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Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.
The first two portions of the Book of B’reishit (Genesis) span a period of about 2,000 years. During that time, there are a total of six women mentioned by name: Eve (the first woman), Ada and Zila (Lemech’s wives), Na’amah (Noah’s wife), Milkah (Abraham’s niece), and Sarah.
Of those women, most are mentioned scarcely as a footnote, other than two: Eve — with her single day in the biblical spotlight — and Sarah. When it comes to Sarah, however, the
Last week we discussed Sarah’s extraordinary beauty. This week, I would like to focus on her character and her influence.
We have previously alluded to the contrast between Sarah and Eve with respect to the role that G-d expected each to play in her marriage here. Adam was punished for obeying his wife, Eve when she told him to partake of the forbidden fruit. In contrast, Abraham is encouraged to obey Sarah in all of her commands; and conversely, Sarah is not necessarily as obedient to Abraham as he is to her.
Indeed, the following biblical episodes give us a glimpse as to who in fact wore the pants in the first Jewish family.
The very first recorded conversation between Abraham and Sarah takes place in last week’s
Note how deferentially Abraham speaks to her, and in an age of intense patriarchy yet! He begins by acknowledging her great beauty; then he explains the reason behind his request; then he respectfully requests — using the Hebrew word “Na” for “please” — that she refer to herself as his sister.
Many commentaries say that Sarah did not accede to Abraham’s request, however. Initially, she remained silent, and did not contradict Abraham when he called her his sister. However, when Pharaoh ultimately took her to be his wife, but then returned her to Abraham the next morning, Pharaoh berated him: “What is this that you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to myself for a wife? And now, here is your wife; take [her] and go.”
How did Pharaoh learn that Sarah was in fact Abraham’s wife and not his sister? And why, by the way, was Pharaoh smitten with a plague as punishment for taking an unmarried woman to wife? Surely that was his prerogative as king in that ancient culture?
Commentaries explain that Sarah actually told Pharaoh that she was Abraham’s wife several times, but he either did not believe her, or he decided to make her his wife nonetheless. For this he was punished, whereupon he quickly decided that Sarah was telling the truth, and that she should be safely returned to her husband.
So despite Abraham’s express request, Sarah made her own decision as to how she would present herself.
Later in the
It would be far too simple to attribute Abraham’s ready compliance to the fact that he was a guy — as in “Wouldn’t every guy jump at the opportunity to impregnate his wife’s handmaid?” Um, no. And particularly not in the case of Abraham. He was, at that point, 86 years old, with he and Sarah having recently celebrated their 60th anniversary. Sarah had just a few years before won the award for the most beautiful trophy wife, whom even Pharaoh could not resist. Hagar, conversely, was a mere servant girl in Sarah’s employ. And Abraham himself was one regarding whom G-d attests in this week’s
But he listened to her nonetheless, and without question. He might have said: “Are you sure, Sarai? And if you are convinced that you will not bear children on your own, should we not seek a woman with comparable lineage? Perhaps someone from the line of Shem, as opposed to an Egyptian girl from the line of Ham?” Or, he might have said: “Sarai, have faith, and trust that G-d will bless us with children!”
Instead, he obeyed her…“and he came unto Hagar, and she conceived.”
When Hagar was impregnated and began to mistreat her mistress, Sarah challenged Abraham, perhaps wondering whether Abraham’s loyalty to her had shifted, now that he had an heir on the way. But “Abram said to Sarai, ‘Here is your handmaid in your hand; do to her that which is proper in your eyes.’ And Sarai afflicted her, and she fled from before her.” Even then – even when it came to his own unborn child – Abraham completely deferred to Sarah.
Finally, in this week’s
Here, Abraham’s resolve waivers. He has listened to Sarah in every respect throughout their marriage, obeying her in all — “but the matter greatly displeased Abraham, concerning his son.”
And it is here, in the face of this difficult decision that no parent should ever have to make, that Sarah receives the most powerful endorsement of all: that of G-d Himself. “And G-d said to Abraham, ‘Don’t be upset concerning the lad and your handmaid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her voice.”
This last phrase, is highly significant — particularly coming from G-d, Who had previously said to Adam twenty generations earlier: “Because you listened to your wife . . . cursed be the ground for your sake.” This contrary directive for Abraham to listen to Sarah is not viewed as being limited to the particular context of sending away Ishmael; it is seen as G-d’s policy statement with respect to the entirety of Abraham and Sarah’s relationship — and not only theirs, but the relationship between every Jewish woman and her husband.
There are many mystical and hermeneutical interpretations of this verse; but at a fairly simple level, the
In this way, says the
Sarah’s power and mastery was reflected even in her name, and particularly when her name was changed by G-d from “Sarai” to “Sarah.” From one perspective, “Sarai,” with the possessive suffix “yud” at the end of her name, means “my princess” — for me, but not for others. This perhaps suggested that the respect and deference that Abraham had for his wife was unique to their specific relationship, and was not necessarily reflective of a new norm. But then G-d changed her name to “Sarah,” without any qualifying suffix, denoting that she would be a princess over all, and lending a more eternal and enduring quality to her majesty.
Another perspective is that “Sarai” (with a yud) meant that she is a princess, but her authority flows “from me,” from Abraham – “it is my authority.” On the other hand, “Sarah,” to which her name was changed, alludes to her graduation from one who previously received her authority from her husband, to one who was herself an independent source of authority.
If so, this suggests that Sarah in fact broke the mold that had been set by Adam and Eve on the very first day of creation. The source of Eve’s existence flowed from Adam: “G-d built the side that He had taken from Man into a woman.” Later that same day, G-d cursed Eve, promising that “he will rule over you,”and cursed Adam for listening to his wife. This cemented into place a highly patriarchal dynamic.
Now, however, Sarah – an already majestic woman – has her name changed to signal a further shift in the source of her authority, from her husband to something more innate; and G-d subsequently formalizes and approves this shift by expressly commanding Abraham:
“Listen to your wife.”
 Genesis, 12:11-13.
 Genesis, 12:18-19.
 Genesis, 16:2.
 Genesis, 18:19.
 Genesis, 16:4.
 Genesis, 16:6.
 Genesis, 21:9-10.
 Genesis, 21:11.
 Genesis, 21:12.
 Genesis, 3:17.
 Proverbs, 31:10.
 Genesis Rabba, 47:1.
 See Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 13a.
 See Genesis Rabba, 47:1 in Chidushei HaRaDal.
 Genesis, 2:22.
 Genesis, 3:16.
 Genesis, 3:17.
Jewrotica was everything I had dreamed of and more: sexy attendees, tantalizing confessions, and well-written literature to boot! More importantly, it empowers us Jews to reach inside and own our sexy selves and heritage!
I love the inclusiveness – there is something for everyone, in and out of the Jewish community.
I attended and participated in last month’s Jewrotica event. The engaging performers and Ayo, our inviting host, inspired the audience to feel like one big community. What a great way to inspire our community to embrace sex as a beautiful thing that can be fun, exciting, sacred, sensual, ridiculous, scary and everything in between!
I stepped out of my comfort zone to be a part of this. I was glad to open up the topic of sexuality in my community. We are trying to build a safe space to talk about sex. The result I am most happy about coming from this event is that hopefully now my friends know they can come and talk to me, that I can be their ‘safe space’.
My opinion on Jewrotica is: It’s sexy. It’s awesome. It’s Judaism to the next level. It’s what we should all be getting into!
I’m Heshy Fried from Frum Satire and I am very, very frum. And I completely support Jewrotica – it’s doing a service to the frum community. We need some sort of kosher sexual education. Jewrotica even has a system that allows frum filters to filter out certain things to make it PG for us. It’s mamish Torah. It’s like The Little Midrash Says for sex.
I had a great time deejaying at the Jewrotica event at Columbia University. The live readings were hilarious, informative, and in some cases, deeply moving. I know that I, along with many of my AEPi fraternity brothers, loved being able to connect our Judaism and our sexuality in a way that made all of us feel comfortable and welcome. I look forward to being a part of this again in the future!
Such an amazing experience! The Sarah Lawrence Jewrotica workshop was more than I could have ever expected – a comfortable, safe, sultry environment where participants clearly felt good about sharing or listening to each other’s intimate experiences and relating them to sexy stories from the Torah. From the moment the workshop began, Ayo had a sweet presence that was kinetic and spread around the room; her storytelling abilities had everyone enraptured and made the conversation topics relata…
You may not tell your mom that you’re going to a live Jewrotica reading (or whatever clever name you will dub these events) but you will tell your friends. However, both would be jealous if they find out that they missed it. I think it will only be a matter of time before Jewrotica helps us reclaim the term “Dirty Jew” the way rap music has done for “The ‘N’ Word.” I know I am now proud to be a Dirty Jew!
Learning about sex and what’s right and wrong when it comes to sex from a Biblical standpoint was an eye opening experience. I completely enjoyed it and think something like this could be a very cool thing to bring to even high school aged Jewish youth groups.