by Ilana Kurshan

Fresh Views of Bible Woman

The rabbis teach that each word of the Torah has 70 possible interpretations. Perhaps this accounts for the steady proliferation of Biblical commentaries published each year, including four new books on the women of the Bible. In Sarah Laughed: Modern Lessons from the Wisdom and Stories of Biblical Women (McGraw Hill, $24,95), Vanessa Ochs, a professor of .Jewish Studies at the University of Virginia, retells in vivid novelistic detail a particular moment in the lives of a variety of biblical women. These creative renditions serve as modern midrashim, adding brushstrokes to the Bible’s canvas. Thus we see Eve fashioning a table of stone for the home she builds with Adam in Eden; we smell the cracked wheat bread eaten by the daughters of Tzlofhad as they stand in line to speak with Moses; and we feel Sarah’s joy when Abraham parts her clothes and makes love to her with the vigor of a man half his age, as the three angels wait patiently in the shade. Ochs draws on traditional midrash to fill in the gaps in the biblical account, though readers in search of more transparency may wonder which details she derives from rabbinic readings and which details she invents. Of course, our inability to distinguish between the two is a tribute to the power of her retellings, which are both richly allusive and deeply sensitive to the cadences of the biblical text.

Continue reading this article…

Already a subscriber? Log in above to keep reading. Or subscribe now for immediate access to the complete digital and print editions, plus exclusive online access to Lilith's back issues.