryl W. Davis echoes Alter’s sentiments in a sense, partially, stating
[T]he Hebrew Bible is far from presenting a rigidly uniform perspective concerning the status and role of women, and it contains positive affirmations that can be used to challenge, correct or transcend the dominant patriarchal ethos. According to the holistic approach, therefore, passages in the Hebrew Bible that seem objectionable and offensive to women are problematic only when viewed in isolation; once the broader, canonical context of Scripture is taken into account, the biblical text is not as irredeemably patriarchal and sexist as if often supposed.129
Davis concludes here that context can deride intent, and with a complete account of the wide range of the arch of the treaty of justice that biblical literature presents, we many alter our perspective of sexist language in the Bible. Though there is merit to Davis’s position, that does not discount the inclusion of harmful, sexist, and violent language and depictions towards women in the Bible or the influence on culture and societies of these texts and pericopes. Though the Bible may not be monolithic, the structural influence that it has improvised, however dynamic and intersectional, is holistically monolithic in its complete imposition of routing, provided, and harmful stones of derision and violence.
However, there is defeat of structural intent of paternalistic societies as that which shall not condemn the public as living apart from the Creator, and in that, apart from justice:
I will establish My abode in your midst, and I will not spurn you. I will be ever present in your midst: I will be your God, and you shall be My people. I the Lord am your God who brought you out from the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made your walk erect. (Lev. 26:11-13)
To walk erect can be interpreted as that which heals. That which heals can be read as that which silences not simply disability, but for those who would not deny that identity, the imposition of an ableist society towards disabled individuals. The above passage “emphasizes the presence of God with the people as a whole, not confined to the sanctuary.”130 As such, we can expect direct action from the Creator in the sense that She/He can dominate the class of authoritarian masks of patriarchal entreat and make us “erect” in our stead. We should expect action. Nancy Lynne Westfield states our challenge: “We are enmeshed in a post-modern, technological era, dank with racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and imperialism, where domination is seen as the better way of being. Recognizing that we are pioneers in this era where faith has not be tested nor honed, we must pay close attention to the questions we ask if we are to attend new ways to the cries of justice and liberation.”131 Liberation from battered senses that do not retreat from moral questions is the first line of defense and in that we can put forward our test to the Creator to bring forth the rain and impose on us Her/His will of a better society. Individual escapes into harmony and being that restore justice according to the dynamic range of established cohorts that bring down toxic refrains and reframe to bounds of equity hold us in a better place to expect interaction with the Divine and bring forth the better day for glory and restoration.
Hosea 2 illustrates our complicated relationship with the Creator and the full admission of stages of punishment and devotion from Her/His fulfillment. From the words of the compilers of Hosea, God declares “Else I will strip her naked / And leave her as on the day she was born: / And I will make her like a wilderness, / Render her like desert land, / And let her die of thirst” (Hos. 2:5). However, there is the eventual reconciliation from the Creator. God intends to seduce the woman who in her youth had devoted herself to the Creator. Verses 2:16-17 offers a challenge to the reader:
I will speak coaxingly to her
And lead her through the wilderness
And speak to her tenderly.
I will give her vineyards from there,
And the Valley of Achor as a plowland of hope.
There she shall respond as in the days of her youth,
When she came up from the land of Egypt.
Coaxingly is also translated as seduce, as “I will seduce her.” Rachel Adler informs us that the verb is not limited to this reading: “The root meaning of PTH has to do with width and openness. Although its more common associations are with simple-mindedness, persuasion, seduction, and deceit, positive associations with receptivity, spaciousness, and simplicity or innocence do occur.”132 The wilderness and the Valley of Achor of verses 2:16-17 “will be the sites where renewal begins,” which demonstrates an opposition to the form of wilderness magnified in in verse 2:5.133 Verses like 2:16-17 are typically transmitted and understood as indicative that we have a God who moves according to Her/His own time and plan. Yes, there will be eventual interaction, though we must wait for the time and place of Her/His choosing. Many believe that we can speed the process through mitzvot or good deeds. Indeed, it is my position that to accelerate the cause of justice, good positions and arguments, without conceit, can bring the direct occurrence of the Creator to our doorsteps, though it is more appropriate to state that we must march to Her/His door to encourage the renewal of our marriage vows.
Given the global occurrences of inequality and the designation of gendered imposition, we have the duty – those of us who are able – to march towards God’s arm of justice and deliverance. Micah 6:8 illustrates our duties that will bring favor:
He has told you, O man, what is good,
And what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do justice
And to love goodness,
And to walk modestly with your God;
Then will your name achieve wisdom.
For our spiritual journey to climax out of the abyss of the deep waters of seemingly impenetrable chaos at the root of global, structural distillation against women, we must concur from an interpersonal scale with the request of the Creator. In that we can embark on the path to celestial rebuke and instill in our heart the formulation of just creation. We can recite for the Creator Her/His dominant accounts of interaction such as Isaiah 63:1, as Moshe Weinfeld discusses, “Who is this, majestic in attire, / Pressing forward in His great might? / It is I, who contend victoriously, / Powerful to give triumph.” Weinfeld also points to Isaiah 59:16, “Then His own arm won Him triumph,” as an example that “‘arm’, here and in many other passages in Second Isaiah, designates God’s righteous salvation.”134 This salvation represented in human forms gives us an recognizable perspective from which we may feel free to approach God as though S/he can relate to our own human form.
We can seize upon the arm of God as being symbolically represented in women’s walk towards parity in education, a stone still being throw today on many parts of Africa, the Middle East, and India. Kumari Jayawardena discusses that at the turn of the twentieth century the “education system [in England] was supportive of the prevailing class system and its ideology of women as housewives and mothers. But although the aim of female education was to keep bourgeois women within the home as ‘good’ housewives, it was not long before demands arose from the women themselves to be able to use their education professionally, in the first instance as teachers.”135 We must be teachers that triumph over the internalized-as-passive institutions that prevent positive growth locally and globally in our efforts to conceive the gift of holy interference in the dogmatic principles of hate and indecision. It has historically been a slow crawl towards justice, but many are waking to the need for structural realignment and doing so with the call for just spaces that accelerate a peaceable society and institutions. It is in this way that we demonstrate our will for a response to our call for immediate and swift interaction from the creator. It is from this stance that we can better position ourselves to be diplomats of peace, calling on the Ruler to intercede and bring a better way for the benefit of all.
The sterilization of ignorance is sought for and maintained by nuclear religiosity. David R. Blunmenthal situates our site of opposition, stating, “‘Reading’ (Hebrew qeri’ah) is ‘calling’” and that “‘[r]eading’ […] is also ‘proclaiming’ […] Text is voice, and voice is text.”136 In exercising our voice and in exercising the text, we reach paramount discoveries, which are made more ethereal though questions that locate the intent of the Author of Hope. We join in becoming authors of hope, though through our discovery phase in the line of asking and learning, we elicit the beginning of a response from the Creator that we then internalize and initiate as our own through further discovery questions. It is simple. We build on what we have learned, what we know, and in so doing during our pursuit to provoke God we become more like the model of the individual who merits a response according to inarguable grounds. It is not enough to call. We must call in such a way and grounded in such tidings that we execute principles of solidarity with our true selves with that which compels God to give in to our request for an injunction of disparity according to the Creator’s previous held testimony.
As discussed, though there are universal ethics to we can maintain and uphold, we cannot lose sight of the subjective, and indeed, what is relative to culture, community, location, age, ability, race, sexuality, and other lines of difference. We have had to struggle with traditionalists’s interpretations of “universal” for the better half of recorded history and from that we have grown to be in a position challenge what has maintained its grip on human history. Without relinquishing to haphazard excuses under an umbrella term of what is relative, which attempts to hide civil and human rights abuses, we can extend our understanding and compassion to difference and in so doing, highlight what we are commanded to do by God. Ivone Gebara comments on the extremes of universalism and dominant discourses beautifully.
We must defy theories of universal salvation, which are easily taken over by great ideological systems and become themselves instruments at the service of these ideologies. The powerful of this world need the omnipotence of God or universal salvation in a unique way to consolidate their power. The universalization of salvation, by the models and language imposed, proves to be a trap today for the daily life of the poor, for indigenous peoples, for minority groups in every culture, and particularly for women’s search for autonomy and dignity.137
How often have we heard teachers quote, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me” as an excuse not to act on behalf of those living in poverty and structural oppression (Matt. 26:11)? Those in opposition to these teachings are so rarely given a voice that elevates the proper message for the proper circumstances. Nuclear religiosity assures and gives confidence to those seeking to capitalize from corruption and destabilization of moral positions. Their position has a far richer living memory than that which seeks to displace them with truth and coherence, consequence and deliberate history.
Invisibility should not be construed as dispensability. The death of Miriam was, according to Rashi, for the atonement of the people.138 Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack discusses that her righteousness “[brought] purification.”139 Still, she is invisible in the text as “despite Miriam’s righteousness and her important status in the community, there is no explicit mention of the community’s mourning for her.”140 Textually, Miriam is remembered by her community for what she had produced. Pollack illustrates the long period of mourning for Aaron, but that the public only complains for lack of water after Miriam dies.141 Are we to assume that she was only visible in the community for how she could provide for the public? Though invisible, Rashi takes the approach that her spirit was intimately tied to the fate of the people. She left the living community, but still shared commerce with the Living Spirit. This speaks to the textual obligation of our living communities as well as our emotional ties. We all want to be remembered for more than the work we did in our time living. Of course, Miriam performed life-giving duties. As a woman she as unseen, but continued to provide those life-giving duties in her death.
We should resist women’s sacrifices being acts of purification that go unseen by the larger community. Performing life-giving love is, to be certain, consequential to our communities, but globally women are dictated as overwhelmed, but underwhelming by Western and Western influenced hierarchies. These hierarchies are preserved by nuclear religiosity. Individuals of conscience, as well as uncompromised organization, have worked to make women more visible globally with varying degrees of success. It should not take the confusion of whether an individual was or is dispensable or not to bring us into a discussion about what markers there are for political, social, and religious culpability. The act of provoking God is seeking out redress on this and many other issues.
4: Curds and Honey
Earlier I cited Jessica Crispin’s poignant warning that we are losing feminist sympathies to corporate welfare. Today there is a selective feminism that works within the settings of trying to breathe and recreate itself in the professional world on one hand as it strives to achieve a developed financial independence while maintaining a purity of message on the other. There is a tendency for professional feminists to engage in conflating corporate language with higher morality at the cost of that which should be directed to benefit global women. The space where careerism and feminism meets derails the conversation that is being had on the ground and among those on the front lines of global patriarchy and it does so with the blessing of capitalist structural institutions that monitor dissenting language and willfully redirect discourses to adhere to a narrative that does not threaten its own. I realize I state this at the risk of being a man pushing for a type of feminism, a type of advocacy, and thereby manspaining, however, this is the position of many feminists and it has been part of the discussion distinctly since the typically understood period of first wave feminism began, if not earlier towards the end of the nineteenth century.142 As we see today, with the spread of feminist ideas in our culture and society, there is also the spread of misaligned appropriation that function as a stand in for the very ideas feminist tenets are combatting.
Third World feminists know this threat all too well, as they negotiate the spaces where women’s interests are not always supported from the machinery of so-called “universal” discourses of Western incitement against patriarchal establishments. In order to incite God we must find the language of God in our transmovements and intramural discourses. We must find a way to equate social justice with the very proclamations to seek justice as made clear in the texts. Some question as the whether the establishment of courts of justice really does extend to social justice. Indeed, tzedek tzedek tirdof might not have been implied beyond immediate formalities.143 However, in the arching spirit of the combined texts, in referential manner, we can derive from the overall drawling and intonation to do just that. I argue that this is exactly what is supported in our commandment from Hashem and Her/His promise to bless those who fulfill those declarations. This is made clear in many places throughout the texts, but also Job 22:21-30.
The text of Job makes our continuance of the very concepts of justice very clear:
Be close to Him and wholehearted;
Good things will come to you thereby.
Accept instruction from His mouth;
Lay up His words in your heart.
If you return to Shaddai you will be restored[.] (22:21-23)144
Christoph Bultmann notes that Job is most often “attributed to some intellectual constellation at a time during the Second Temple period when Israelite wisdom had started to integrate skeptical views of human understanding.”145 This can bee seen in the arch of the story, but that doesn’t diminish the underlying sprint towards justice. From the beginning of Creation to the judgment of the Israelites and beyond, there is the demand to turn away from that which perpetuates injustice towards the other and by doing so we can benefit ourselves. If we demand that the self-interests of our actions also persuade the Creator to act on behalf of those outside the orbit of our immediate dissent, then we are, in fact, engaging in the larger command to meet our neighbors on their own terms and seek redress from white, capitalist, structuralized condemnation that pushes so many into a pool of economic stagnation that alters health and prosperity.
If you banish iniquity from your tent;
If you regard treasure as dirt,
Ophir-gold as stones of the wadi,
And Shaddai be your treasure
And precious silver for you,
When you seek the favor of Shaddai,
And lift up your face to God,
You will pray to Him, and He will listen to you,
And you will pay your vows. (Job 22:23-27)
Lifting one’s face is an important marker for connecting one on one with the Creator in a way in which God Herself/Himself extends direct contact with the individual from the heavenly realm.146 If we can experience such direct interaction than we can contribute to the conversation between the public sphere and God to demand action just as we act, and insist on a holy revolution that pushes away old models of distant transactional leadership that is private and secluded in favor of transformative leadership that is public and dominant.
You will decree and it will be fulfilled,
And light will shine upon your affairs. (Job 22:28)
For the “light [to] shine upon [our] affairs” we must coordinate our holy acts with our communal acts. In the process we bend justice towards the ranks of our own giving and taking from God and each other in a way that fulfills the demands of God. If we do that, then we can expect God to respond in a way that benefits the community and not just our own standing as being just or vacant. T. C. Ham cites James A. Wharton in deconstructing the outcome of Job, stating, “people who ask for an answer from God are always innocent, and they are either in some need or under attack from false accusers. More importantly, the anticipated or received answer from God invariable comes in the form of vindication or deliverance.”147 This deliverance is clearly illustrated in the story of Hagar. Ham continues,
This answer from God may be required by the larger dramatic development of the book. Claus Westermann believes that the “whole course of the drama leads” to the answer from God. Similarly, David J. A. Clines argues that Job’s metaphorical lawsuit compels God to respond. However, it is possible to conceive of alternative resolutions to the book. The fact that God speaks at all reveals something about the way God is characterized: Yhwh is a deity who answers mere mortals. In other words, the very presence of the divine speech to Job implies God’s concern for the man and serves to vindicate Job.148
“Divine speech,” the echo of the Creator, seeks out the course of justice in the text and through careful deliberation attest to the worthiness of a response, illustrating God’s ability to command an audience – as the authoritative primary actor – with human actors who have displayed and willingness to converse with the Divine. It is traditionally argued such a course of action is dangerous, is more like approaching tossing lava, however, such a sequence of necessity certainly commands our collective and individual actions to be Judiths and Jobs in participating with such a dialogue. The very process of “light [shining] upon [our] affairs” takes our feminist acts outside of the private realm and into the open, exposed by the light. To be exposed is to be public. The light shines for all. The light benefits all and brings our community into account. We can act on behalf of our community and the Creator should be moved to bless the community for both our private and public acts. If vows are dreams than the light of God brings these dreams into fruition and into a state of direct positive action. When our relationship with each other mirrors our relationship with God, then we become witnesses of injustice, and even more, actors in the retribution of just causes.
As is stated in Psalm 119:130, “The words You inscribed give light” (also translated as “The exposition of Your words gives light”).149 When we mark the language of justice to usher in a conversation on not just our acts of justice, but Hashem’s acts of justice as well, then those acts become expected and, in a sense, become the anticipation of that which restores. God is renown in the patriarchal sense as the Provider; however, God is astutely pronounced in the texts as the Restorer. Therefore, it is not revolutionary to expect action from God. Continuing on this subject of bearing light, we may think of Ezekiel 2:1-5 as the demand that we are to become witnesses of light and knowledge. Ezekiel is given the power to stand before God and hear the Creator speak. The message that Ezekiel receives is that he is to witness and prophecy before a rebellious Israel that is repeatedly referred to as “stubborn.” In so doing, Ezekiel’s acts will function to prove before Israel that a messenger was present, “that they may know that there was a prophet among them” (Ezek. 2:5). This is a universal message. When are we not expected to prove before a rebellious and stubborn sort that we can speak as agents of light within the tone and discourses of God’s language? We can do so with the power of our voices and as well as light of our actions. Just as Ezekiel was given the power to stand before God to receive those words, we are given the power to understand its message and recreate moments of intervention that are not singular or isolated, but act in unison with the Creator who provokes and responds in kind as we situate ourselves as members of the message of God. In so doing, we participate in the anticipation of God’s act as universal declarations of advancement.
We can think of the texts from the Bible as well as the other texts we create to further just causes, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as those preparatory statements that assume witnesses to the reality of that which must be alleviated. Without texts, dissemination of responses to injustice could become fragmented. What is the purpose of texts if not to organize and structure that there should be a response to injustice and to paint the way towards that restoration? As such, fragments of injustice weaved into the Biblical texts, large and overbearing as well as subtle and docile, must be confronted to advance our cause. We cannot have a stable relationship with the texts on one hand, without holding the same text to account in terms of injustice on the other. Without seeking to stabilize the messages of the Bible, we cannot hope – as readers of the Biblical texts – to be procreative in utilizing the texts to verbalize justice-seeking acts. As noted earlier, sometimes it is the priests and leaders who must be corrected (Hosea 4, 9) and sometimes it is the compilers and redactors of the texts which must be brought into account (Deut. 22). Textual advancement is social advancement and social advancement requires the edification of our perspectives.
In seeking justice from the Creator in our contemporary society with our contemporary mindsets, it is important to remember that we may think that justice requires independence relating to prosecution towards the ends to seeking the stakes of justice, but in the texts the prophets are not impartial. They are intimately involved and God affects their lives so that they are so in the most profound ways. Hosea’s marriage symbolically represents God’s relationship with Israel. Our lives, as well, represent our involvement with the world, our neighbors, and how we should move forward to invoke a response from God as we attempt to straighten the paths that are before us. We must learn to see the transcendent microscopic view of how our lives resemble the path of history and our relationship with each other. Our directive is clear. Consider Deuteronomy 15:11, “For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsmen in your land.” This is placed in the context of Deuteronomy 15:4, “There shall be no needy among you” and Deuteronomy 15:7, “[…] do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman.” Our lives, our station, is placed bordering the lives of others. There is no great space where we are separated and therefore, no longer responsible for one another. With that in consideration, how much more are our lives worth when we are intimately tied to the wellbeing and prosperity of those in our own land, and not just our own welfare? How much more is life a blessing when we are to live our lives to bless others and be blessed by others and not live in solemn isolation, removed from the gratitude of our neighbor’s prosperity? If this is the case, how much farther are we removed from being in a situation where we can provoke God to act, when we do not work for the blessing of our neighbor’s or even see that the basic essentials are provided for our local and global kinsmen? It seems unlikely that we can insist on the collective will to provoke justice from the Creator when we are collectively so removed from justice ourselves. However, this does not remove the legitimacy of our individual acts and the acts of small collectives that attempt to make a mark on society. That still holds a real impact within ourselves and God’s likelihood to respond.
When there are group efforts to combat systemic and institutionalized disregard for human life, God will be moved to respond on behalf of justice. Consider the always poignant, Rev. Dr. William Barber’s call for the NAACP to boycott North Carolina over the HB2 “Bathroom Bill” in defense of LGBT rights.150 Rev. Dr. Barber stated, “we want a repeal of the entire HB 2 law, because it’s not a bathroom law. That bill is an anti-LGBTQ law against transgender people.”151 Group action substitutes for larger collective action. Where is the absence of the larger community, small, acting portions of the community that act on behalf of the larger public, sing the song of the righteous and move mountains that otherwise would be still and that allow for the propping up of corruption and distilled violence against the community.
The question this should lead us to is how does individual action, then, counter large scale group violence upon the community? When Hannah evoked a response from the Creator, we see that She/He does indeed become involved. If that is the case, then whispers of direct action can lead to a multitude of counter action that is stemmed in Holy Invocation and ushers in reforms for the larger community. God’s hears our whispers. Therefore, an individual can act in either private or public ways that brings God’s force into the discourses of action in any situation. We cannot all be Rev. Dr. William Barber. However, we can each work in the background in supporting roles. In so doing we star as illustrated leaders of individual action that sees itself towards the ends of the collective will of God.
There are seismic shifts within and about society that seem to ask, how does equality benefit the poor? The poor are benefited through our concentrated acts to exact justice on all levels of society in ways that see and understand how group’s and individual’s lives are altered by processes of law and culture. In the absence of power to immediately bring in such sweeping changes, how we alter municipal conflict can and should be measured by the weight of our prayers. These are prophetic acts, acts of kindness rooted in justice and deliverance that seize localized muting of the alteration of our lives and love. Of course, it is not enough to pray. Prayer must be accompanied by speech, both to and from the Creator. Vocalizing our intent leads to the manifestation of our endeavors; that is, our spiritual and humanistic intent that seeks to lift our neighbors, first vocalized, then acted upon leads to manifestation. Under such a direction, we must follow through with acts of justice that seek to redress the wrongs imposed on the poor in our courts, laws, culture, and community from an intersectional feminist directive. If at first these acts come in the form of prayer, then excessive prayer should be expected. That which rises to the level of outward directed speech towards God and from God is that which we must direct towards the community in effort to raise our neighbors up from what so many dismiss as a natural process of society and culture. To work in one’s life in such a way where this lie pervades the work-a-day emotive, communal structuring is to be at fault in the resistance and to risk being a fault with the Creator, pending direct action from God.
There is a question that must be addressed and that is what type of prayer incites a reverberant action. There are many who note that prayer does not always take on the emotional depth of inspiration or, even, abri contours that is sometimes required to elevate moments of internal hymn to direct action, or, at times, the conquest of peripeteia. Rebbe Nachman noted this frustration and offered guidance,
Sometimes your prayers may be devoid of enthusiasm. At such times, you must compel your emotions and make your heart burn with words. […] Work yourself up and bring heat and a flaming heart into your prayers. The enthusiasm may be forced at first, but eventually it will become real. Your heart will burst aflame with God’s praise, and you will be worthy of praying with passion. […] This is true of every holy thing. If you have no enthusiasm, put on a front. Act enthusiastic and the feeling will eventually become genuine. Understand this well. 152
If you find yourself in interpersonal need to have flaming prayers in order to take the next progressive step towards what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel illuminated as “Praying with my feet,” then Rebbe Nachman’s offering works. What also works is repetition. The biblical texts are crowded with repetition. At what point does it stop being a literary device and start being an illustration of invocation? Repetition is meditative. It is also demonstrative of one’s heart’s willingness to move in a certain direction. God witnesses how serious we take the goal of our prayers and the quest of our hearts and in that, the Creator will meet us halfway, at the least, if not become more directly involved between the seams of our clothes. In our efforts to experience meaningful, lifting prayer, it is important to remember that it is the fallen angels that judge us continuously, making us feel like we are failing, while it is the more terrifying angels within the heavenly realm that come to our defense, even more so through faith in ourselves and our abilities.
Perhaps to have this uplifted prayer, confrontation is necessary. There must be recourse for the language and expectations of historical placing and giving of women’s locale in the texts. Reading Amos 4 gives a very clear message to care for and not exploit the poor, but does so through misogynistic language.
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan
On the hill of Samaria –
Who defraud the poor,
Who rob the needy;
Who say to your husbands,
“Bring, and let’s carouse!” (Amos 4:1)
Here there is the obvious trope of women being to blame behind men’s actions that entice and exploit the poor. How shall women pray with such meted expectations from the Creator and the voice of justice that she shall not be to blame behind men’s actions, as though it were a natural instinct to do so? It has been noted that perhaps to refer to women as “cows” did not have the same meaning and connotation it does today, but such a thought takes away from the clearly driven context of the verse.153 There is another approach, however. It could very well be the perspective of some women that this verse should be welcomed, not as a sexist trope, but as terms of equality. It could be good, some may argue, that the wives of oppressive men are not let off the hook. We should expect women married to powerful men who exploit the poor to behave as actors with influence, not only expected not to encourage such acts, but not to be bystanders either. Such a perspective could imbue prayer with flames, from solemn whispers to acting out in the community. However, for the women who do not feel the need for insulting language to be “reminded” to not exploit the poor, how should she react? He is another instance where confrontation with the Creator and the permitted language of sexist tropes and situational blaming of acts of evil not be removed from the acts of scribes and compilers dominating and dominated by culture. If we are to hold the texts as God’s language, then we are to hold God as corrector of the implications of that languages and the damage it has done to relationships, both personal and communal, both historic and omnipresent.
I put forward that these conflicts of language and directive scripture locate and inscribe upon our hearts a meaningful signpost from which we can mark our relationship between the texts, the Creator, and ourselves. In the depths of our earnest prayers, if we can bury our spiritual vision – as well as our humanistic intent outside of the language or impulses of prayer – in the bosom of our hearts that demands closed eyes to peer into the darkness for God, than this very language is that which we must peer through to see the hands behind such statutes. In our initial pause to demand a just response from the Creator we can stare through and see the Creator whom would give such a response and in so doing we can understand our relationship with the meaning of our own relationship with the texts through historical disposition and expected future advocacy. This is where we find our hearts and the test of our resting nature.
Wisdom is not exclusive to suffering. Poverty, sickness, inequality, marginalization, there is no demarcation or understanding so rich to be found in suffering that can not be found in the comforted contemplation. There is a lie in society that poverty and sickness have the rewards of wisdom and virtue, a lie often repeated by the wealthy and privileged. Yes, wisdom can be found there, but for suffering to substitute education and the spirit of healthy relationships is immoral and perverse. Therefore, it is not a just reward for endurance. It is not a space we should preoccupy ourselves with, in truth, as the only locale left to us instead of making our case to a just Creator that there is no reason for our suffering. We should be expected to make our case, while simultaneously becoming witnesses to society’s perverse denotation of our selective dispensability. Ecclesiastes 1:18. “For as wisdom grows, vexation grows; / To increase learning is to increase heartache,” is so often pronounced not as the consequence of just vision, but as justification for suffering and the absence of action. Irony is multiplied and made distorted and perverse.
bell hooks discusses that “[p]overty has become a central woman’s issue. White supremacist capitalist patriarchal attempts to dismantle the welfare system in our society will deprive poor and indigent women of access to even the most basic necessities of life: shelter and food.”154 To return to Crispin’s warning about us losing women to corporate elite structures, hooks states that at times, those images are in the media more than “individual feminist women who have gained class power without betraying our solidarity towards those groups without class privilege.”155 As such, having women in place throughout society offers recourse to establish systems that are more just than white capitalists efforts to dismantle welfare. For example,
That means creating a movement that begins education for critical consciousness where women, feminist women with class power, need to put in place low-income housing women can own. The creation of housing co-ops with feminist principles would show the ways feminist struggle is relevant to all women’s lives.156
The recent actions of class-elite’s explication of poverty inherits a history of racial hygienic cleansing that seeks to root out “not just mental and physical diseases and so-called defects, but also poverty, criminality, alcoholism, prostitution, and other social problems [that were understood as being] based in biology and inherited.”157 Class regimes situational understanding of poverty as a social problem that is distant and elusive and not something easily addressed under the terms of intersectional justice, is the mandate of feminist readings of biblical verses that we must not detract from our station until “There shall be no needy among you” (Deut. 14:4). hooks maintains an inviting discourse, as Lisa Guenther notes, that places those in power as able to meet those without. Guenther questions were there can be resistance to domination in this meeting which I find is necessary to quote at length:
What is this margin of resistance, and how might one inhabit it differently, depending on which side of a hierarchical social binary (such as white/ black, man/woman, rich/poor) one is positioned? Borrowing a phrase from Levinas scholar Alphonso Lingis, I propose to consider the margin as a “community of those who have nothing in common”: a coalition of subjects brought together not by a shared attribute or essence, nor even by a common social position, but rather by a desire to resist oppression in all its forms. The point of such a coalition would not be to form a third identity position between black and white, nor to claim that race doesn’t matter, but rather to foster relations of solidarity that cross the tracks of identity in order to both analyze the systematic patterns of domination and privilege that structure subjectivity, and also to build upon those exceptional moments that rupture the totality of domination or testify to its incompleteness.158
Embracing a “community of those who have nothing in common” works towards a place where we can find it possible to live up to the directive, “do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman” (Deut. 15:7). The disposition of our lives leads us to a place were we can find just relations and mark a community of harmony over the entrenched absence of justice in which it seems so often there is no recourse or living makers of history to embark on creating shifts in society to make a difference.
Where those who are oppressed are told to wait, that help and structural change is coming, we must demand that God embark on an interlude and create change. Our resulting actions are that place of resistance. Through our demand for God to intervene, we come to understand ourselves as partakers in historical moments of change. We are the meaningful words between the words, the explication of symbols, and the restitution of prayer. The women of Southeast Asia, North and West Africa, mere children and teenagers in Palestine, must find opportunity through our prayers, and our actions that bring about God’s inclusive network of change and disruption. Their liberation is our liberation. We must act, not as saviors, but as sisters and brothers, as mothers and fathers, as the children of those suffering under the structural entity that we at times benefit from. In that we will find ourselves, and our spiritual and humanist home. There we will find our sacred hope. In hope for others we find hope for ourselves. This is the language of disruption that provokes God to act.
As Lawrence Kushner so aptly states, “[t]he commandments concerning relationships between one human being and another always take precedence over spiritual awareness. Not because one is more important than the other, but because people are the only path we have.”159 If we are to demonstrate to the Creator that we have secured a defense that is redeemable and suggests our collective aim is towards to the good of the community, then “people are the only path” in which that truth realizes itself. Our acts must show that we are thinking towards the same end that we wish God to demonstrate. If we desire to entice God to act on our behalf, our actions must certainly demonstrate a kindness towards others, a radical kindness, that lifts our souls to the realm within God’s hearing and in so doing we offer our gratefulness to God for the opportunity to have shown ourselves accountable in this narrative.
We insert ourselves into God’s narrative through the acknowledgment of and exposure of oppressive forces. Wherever they may be we must assume a contradiction with creation and not reserve passes or selective hearing for certain individuals. For example, when the Pope compares being transgender as having the same destructive force as nuclear weapons and being against creation, then that same individual does not get a pass for his encyclical on the environment.160 There are competing narratives for the creation story and how to hold true to its implicit morality. Any narrative that is not inclusive of the totality of human dignity is false. Ideology has no place in humans’s attempt to parse the Creator’s narrative, perspective does.
Judith Plaskow, in her conversationalist book with Carol P. Christ, remarks on locating God(dess) within “consciousness raising as a religious experience,” commenting on the physicality of finding God(dess) within one’s own experiences through overcoming challenges.161 Plaskow states, “The transcendent and omnipotent God of my girlhood and young adulthood, who betrayed his promises to the Jewish people and who could have prevented a brain tumor if he so willed it, had simply vanished. I no longer looked to a God enthroned above me in the sky but God(dess) all around me and in me, in the firm ground beneath my feet that allowed me to walk upright.”162 If we lapse from traditional thinking about God and see the God(dess) in our own lives and the world around us, we can spell out a logical platform in which to connect the expectation of those experiences with our view of the world and our place in it. To be precise, to draw God into the conversation about social justice we must understand God’s just nature and so doing magnifies the potential of creation with our own endeavors and allows us to seize the moment that the narrative of creation becomes our own narrative that we can contribute towards and mark a place where we can allow our faces to stand before God and for creation to swell with lifeforces that dwell in our own interconnectivity and the reciprocity of human love.
Perhaps the duality between public vows and private vows belongs to that which must be admonished. We can look to Evelyn Nakano Glenn to draw some interesting thoughts here. Nakano Glenn states we must have a society where caregivers and care receivers both be acknowledged in terms of caregivers work as work and care receivers’s value in society. Nakano Glenn writes “caring [should be] recognized as a community and collective (public) responsibility rather that as a purely family (private) responsibility.”163 Distribution of care in a system that protects those fulfilling the responsibility and that does not leave the cared for voiceless, is the image of a responsible society. Likewise, a responsible society does not limit the depth of one’s vows as being limited to the private, family sphere. To care for oneself is to care for the community, in the sense that one is contributing to the wellbeing of the greater community. Therefore, to call our vows into accordance with the community implies that we are seeing after the wellbeing of each other, our neighbors, strangers’s families and for the end result to be the legitimacy of the individual’s value and our own value through our speech before the Creator. If this is the case, then acknowledgement of our vows from God testifies to this very dynamic of worth between each other through worth in ourselves. Public testimony is private reprise.
In these vows, the qualities of sounds our physical voices make exist in a reality like time itself, which can be peered into from present to past. Sound exists trepidatiously in harmony with petitions to God to be recalled in our testimony as well as our actions, past, future, and present. This works not unlike the marriage metaphor in the texts, which Renita J. Weems notes “became a rhetorical device for Jeremiah to connect Israel’s past, present and future […] [F]or Jeremiah, the marriage metaphor, as a device for announcing judgment, was a suasive instrument for gauging how far Israel had strayed from her earlier covenantal commitment and pledge.”164 The patriarchal language must be centered in our approach to God if we are to unravel the importance of the text that in renewing our marriage vows, we presumably achieve “future security, status, and longevity.” 165 For us to make a vow that is collective and enduring is to call into the light God’s vow for our security, albeit in a language that is sexist and bounces on demeaning tropes. We must acknowledge those implied truths to be sure that our own vows are not demeaning to Her/Him and through that partial or impartial honesty, we will reach a collective sphere were our deepest hopes are left to rest on accents of truth for those walking in life and not those sleeping. The marriage metaphor is something we can empower through an embodied weight regarding our relationship with Hashem. Corrective language is honest language and that must be achieved with lived meaning that adheres to the reciprocity of our collective dreams that are centered in our vows. The private becomes public and the public is ceremonial. The public becomes private and the private is exhaustively considered through honest language. Like in music, one must acknowledge the rules before one can improvise, but we must avoid elitist stalwarts that limit participation. Exclusivity is the enemy of the people.
There is an interesting difference to consider between exclusivity and being set apart. The language of many aspects of the culture and religious practices between Canaanite and Israelite traditions suggest that they were two of the same culture differentiated by specific differences and that Israelites may have taken a great deal of their traditions from Canaanite traditions.166 One major difference is that the narrative arch of being freed from bondage in Egypt is specifically Israelite.167 It is interesting to consider the stresses and elevation of this narrative within the Jewish tradition, biblically and culturally as set apart from tradition, as being an essential difference from Canaanite culture, though, of course, there were other differences. To draw direct parallels between the coming down from Egypt narrative, sacrifices for atonement, which were found in Ugaritic as well as Canaanite sources, and then to examples such as Numbers 7:11-83, the difference between dedication and substantial atonement demonstrates arching superlative espousal into the culture as the exemplified needs-based relationship.
There is an extension to this renovating needs-based relationship in how one can be depicted to approaching the Creator. Consider the story of Rahab and the preoccupation with sexual deviancy.168 She is redeemed through her actions to such an extent that later writers have thought her name, which means “wide” or “broad,” which could “be understood rather crudely in a sense of her occupation” was changed to imply the Christian idea of widening the tent of the peoples.169 Others have considered that the word zonah, harlot, from zon, to feed, presents a difference narrative completely suggesting she was an innkeeper.170 If this were the case, her classification as prophetess would be diminished because she would have had access to privileged information that would not be directly inspired and therefore knows about the Israelite’s victory in a manner other than divinely manifested.171 From whitewashing her past to demonstrating the dramatic extent a convert can usher in change and bring about direct action from seemly unresolvable station, magnifies the presence of interpretative culture not knowing what to do with a woman.
The strenuous adaptation of sexuality into different sanctioned praises, however uneasy, signifies disorientation with a woman’s ability to perform in a heroic manner, specifically a foreign woman. Sara Ahmed wrote eloquently about disorientation that could be applied here to demonstrate its pervasiveness into our continued culture.
So much political work begins with moments of disorientation. Disorientation involves failed orientations: bodies inhabit spaces that do not extend their shape, or use objects that do not extend their reach. At this moment of failure, a here becomes strange. Bodies that do not follow the line of whiteness, for instance, might be stopped in their tracks: this does not necessarily mean you are stopped from getting somewhere, but it does change you relation to what is here. The world does not recede when you become a stranger, the one who stands out or stands apart. Things might even become oblique for you, even if the feeling of being a stranger has become a familiar feeling. Disorientation can thus move around; it involves not only bodies become objects, but also the disorientation in how objects are gathered to create a ground, or to clear a space on the ground. If your arrival can disturb the whole picture, it can be disturbing for the one who arrives.172
I use this paragraph, not just to highlight the depth of the idea of disorientation as Ahmed does so well, but also to accentuate the political ideas behind where we can take root in Rahab’s story as one of disorientation in how it has been received and transmitted and how, as Ahmed states, “[s]o much political work begins with disorientation.” We can draw from this story as the example of patriarchal bestowing that a woman can only take a central role in a foundation story if she is sexualized and she can only be conformed to a matriarch if her sexuality is erased. A firewall can be built around the narrative of disorientation that leads to a reposed arrangement for future political projects that aim to adhere to feminist principles while reaching out to many and diverse voices, each with a stake in the outcome of their communities, homes, and larger societal and transnational structures. Some say that such missions have to start in one’s most immediate surroundings, however, while it is true that neighbors need to invoke such responsibilities, there is room and demand for simultaneous dispositions of both localized and international width of feminist affairs and that is the way that it should be. Rahab tells us that the current state of international women’s movements illustrate the Divine Presence of Hashem as crossing over boundaries, of being without boundaries, and rendering boundaries as useless in attempting to stifle women’s acts of responsible caretaking on the surface of the globe. From disorientation to direct intervention, perspective is everything.
When God shines a light on our actions, She/He is bringing them out to the surface to be witnessed and to be exposed. Hashem does this with many types of actions, negative or positive, bringing them out to the open to be seen for the purpose of being better understood with context and clarity. The light also signifies favor. We learn that “The Lord [will] deal kindly (make Her/His face to shine on you) and graciously with you” (Num. 6:25). We also know that upon working within the light of Hashem, “You will decree and it will be fulfilled / And light will shine upon your affairs” (Job 22:28). Being brought into the light at times creates distortions and disorientation. Others, who attempt to hold down the masks of understanding and consider their roles as caretakers of truth, then have to digest and compartmentalize what has been revealed to the light and take it upon themselves to label and append what is revealed to their previous stated versions of truth. In response to the innate need for transparency, they will cover the contours of the rivets of truth with previously held beliefs that hold down and oppress the truth. So we can see, being exposed to the light is often just the first step. We then have to defend and define the ground we have gained.
There is great potential in interacting with the light of Hashem and feeling remorse for not coming to it sooner. That feeling offers the foundation for a bonding relationship with the Creator no matter one’s religious perspective (or no perspective at all). In so doing, we can nurture this relationship to promote the presence of the Divine to interact with our day-to-day lives, but most importantly our understanding. If this is possible, so, too, is the reality of the Creator’s ability to directly intervene. There are feelings that this crosses over into a territory one ought not to go. Humbling yourself so free emotional space and range to speak to creation and the Creator’s possession of your thoughts does not leave much room for curating demands. However, being in the possession of the Light that comes from the Creator, we are privileged to demonstrate our position and when that happens what we are doing is freeing and clearing a path before us in this world for the Creator of the Heavenly World to join us. That cannot happen without the might of Her/His presence ushering a wave of justice that speaks to and upends the absence of previously held beliefs about the Creator.
Earlier in this project, I cited a rabbi who made a comment that I felt the need to put to the test. That individual was arrested with others protesting Trump’s first travel ban and was told they were doing God’s work. The individual responded that it was their work and the work of the people. This person is correct, though perhaps not with the purpose they might have intended. God’s work is far too magnificent to be limited to even the mass protests that followed Trump’s inauguration. It is the work of the people to protest and it is the work of God to witness these acts and chose to respond. The work of protest does belong to the people. Organized action that seeks deliverance from some tyranny sets the path that opens door for light to expose our positions and it is there that God can so chose to act upon witnessing our quest for deliverance. Of course, acts that warrant God’s response are not limited to mass movements. We cannot forget Hannah’s whispers. Those whispers carry potentiality, too. Still, the breadth and width of our actions should not be confused with the actions of the Creator. That is not to say that the Creator is not able to act through us, but that the actions we devise should not be considered acts of the Divine. Acts of the Divine are unfathomable in their depth or partial occurrences. Who are we to say that the paths we take towards justice equate the full resemblance of God’s mercy and acts of Justice She/He would impose?
We are poor witnesses of our own acts of justice, much less the Justice that would be measured by God. We are poor advocates for justice. We are poor advocates for victims. In Canada, in 2015, Angela Cardinal was dragged into a courtroom in shackles. She was violently attacked, severely beaten, sexually assaulted, and almost killed, only for the state to imprison her during the course of the hearings because the judge did not understand or care to understand how victims react and respond to such torture.173 She was imprisoned to be a witness to her own victimization, only to be victimized again. No one spoke up. This strongly resembles the weight of how we are to be judged as a collective community. We put victims in the same jail as the perpetrators and refuse to be witnesses to indifference. Is it harsh to state that we are perpetrators by extension? Is that what qualifies as extreme behavior and not the actions of the judge and all those involved who did not intercede?
When we do not treat one another as promised heirs with divine rights, we betray God and demonstrate we do expect the imposition of Her/His will towards a just society. Looking to Isaiah 7:18-25, the prophet describes the consequences of such acts. There is a question as to whether 7:22, “everyone who is left in the land shall feed on curds and honey,” is a celebration of survival or a condemnation of limited resources.174 If we are forced to live on curds and honey alone do we not lack the resources to expand ourselves beyond what we typically think of as jubilance? Here, jubilance becomes our condemnation. We are cursed to live in a state of constant celebration when most of what we know that surrounds us has been lost. One nation celebrates, adrift in isolation, while another suffers drought. The same could be said for close neighbors or even family.
When we lose ourselves to the drought of this world, real and imposing the most dire results, or just imagined and limiting ourselves with a type of fear that even a fellow witness like Caleb cannot bring us out of, then we testify in a way that we are sanctifying ourselves for defeat in the course of human events.175 We must hear Caleb’s cry that we will be delivered from the obstacles before us and join with such testimony that brings heirs out of bondage, and delivers freedom out of even what had been attested to as the sanctity of bondage. When we don’t go into the land, we die in the wilderness. When we see a season of defeat while attempting to gaze at the path before us, then there can be little chance of provoking God to act. We must hear our own words and understand our own actions from the perspective of one who has made peace with their own limitations, and understood their own breadth of inner resources, and then sees that that which holds the potential to hold them back is not greater than that which creates the potential to move forward.
5: Blessed are You, Adonai, Creator of Twilight and Dusk.
The much-favored idea of coexisting truly requires a two-way relationship with active participation, not reserved toleration, or promotional sponsorship. We cannot say to our neighbors that we welcome them and wish them the best, but then do nothing to alter the infrastructure that oppresses them. We must not say that structural entities should only be removed by the return of a prophet. We must not say it is imperious to our dignity to inquire as to why our fellow neighbors permit structural oppression on one hand, but them hold up righteous indignation on the other. We must move the hand that binds along the moving social timepiece if we are to allow a humanistic return to social progress and public decency. It is not outside the laws of decency to attempt to provoke God to act, if only done with the sober and solemn deliberation that takes into consideration the weight and build up of all that individual has come to know and who is prepared to have their ideas tested, but for the greater good of the collective self.
I have repeatedly tried to emphasize that it is not through boisterous context that our moments are clarified or charged with indoctrinating context, but through the everywoman and everyman – as through Hannah’s very whispers – solemn, forgiving moments where we might not even seek to be heard is where the moment of communication with God transpires. God emphasizes this Herself/Himself in the very nature of speaking to Elijah with a still, small voice,
There was a great and might wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind – an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake—fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire—a soft murmuring sound. (First Kings 19:11-12)
We should consider that justice is not always proclaimed from the rooftops, but, at times, proclaimed in the insolent voices of those who refuse to accept the perpetual conditions that insulate and protect dominating structures. If only our softest voices throughout the land are heard, how can we organize that which is uniquely mute to the careerism of advocates that cannot hear what and where God hears, nor interact at frequencies that the Creator interacts with us, if only we are able to listen. As such, with the softest framework and starting point at our disposal for invocation, where are we not at home with the Creator to encourage a discourse that questions to motives of the Moving Hand. A dialogue of symmetry requires we first question if our own line of question comes from pure motives, and if found to be true – according to a conscience that is unmoved by casual social convention – than we can promote the discourse to the Creator’s arena for further consideration and deliberation. Perhaps, “Comfort, oh comfort My people” shall be instilled in the hearts of the masses, not in public proclamations that can be tracked by the surveillance state, but in whispers deep in the homes, minds, and hearts of the public at sites unseen (Isaiah 40:1).
Job 23 is assuredly its own thesis on the confrontation with God. If we know guilt is misplaced. If we understand there is a better logic to dispel and to prove the reasons for our past and the conclusions of our faithfulness, there is a mark to which we may contend our motivations are not according to that which deserves the bounty of judgment. Job instills the declarations of knowing guilt and innocence.
Today again my complaint is bitter
My strength is spent on account of my groaning
Would that I knew how to reach Him,
How to get to His dwelling-place,
I would set out my case before Him
And fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what answers He had for me
And know how He would reply to me.
Would he contend with me overbearingly?
Surely He would not accuse me!
There the upright would be cleared by Him,
And I would escape forever from my judge. (Job 23:2-7)176
Our individual confidence must not resist being put to the test and this is easier for one generation over another. There are varying degrees in which, collectively, we are so sure of ourselves. It can be argued that it has always been this way. There has always been cultural differences between one generation and the next; between where the youth may be informed in such matters as to understand a collective innocence from social underpinnings while an older generation proscribes the doctrine to walk humbly as being acculturative to mass disposition, which, unfortunately, leads to mass indifference under certain temperatures. Of course, at times, there are intergenerational differences as well as greater assumptions that are conceded with caution.177
Consider Rabbi Akiva who put forth that everything that God does – and therefore, everything that exists by extension, – is for the greater good and in essence is Good. Even in death Rabbi Akiva kept to this principle that martyrdom was an opportunity for praise as, “[t]he death of Akiva became the prime model for later Jewish martyrs: to die with the Shema on their lips, to fulfill the deeper meaning of the Shema’s phrase ‘with all your soul.’”178 However, it can certainly be argued that strict and complete praise is not without petition. To say that Rabbi Akiva’s death reciting the Shema is only an act of praise, an opportunity to get it right and to know God is good, implies an inherent cause for petition. The same can be said of Psalm 113, which is translated as a Psalm of praise. Psalm 113:9, “He sets the childless woman among her household as a happy mother of children,” gives way to the nature of petition and that praise works towards the ends of fulfilling an act of petition. In our selfless praise, we are not without need or desire or that which must be fulfilled by God. I suspect there would be anger and resentment among some when I suggest even our most noble selfless acts give way to the nature of reciprocity. However, it must be included that there were a “number of Hasidic masters who believed they had forfeited their right to heavenly bliss. Becoming aware of this they declared they would have the opportunity of serving and loving God without any thought of self, not even the self enjoying the nearness of God forever.”179 For them, abandoning hope of reciprocity allowed an open door for pure enactment of the service of love. The act of ratifying love is considered by some to be richer without a returning endeavor. Clearly, this is applying what we learn in the world upward towards heaven.
Just as I invocate this idea of reciprocity from praise, there is a rich tradition of whether one can confront the Creator. As Dov Weiss brilliantly examines in his book, Pious Irreverence: Confronting God in Rabbinic Judaism, Rabbi Akiva did not have the final word on how and if one should confront God. In short, the tannaitic period laid out the parameters for anti-protest, while then the amoraic exposition displayed opportunities for deference. These movements set in motion the permanence of our ingrained ideas about confronting God. Weiss cites an example of the traditional anti-protest position from Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Undsdorfer, whom would die in Auschwitz, stating, “All justice is with [God], and there is no injustice to the just and the righteous…Lord of the Universe, heaven forbid that we should question Your attributes and the justice of Your judgments.”180 Such proclamations have a way of presenting God as simultaneously magnanimous and unshakable in expectations for conduct or understanding of justice. This is a very powerful position to take and it certainly upholds nobility and communicates an idea that is to be repeated.
Midrash authors connect the act of questioning God as being intimately concerned with questioning the perfection of God.181 Weiss continues to expound, “For the act of critique, the midrash uses the term hirhur, which literally means ‘conceiving’ or ‘thinking.’ [It] has many meanings, but “most often [refers] to critiquing God’s ‘actions’ or ‘attributes of justice.’”182 Rabbi Akiva stated clearly that “One should not challenge the words of Him who spoke and the world came into being, for every word is in accordance with truth and every decision in accordance with justice.”183 As Weiss notes, though Rabbi Akiva’s logic is drawn from Job 23:13, “the entire chapter in which this appears is replete with critiques of God.”184 The style in which the presenters of anti-protest theology display their position is underlying with deeply emotive responses to a perceived indefilability to the created day, time, and space. God is responsible for all that exists and, therefore, all that exists is good and in proper order. Questioning God is understood as holding something or someone else higher than God’s act of creation, and therefore is a type of idolatry.
There is an interesting pericope in which a man, Levi, proclaims to God, “You have no mercy upon Your children,” and then becomes lame.185 Rabbi Eleazar understands this unfolding action as the result of questioning God.186 Rabbi Eleazar then upholds the tenets of not presenting created life as imperfect and that imperfection as resulting from God’s action or inaction. Here we have an example of deference from honoring creation and the circumstances of life. There are interesting exceptions. When Moses questions God, he is not subject to divine retribution; therefore the logic is presupposed that “Moses’ words must be understood as a moderate question rather than a serious critique or protest.”187 This is presented as a movement away from how one must not protest to variables of questioning that one may embark on.
However, there was a dramatic shift in perceptions regarding confronting God. There were two rabbis who were both named Samuel, as Weiss notes, lived sometime after Eleazar. They wrote that God recanted and “announced that Elijah’s and Moses’ accusations against Him were indeed correct. Consequently, God retracts His prior actions [and admits to some responsibility] to Israelite apostasy.”188 Furthermore, protest comes close to being understood in terms of liturgy. For example, “Rabbi Judah Bar Simon, a fourth-century amora, declared: ‘Are not the prayers [of Jeremiah, Habakkuk, David, and Moses that same thing as] their protests?’”189 There is a movement to understand the actions of biblical figures as not only holy intercessions that are submissive prayer, but also that countering protest functions towards the same end, making to some extent, sections of the Bible verifiable protest literature and something that can be modeled as worth upholding. At least, this is certainly the resulting permutation of thought.
Weiss’s book is brilliant and should be on the shelf of anyone interested in this subject. I perhaps have already drawn too much from Pious Irreverence; however, I do want to present just one conclusion from the shift that took place:
[A]ltough resisting a head-on clash, the pro-protest camp weakened earlier anti-protest dictums through subtle additions, revisions, and reinterpretations. By doing so, the act of hashavah (challenging), hirhur (critique), and hattahat devarim (hurling of words) no longer carried the same near-unanimous negative valence they had in prior rabbinic teachings. Indeed, Rabbi Akiva’s and Rabbi Eleazar’s antipathy to assertively confronting God had, to a large extent, been discarded or, at the very least, attenuated in most sage circles.190
Still, it is clear from common culture that this shift among the sages did not filter down to all venues of our understanding about how to respond to witnessing acts of violence and injustice and how God plays a role in those acts. The common understanding is still not to question God. Should we attempt to make movements towards revitalizing a sphere of influence that takes questioning to heart and takes steps to understand that it also is in the bounds of liturgy? I think most people inherently understand that questioning comes with attempting to understand, and, furthermore, when attempting to understand our own experiences and the experiences of others and how that can be measured towards justice, there is a questioning process that must take place. It is in this realm that invocation alters our perception of an only-me experience to shared pressure and humiliation of the injustices that expands into our realm of shared experiences.
Without an attempt to uphold merit-based environs as being absolute and faultless, there is an element of good behavior and kindness that comes with those environments as opposed to capital-centered environs in which individuals are inclined to feel freer to punish and retract their better judgment. We have to question whether individuals who behave with violence and antipathy under the guise of capitalist interests are not, in fact, revealing their true selves, or if the fact that they would behave quite differently in another setting proves they are teachable and more amicable to a better way and different direction. Some of those whose professions function on merit-based economies will tell you that no, most people are good, because that is what they are exposed to and, therefore, merit is not what contains such behavior, while those in capitalist stricken economies such as customer services will tell you that some individuals have no bounds to the limits they will take to enforce bureaucracy, violence, and totalitarianism. Often, but not always, there is a direct correlation in the acceleration of good citizenship between capitalist structures and the classroom. What that says is that the classroom leaks over into our present fate. What we can say is that love and justice, humility and mercy, and the seasons of compassion are rooted into collective learning and a system in which we are encouraged to understand and be within reach of that which is central to the discussion at hand. There is love in decentralized learning. There are facts of capitalist structures that we, therefore, are free to compete with through quests such as provoking The Creator to see to our best environments and, by extension, our best selves.
If the concept, and an expanded toleration, of the Year of Jubilee can be understood in terms of God’s capacity, that we can take those notes as iterations of what the Divine has indeed promised to fulfill, and if that is the case we can petition God to make right what has been instrumented against us. The prophet of Isaiah 61 proclaims:
He has sent me as a herald of joy to the humble,
To bind up the wounded of heart,
To proclaim release to the captives,
Liberation to the imprisoned;
To proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor
And a day of vindication by our God;
To comfort all who mourn –
To provide for the mourners in Zion –
To give them a turban instead of ashes,
The festive ointment instead of mourning,
A garment of splendor instead of a drooping spirit. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
Just as it is stated that “Grass withers, flowers fade – / But the world of our God is always fulfilled,” we can hold the Creator accountable to Her/His chosen proclamations of justice on Earth and comfort for the people (Isaiah 40:8). This is not a transactional justification, which certainly merit of a tone of reprobation, but, instead, is a desire for transformational justice to weed out the stalwarts of false testimony and proscribed indifference to humanity and land. There is a direct connection between Isaiah 40:8 and Isaiah 6:8. In Isaiah 40:8, the prophet proclaims, “Grass withers, flowers fade – / But the word of our God is always fulfilled,” while this is taught in application in Isaiah 6:8, where it is stated, “Then I heard the voice of my Lord saying ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? And I said, ‘Here am I; send me.’” It is in the latter that we hear the signification of the cause that embarks on meeting an expectation. We must meet the expectation of God to arrive, for Her/Him and, most importantly, for each other. Attempting to promote direct interaction from the Creator is showing up for the cause. It is an act of social justice. If done proportionally and carefully, it is the stem of the root that meets to flower of our adjoining space in the cosmic quest for nurturing micro and macro environs and Mother Community and Father Hand, modeled in the self in touch with a solidified relationship with Her/Him.
A relationship with God is often projected in many different ways, either indirectly through cultural learning or directly through institutionalization. It would typically be quickly assumed that fear of God discredits any expectation to provoke justice. This perspective is considered to hold merit that does not require explanation. There must be a distinction of what fear of God entails. Some hold that fear of God is balanced with love for God. Others hold that fear can better be understood as being in awe of God, or Yirat Adonai. I would argue that both these perspectives hold the weight of truth. Awe is transcribed from experiencing the fear of the Creator’s capacity to discipline and discipline is meted out through love and love is the product of the intercessional awe that steams through our physical and spiritual relationship, particularly considering the manner in which God has chosen to communicate with us through a language that we can both master and endure.
Our capacity for endurance of language is not equally measured with what intersectional societal forces met out across lines of oppression. Here we have the ability to raise awareness to the Creator that there is no equal distribution of the balance of love of social order in our present institutional ruling systems as there is with oligarchs and medleys of opposition. Just as there is inequality within structural forces that further alienate those within intersectional lines of existence, there is the need for countering this forces from within and though our engrained endurance is eternal, there is no justice in the expectation to be without from within societal structures. Competing with ideologies of oppression – some of which come from the oppressed themselves – mandate the ratification of a new order in which we must be free to call for liberation and through our struggle remain in faith that a counterweight to the social order will come from God. God must enact an assembly of retribution for those exploited and ever at risk of oppression. We must work towards that goal for others just as we would for ourselves.
Love and liberation can both be projected from God’s vows. This is not an inert projection that we would ascertain as a commodity to criticize and envelope as lacking merit. Instead, this is a faithful projection that we can apply as a stream of order from which we must create opportunity in our private lives for the best interest of others to be engrained in our hearts as our own best interests. We must see through the cloak of disdain that seizes our own internal projections of self-fashioned guilt from lack of transparency and model our new social order on the sustaining stars of justice from the ages that has been properly explicated towards the social good. Explication and spirit ward off re-commodification of our ascribed and accentuated values towards the end goal of social justice and (re)order.
God’s place in this order is not one that we must insert as a price of our loyalty, but instead is what God has already communicated that She/He is apt in willing to progress towards the end goal of total and complete togetherness. Heschel explains that for Hosea, “God is conceived, not as the self-detached Ruler, but as the sensitive Consort to Whom deception comes and Who nevertheless goes on pleading for loyalty, uttering a longing for reunion, a passionate desire for reconciliation.”191 We attempt to deceive God when we petition for ourselves and not for others along with ourselves. There is outright deception from those we must contend with and then there is spiritually inward deception that we must overcome within ourselves before we can protest to God that an injustice has occurred from which She/He must rectify on Her/His part. Truly, this is only the beginning. Given the weight of what we ask, we must see to ourselves the right and proper allusion of reality that we endure for the sakes of proper intercession from the Creator. For that is truly what we must ask for and how we must see the price of our struggle.
Writing of the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin stated, “We demonstrated that segregationist barriers could be toppled. That social relations were not fixed for all time, that change was on the agenda.”192 Just as Bayard and others worked towards balance in society that freed minds from seemingly traditional worldviews and opened possibilities of just democracies, so, too, does a semblance of order towards social change that prompts God to recreate social justice in the pattern of how She/He truly envisions the proper demarcation of intersectional distribution of resources and parity of law. Seemingly, the turbulence of how justice comes into social orders creates a framework of hesitation that fears a vacuum of discord. This hesitation prepares the way for backward traditions that harms others to persist, even while stating comforting tidings and the promise of eventual freedom. Lingering promises such as this promote the real vacuum that preserves structural placards for oligarchs and racist values to continue, holding some more below socially visible stages of retrograde disillusionment.
With this in consideration, we must not wait in our appeal for heavenly freedom. The work we do moves towards this freedom. Malala Yousafzai, speaking to the United Nations just a year after she was shot for working to advance education for girls, stated, “If you want to see your future bright, you have to start working now and not wait for anyone else.”193 This call to wait from moderates is most well known from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” where he writes,
I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”194
“Justice denied” is the natural result of toiling with too much compromise with those who would rather not see transformational change. If our direct action requires engagement with others, that must result is working distinctly towards progress through a means that is transparent, that connects with the other’s perspective and point of view, but does not give in on our demands. However, connecting with God and searing our appeals into our hearts, as we would with so much timing like all year was Elul, requires demonstrating that our demands work towards the very fulfillment of Her/His will and promises that we have yet to truly realize collectively. It is not that we even demand full redemption, instead, we just call for what we can truly merit on our own, and that is a path towards justice with Heavenly interaction that seizes the reluctant and plants the seeds of finer days with parity and truth. We must not wait in our private appeals as the oppressor does through public testimony against us. Waiting is “justice denied.”
Waiting has always been an element in our history of struggle. The story of the daughters of Zelophehad is often read and offered as a story of victory for women, but the fuller facts are not that simple. There are elements of progress and there are elements of unchanging tradition to be considered as well. What is often taken as a feminist victory, the sisters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, appealed to Moses because their father had died with no sons and therefore their father’s land was a risk of being lost. They argued that since there were no sons they should be heirs. Moses listened to them and took their argument to God. God listened and agreed with them, granting their petitions and furthermore, proclaiming that women in their situation should always be granted their father’s land when there was no male heir, keeping the land in the family (Numbers 27:1-11). However, as is revealed for further scrutiny in Numbers 36:1-13, the land would not remain with the sisters or future women in their situation. It does go to their husbands. With that in consideration, those women are also limited in who they can marry. They must marry within their tribe so that the land can stay with the tribe. Truly, the women who have succeeded in becoming heirs are just temporary holders in a closed tribal system. Where there was one victory, women again are waiting for this progressive step to yield further returns in progress of domesticity.
It has been argued that the symbolism of the five sisters as being made heirs to the land coincides with the story of Ruth. Here Ruth is presented for the people as a woman given authority over cultural land practices and customs, which also serves to illuminates the fear of outsiderness as something to be considered. Brad Embry writes,
[T]he two regulations of the kinsman-redeemer and levirate marriage are governed by another legal custom in ancient Israelite society: the regulation regarding Zelophehad’s daughters from Numbers 27 and 36. The story of Ruth positions Ruth to qualify for this regulation – Elimelech has died leaving no male heirs. If this regulation is in view for the author of Ruth, then both the actions of the kinsman-redeemer and levirate marriage may be subject to its authority and to the fact that Ruth inherits the land. This article will argue that this clarifies many of the curiosities in Ruth 4. Furthermore, the presence of yet another legal regulation in the book allows for a revisiting of how these legalities are used in the story.195
Ruth allows for a reasoning intended to allow women as arbiters of the law and cultural affiliation, which, in turn, functions as a type of evidence of just how important the five daughters of Zelophehad were and hints to a cultural adhesion to their acceptance in society.
The sisters, who significantly are named, were limited by whom they could marry and still their land became the property of their husbands. However, there is significance in this new law and appointed petition appearing in Numbers 27, the same chapter as Moses passing his leadership role to Joshua. Just as Moses prepares to pass on, and prepare the people, the sisters signify the new role of inheritance when a father passes on. It could be argued there is a prophetic sentiment here that is just beginning to be unearthed as women’s role become stronger through the next generation – truly, a portion that must be granted with each new generation towards the march to redemption – with fully lived redemption being fully lived liberation. However, we should remember this new role was limited and remained a type of confinement of inheritance; a new injustice that must be explored and illustrated to assess properly the depth of our current systems of injustices that must be magnified and made correct. Waiting.
There are questions we can raise as to how these familial and legal limits where translated and applied in practice. From The Torah: A Women’s Commentary we learn there was discovered in the 20th century in the region of Samaria shards of ostraca, pottery with inscriptions, which were sometimes used to keep administrative records that had inscribed the names of two of the sisters as the names of towns.196 This signifies the uplifting role of women’s naming and symbolically as landholders even if they did not keep the land apart from their husbands. It is conceivable these traditions were not always followed to the letter in both cases in which women maintained control of the land as well as cases in which women as the daughters of men with no male heirs were also not given the rights of the land. As restrictive as it was, women were, according to the written law, participants in the rights of landownership and that should not be glossed over in arguments for fuller justice, just as the argument made by the sisters in their petition to God were listened to, we must also listen as expecting the Creator’s ear through proper testimony.
We, as good citizens, have to be alert to the hasbara of the sociocultural institutionalization of capitalist motives. It is as fluid as body negative campaigns. It is as toxic as mother shaming and the doctrines of youthful delinquency. It has a past that is preserved in the present campaigns of deleterious insistence of wayward youth that seeks to prop up ideas of eldership seeking to maintain power, control, and influence. Our true Elders are sometimes hushed voices, whispering and murmuring through the vented choirs of chaos. They are standing voices sometimes silenced such as Berta Cáceres.197 It is not that the night must be balanced with the day, or darkness with light. There is no evil that achieves merit so as to justify the Good. Still, we seek out the Creator in the night, as the Twilight Prayer:
Day and Night are Yours, Creative spirit of the universe –
the muted colors of twilight, the radiance of dawn.
Yours are the spreading wings of light,
the deepening shadows of darkness, an ever-changing drama.
We come into your presence, this night of Kol Nidrei,
aware that our shortcomings and weaknesses are many.
Yet, encouraged by Your promise of forgiveness,
we choose freely the path of repentance,
restoring wholeness to our lives and holiness to the world.
Baruch atah, Adonai, hamaariv aravim.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Creator of twilight and dusk.198
6: The Knowing of Deliverance
Sacred hope for the Creator from our commanding post in this world demands integrity that conjures the absence of waste in a delegating structural entity from which we dissent. If that is the case, we must – some of us – be carried by the knowing of deliverance. That is not to say that expertise is required for deliverance by God. Counter to this debasing eloquence there is a hidden spark that ties those among the soft-spoken to carry the day as sisters and mothers of the growing population of sparking conquerors against the machinery of capitalist progeny. Of course, there is a place for those who have grown in the knowledge of localized historical knowledge in the myths of specialization to prosper diligently as though they are common, remembering that once approachable as scholars and activists, they were not always that way and still held the light and, therefore, must not reject those without the texts that offer the danger of exclusivity. The merit economy offers limits upon approaching a certain standard. It has its limits and must be taken as a token to seismic endeavor within minor chords of institutions of social and cultural grips of persuasion. Every voice must be carried within the conversation that commits itself against the towering statues of power.
Rather that be the working-class, those without access to resources taken for granted, or women in the Third World, we must continue to work, not to speak for them, but to raise their voices as retuning to our residing humanity. Consider often cited Chandra Talpade Mohanty, who states, “[p]atriarchal ideologies which sometimes pit women again men within and outside the home, infuse the material realities of the lives of Third World women workers, making it imperative to reconceptualize the way we think about working-class interests and strategies for organizing.”199 Organizing within solidarity for women’s lives across the spectrum is essential for the knowing of deliverance and sacred hope and must be in our strategies for eloquent proposal to the Creator for an intervention that concedes error in suggestive placement. Even as allegory, the language of the sacred texts proffers distilled, retrofit womanhood-as-commodity, which has historically emboldened patriarchal standing.
Edward W. Soja dismisses ontological speculations about our standings and assumptions about categorical prepositions, stating, at length,
All theories are rooted in ontological assumptions about human existence and the nature of the world in which we live. These assumptions about human being-in-the-world, what ontologists call Dasein or êtrelà, being there, are like axioms. They are not tested against reality but logically asserted to define what it is all humans share in just being alive. Familiar to everyone is the notion that we are essentially social beings. Human existence is not solitary by nature but always embedded in social contexts, how they vary and change over “real” time and place, and other particular qualities of human social being or sociality are not ontological. They are particularized contingencies that arise from the fundamentally social nature of our existence.200
The prosperous echoes of divine petition bounce through the societal chambers of a listening God. As such, we must not assume too great a commodity of difference with the collective selves of those earning the platform of the cause pleaded for the act of retribution. Retribution from a just God does not take the form of enacting the prose of delinquency as stalwart reprisals. We must remain awake and aware of our fellow sisters and mothers throughout the waking prayer and action towards a just Earth and proprietary positioning. We own the acts and, importantly, the words that bring the prose of a just God into fruition.
Community is key. Petitions are allegorically commonly social just as they are personal and individualized. When we state our needs for self, we require the needs of others to be met in accordance to community justice. Seeking that justice for self, we adhere to a communal prayer for local and distant deliverance. It is no different than the need for public space for the health of the community. Is it that which is endangered as the “dual (though so different) privatization of public space by capital and homeless people created a world in which designed diversity has so thoroughly replaced the free interaction of strangers that the ideal of an unmediated political public space is wholly unrealistic,” questions Don Mitchell in the The Right to the City?201 Such is what must be raised to the Creator’s attention as public spaces for public arenas of voting minorities and dissenting majorities must collude towards a common home; a home for all as sandbags from the ocean at high tide, a space for safety and comfort, a place for those without a home and those without community ties which bring safety and rest. Whether that safety be an occasion to state a position of opposition or an occasion for Petra Doan to openly speak as a transgender woman at the women’s march in Florida, our locations to positions of power must be tested against the grain with equally powerful resting propositions.202
Public space is contested. As Gerard Delanty puts forward, “conceptions of urban space have been dominated by tendentially globalizing discourses of visibility and representationality – the order of the cosmos – with the public and the everyday space – the human order of the polis – being eroded. The city has been portrayed either as a material thing – an economic structure, a class system, racial relations – which required regulation by city planners in order to give it a form, or as a cultural discourse in need of an aesthetic form, such as architecture.”203 Political division and the need for ruling powers to dominate public spaces carry through to our private sphere in how we perceive and measure the obstacles before us. With that in mind, we may confuse the breadth and the weight of what and how we must struggle to attain freedom from in our activism and prayer. Whether enforced architecture or controlled order, dominance can be illusive in our public lives; it is no less the measure we must take in our struggle and our spatial passions.
Even within measures of liberation, the potential for corruption is real and material in our considerations of publically invested freedoms. Such was the experiences of Janis Kelly who worked to connect structures of women’s newspapers and bookstores and networking among LGBT and women’s struggle. She discovered among them, “[t]he abuse of power would occur if anyone, or any group, tried to monopolize for authoritarian purposes. Danger lurked in the tendency to establish institutions, which could become conservative and concerned only with their own survival.”204 Liberation mimicked control and exclusion in a patriarchal society. Progress could lead to projection. We see this among progressive circles today in infighting and support for specific leaders-of-message. Careerism wins out again the intent and interests of the disadvantaged. Those in positions of power and influence might seeks expansion as though the beginnings of activism is a starter home, waiting for the children to arrive before moving to a larger structure that is controlled in a socially approved projection. Leaders and organizations must resist following this path.
Susan Fraiman shows that domestic masculinity resists empathy with the poor, homeless and disenfranchised. She states of domestic men as home dwellers, “[d]omestic life is shown to have its own demands for labor and creativity, its own rewards of discovery and pleasure.”205 Domestic men’s “agency, productivity, and ingenuity” distort the reality of the lives of the majority and have successfully internalized the oppressor of socially constructed classes above him.206 From pauperism to the delinquency of pleasure seeking, from the addict to the imprisoned, it is men of leisure who mimic the moderates of time passing, disconcerted only in the absence of a structural model of appeasement from both societal expectations and that of gender. Such men imprison growth towards a collective effort to provoke the Creator to eclipse time and respond to the recesses of justice with an even hand. The recesses of courage do nothing to abate communicative tidings of the destructive forces of this pleasure that exist in a world among the tormented and tortured in colonial discourses.
This knowing of deliverance exceeds understanding the point at which we depart from traditionalists interpretations of Biblical texts, but also to correcting domestic men of leisure’s exploits towards women. There perpetuation of oppressive standing is taken to be a standard throughout society from the home and family life to the bonds of prison where women are forced into subjugation to mimic the control men seek inside the home, as with traditionalists interpretation of Biblical texts and Biblical cultures as, also, with the writers of some texts which sought to protect the culture of male dominance.
Carolyn Sufrin writes brilliantly about women forced into this subjugation in her book, Jailcare: Finding the Safety Net for Women Behind Bars. Sufrin writes the seeing to women’s medical requirements in prison “has largely been retroactive, defined through lawsuits that then designate certain neglected health issues as ‘serious.’”207 Sufrin continues, “[a]s individual cases, each seeks to specify serious medical need and deliberate indifference. Each, too, grapples with moral questions about the state’s carceral burden to care, the kind of care incarnated people deserve, and the way sentiments of concern of indifference figure into care.”208 The types of human rights abuses of women in prison illustrate the projection of patriarchy that women must struggle to fight for indemnifying results. Everything from “the shackling of pregnant women in labor” to “the ignoring of a pregnant women’s labor pains, resulting in the jail-cell birth of a baby who died,” the prison system imposing perpetual punishment of their own imagination should initiate our cause and give merit to us seeking reprieve by way of the intervention of a just Creator.209 It is not that we should defer all others types of proactive action, by no means should we do that. It is that through that action we give reason to our claim for God to also intervene, just as we work to bring just systems into fruition so should God for our sakes. A sister in grossly unjust prison conditions is humanity framed, imprisoned, tortured, and executed without trial.
Women in the Hebrew Bible were at times portrayed as heroic. Deborah falls into this category. However, she is not just a prophet, but also a warrior. The multiple roles represented by Deborah perhaps are utilized as justification for lifting up a woman in the texts. As the sages after the Biblical authors, we can fairly suppose that some justification must be culturally occurring, despite well argued and reasoned examples of cultural egalitarianism that might occur in some instances. Actors in war would, indeed, be models of difference. There is a good argument to be made that this is not the case. Deborah was also a judge. As it has been noted, “[m]any of the heroes of Judges represent those who were in some manner marginal: women, junior sons, children born outside of primary marriage, and so on. This variety of leaders served to reinforce the underlying theme that the only legitimate leader in Israel was YHWH, so it did not really matter who the human representative was.”210 Again, one might refer to this democratic institutionalization as a knowing of deliverance that should guard us from exclusive models of how one works towards deliverance and who is doing the good work. We need to remember that God hears those who whisper.
However, the sages did not leave the memory of Deborah as that of a powerful judge, warrior and, and prophet. They stripped her of her powers. In the Talmud, Pesachim 66b, it is stated of Hillel and Deborah that they were boastful and demoted:
With regard to the incident with Hillel, Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: Anyone who acts haughtily, if he is a Torah scholar, his wisdom departs from him; and if he is a prophet, his prophecy departs from him. The Gemara explains: That if he is a Torah scholar, his wisdom departs from him is learned from Hillel, for the Master said in this baraita: Hillel began to rebuke them with words. Because he acted haughtily, he ended up saying to them: I once heard this halakha, but I have forgotten it, as he was punished for his haughtiness by forgetting the law. That if he is a prophet his prophecy departs from him is learned from Deborah, as it is written: “The villagers ceased, they ceased in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, I arose a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7). For these words of self-glorification, Deborah was punished with a loss of her prophetic spirit, as it is written later that it was necessary to say to her: “Awake, awake, Deborah; awake, awake, utter a song” (Judges 5:12), because her prophecy had left her.211
The verse in question is from the Song of Deborah,
Ceased in Israel,
Till you arose, O Deborah,
Arose, O mother, in Israel! (Judges 5.7)
What even the casual observer will notice is that the Song of Deborah is not self-composed. She is not the speaker. It is composed for her. It is praise for her, not from her. What the Talmud is criticizing is praise for a woman, who is turned to claim is self-glorification for which she must suffer loss. As such, though some can claim exception to the rule of patriarchy for political or detailed necessity, there is the returning rupture of male rule even for a victorious heroine under the guise of humility from which they justify with also comparing the loss of Hillel’s wisdom. Judges 5.12 is clearly a call to arms, not remorse for lack of ability, “Awake, awake O Deborah! / Awake, awake, strike up the chant! / Arise, O Barak; / Take your captives, of son of Abinoam!” Deborah is called on and relied upon as a woman in a position of authority and that is what the sages of tradition seek to make diminutive through a structure of oppression that misguides the wisdom of humility and (re)places the context of the military and political environment in which Deborah served her people.
Considering Deborah the composer of the Song of Deborah does have its tradition still alive thriving that does not make diminutive her role as prophet and judge. The Women’s Bible considers Deborah the composer of the Song.212 It does so within a tradition of empowering Deborah as speaking for herself, clearly adjacent to her many roles. It, still, can be contended that Deborah does not have to be the composer of the Song to maintain a heightened and authoritative position. If anything, the presentation and concept of the Song having been composed for her only works to demonstrate that she is being honored and glorified by others for her many attributes and abilities. Such recognition need not come from her in order to exist, though there is a great argument to be made for the empowerment of speaking for oneself.
The interpretation and the language that we ascribe to Deborah speaks to our own desires for placement and authority, regardless of translation. The attributes we must enforce and police are not unlike how women’s bodies are marked and transcribed in many cultures. Meyda Yegenoglu references Elizabeth Grosz in her essay, “Sartorial Fabric-ations: Enlightenment and Western Feminism,” stating, “bodies are not ahistorical, precultural, or presocial: they are in no way natural, but always already marked, inscribed, and engrave by social pressures.”213 Yegenoglu continues,
In a way, raising the question of the specificity of the body requires simultaneously raising the question of its materiality, for questions regarding the differences between bodies can be meaningfully asked only if the corporeality of bodies is no longer seen as biological, natural, but always as a product, an effect of power relations that constitutes them in their specification.214
Specification in pluralism, demoted to regulated difference, offers the same potential threat when so-called neutral traditions are enforced by men in positions of power and not attained by choice by women within those cultures. As Yegenoglu provides decisively, the naturality of these traditions is something that is forced upon us through narratives that seek to maintain power and subjugation within micro-familial-cultures and marco-political-entities. Nuclear religiosity proscribes a faith that demarks women’s bodies as productions within a narrative-centric culture that must be illuminated through faith and social mores.
The knowing of deliverance can easily be eschewed and become accompanied by a weaponization and bellicose lodging of targeting identity. This manifest itself today, from concepts such as truthiness to fake news, there is an assertion of primal right over matter for causes that have been, in recent generations, under the surface of public eye, but living on in the post-universalism nuclear family. First world intra-conquests have concealed, to some extent, but not eradicated the continued delivery of this weapon of patriarchy. The nullification of what might have been inter-societal placement of women, within an ancient context, as equal standing in male centered roles, has brought to the surface extremes of pedestal branches, that is, the voices heard most over others, though not necessarily taken as the required course of action. Those wretched voices become pure and unabated in a nuclear society in the quest for truth and the organization of order. How do we not know that abatement was not only key, but a given in the past, such as with the towns named after the daughters of Zelophehad; Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah?
The spatiality of the location of justice is continuously brought into question as we seek to impose order upon chaos. For Rosh Hashana, 2017, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke at length about her own Jewish identity. Of which, she stated,
The Jewish religion is an ethical religion. That is, we are taught to do right, to love mercy, do justice, not because there’s gonna be any reward in heaven or punishment in hell. We live righteously because that’s how people should live and not anticipating any award in the hereafter.215
The merit of her statement is not without question. There is purpose in her statement and it distances her own moral code away from institutional assumptions about the Creator. Honorable, yes, but accurate? Consider The Shema. Consider Deuteronomy 11:13-15,
If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Lord your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your new grain and wine and oil- I will also provide grass in the fields for you cattle- and thus you shall eat your fill.
Just as there is petition in praise, there is the expectation of reward for good service. Of course, that is not to say that we should met out deeds towards purpose, but if we are drawing from the texts the merit for calling upon a Creator, it can be demonstrated that there is the presumption of a relationship in which our needs are met. One could argue – and it has been argued – that the very nature of calling on the Creator is merit in itself, but then where does that leave us, but with the expectation of a reciprocal relationship. As this project has demonstrated, God wishes to pass on to us a blessing assuming we are doing the same for others. Therefore, we cannot say that to live ethically is wholly without the expectation of a greater endowment of blessings. Yes, it is a blessing just to act in accordance to an ethical code, and that stance should be upheld, but God wants us to know to expect Her/Him to act. As such, which is this very thesis, we can and should expect action in a way that is not selfish or unreasonable or without sound doctrine or tradition.
Still, Justice Ginsburg’s statement does, indeed, reflect a standard in how we should approach the Creator, as though not expecting a blessing in return. Perhaps in the course of this project that has been too readily assumed. I have assumed that under the merit of such an approach God should, according to Her/His own proclamations, restore justice as is within Her/His statements of propensity. Of course, Justice Ginsburg’s statements do give way to a warning we should all have about expectations and acting in the course of expectation. This is not an unpopular perspective. There are those who will passionately warn against prosperity doctrine and within sound reason. Provoking God should never be used as a tool to “get ahead,” but in accordance with holy, or otherwise secular, logical transcriptions of message that have the expectation that a Just Creator will Act. This is not about prosperity, but counter, perhaps, to Justice Ginsburg’s message, this is about the reading of the texts where justice is reciprocal and in some places more so than others, must be restored in order for justice to be presumed. These discussions are public spaces that must be protected. These public spaces are sacred hope in a time dominated by nuclear religiosity.
Returning to what was discussed earlier regarding women’s role in what has been presumed to an era dominated my male-power, Eryl W. Davies cites Carol Myers who demonstrates that
[I]n the decentralized life of the pre-monarchic period, women enjoyed a relatively high status in society and were integrally involved in economic, political and cultural affairs of the community. Owning to the virtual absence of public functionaries the household assumed a prominent role in controlling key aspects of social life. Within the household, the women held a pivotal place, and in such a society female power was “as significant as male power, and perhaps even greater.”216
Sages and texts helped to push male-power centered agendas forward to be eclipsed only by eventual revolution still in progress today and with a great need for further societal reforms and returns, though, truly, different in need and place to female-power discussed here. Authorship and the authority of what is in writing minimizes and diminishes actual practices in culture and society and women’s roles in the ancient lands. This intellectual misogyny cultures and grows within the texts accounts that must be answered in the quest for justice from a Just God.
Likewise, Western propensity in our generations fabricate and stance that which demarks women’s contributions to society as something that must be sidelined. As hooks argues, “[i]n the West, the philosophical foundations of racist and sexist ideologies are similar [to the need for racism to be central to feminism]. Although ethnocentric white values have led feminist theorists to argue the priority of sexism over racism, they do so in the context of attempting to create an evolutionary notion of culture, which in no way corresponds to our lived experience.”217 Just as patriarchal authors of authoritative texts demoted women’s contributions and roles within society as evolutionary, white feminists practice the same demarcation and centrality of agenda for liberation. Third Wave feminism chipped away at these practices, but the absence of a complete era of arrival or distributed praxis has stalled progress. Still, some women of color and theorists have noted advances and elevation of visibility.218
Just as we noted that women’s roles might have been more strongly linked to culture and practices through the acknowledgement of towns named after the five sisters, women played an integral role in culture through the family that gave them status and influence in the community. It can hardly be argued that the small number of women protagonist in sacred writings points to anything but male-centered power struggles that seek to alleviate cultural practices from female-power influences. What is in writing is always authoritative and taken as strenuously that which must be adhered to; a struggle that denominations continue to take stances on today as one or the other in how it should be related to contemporary practice as well as how to read history.
How can we not say that the same inherited culture of Justice Ginsburg’s statements on practice without rewards are also not the product of a matter of influence and philosophy that makes abject that which is sacred. Like Western feminist practices that decenter racism, ablism, and homophobia, perhaps the standards and practices that make outsiders of communicative justice just might be alternative histories practiced as platting to a cause educed from a colonial, if you will, philosophy of spoils that seeks to retreat practices with the expectation of results. Just as there were differences in questioning God, with early rabbis adamantly against the practice, there were those sages who came to see it as holy acts, though over time their advice and insights did not maintain popular appeal. As such we are left with a selflessness that does not lead to transformation of culture or societal practices, but instead gives weight and power over to those who seek to exploit patient saints.
Sacred hope in the fountain to God’s promises can be found in the slow movement towards justice for women in society. How women reacted in the face of the Federal Economy Act demonstrated that working women, though seen as a “menace to society,” pushed forward into the work force in spite of regulations in order to provide for their families in the United States.219 The inheritance of placing women’s work inside the home, away from public eye, in an idealized state gives way to an understanding and demonstration of equal participation that, truly, prospered mostly when the benefits from capitalism’s eventual sanctioned progressive movement came forward. In the West, forward progress and endurance in spite of capitalism comes to be understood as the elasticity of democracies that we should caution ourselves against if we are to question structural doctrines. Capitalism does not equally distribute. Truly, well-formed democracies give way to greater freedom of movement and association centered on the people and public interest; however, that should not be taken as a defense of existing structures and monopolies of influence.
It is my hope that I have demonstrated that we can question abhorrent language in the sacred texts as well as patriarchal cultural practices without casting blame or generalizations against a people. As Kwok Pui-lan puts forward, feminists “must question the ethics of portraying Judaism as blatantly sexist to serve as a negative foil to criticize patriarchy in native cultures [,…] we must avoid using generalized and monolithic descriptions about the Jewish tradition or about indigenous cultures.”220 I hold, however, that we can still question the Creator to respond to macro-patriarchy on a global scale as well as the personal affiliations of institutionalized patriarchal practices that alter our well being on an individual level. The economic, political, and historical seizing and power struggles that make crooked paths with few options to escape from both colonial structures transnationally as well as familial livelihoods (uni)locally deserve a response under the terms of justice that must exist within the realm of the Creator’s might given that justice exists as an entity by itself at all.
With this inheritance of justice in question, we have to consider the traits a responsibility of the inheritance of colonizing strategies that give rise to the very need for the Creator’s account for justice. Muse W. Dube takes an explicating look at these strategies in her book, Postcolonial Feminist Interpretations of the Bible. In her work she discusses the “unavoidable stage of colonialism” that is the “contact zone.”221 Interaction of with cultures is accompanied with promises of destruction and deliverance and “we glean the rhetoric of the colonizers’ cultural purity claim.”222 There is an forced integration “[j]ust as colonized victims borrow from their colonizers, colonizing powers borrow from cultural ideas, artifacts, and practices from their victims. They come to live with their colonized populations. For rhetorical reasons of power, however, they maintain a claim of a clean-out contact zone.”223 Dube points us to Joshua 11:12-20. Dube also points out how women are depicted as cohorts in the colonizers’s game as well as equally victims, as “active participants as travelers, revolutionists, sellouts, benefactors, and victims of power relationships.”224 In our quest for justice from a Good Creator, there must be respite from “imperialism [that] employs gender relations to articulate ideologies of subordination and domination.”225 Gender is an element of these contact zones and made as tools to demarcate power-struggles and extinguish realities of opposition from official record.
What the official record does maintain is the public performance of gender separation and the abyss of reason formatted to structure against an elite class of reciprocity. This separation is distilled and valorized, inoculating populations with clean versions of subconscious rhythms of the sun and centers of gravity. It is not that the center cannot hold, but that the center is not such at all, but an artificial surface which we are taught to gaze towards and just as we as trained to gaze back upon it.
Crypt for the reciprocal sharing of the abyss between “her” and God. Into which she will have to (re)descend in order to find, at last, the quietude and rest in herself-God. She is transformed into Him in her love: this secret of their exchange. […] How strange is the economy of this specula)riza)tion of woman, who in her mirror seems ever to refer back to transcendence. Who moves away (for) who comes near, who groans to be separated from the one who holds her closest to his embrace. But who also calls for the dart which, while piercing through her body, will with the same stroke tear out her entrails. This “God” will prove to have been her best lover since he separates her from herself only bt that space of her jouissance where she finds Him/herself.226
The jouissance of erupting from colonial inheritance into a wavelength of the Creator leaves questions that, naturally, demand answers. This is the rhythm of exchanges among Sages and theologians that explicate reason to mass and mission to journeys of the intellect among those in search for elliptical sources. The traces of separation are not without the standing of inherited power-struggles that are oblique to reason en mass. Depersonalization, in a way, leads to a sense of deliverance, a deliverance of knowing.
As Irigaray states, I will have gained a new freedom but lost the familiarity that I maintained with my own environment. Through the meeting with the other, what seemed to me close has become partly strange because I distances myself from my world in order to open myself to the world of the other.”227 Sharing and knowing and becoming are each reverbing stages of contact with other sources for a truth in parity and law. We must not regret its becoming in our truth of mesmerizing self. The reproducibility of culture, like writing, leaves sanctioned violence. For Irigaray’s poetic assessments, “Woman for whom there would be no more space except at the very heart of discursive operations, like an unconscious subjected to the inexorable silence of an immutable reality.”228 This reality is capable of being pierced and the will to change, for men who perpetuate this factory of operations, must make amends through action and experience before the pivot of exceled provocation against institutions can break apart and before deliverance from culture gives way to standards of celestial goodwill.
Martin Luther King, Jr., truly a real prophet who stood among the work of prophet actors, states, “evil carries the seed of its own destruction. In the long run right defeated is stronger that evil triumphant.”229 Triumphant evil has been our great inheritance that has imbued itself into even our most fair institutional sectors. The courts of inquiry and eloquence dominate reprisal among the scattered hems of justice’s clothing that parts from citizens and children of upright hymns. Direct action towards the sun of imparity detonates the need and cause of our true arrival. King states, “[n]onviolent direct action will continue to be a significance source of power until it is made irrelevant u the presence of justice.”230 Nonviolent direct action continues today with Black Lives Matter, which has changed a culture and national discourse. It is said, the height of God’s promises will arrive when we as a community do the work to deserve those promises. Community workers and activists certainly push us forward towards these promises. The knowing of deliverance is made stronger in a community that protects these workers as they push against the grain of indifference and absolute transcultural carnage. Milk and honey waits for those who approach its hidden stead and God’s justice becomes available in that realm of cultural and personal seismology; ever grateful for its presence and persistence where the personal is always political just as with the lives of the Biblical prophets.
7: “Let me not look on as the child dies.”
Ekaterina E. Kozlova isolates and illuminates Hagar’s narrative in terms of maternal grief, and from that, social negotiation of mourning as advocacy. Kozlova writes that G. Ebersole, whose research deals with ritual weeping, “has advanced a claim that tears can ‘serve a variety of social purposes, including marking out social and hierarchical relationships at times, dissolving them at others, inviting to demanding specific social relationships, or marking/protesting the abrogation of social or moral contracts.’”231 With this in consideration, Kozlova is framing Hagar’s protective (and rejective) weeping in the forest with Ishmael’s body as the extension of eliciting a new social order from God and, of course, how the redactors chose to implement that negotiation of heritage and posterity.
And she wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the water was gone from the skin, she left the child under one of the bushes, and went and sat down at a distance, a bowshot away; for she thought, “Let me not look on as the child dies,” And sitting thus afar, she burst into tears. (Gen. 21:14-16)
God sees Hagar’s tears and a messenger appears and announces of Ishmael, “I will make a great nation of him” (Gen. 21:18). As Kozlova states, “[l]ifting Hagar’s tears from their original, more intimate context, and placing them within a larger narrative of foundational ethnic myths, the redactor ritually marks the break within the Terahite-Abrahamic genealogy.”232 Hence, a mother’s love and grief illustrates the social connection between societies and cultures and situates the advancing of peoples even and in spite of purely patriarchal frameworks. What is more, and what Kozlova is putting forward, is that a mother’s love and grief not only advocates, but also induces advancement.
We can learn from Hagar that the social implications of a mother’s right to foster a child in a civilized and rights-held order, eradicate established norms that force control and injustice over individuals and populations. The compiler of the Hagar story “turned it into a poignant narrative lament and a counter-testimony within the dominant discourse of ethnic purity in the ancestral history.”233 (M)otherhood is placed as the arbiter of divine justice within a testimony of promised land and progeny. Hagar is a precursor of moral-telling for Israel. It is that which must be learned from and taken as an artifact of truth-symbolism for greater governance and is that which we can unravel for a testimony of contemporary resituating of approaching oppressive conquest against the public, law, capital, and the environment.
Kozlavo interprets the controversial use of language, “to cast,” in Hagar placing her son under the bush, as symbolic of Hagar seeing no hope of retrieving her son and her promised land from God’s promise of restoration.234 This hope was first presented to Hagar in Genesis 16:10 where she was instructed to return to Abraham and Sarai, “I will greatly increase your offspring, / And they shall be too many to count,” God promises Hagar. Setting Ishmael’s body aside, under the bush, cast off, represents the lost hope and degradation of that lost promise, of not just her son, but also her future people. It is importance to emphasize that it is as this moment of lost hope, both immediate and personal as well as collective and communal that God resurrects his previous pledge of support for a lasting home and aid in community-building that establishes her conquest over slavery and what was certain sexual violation and subjection. Phyllis Trible poignantly illustrates Hagar’s universal message through her ordeal with Abraham:
As a symbol of the oppressed, Hagar becomes many things to many people. Most especially, all sorts of rejected woman find their stories in her. She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female of the ruling class, the surrogate mother, the resident alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth, the religious fleeing from affliction, the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with child, the shopping bag lady carrying bread and water, the homeless woman, the indigent relying upon handouts from the power structures, the welfare mother, and the self-effacing female whose identity shrinks in service to others. 235
However, what is more is that Hagar is the promise and hope of an entire people. Once endured, she rises to her own lasting society. Of course, one could easily argue it is needless and cruel to subject a woman to such hardship in order to bless her. There is still the perspective that she was blessed because she was subject to needless cruelty. In that there is sacred hope for the restoration of our own promises and deserved justice. To acclimate to injustice is to seize our own right to restoration.
We must call out to that which promises our return an order apart from institutionalized rejection. We can likewise, simultaneously, question the Creator’s motives in subjecting us to suffering. Just as Hagar seemed to forget God’s promise from Genesis 16 in the text of Genesis 21, it is easy for us to forget our promises in the faint of our endurance. However, it is in the breadth and weight of that endurance that we find a place to question our own destruction. Anson Laytner cites Moses b. Samuel b. Absalom, who, during the crusades, questioned God’s motives in death and destruction:
What profit is there in my blood, in my being destroyed?
Who, like me, acknowledges Your unity in love and awe?
O awesome and fearful One, my soul calls out to You.
Accept the freewill offering of my mouth as a burnt offering.236
If we are to be destroyed as individuals, either in body or in spirit, than we are being taking apart and dissolved as a civilization that is properly working towards a greater esteem of and from God in the hope of parity of justice and placement of equality. God hearing Hagar’s weeping holds us up to a place where we can find solitude in overcoming the institutionalized objections to our humanity.
There is, indeed, provided a situating of God as having succumbed to human protest for greater mercy towards the world. Dov Weiss writes that “[m]ost of the material comes form the [Tanhuma-Yelammedenu] midrashim where we read of biblical heroes teaching or counseling God to adopt a more ethical approach to governing the world. Strikingly, God accedes to these moral challenges and charges, declaring that the contentious encounter has caused Him to adopt a new moral position.”237 We do have a position that the Creator can change and has suggested change, accordingly, that a new hope can and should be expected. The permanence of these changes is what is portrayed as fact. Weiss continues, “[r]ather that a one-time concessional act of divine mercy as we have in the Hebrew Bible or earlier aggadot, these [Tanhuma-Yelammedenu]-generated retractions become codified or systematized; and, most radically, they express an essential change in God’s moral compass.”238 The new grounding or morality and pluralistic behavior from the Creator are taken as the dismissal of earlier junctions of just retribution towards the people of Israel and the greater world. Hence, we have grounds to question prolonged suffering, totalitarian structures of indifference, and forced subjugation, which are all ultimately under the rule of the universal Creator, however that Creator is approached or structured according to historical, cultural, and moralistic endeavors.
Traditions have periods of elasticity, which contribute to greater growth beyond the limited walls of absolute observation. Just as traditions can grow to devise a new understanding of God as one who can change Her/His mind, so, too, can communities of adherence to one faction of belief grow to become inclusive and involved in greater society. This, too, can also lead us to see a sacred hope for an understanding within culture that alienates the just as being able to reach a place where we are able to reach across in dialogue – without dismissive compromise – that brings us to a more subtle conclusion and rest with our neighbors. Hagar’s weeping brings us to that place where we might resolve our differences; both as an item listed and lifted by God in addition to bridging the divide with our kinsmen.
Does this mean we are to settle in what would be an extreme in our case of setting our child under a bush? No, of course not. Though we should weep as though only the Creator can hear us. This can be addressed in more immediate and drastic causes as well. Consider the spiritual practices of the women of Greenham Common or the popular Green movement in Jewish practice. Irene Diamond and David Seidenberg illustrate well in Ethics and Environment how, after searching through other practices, their form of Judaism navigated to a home of expressive practice and unity that can likewise be found in other practices both secular and sacred:
We know that there are many other paths besides Judaism which may teach the discipline of a sensuous relationship to the world. However, Judaism is privileged for us by arbitrary facts of birth, family, and culture. Furthermore, it is these very elements of identity, history, and place which constitute the ethos and Eros of being. In Judaism, from a liberal perspective or anthropological perspective, it is clear that sacredness is constructed by ritual actions which mark the sacred as different from the common. Each time we learn Torah sacredly, we reinscribe the text as sacred and at the same time create new openings in the text for sacredness. Each time we withdraw from creating on Shabbat, we create the possibility for re-visioning the world on new terms, outside the law of labor and production.239
The authors locate ecofeminism through an acknowledgment of performativity. It is there that we all in our own unique way can secure and seize our own power sources towards greater causes. Dryzek places ecofeminism in the discourse of Green Consciousness. “The root of all environmental problems,” he states “according to ecofeminsts, is not anthropocentrism (human domination of nature), but rather androcentrism (male domination of everything) […] the liberation of women is tied up with the liberation of nature.”240 Likewise, the liberation of women is intimately tied to the liberation of our very conscience if not a more ritual consciousness.
Gwyn Kirk ties ecofeminism to animal rights, antimilitarism, and ecology and identifies Greenham Common with “key insights of ecofeminism – that Western thought constructs hierarchical systems defined by dualisms, reinforced by an economic system based on profits rather than needs[.]”241 Historically, the term ecofeminism, in some circles become charged with essentialism and it was believed this led to a diminutive type of advocacy. Greta Gaard tells us that terms such as “ecological feminism,” “feminist environmentalism,” “social ecofeminism,” and “critical feminist eco-socialism” began to replace the word ecofeminism to avoid association with essentialism.242 A type of diplomacy probably motived this as much as working towards inclusivism and for expediency to avoid distractions. There are others, such as Susan Mann, who centers ecofeminism’s roots among Native Americans, African Americans, and new immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.243
It is not an arduous task to direct spiritual practice with Green consciousness. Many have referenced the law to leave the mother if one comes across a nest in Deuteronomy 22:6–7. Maimonides tied this to Leviticus 22:28 and Nachmanides agreed, further stating that “the person who kills the mother and the young in one day or takes them when they are free to fly, [it is regarded] as though they have destroyed that species.”244 There is a direct connection between the command not to take the mother with the young and thereby threaten and entire species and again the Hagar’s weeping, as though her entire people would be taken along with her son. The directive of our own longevity is, perhaps, something we should understand as cardinal to our own responsibility as we map our own futures and care for each other and ourselves. Likewise, given we have this responsibility we are held to account for the species among us. God extended Hagar and Ishmael life in the wilderness. It was given to use to see to our own progeny. Haven failed so often throughout history and finding ourselves in post-totalitarian economic systems of collapsing humanity, we can, therefore, prod the Creator to alleviate the direct threat to our survival in Her/His own interest just as Moses prodded God to save Israel for Her/His namesake.
In the collection of lectures, The Punitive Society, Michel Foucault remarks how justice comes to rest in the hands of society as a thing to enforce over itself, stating,
In 1791, the judge could do only one thing: after having established the materiality and imputability of the infraction, he applied the penalty provided for the crime. It is a Code in which one appeals to the participation of the citizen as “representative of society,” for we see precisely that justice is not a power alongside the legislative and executive powers, but the very exercise of society’s right to judge each of its members; it is a right of society over itself.245
It is the “will of society” that dictates justice over itself. With justice at the mercy of society will and an evolution of that franchise one can take at heart that social will is indeed incalculated with the propriety and inert biases of the infractions of social history. With the will of the court being mislead as a fostered will of the people, there is a derivative claim of justice for justice’s sake, in the form of a healing remedy. Of course, with the prodding of God to infuse these labors towards the will of the prophets, we can mirror our own social efforts of court-based justice in such a way that restores and promotes a social adhesion of remarkable instilled and restive fortune of beneficial efforts with disposed glorification of punitive damages. When we recalibrate the idea of rewards for injustice, such as the adage, the price of someone’s head, justice begins to represent a form of new weights and measurements that solidify patterns that can be explicated towards the practice of justice throughout society.
Oppression that God must assist us in overcoming is chiefly both endogenous as well as lamenting the marks of exogenous influences. If we give weight to Freudian concepts of subconscious impulses and view those comparatively with Ernest Becker’s dichotomy of a national character, one that strives against the individual, we may have a reasoning that becomes fairly cyclical. If national character is embedded inside us as something we negotiate along with our true selves, but unconscious motivations seize and adhere to climate, and with our climate being overwhelming centered on race and oppression, there might be a motivation to thwart that as a threat to the psyche. It could be that all people are inherently good, but the realities of America’s history of slavery and continued development from that center build up in the mind and expose an individual to a threat that must only be faced through an alignment of resistance. Some resistance is healthy, seeking never to let those atrocities be repeated or allowing inherited oppression to continue. Some resistance manifest itself through internalizing the centering of hate and therefore resulting in an individual that is either short of empathy or outright direct in the exhibition of hatred. Racism itself could be the very result of an individual being threatened with guilt and helplessness succumbing to the climate trying to protect itself through unclear motivations in attempt to not drown in anxieties.
The view from the other side, the person who has overcome the weight of reality in a healthy manner, in witnessing the exhibition of hatred is horror. This horror acts like a deeply internal traumatic shock, reliving the memory-form of living in a world where this happened, in a nation with this past participant of creation along its trajectory. To witness again the knowing of how it came to be, how it was unearthed, causes a reflection in the waters of truth that there is a dismal disconnect among the population and existence as we know it. The polar opposition of love, of creating life in place of hate, leads to a (re)membering of the lost souls of time both at the hands of hatred as well as the cause.
The proxemics of totalitarianism secludes us within ourselves and demonstrates how we exhibit our uninhibited motives through capitalism, consumerism, and an ever-declining interest in international human rights. The campaign to counter these motives and motifs are tactical reprisals of solemn songs intended to raise our mothers to an unearthed era and age apart from the domesticity of terror and into an delving of new motherhood that aligns itself with the importance of familial top-down societal influx and community building with the halls of intellectual and emotional bonding. As the saying goes, Mother knows best, and if we can lift our hearts to this often reality we can make for ourselves a society built closer to truth and closer to a place with the Creator will be receptive to our pleas and petitions.
These petitions are warranted under the promises of Hashem. It could be that like Hagar, in our desolation we have forgotten God’s guarantee of our rescue. What calls for a rescue from bondage than the oppression of our institutionalized and structural entities? Chapter 31 from Jeremiah reminds us of these promises and should offer a glimpse in to what we should be free to expect. We should pray as though we expect an answer and we should remind God of what She/He is expected to perform in writing. These writings, despite what we have covered in the expectations of the redactors, are legal documents from which we can petition God. This is not to say that those from another tradition do not have their own codes and scripture towards the same ends as well. For these moments, from my understanding, as limited as that might be, we can call in remembrance:
When Israel was marching homeward
The Lord revealed Himself to me of old.
Eternal love I conceived for you then;
Therefore I continue My grace to you.
I will build you firmly again,
O Maiden Israel!
Again you shall take up your timbrels
And go forth to the rhythm of the dancers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
On the hills of Samaria (Jeremiah 31:2-5)
The song of promises here call into remembrance Miriam and her song in at the Red Sea. Where a woman performed her music is where the Creator locates the promise of acceptance and joy with the full esteem of Her/His creation tune. We must reject the colonial discourse so many have interpreted and hold as truth and seize these verses as working towards the milk and honey of the future estates of harmony and sullen quenching.
They shall come with weeping,
And with compassion will I guide them.
I will lead them to streams of water,
By a level road where they will not stumble.
For I am ever a Father to Israel,
Ephraim is My first-born. (Jeremiah 31:9)
Hashem’s recuse of Hagar is not unlike the fulfillment of the above verses. With that in mind, the social change that occurs and its consequences are vital to our direction towards the future. We must not be afraid to sign a new contract with God: to come to a new understanding of our relationship. This can be pursued in the internal dialogue of our hearts. It can be poured out in our lament for the world. It can be stationed in our position and refusal to retreat from Occidental tidings. It is the place for our true family of togetherness where radial compassion sows the elements of entreating memories that works towards a new sun in the heart of longing and strength. We are permitted to provoke God to enter our surroundings and build a temple of anti-fascist values and an economy of community that does not wither in forgetfulness of history’s part of transactional deluge. The path to transformational change is the diversity of many voices towards the song of one communal impulse and transnational, transformative station.
Isaiah 10:1-2 demonstrates that we can call on the Creator to illuminate before the world a place where progressive social transformative action is the counter-move to illustrious gain by those in power:
Those who write out evil writs
And compose iniquitous documents,
To subvert the cause of the poor,
To rob of their rights the needy of My people;
That widows may be their spoil,
And fatherless children their booty!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
When calamity comes from afar?
Toxic masculinity and purposeful distillation of power conceives of an era in which power is granted by special interests and corporations and the public is provoked to offer more labor for less rewards. Under this weight the idea of change appears from the distance to call for a greater degree of transformational change, such that it seems all but impossible to get there. Structural power gets to this impression through transitional change, always pivoting situational justice until it offers little hope to a distracted populace. Post-totalitarian consumer capitalism is not unlike the story of “the Other woman.” After three years of study R. Yosef, the son of Rava, attempted to return home to his wife though he had dedicated to spend six years apart from her in study.
His father heard, and went to him with a weapon. He said to him: “You remember your whore [zonah]? (Another version: You remember your dove [yonah].) They fought, and neither of them stopped.246
The sages considered it a transgression to leave study even to be with one’s own wife. Under the guise of holy worship contributing to the marriage in such a capacity was seen as a form of adultery, one could argue. One’s own wife becomes the Other. Certainly, this attribution of toxic masculinity is descended from the same family line that identifies God as He/Him/male. Transfixation with popular understandings of social movements digresses degrees of true social standing in the course of civilization that must work towards rewards for duty of truth and perseverance to the right cause, not distraction from our responsibilities.
Lila Abu-Lughod offers us a caution against the case of perceiving women’s outright subordination in patriarchal societies. Abu-Lughod spent time living with a host and family in a camp of Awlad ‘Ali Bedouins in the Egyptian desert. She writes,
Although the generalized principle of mutual avoidance applies in many traditional Middle Eastern societies, the degree to which sexual segregation structures people’s lives and the actual patterns it creates vary considerable depending on how it articulates with social and economic organization and historical circumstances. Lumping rural and urban groups; pastoral, peasant, and mercantile economies; or different geographic and cultural areas only confuses the issue.247
The separation of women’s lives within the structural group is real, however, women form their own structures alongside the group in both intrapersonal and extended range. Abu-Lughod states,
In day-to-day life, […] sexual segregation effectively separates the social worlds of men and women. Women constitute a separate society, which has an internal structure that ranks women and defines their relations both within the residential unit and outside the camp, in an often wide network maintained reciprocal visiting and gift exchange. […] [W]hile women’s society functions separately, its structure is derivative. In the women’s own experience, it is not subordinate, however, but parallel.248
Ivone Gebara discusses guilt women feel and perhaps, it could be added that this places markers of the implications of associates the experiences of some women over other women. Gebara notes, “[t]his feeling of guilt is not clearly defined, mainly because this things one feels and names guilt is somewhat vague in the lives of women. It is an existential guilt with religious overtones, a feeling, a profound experience of a personal burden, added like a surplus to certain events.”249 Some would argue that collective guilt is misplaced and the burden of first world women is illustrated on the backs of the Other, however, of course, this is not universal and does not excuse despotism. While certainly warranted in the discussion towards a truth in pluralism, we take it as a weight of the need for balance over absolutes without descending towards the transgression of perceiving justice in the lack of liberty. A forced cultural anxiety of avoidance must not lead to projection. In the rejection of colonialism we must not repeat its course. Still, this does not simultaneously displace the very real experiences of women who are ruminating within a feeling of confined spaces inside a structural order.
Heschel makes a distinction between processes and events, between what could be understood thematically as typical verses what must be perceived atypically as the extraordinary. For Heschel, “Biblical revelation must be understood as an event”250 Processes are the initialization of situating of laws, while events preclude the presences of precedent. What provoking God entails is both the working towards communal processes in anticipation of the revelatory event of the Mother/Father of Healers anticipated preoccupation with our circumstances and interlocution of instances that magnify social discord and displace a lack of peace and security. Peace and security is so often the rally cry of the political and social right. What the political left must do is communicate what peace could really be, within full potential, and how security is a collective embrace, devoid of bigotry and hostility. The revelation of God’s involvement with our disposition takes first the acknowledgement of our togetherness in this capsule within the order of time. Just as there was a communal presence of Sinai, there must be a force at hand to collectively resurrect our ambitions towards the greater good. This is conceded through upright communication. Conflict resolution is proceeding at its best when diligently confronting the opposition while still demonstrating that the other side is heard and understood. This is an example of intra-communication as well as extra-communication.
8: We, Too, are Accountable
A psalm of David, ascribed to when he ran from Saul into a cave denotes an immediate spirit of petition.
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me
for I seek refuge in You
I seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings,
until danger passes.
I call to the God Most High,
To God who is good to me
He will reach down from heave and deliver me:
God will send down His steadfast love;
my persecutor reviles. Selah (Psalm 57:2-4)
We can call to question one man’s quest for holding onto God’s gift of answered petition over all else, over everyone else. However, we can also see into the light of a personal petition that holds the experience of having had God’s answer and understands the habits of motifs of the Master of Healer’s presence. We are not in too different straits than David. Just as David sought the security of God’s immediate assistance, we, too, must counter the refrain of deliverance against the immeasurably fraught and turbulent accosting that is delivered unto us away from seeming days of security and into the net that David warns of.
Exalt Yourself over the heavens, O God,
let Your glory be over all the earth!
They prepared a net for my feet to ensnare me;
they dug a pit for me,
but they fell into it. (Psalm 57:6-7)
Truly, we are the makers of the net. The superstructures of attire dispose us of our will to be certain of how to move within God’s creation. We are moved away from certain close distance of the moving lower creatures that shift the earth’s gaze according to the will of God that answers petitions. If nothing, the psalms do point to and signify an effort to create a bridge between this world and the next, where our petitions are heard, and even more, they are done so to the advantage of God’s glory. God finds glory in protecting us. We can find glory in seeking that protection. There is a place for us to provoke God to answer us and counter the subdivisions and complex structures of intrastructural inequality, both globally and uni-locally.
However, we must marry the realities of the petitions attributed to one man and the realities of a culture. To provoke God in rhythm with the height of disparity is to also observe the truth throughout custom and how it relates to our current path of mutual salvation. T.M. Lemos exemplifies this explication in Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts. Lemos considers the realities of Leviticus 25:39-46 in which Israelites are only to be kept as “indentured servants,” as Lemos considers them to possibly be, until the Jubilee Year, while foreigners are allowed to be kept in slavery perpetually and handed down for inheritance.251 As Lemos considers, “the passage displays a sympathetic stance towards destitute Israelites, it shows no concern at all for foreign slaves. The passage is ‘progressive’ only if one ignores its treatment of foreigners” and this, I put forward, in no way displays compassion for the stranger.252 Of course, being kept in servitude until the Jubilee Year is itself a harsh punishment. The Jubilee Year is only every 50 years. That would mean an Israelites in bondage would still serve 49 years, possibly, or within that time frame, which Lemos correctly notes, would translate to a lifetime according to an ancient Israelite’s lifespan.253 Before we can account God for justice and justice’s sake, we must present Her/Him as accountable for discrepancies of justice in that which we learn to call God’s name, what we have inherited as information about God, and the means to communicate with Her/Him.
There is a rhythm to follow here as we, too, are accountable. Not all demand a greener earth for our children. However, it would be incorrect to note that we all raise our children to corrupt the earth and each other. Just as our mother’s raise us to be caretakers, we can look to the Caretaker to distill our grievances into a collective entry to a great surprisal of survival towards a pluralistic society that entreats each human being in a way that honorable and simple enough for shared harmony.254 In the very act to creating life and raising our children to act in accordance to shared laws, we move the Creator to act in conjunction with these facts as though it is on revolutionary terms for an over-adherence to a path for deliverance from dominating structures that seek to exploit and maintain power over us.255 We move the Creator in our lifeforce. We move creation in our stance of matrimony of life. On earth, we are only as progressive as our labor camps and it is only within Western, democratic labor camps that we are offered progressive action from those in power.
We live in a new era of implication of massive fraud and rights being stripped away at every turn. Heschel wrote about the same lack of true motivations for change in the civil rights era, stating, “the implications of such dignity [as the civil rights movement] must be translated into daily action and the way we live.”256 We must tailor our thoughts and lives towards change that makes a difference in, not just our lives, but also those of others through love and outright determination. Heschel continued, “I have not seen much repentance, or a renewed understanding of what it means to be human, regardless of color. Instead, I see that indifference continues. We are getting used to scandals, to outrage, even to terrible danger.”257 Nuclear religiosity continues. A state of abatement of moral authority strives forwards and there is little potential of solitude that demarks the conquest of spiritualty that heals and makes whole communities and partnered, shared sympathies.
In this, too, we are accountable. Is not David’s song of persecution a song for those living under structured oppression? Has not the net widened, trapping the bodies of those who made it? Here, the illusion of democracy is the net. Its weavers are the maelstroms of generations. The tide is the light of the sea. If we grab on to the net and try to strangle our partners in a true, universal Jubilee, we stand no chance of provoking God for retribution of unjust connotations and revelations of contorted deliverance. The apartheid state is a matter for seeing our displaced motives. Meeting merit is like building a house on the temple of our hearts, in the minds of our bodies. We must first displace ourselves from this Western thinking that binds our minds into split selves. We cannot attempt to seek to uphold justice at one end of the house while maintaining a presence of mutual slavery at the other end of the house. This is not that quest. Provoking God is not that deliverance.
Shahd Wadi discusses her transcendence into “Palestinian memory” in her essay, “Ain’t I a Palestinian Woman?” For Wadi, womanhood and the experience of maturity is mixed with the forging of Palestinian identity. Upon returning near to the village of her family, al-Muzayri’a, she writes, “in the a sea that sends its scent to al-Muzayri’a, I felt the Nakba that was asleep in my body […] There, in a land and a sea that has never belonged to me, yet always did, a Palestinian woman, I became.”258 Wadi’s identification with her body and the occupation follows a tradition which “conveys the images of sexual penetration, as [the expression, “when the Jews entered,”] is the same expression used to describe the moment the bride loses her virginity, Leilet Al-Dokhleh (the entrance night). Palestinian women use their bodies in their narrative language to describe the occupation.” Wadi continues, “Their own memory is also the memory of their body.”259 Physical occupation in the land is tied to a physical occupation of the body.
Rabbi Tafron stated, “the Master of the house is insistent […] He used to say […] be aware that the reward of the righteous will be given in the World to Come.”260 It is false to say that the World to Come knows no entry point. We are given the math to detect its presence and appearance. Facts and obsessions do not deter our belonging to one humanity and subgroup of potential. Heschel so rightly proclaimed, “[t]he realm of values that illuminate our lives – justice, beauty, goodness, purity, holiness – did not evolve from nature. Values cannot be derived from being nor can being be derived from nature. Both originate in a higher source.”261 When we devolve into nature, we project and protect a source of indifference that masks our potential for love and equality. We must strive to make attempts to overcome nature and its deliverance to a false family dichotomy that deters us from the truth in our lives: our love for common and mutual solitude of being within one family tree that holds many branches and many names for the same of God; the God that can free us from the power of authority and protect us in time of need.
At times, this time of need is a gradual occurrence. It stems from fear and instead of a solitude of being, it is protracted in a hatred of Other. This protects in the inner core of anxieties of indifference that reject being exposed to truth to commonality. We can confront this fear through a dialogue that protects the individual rights and though, listening and understanding, expressing concern and compassion, does not yield or concede personal or communal disposition or truth. There is no need for gravitating compromise through our dialogue. We can listen. We can understand. Simultaneously, we can also strengthen our position and can be free from giving in to unreasonable demands. Just as this forward conflict resolution aids us in freeing our communities from the paralyzing source of those in power, we can turn and promote these truths to the Creator and plead our cause of justice.
Provoking the Creator is a serial hymn. Distraction and distortion of our lives come into occurrences of the realities of harsh family circumstances of both a personal and collective nature. When the parents of a small child reject her, his, or their humanity through casual rejection or outright determination to oppress and conceal the truth of love, then they are protecting the state and authority of empire. Causal justice comes in small waves and we must ride the currents to a family of others that sing the songs of unity and protection. Protection from indifference is the source of our strength. We can find the path to our shared selves through self-determination, away from the parks of ungratefulness and deterrence. The stations of memory hold the bounds of permanent marks and freedoms that promote a counter wave to that deterrence. There is a family inside our selves despite our environment and in that we find God and each other. The significant signature of the course of our love is the degree and publication of the source of being that stems from communication with the Master of Healing.262 She/He comes from all spaces and listens or our whispers of Hannah.
Just as Hannah’s prayer can be symbolic for a nation, we can grow to see our lives as being greater than our own personal narrative. We stem from communities and into communities our lives have meaning, our actions and even memories reflect greater patterns and forceful contributions to global history. Consider Rizpah’s mourning for her sacrificed children. Her “deed exhibits an ethical stance that manages to encompass both personal concerns and national interests, a stance strikingly missing from the accounts of David’s mourning.”263 When her sons where killed she stayed with their bodies. Thee bodies of Rizpah’s sons were markers of national events and her actions held powerful significance for the course of a national conscience of affairs.
Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it on a rock for herself, and she stayed there from the beginning of the harvest until rain from the sky fell on the bodies; she did not let the birds of the sky settle on them by day or the wild beasts [approach] by night. (2 Sam. 21:10)
The protectorate of death, day and night, the mother of slain children protected not just her son’s bodies, but also their memories and shielded them from the isolation of national forgetfulness. We, too, have the concurrence of bravery that promotes this conscience of wholeness of community. The will of protection is the secret of the strength to embrace our lives and in that find evidence of evocative prayer that provokes a response from God.
Compassion, empathy, and intense gratitude are the core strengths of our eclipse into oneness with our greater creation. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti posed the question for us to consider, “How beautiful it would be if our women could have the same opportunities as men?”264 Working towards this kind of prosperity is a function of living up to creation. Just as our daily lives are made manifest in our spiritual lives, the quest for contact with the Creator can be gauged in how we hold our silent, private moments as meetings with the Orator of Truth. Like the prophets, the course of our lives has meaning. What we do and how we do it is symbolic of a greater stance towards history and in that, our private exploits carry the weight of the path of creation, to and through a path towards a society of pluralism and equality. If we are to meet the challenge of equality than we must promote its essence at every turn publicly and privately.
Emphasis should again be placed that believers hold no special credit over others as being one with the path towards equality and the will of God. New Yorker contributor and Columbia journalism professor, Jelani Cobb, put it this way: atheism “means that there are no do-overs. Compassion and decency in this life become even more important.”265 The actions we take, and action is pivotal, is what leads to living according to a more fruitful calling. Belief systems are fundamental, but do not write the course. What does work towards the course is participation in the architecture of the design of society and where it stumbles.
A hostile surveillance society leaves little room for detractors from a steady hand in the face of oppression that has grown under our day-to-day misgivings. Formidably, “the war on crime fosters a ‘barrier mentality’ that requires the continual reproduction of fearful images, where security comes to signify secured and militarized borders, hardened and gated architectures, private security forces and strategic weapons, and tactical (SWAT) units within law enforcement.”266 When what we warn against becomes politicized it can be seen that there is real power in our promotion of truth and it is that truth which is being waged against as well as bodies. When we let those bodies suffer the brunt of the toleration of fear than we have failed as a social community to uphold truth and have allowed the fearful to take reign over our lives. In the face of a fearful society that retracts towards hate, it is not unhelpful to remember that God is a fire and in that we should find fear. Thought the thesis of this project is to provoke God, fear of God and confrontation can be simultaneously true. Fear is not freezing or the anticipation of pain, it is communion, respect, and toleration of what is instructional.
In “Postcolonial Feminism, the Politics of Identity, and the Liberal Bargain,” Amalia Sa’ar argues that social consciousness should lead to an embrace amongst peoples of from different strata of society beyond what Sa’ar sees as the limitations of hierarchical and archetypical histories of race and identity.267 It does seem that Sa’ar does not give enough credit to the social weight of the histories of identity in that argument, examined closely, in favor of an analytical distribution of reasoning. We must be cautious not to erase others in our quest for a collective truth. This leads more to proscribing than listening. Though, attempting to incorporate others into a community basket may seem like peacemaking, there is reason to sustain from seeking exemptions for social classes that merely acknowledge one’s existence. Action must be followed from belief and understanding. As such, we must we careful not to seek blanket reasoning that annualizes communal discourse. Yes, perpetuation of strata can be limiting, but it is in the discourse of many that listening leads to conflict resolution, not the dismissal of histories, however incorporated into a dialogue of understanding. We can embrace “[voices that ring] with social judgment […] where there are no rebuttals” like the songs of Bessie Smith and Nina Simone.268 Empathy is in accordance with listening and listening in in accordance with truth that leads to action.
Commonly, among greater Western society, listening stops at the exhibition of a white savior motif. Perin Gurel reminds that “[h]istoricizing feminism […] requires us to consider the long-standing connections between Feminism and Imperialism. Casting the ‘Third World Woman’ as a victim to be saved by the white man has been a common rhetorical ploy of Western imperialism; feminist have all too often been complicit in the violence wreaked by colonial maneuvers predicated on ‘saving brown women from brown men’”269 The mutual antidotes offered from would-be white saviors along with security-politics are methods of forcing control on others both within and outside of regional territory. The esoteric staples of nuclear religiosity are not so difficult to intellectually dismantle. They only require a will to listen, but more importantly, to apprehend from initiation and follow-through. Efforts to dispose nuclear religiosity can and should be met with Holy Interlocutions and God’s promise of restoration towards greener pastures. To make this argument is vital to participation in the process though it is not a stand-alone requirement.
The voices of women are voices to our truth. Just as the Biblical “text implies that the service of female prophets was commonplace and required no special attention or accommodation,” the women of the Me, Too Movement shine a light on the direction of our humanity and expose the wretched condition of our society.270 271 Truth too long withheld demonstrates our reluctance to seek mutual protection from aggression and hostility. Sexual predation and the violence towards women are the marker of the disposition of a society and where is stands in the narrative of the arch of the common good. There is room here, too, to promote an occurrence of intervention that seizes our own action – as without action, nothing is sacred – and works towards restoring the safety of women, men, and children among us from those without conscience or a place in the fabric of progress. Nuclear religiosity preys on violence towards others as strength in its conquest against the common good. Security politics and savior “ethics” has long demonstrated that it incorporates internal and private violence as an accommodation of its internal self-wealth. It is no different from mass-public violence such as the rape of the stateless Rohingya.272
To protest is to provoke a response. We must corner a place were we can make justice our home. In the heart of the relics of ancient verse, we can find mutual affinity between a loving God and ourselves. We must make room for that response, for that premonition of exposing retreat into the soliloquy of formidable disposing time. To cite David R. Blumenthal at length:
As talk about God must begin in the language and experience of the ineffable, with all its variation and subtleties, and in the language and experience of the personal, with all its variations and subtleties, for Judaism talk about God must also include the language and experience of the universe of moral discourse. Ever since Abraham, perhaps since Adam, holiness, personality, and morality have been inextricably intertwined. God is not only holy, God is not only person, God is also moral – deep through the problems that that statement entails and, in the post-holocaust age, those problems are truly horrendous. Job did not say that God is immoral or amoral; rather, that he, Job, was innocent. Levi Yitzhak did not say that God did not care; rather, that the Jews did not deserve the punishment that God had meted out to them.273
Seeking and seeing a place where we caution the Creator to not promote violence against us through inaction, or direct action, is a just cause. We can live in harmony with the Healer of Many if we demonstrate our understanding of justice towards Her/Him and promote ourselves a life worth living that connects us to Her/Him as well as each other. However, we must love each other and find it in ourselves to harbor love at all costs. That is not without social judgment. We must not concede our rights in the process of listening to opposition. In the same vain we can promote our place in creation in the light of our exposed truth and in that, save our place among the stars in matrimony with earth and God.
God is one. Hashem is the eternal sunset to our arrival. On earth, we have displaced many. In truth, we must displace ourselves in order to find a place we were can call home. Home is the rivet in the star-link of our promotion towards a new beginning and a fit arrival towards our shared self. Home is eternal. In the eternal dialogue of our minds, we can find the Creator and each other, each whispering like Hannah, each delegating our cause. For our cause is holy, our cause is true, our cause is just, and our cause sees into the shared empathy that God demands for Her/His place in our midst. If only the Master of Time would hear us, as She/He does, and what is mutual in our ability outside of apathy with is too often sustained, than we can hear our home in the wilderness and dispel any notion of being lost. We can hear our home. We can call that sound the presence of sacred hope and the implied arrival of the God of Justice.
8: Conclusion: The Bull and the River: Radical Kindness Towards the Absence of Disparity
Theoretical considerations of how our personal and collective acts of justice should invite and encourage direct responses from the Creator are an area for further research. At the risk of bordering on the sublime, there are tangible frameworks to consider in those actions, which should merit God’s negotiation of justice within our realm. One problem that presents itself is how collective acts of justice can prod God to act when so often interaction with the Creator is an individual experience as seen in the stories of Hannah and Hagar. In truth, with or without belief in a Creator, these frameworks can instill in society triggers towards social restorations of harmony that are collective and unifying towards saving grace. If we capitulate the history of humanism to its grossest factions, then we disembark on the journey towards peace that better resembles a functioning, holistically endeavored safe society. We can maintain a sacred hope outside of pathological patriotism and nuclear religiosity that simply works to distort the common good in favor of capital and wayward exceptionalism. Sacred hope within the commune to discourses on justice serves global communities and refracts authoritarian holds on power.
Mindful pleading and deprivation within the bounds of safety and self-respect is an aspect of conjuring the spirit within and bringing God to the table. God is well known to not respond to our prayers in ways that we might expect or prefer, but the Creator does respond. Given that as such a consequential factor, we have to live according to a methodology and practice that unites our correspondence with implied justice. To do so gives us the weight for further inquiry from God and from ourselves. Various practices of faith compel God to observe us. Having no faith at all does not rob us from the Creator’s presence or from the understanding that a trajectory must be carved to counter the recalcitrant performances of solemn duties expected and required from those in authority and those in the crest of dialogue about the nature of God and society.
How should we respond to the Creator in a way that merits a response in return? Sacrifices of time and behavior do lift our positions to the desired level of inquiry. Deprivation that is measured and attentive to one’s safety brings God into our presence. Fasts work. Consider different, personally customized forms of what is called the Daniel Fast. Despite its commercialization, the idea of abstaining from heavy meats and sweets, and limiting one’s intake to the bare, base essentials, works to bring one’s mind and attitude to an elevated position. More serious fasting should only take place if one’s health can sustain it and if one has experienced going without before. I can’t be more forward in issuing warnings about fasting. I was diagnosed with anemia after several extended fasts over several months. This diagnosis was eventually reversed, but it does indicate the severity that serious fasting can wreck on the body.
It is with caution that I recommend ritual prayers. I would not want to limit one’s dedication from being expressive with many different prayers. However, perhaps there is one prayer that speaks to you more than others. Sing it. Consider it from every angle. What is it that speaks to you and gives you pause, or elation, or retrospective consideration? I have found that there are times when God is responsive to prayers we are well acquainted with and there are times where the Creator leaves us with our hymn alone as the gift we are seeking. Still, through these collective hymns, statutes, and prayers, we can put forward accounts of justice and love for the purpose of confronting God with imitations of direct action that are expressed in prayer.
Direct action merits a response more than other expressions. God is fond of seeing us interact with the world according to our moral inquiries. God wants to see us express how we wish to establish peace and sensibility. Calling out structural violence and sexism through the acts of our bodies as well as our minds brings God to where we are located on the spiritual map. God finds ways to communicate with us in ways that we can understand from our own unique perspective. It may not be universal, but instead individual, and in the process of committing to that expression we see the power and viability of a sustained interaction with the Creator.
How we treat others is a form of direct action that lays the groundwork for any further type of action in effort to provoke God. Kindness as a virtue is the tenet of faith and absence of faith that connects our humanity and proceeds before any further inquiry from the Creator or act of divine intervention. If we do not practice kindness, radical kindness, what formula towards living do we concede as being the framework of higher standards and practices from which we seek retribution for authoritarianism and violent institutions? There must be kindness in our lives and that includes living in a way that though we do not receive kindness from others, we emit its golden jewelry and wear it as we would clean ourselves with its apparel. The groundwork for direct action is radial kindness. In that we can open the door for the beginning stages of direct interaction with the Creator.
It can be said that the realities of Trumpism and an Israel that oppresses Palestinians are the consequence of the idealism and the positive Universalism of the post-WW II era that morphed and were overcome by the innate faults of Western privilege and demarcated bigotry. The seeds of Trumpism were present even then. There was always the threat of interpreting our international binary in terms of the few over the many. Without proper support and truly instilled values of a “pure,” pluralistic Universalism, the threat of an aggravated nerve binding together impure causes that enrich the few and oppress the many for pointless reasons and the misguided self-interests against the public at large was too real to ignore. However, ignored it was, or rather, we were distracted from it, perhaps, mostly with the aid of the consumerism of Havel’s post-totalitarian framework. The economic reconfiguration of stable societies bred an intrepid network of polarized extremes that brushes against the stability of a universal core and allowed dissent from the capitulation of natural discoveries.
Societal and global developments such as this are not done in secret, no matter how the privileged few sustaining dissent from order might see their work. If you look up to the night sky towards the constellation Taurus and imagine in your mind the outline of the bull, you can see two trajectories. Either the bull is facing towards you at an intercept course, or away from you, preparing to bring a chaotic impact to your neighbor. What do you see in the sky? Is the bull facing towards you or away from you? The significant signature in the awe of the heavens does bring its impact towards the earth. We feel it in the way we do what we do. Perhaps developments are not done in secret, but the public is, indeed, given knowledge of them, even at a distance in time and space.
Consider what religious fundamentalists and religious philosophers alike call the spirit of prophecy. What science fiction authors refer to as empaths. What new age and old age refer to as premonitions. What the artistically strong feel so overwhelmingly in the power of music. What is outlined in manifestos. They feel the shifts and stages of environmental movements through creative interpretations of their own time-space in one form of expression or mutual understanding or another. Perhaps there is a real element of communication with higher order here and, if that is the case, there is always a counter narrative with insight that we can learn from to better understand our own time-space. Perhaps we are meant to anticipate the paths of societies and, likewise, offer alternative versions. To heal impurities. To solidify conquests that are unreal and subdue learning that is out of order. Is the bull facing towards you or against you? How do you interpret the music?
There is the idea of play and interpreting music and societal development. It has been said that child’s play allows for individuals to better enhance learning skills as adults, of creating strategies for problem solving. Children who play are less likely to find violence as solutions to problems. Truly, interpreting a song, seeing the bull’s face in the night sky, counter political idealism, are all manners of play. Freeing the imagination for play is the same virtue as freeing the soul for the spiritual journey. Rabbi Dr. Pearce wrote that Abram’s command from God in Genesis 12:1-2, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you,” is not just a physical journey, but a spiritual, internal journey as well.274 Through the play of imagination we empathize with that journey and gain insights to our own journey as well. Understanding where post-WW II Universalism failed can be attached to seeing where second wave feminism failed and that can further be attached to seeing where our own efforts to understand the course of our lives fail when we offer misguided recourse to our problems that result in all forms of violence, from physical violence, to bomb making, to the violence of poverty.
God cares about three things: The way to see and unify with the light of God is in how we treat others, that we do something meaningful with our lives, and how we treat ourselves.
- Radical kindness is the highest order of communicating with the Creator and Healer of All.
- That we do something meaningful with our lives should not be confused with temptations of the American dream, but could be something as simple as creating art, to just being there for even just one person.
- How we treat ourselves should also not be confused with spoiling ourselves or taking vacations and relaxing on the beach. It does mean self-care and not allowing our internal intervals to continue to be damaged by the demands of society that are not always just. As Rabbi Shimon stated, “do not judge yourself to be a wicked person.”275
The three tenets here that take priority with God can be found in any faith or no faith at all. It doesn’t indicate a mandatory preface or proscribed religion. It can be found in Hinduism, Buddhism, the Sikh faith, Islam, or even atheism.
I feel a great importance in adding that we must remember the Healer of the Universe is powerful. Eric Hoffer wrote:
There are similarities between absolute power and absolute faith: a demand for absolute obedience, a readiness to attempt the impossible, a bias for simple solutions — to cut the knot rather than unravel it, the viewing of compromise as surrender. Both absolute power and absolute faith are instruments of dehumanization. Hence, absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.276
I have encountered absolute faith is not unlike the dangers often promoted that accompany ascending too high too soon esoterically. It is often recounted that those who are not ready should not attempt mystic ventures. Absolute faith is a mystic venture. It leads through a door that sees the other world and its power over this world. It is a bridge that doesn’t take you there, but lets you see the distance you fall from its magnificence. There is a real danger in getting what you ask for when you speak to God. Be cautious with your words. For those without faith, it is still possible to have the wishes of your heart granted where you have to live with the consequences. Remember God is powerful, as tests us according to our own privileges of understanding and contrarian-ness of heart.
If we can make our form of direct action symbolic and representative of the larger struggle than we have God’s ear. There are many layers to symbolic maturity. Exploring the path to that maturity is exploring maturity with God. For better or for worse, God uses the language of direct action and symbolism to express our relationship with the Creator. As such, if we consider the implications of our language and what we choose to represent through our actions and tongue, then we embark on the path to a form of communication with the Divine. This may require putting ourselves in situations where we can speak out. For others, it means calling from within that which is all around you, already being placed at the center of disturbance of peace. If we pivot our resolution to concur with Divine reservations, and call out from our hearts, we are heard in the halls of the angels and the actions we take are manifest in the Creator’s court as though we were testifying to the higher order as we are witnesses to the sound of the wicked wind.
Provoking God is like a river. Perhaps it is pure. Perhaps it is polluted. Perhaps it passes directly through your town or through a village on the other side of the world. The river dances whether it is tainted or not. It only knows to move. It has a history just as we have through our language. It came from some place. It has a reference point. We all have our reference points. We can use that to forward our actions to the crest of a vision and dream of a better way, for our community and ourselves. Our actions must be collectively centered. This river does not know how to be self-centered. It is inherently communal. It is the drift of our sandy thoughts in the wind that bend and shape an idealized future without demands from inaccessible portraits of fatigue and unrest. We can bend ourselves to the stars. It is internal and it is outward. In bending to that shape we distort derision to be exposed for what it is. If we have the heart to petition God, then we can dispel the monsters that shape derision and conquest and bend new shapes out of humanity to joy and eternal triumph, pushing through the city from our thoughts to our actions and realized in the quake of what flows from the Creator and our esteem for each other.
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1 First portion of Pesukei D’zimrah. I have replaced He with S/he. Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz eds., The Complete Artscroll Siddur (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2005), 371.
2 Reuven Firestone, “Holy War in Modern Judaism? ‘Mitzvah War’ and the Problem of the ‘Three Vows’,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74, no. 4 (Dec 2006): 960.
3 Václav Havel. “Power of the Powerless,” Václav Havel, accessed March 27, 2017, http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/showtrans.php?cat=eseje&val=2_aj_eseje.html&typ=HTML
4 Václav Havel, “New Year’s Address to the Nation, Prague, January 1, 1990,” The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 7.
5 C.L. Crouch, “Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations in the Light of Royal Ideology of Warefare,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 130, No. 3 (Fall 2011), 473-474.
6 Crouch, “Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations,” 478.
7 Hilary Marlow, “The Lament over the River Nile” Isaiah XIX 5-10 in Its Wider Context,” Vetus Testamentum, 57, No. 2 (2007), 230.
8 Marlow, “Lament over the River Nile,” 233.
9 Alviero Niccacci, “Isaiah XVII-XX from an Egyptological Perspective,” Vetus Testamentum, 48, No. 2 (April 1998), 217.
10 Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, Dictionary of Old Testament Prophets: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2012), 6.
11 David Harris and Lisa Isherwood, Radical Otherness: Sociological and Theological Approaches (Durham: Acumen, 2013), 14.
12 Harris and Isherwood, Radical Otherness, 124.
13 Benjamin D. Sommer, “Monotheism,” The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Companion, ed. John Barton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 262.
14 Emmanuel Levinas, Humanism and the Other (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 64.
15 Kimberle Crenshaw introduced the concept of intersectionality in her 1989 essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics,” published widely, and expanded on the idea in her 1991 essay, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review, 43, No. 6 (Jul., 1991): 1241-1299.
16 Kwok Pui-lan, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 215.
17 Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (New York: Farra, Sraus and Giroux, 1996), 249.
18 Gale A Yee, Poor Banished Children of Eve: Women as Evil in the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 2.
19 Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 87.
20 Colin Moyinhan. “About 20 Rabbis Arrested During Protest Over Trump Travel Ban,” New York Times, February 6, 2017, accessed March 8, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/06/nyregion/rabbis-arrested-protest-trump-muslim-ban.html.
21 Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991), 7.
22 Hashem literally means “The Name” and is traditionally stated at it is forbidden to use God’s four letter name, Yud Hey Vav Hey. To use the name Hashem denotes an intimacy and caring relationship with the Creator.
23 Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai, 11.
24 Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai, 5.
25 Retina J. Weems, Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 25-26.
26 Weems, Battered Love, 26.
27 Weems, Battered Love, 26.
28 Ben Ager, Gender, Culture, and Power: Towards a Feminist Postmodern Critical Theory (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1994), 78.
29 Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 67.
30 Sharon Moughtin-Mumby, Sexual and Marital Metaphors in Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 62-63.
31 Moughton-Mumby, Sexual and Marital Metaphor, 65.
32 Margaret D. Kamitsuka, Feminist Theology and the Challenge of Difference (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 93.
33 Kamitsuka, Feminist Theology and the Challenge of Difference, 93-94.
34 F. Charles Fensham, “Widow, Orphan, and the Poor in Ancient near Eastern Legal and Wisdom Literature,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 21, No. 2 (Apr., 1962): 130.
35 Fensham, “Widow, Orphan, and the Poor,” 130.
36 Eugene B. Borowitz, Renewing the Covenant: A Theology for the Postmodern Jew (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 192.
37 Borowitz, Renewing the Covenant, 192.
38 See: Exodus 22:21, Deuteronomy 27:19, Jeremiah 7:5-7, 49:11, Job 29:12, 31:16, Psalm 68:5-6, 146:9.
39 Kamitsuka, Feminist Theology and the Challenge of Difference, 152.
40 Kamitsuka, Feminist Theology and the Challenge of Difference, 152.
41 Lawrence Kushner, The River of Light: Spirituality, Judaism, Consciousness (Woodstock: Jewish Lights Publication, 1995), 29.
42 Midrash is explication of and addition to biblical texts and pericopes by rabbis to explain, situate, and ramify what might not be clear, what details might be missing, and what might contradict other segments of text.
43 David A. Lambert, How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, & the Interpretation of Scripture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 72.
44 Lambert, How Repentance Became Biblical, 73.
45 Barry Reay, Popular Cultures in England, 1550-1750 (London: Longman, 1998), 36-70.
46 Ellen M. Umansky, “Feminism and the Reevaluation of Women’s Roles,” in Women, Religion, and Social Change, ed. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad (New York: State University of New York Press, 1985), 478.
47 Anson Laytner, Arguing With God: A Jewish Tradition (Northvale: Jason Aronson Inc, 1990), 119.
48 Laytner, Arguing With God, 164.
49 “Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity” is the second line of The Shema. The Complete Artscroll Siddur states that traditionally there are two reasons given as to why these words are whispered or said silently. One is that these are words stated by Jacob on his deathbed and therefore they should be included in the prayer. However, since Moses did not direct that they be said there is comprise in the form of a hushed tone. The second reason is that Moses heard these words from an angel and since humans are below the angels and not worthy or repeating what they state, the line is hushed with the exception of during Yom Kippur. Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz eds., The Complete Artscroll Siddur (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2005), 91.
50 Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Ph.D., eds., The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York: Union for Reform Judaism Press, 2008), 991.
51 Eskenazi and Weiss, The Torah, 992.
52 Eskenazi and Weiss, The Torah, 992.
53 Leigh Gilmore, Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 157.
54 Gilmore, Tainted Witness, 158.
55 Jessa Crispin, Why I am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2017), 62.
56 Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 2000), 26.
57 bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men Masculinity, and Love (New York: Washington Square Press, 2004), 80.
58 Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York, Free Press, 1997), 41.
59 hooks, Will to Change, 95.
60 Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought, 78.
61 Leila L. Bronner, “Hannah’s Prayer: Rabbic Ambivalence,” Shofar, 17, No. 2 (Winter 1999): 37.
62 Bronner, “Hannah’s Prayer,” 37.
63 Bronner, “Hannah’s Prayer,” 39.
64 Bronner, “Hannah’s Prayer,” 40.
65 Bronner, “Hannah’s Prayer,” 43.
66 In 2016, U.S. Rep. John Lewis spoke to the graduating class of Bates College in which he stated, “And it was Dr. King who inspired me to stand up, to speak up and speak out. And I got in the way. I got in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.” Taryn Finley, “Congressman John Lewis Urges Bates Grads to Get Into ‘Good Trouble’,” The Huffington Post, May 31, 2016, Accessed March 10, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/congressman-john-lewis-urges-bates-grads-to-get-into-good-trouble_us_574d9587e4b055bb1172a3ce
67 Bronner, “Hannah’s Prayer,” 45.
68 Bronner, “Hannah’s Prayer,” 47.
69 Judith R. Baskin, “Rabbinic Reflections on the Barren Wife,” The Harvard Theological Review, 82, No. 1 (Jan., 1989): 103, 105.
70 Eskenazi and Weiss, The Torah, 453.
71 Eskenazi and Weiss, The Torah, 453.
72 Rabbi Ana Bonnheim, “Giving Gifts of Free Will,” ReformJudaism.org, Accessed March 10, 2017, http://www.reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/trumah/giving-gifts-free-will
73 Bonnheilm, “Giving Gifts.”
74 Bonnheilm, “Giving Gifts.”
75 Susan Eckstein, “Community as Gift-Giving: Collectivistic Roots of Volunteerism,” American Sociological Review, 66, No. 6 (Dec., 2001): 829.
76 Eckstein, “Community as Gift-Giving,” 829.
77 Eckstein, “Community as Gift-Giving,” 830.
78 Eckstein, “Community as Gift-Giving,” 844.
79 David H. Rosmarin, et al. “Grateful to God or just plain grateful? A comparison of religious and general gratitude,” The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6:5 (2011): 393.
80 Rosemarin, “Grateful to God,” 393.
81 Rosemarin, “Grateful to God,” 393.
82 Rosemarin, “Grateful to God,” 393-394.
83 Lisa Marie Cacho, Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 6.
84 Cacho, Social Death, 6.
85 Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1983), 295-296.
86 Patrick Winn, “Myanmar’s army is tormenting Muslims with a brutal rape campaign,” PRI’s The World, February 7, 2017, Accessed March 10, 2017, https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-02-07/myanmar-s-army-tormenting-muslims-brutal-rape-campaign
87 The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Interviews with Rohingyas fleeing from Myanmar since 9 October 2016,” February 3, 2017, Accessed March 10, 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/MM/FlashReport3Feb2017.pdf
88 Christopher Woolf, “The world is actually becoming more peaceful – believe it or not,” PRI’s The World, September 29, 2014, Accessed March 10, 2017, https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-09-29/world-actually-becoming-more-peaceful-believe-it-or-not
89 Cacho, Social Death, 6.
90 Lauren Wolfe, “The village where dozens of young girls have been raped is still waited for justice,” The Guardian, August 3, 2016, Accessed March 10, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/03/kavumu-village-39-young-girls-raped-justice-drc
91 Lauren Wolfe, “For the girls of Kavumu,” Generosity by Indiegogo, Accessed March 10, 2017, https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/for-the-girls-of-kavumu
92 “Metropolitan Police Review Sex Case Evidence,” BBC, 20 Dec 2017, accessed 20 Dec 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-42417553
93 Eskenazi and Weiss, The Torah, 74.
94 See Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 2011).
95 Christopher Paris, Narrative Obtrusion in the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014).
96 Yvonne Sherwood, “Binding-Unbinding: Divided Responses of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the ‘Sacrifice’ of Abraham’s Beloved Son,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 72, no. 4 (Dec 2004): 826.
97 Christopher Paris, Narrative Obtrusion in the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 35.
98 Paris, Narrative Obtrusion, 171-172.
99 Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narrative (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 22.
100 Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2013), 25-26.
101 Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 18.
102 Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 28.
103 Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 29.
104 The Jewish Study Bible, ed. Michael Fishbane (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 44-45.
105 Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 29.
106 Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 22.
107 Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 17.
108 Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 17.
109 Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 17.
110 Susanne Scholz, Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 58.
111 Scholz, Sacred Witness, 58.
112 Scholz, Sacred Witness, 61.
113 The documentary host by CBC but is viewable outside Canada on YouTube. Helen Knott, Peace River Rising, Directed by Frederick Kroetsch, Canada, CBC, 2017. Accessed April 5 2017, https://youtu.be/6GbGL7dmEwA.
114 Knott, Peace River Rising
115 Riayn Fergins, “Follow the Oil Trail and You’ll Find the Girls,” Longreads, March 2017, Accessed April 5 2017, https://longreads.com/2017/03/01/follow-the-oil-trail-and-youll-find-the-girls/
116 Jewish Study Bible, 44.
117 See the brilliant article from Christina Welch, “Spirituality and Social Change at Greenham Common Peace Camp,” Academia.edu, Accessed March 31, 2017, https://www.academia.edu/260042/Spirituality_and_Social_Change_at_Greenham_Common_Peace_CampFor further context in strategies of resistance see Margaret L. Laware, “Circling the Missiles and Staining Them Red: Feminist Rhetorical Invention and Strategies of Resistance at the Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common,” NWSA Journal, 16, No. 3 (Fall 2004): 18-41.
118 Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Ph.D., eds., The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York: Union for Reform Judaism Press, 2008), 389-390.
119 Susanne Scholz, Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 116.
120 David Sheen, “Israeli leadership’s sex crime problem,” The Electronic Intifada, 9 December 2016, Accessed March 31, 2017, https://electronicintifada.net/content/israeli-leaderships-sex-crime-problem/18836
121 Pikuach nefesh comes from the Leviticus 19:16, “Do not deal basely with your countrymen. Do not profit by the blood of your fellow: I am the Lord.” This verse is explicated in Judaic thought as a statute that all is permissible, and that all other laws may be broken, if done so in the pursuit of saving a life.
122 “Remembering Rachel Corrie, 14 years after the Israeli military killed her in Gaze,” Mondoweiss, March 16, 2017, Accessed March 31, 2017, http://mondoweiss.net/2017/03/remembering-israeli-military/.
123 Cynthia R. Chapman, The Gendered Language of Warfare in the Israelite-Assyrian Encounter (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2004), 75.
124 Chapman, Gendered Language of Warfare, 75-76.
125 Chapman, Gendered Language of Warfare, 76.
126 Chapman, Gendered Language of Warfare, 138.
127 Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams offers an apologetics insisting that we are not to take the demands of physical “perfection” of priests as standards expected for the people. Abrams states, “The world is full of death, disorder and imperfection. In heaven there is eternal life, order and perfection. Only in the Temple could these two realms come into contact. The priest, then, had to stand in two worlds at once. He had to be worthy of heavenly beings whose company he shared and had to be able to survive coming into direct contact with God which was ordinarily considered lethal”. This justifying logic that God’s requirement of so-called “perfection” denotes an ableist bias that continues the exploitative perception that those considered not to be equally abled suffer from imperfection. This is the very argument from which we may challenge God for contributing to. Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams PhD, “Misconceptions About Disabilities in the Hebrew Bible,” Journal of Religion, Disability and Health, 10:3-4 (2007): 75.
128 Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory,” NWSA Journal 14, No 3 (Fall 2002): 17
129 Eryl W. Davis, The Dissenting Reader (Burlington: Ashgate, 2003), 30.
130 Eskenazi and Weiss, The Torah, 768.
131 Nancy Lynne Westfield, “Mama Why…” A Womanist Epistemology of Hope,” Deeper Shades of Purple: Womanism in Religion and Society (New York: New York University Press, 2006): 129.
132 Rachel Adler, Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology of Ethics (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998): 164.
133 Adler, Engendering Judaism, 165.
134 Moshe Weinfeld, Social Justice in Ancient Israel and the Ancient Near East (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995): 189.
135 Kumari Jayawardena, Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World (London: Verso, 2016): 121.
136 David R. Blumenthal, Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993): 57.
137 Ivone Gebara, Out of the Depths: Women’s Experience of Evil and Salvation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002): 129.
138 Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack, “Blood and Water, Death and Life,” The Women’s Torah Commentary, ed. Rabbi Elyse Goldstein (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2006): 297.
139 Pollack, “Blood and Water,” 297.
140 Pollack, “Blood and Water,” 297.
141 Pollack, “Blood and Water,” 297.
142 See the brilliant historian Nancy F Cott’s book, The Grounding of Modern Feminism as it is a great study on the first wave. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).
143 Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof is the transliteration from Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” To be given the land according to the merits of justice may also be understood in global and localized terms that to act in one’s community towards justice leads to a communal inheritance.
144 Job 22:21 is noted as having structural similarities to a Ugaritic text instructing to submit in peace (here translated from JPS Tanakh translation as “Be close to Him and wholehearted), which, interestingly, coincides with verse lines. Wilson B. Bishai, “Notes on HSKN in Job 22:21,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 20. No. 4 (1961), 259. Furthermore, Mitchell Dahood understands Job 22:22 as a metaphor of transcription, meaning to write down what is being said, which also may be related to some Ugaritic texts, “to place on a tablet, to write.” “The Metaphor in Job 22:22,” Biblica Vol. 47, No 1. (1966), 109.
145 Christoph Bultmann, “Historical-Critical Inquiry,” John Barton ed. The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Companion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016). 449.
146 Num. 6:25, “The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you.” Here, “deal kindly,” is more often translated as “The Lord shine his face” on you. Numbers 6:22-27 constructs the Priestly Blessing. The three parts of the blessing is referred to as the threefold blessing.
147 T. C. Ham, “The Gentle Voice of God in Job 38,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 132 No. 3 (2013), 529.
148 Ham, “The Gentle Voice of God,” 529-530.
149 Jewish Study Bible, 1422.
150 In May of 2017, Rev. Dr. William Barber, the architect of the Moral Monday movement, stepped down as head of the North Carolina NAACP and took charge over the New Poor People’s Campaign, which aims to continue the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on a national stage.
151 “Rev. William Barber: The NAACP Will Boycott North Carolina over HB2 and Voter Suppression,” Democracy Now (transcript), February 27, 2017, accessed May 17, 2017, https://www.democracynow.org/2017/2/27/rev_william_barber_the_naacp_will
152 Sichot HaRan and Schivchy HaRan, eds. Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, trans. Rabbi Aryah Kaplan (Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, 2015), 170.
153 Fishbane, Jewish Study Bible, 1183.
154 bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (Cambridge: South End Press, 2000), 51.
155 hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, 42.
156 hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, 43.
157 Leonard J. Davis, ed., The Disabilities Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2006), 95.
158 Lisa Guenther, “The Ethics and Politics of Otherness: Negotiation Alterity and Racial Difference,” philoSOPHIA, Vol. 1.2 (2011), 198-199.
159 Lawrence Kushner, The River of Light: Jewish Mystical Awareness (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2013), 37.
160 “Pope Francis Compares Transgender People to Nuclear Weapons in New Book,” CBS San Francisco, 20 Feb. 2015, Retrieved 5 Jun 2017, http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2015/02/20/pope-francis-compares-transgender-people-to-nuclear-weapons-in-new-book/
161 Judith Plaskow, “Finding a God I can Believe in,” Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 114.
162 Plaskow, “Finding a God I can Believe in,” 115.
163 Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Forced to Care: Coercion and Caregiving in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), 189.
164 Renita J. Weems, Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew Prophets (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995). 57.
165 Weems, Battered Love, 57.
166 Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities of Ancient Israel (Cambridge: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 24.
167 Smith, The Early History of God, 25.
168 Joshua 2:1-24
169 Amy H. C. Robertson, “Rahab and Her Interpreters,” Carol A. Newsom, et al, eds. Women’s Bible Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012). 110.
170 Robertson, “Rahab and Her Interpreters,” 110.
171 Robertson, “Rahab and Her Interpreters,” 110.
172 Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017). 133.
173 Janice Johnston, “‘I’m the victim and I’m in shackles’: Edmonton woman jailed while testifying against her attacker,” CBC News, 5 June 2017, retrieved 7 June 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/sex-assault-victim-jailed-judge-edmonton-1.4140533
174 Jewish Study Bible, 799.
175 Caleb was one of the twelve spies sent in to survey the Promised Land. While all the others said the obstacles were too great to take the land, only Caleb and Joshua reported that they could do it. From Numbers 13:30, “Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.’”
176 A very different perspective can be taken from Job’s insistence on an audience with God if we read Job’s dialogue as the declarations of royalty. See Annette Yoshiko Reed, “Job as Jobab: The Interpretation of Job in LXX Job 42:17b-e,” Journal of Biblical Literature Spring 2001; 120, 35-55.
177 On the point of proceeding with caution, see, for example, Rabbi David Foreman’s video “Korach: Can We Change God’s Mind?” in which he concludes, specifically, that we many confront God in attempt to persuade the Creator, we just may not attempt to trick God. AlephBeta, Parsha 5774/2014, accessed 23 July 2017, https://www.alephbeta.org/course/lecture/korach-can-we-influence-god
178 Barry W. Holtz, Rabbi Akiva: Sage of the Talmud (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017), 171.
179 Louis Jacobs, “Love and Fear of God,” The Jewish Religion: A Companion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 322.
180 Dov Weiss, Pious Irreverence: Confronting God in Rabbinic Judaism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 21.
181 Weiss, Pious Irreverence. 23-24.
182 Weiss, Pious Irreverence, 24.
183 Weiss, Pious Irreverence, 24.
184 Weiss, Pious Irreverence, 24.
185 Weiss, Pious Irreverence, 33-34.
186 Weiss, Pious Irreverence, 34.
187 Weiss, Pious Irreverence, 46.
188 Weiss, Pious Irreverence, 70.
189 Weiss, Pious Irreverence, 71.
190 Weiss, Pious Irreverence, 88.
191 Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper & Row, 1962). 58.
192 Bayard Rustin, Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin, eds., Devon W. Carbado and Donald Weise (San Francisco: Cleis Press, 2003), 188.
193 John Ydstie, “Once Shot for Advocating for Girls’ Education, Malala is Going to Oxford,” NPR, 17 Aug 2017, accessed 18 Aug 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/17/544191839/once-shot-for-advocating-for-girls-education-malala-is-going-to-oxford
194 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford, accessed 18 Aug 2017, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/letter-birmingham-jail
195 Brad Embry, “Legalities in the Book of Ruth: A Renewed Look.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 41.1 (2016), 32-33.
196 The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, eds, Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss (New York: URJ Press, 2008), 973.
197 Berta Cáceres was a well-known environmentalist in Honduras who was murdered for her activism in 2016.
198 “Twilight Prayer,” Mishkan Hanefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe: Yom Kippur (New York: CCAR Press, 2015), 25.
199 Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory. Practicing Solidarity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 143.
200 Edward W. Soja, Seeking Spatial Justice (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2010), 69.
201 Don Mitchell, The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space (New York: The Guilford Press, 2003), 142.
202 Petra Doan, “Coming out of Darkness in Activism,” Gender, Place, and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, Vol. 24, Issue 5 (2017), 1-6.
203 Gerard Delanty, “The Resurgence of the city in Europe,” Democracy. Citizenship, and the Global City, ed Engin F. Isin (London: Routledge, 2000), 87.
204 Daphne Spain, Constructive Feminism: Women’s Spaces and Women’s Rights in the American City (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016), 91.
205 Susan Fraiman Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 174.
206 Fraiman, Extreme Domesticity, 174.
207 Carolyn Sufrin, Jailcare: Finding the Safety Net for Women Behind Bars (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2017), 53.
208 Sufrin, Jailcare, 53.
209 Sufrin, Jailcare, 53.
210 Wilda C. Gafney, Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 90.
211 Pesachim 66b, The William Davison Talmud, Sefaria, accessed 10 Sept., 2017, https://www.sefaria.org/Pesachim.66b.7?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en.
212 Nyasha Junior, An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Tradition (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 36.
213 Meyda Yegenoglu, “Sartorial Fabric-ations: Enlightenment and Western Feminism,” Postcolonialism, Feminism, and Religious Discourse, eds. Laura E. Donaldson and Kwok Pui-lan (New York: Routledge, 2002), 91.
214 Yegenoglu, “Sartorial Farbic-ations,” 91.
216 Eryl W. Davies, The Dissenting Reader: Feminist Approaches to the Hebrew Bible (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003), 84.
217 bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000), 53.
218 See: Patricia Hill Collins, “What’s in a Name? Womanism, Black Feminism, and Beyond,” The Black Scholar, Vol. 26, No. 1 (1996), in which Hill Collins states, “African American women’s ideas and experiences have achieved a visibility unthinkable in the past” (9).
219 Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York: Amistad, 1984), 231.
220 Kwok Pui-lan, Postcolonial Imagination & Feminist Theology (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 97.
221 Musa W. Dube, Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2000), 67.
222 Dube, Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation, 69.
223 Dube, Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation, 69.
224 Dube, Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation, 73.
225 Dube, Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation, 73.
226 Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 201
227 Luce Irigaray, Sharing the World (London: Continuum, 2008), 89.
228 Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which is Not One (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1985), 104.
229 Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 82.
230 Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986), 147.
231 Ekaterina E. Kozlova, Maternal Grief in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 49.
232 Kozlova, Maternal Grief, 51.
233 Kozlova, Maternal Grief, 51.
234 Kozlova, Maternal Grief, 57.
235 Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of the Biblical Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 28.
236 Anson Laytner, Arguing with God: A Jewish Tradition (Northwale: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1990), 152.
237 Dov Weiss, Pious Irreverence: Confronting God in Rabbinic Judaism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 168.
238 Weiss, Pious Irreverence, 168.
239 Irene Diamond and David Seidenberg, “Sensuous Minds and the Possibilities of Jewish Ecofeminist Practice,” Ethics and Environment, Vol. 4 No. 2 (1999), 189.
240 John S Dryzek. The Politics of the Earth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 189.
241 Gwyn Kirk, “Ecofeminism and Environmental Justice: Bridges across Gender, Race, and Class.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2. (1997), 6.
242 Greta Gaard, “Ecofeminism Revisited: Rejecting Essentialism and Re-Placing Species in a Material Feminist Environmentalism.” Feminist Formations. Vol. 23, Issue 2. (2011), 27.
243 See: Susan A. Mann, “Pioneers of U.S. Ecofeminism and Environmental Justice.” Feminist Formations. Vol. 23, Issue 2. (2011).
244 Lawrence Troster, “God Must Love Beetles: A Jewish View of Biodiversity and the Extinction of Species Introduction,” Conservative Judaism, Jan. 2008, from Research Gate, accessed Oct 15 2017, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265292054_God_Must_Love_Beetles_A_Jewish_View_of_Biodiversity_and_the_Extinction_of_Species_Introduction
245 Michele Foucault. The Punitive Society: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1972-1973 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 176.
246 Aryah Cohen, “The Sage and the Other Woman,” The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism ed. Danya Ruttenberg (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 69.
247 Lila Abu-Lughold, “A Community of Secrets: The Separate World of Bedouin Women,” Signs, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Summer 1985), 638.
248 Abu-Lughold, “A Community of Secrets,” 642.
249 Ivone Gebara, Out of the Depths: Women’s Experience of Evil and Salvation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 90-91.
250 Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1996), 13.
251 T. M. Lemos, Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 120-121.
252 Lemos, Violence and Personhood, 121.
253 Lemos, Violence and Personhood, 120.
254 See Lemos, Violence and Personhood, on the scholarship of the personhood of children in ancient Israel, 134-142.
255 See Ekaterina E. Kozlova’s comments on the “communicative power” of ritual and lament in Maternal Greif in the Hebrew Bible, 49-51.
256 Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996), 253.
257 Heschel, Moral Grandeur, 153.
258 Shahd Wadi, “Ain’t I a Palestinian Woman,” Min Fami: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space, and Resistance, ed. Ghadeer Malek and Ghaida Moussa (Toronto: Inanna, 2014), 153.
259 Wadi, “Ain’t I a Palestinian Woman,” 155.
260 Pirkei Avos: Ethics of the Fathers, Overview Rabbi Nosson Scherman (Brooklyn: Mesorsah Publications, Ltd, 2016), 23.
261 Heschel, Moral Grandeur, 325.
262 Abraham was rewarded in form of God appearing to him as he contemplated God’s existence, questioning, “Can it be that the universe and all that exists within it is without a directing mind?” God responded, “I am the master of the universe.” Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser, The Wisdom of the Talmud (New York: Philosophical Library, 1951), 85.
263 Ekaterina E. Kozova, Maternal Greif in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, 89.
264 Judith A. Byfield, “From Ladies to Women,” Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, eds. Mia Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Martha S. Jones, and Barbara D. Savage (Chapel Hill: University Of North Carolina Press, 2015), 197. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a leader with the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons as well as the Nigerian Women’s Council and fought to counter colonialism at a local and national level.
265 Jelani Cobb, Twitter post, December 9, 2017, 10:05 AM, https://twitter.com/jelani9/status/939511427831877633.
266 Carol A. Stabile and Carrie Rentschler, “States of Insecurity and the Gendered Politics of Fear,” NWSA Journal, Vol. 17 No. 3 (Fall 2005), xiii.
267 Amalia Sa’ar, “Postcolonial Feminism, the Politics of Identity, and the Liberal Bargain,” Gender and Society, Vol. 19, No 5 (Oct. 2005), 696.
268 Michele Russell, “Slave Codes and Liner Notes”, But Some of Us are Brave, eds. Gloria T. Hall, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith (New York: The Feminist Press, 1982), 137.
269 Perin Gurel “Transnational Feminism, Islam, and the Other Woman: How to Teach,” The Radical Teacher, No. 86 (Winter 2009), 67.
270 Wilda C. Gafney, Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 100.
271 The Me, Too Movement is the name given to the wave of women speaking out and sharing stories and experiences of sexual predation, harassment, and assault, which occurred towards the end of 2017 and is ongoing as of this writing.
272 See the Human Rights Watch report, “Burma: Widespread Rape of Rohingya Woman and Girls: Soldiers Commit Gang Rape, Murder Children,” November 16, 2017, accessed Dec. 11, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/16/burma-widespread-rape-rohingya-women-girls
273 David R. Blumenthal, Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 41.
274 Rabbi Stephen S. Pearce, Ph.D, “Searching Oneself on the Way Forward,” Reform Judaism, accessed 26 Nov. 2017, https://reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/lech-lcha/searching-oneself-way-forward
275 Pirkei Avos: Ethics of the Fathers, Artscroll Mesorah Series, Commentary by Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2016), 23.
276 Eric Hoffer, “Thoughts of Eric Hoffer, Including: ‘Absolute Faith Corrupts Absolutely,’” The New York Times Magazine, April 25, 1971, accessed 26 Nov. 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/1971/04/25/archives/thoughts-of-eric-hoffer-including-absolute-faith-corrupts.html
Religion is so poorly understood, but that hardly makes a difference because those who have put the work into understanding it still come away with such wildly varying opinions on meaning it is impossible to have a constructive conversation that advances something. The end result is what becomes considered worth agreeing upon, and being happy to agree upon, is set on a very low bar.