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October 4, 2018 by

Imagining the Author of Deuteronomy as a Woman: a Midrash

In this midrash, Huldah’s musings are “overheard” by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center. The midrash was written for a class at the National Havurah Institute of 2018, led by Sabrina Sojourner. Huldah was in fact named by the Tanakh and the Talmud as one of the seven women recognized as prophets. (Many translations turn “neviah” into “prophetess,” but in the 21st or 58th century, that seems as inappropriate as “Jewess: or “poetess.”)

For biblical passages on Huldah, see II Kings 22:14-20 and II Chronicles 34: 22-28.  She became the wife of Shallum, keeper of the king’s wardrobe—a prestigious and powerful role. As for the Scroll she authenticated as truly Torah, most modern scholars think it was Deuteronomy, and most of them also think that Deuteronomy was written in a Hebrew style characteristic of the time of Huldah and Jeremiah, separate from the other texts of the Five Books. 

 

My name is Huldah. I work as a cleaning woman in the Holy Temple and in the king’s palace across the street. I get to see all our “heroes” when they are just plain people, greedy and lustful and drunk. 

I especially get to see our kings, wandering clueless in the corridors. Not at all majestic. They have turned away from worshiping YHWH, the Interbreathing Spirit that unites all life. Instead they spend their energy worshiping their own power and ignoring the poor. They corrupt the people. They have become tyrants, and the people have made themselves helpless. 

Even when they do what the Teaching demands, they take the heart out of it. When they celebrate Shabbat, all they do is make a circle dance in honor of the cycles of creation, the sun and the moon. Very joyful, but in the meantime the poor are suffering, the widows are starving.

If it were up to me, I would bring them a whole new Torah. I would tell them that God commands that the king not multiply his gold and silver, that he stop sleeping around with many wives, that he stop taxing us so heavily to pay for his horse-chariot Army. And a lot more. 

Wait a minute!  I said, “if it were up to me – –”  Maybe it is up to me. If Amos, who barely made a living by trimming the sycamore trees, could speak out and the people listened, Why not me?

Oh well, Huldah, stop fooling yourself. Why not me? First of all, I’m a woman with no friends or relatives at court, whose only well-known family is that trouble-maker Jeremiah. I just clean the pots and basins and bathrooms in the Holy Temple.

Yet it is true that when I was young and lovely, Tzafon-Yah taught me to read and write when I slept with him. But if I were to write a Holy Scroll, people would get surprised and excited that I could write at all, but that’s all! Useless!

But wait—what if I wrote a whole Scroll as if it were Moses our Teacher speaking—maybe putting his words (really my own words) into the last speeches he gave to the people before he died! Then people would listen.

I would need to steal some parchment and the special ink the priests all use, but that would be easy while I’m sweeping the floors and cleaning the bathrooms in the Temple. Then I could write the kind of Torah that this creepy king and our stupefied people need to hear.

I would write: “Shabbat is about freeing slaves, not merely dancing to celebrate the sun and moon and stars!”

And when the king tries to force our young men to fight in his army, my Torah could provide for draft exemptions. That way, cruel officials appointed by the king would not be able to leave new wives forlorn and helpless when their husbands are forced into the Army.

In fact, I could go even further. There need to be some rules about how any king behaves. They should not be allowed to take our money in taxes and then pile it up in gold and silver for themselves. They should not be allowed to fill the palace with a harem, and go from woman to woman instead of paying attention to what the people need.

And once I’ve gotten the Scroll written, I could hide it –  maybe in an old chest of cedar wood, stashed away in a women’s bathroom that none of the Levite men have ever visited. And then I could pretend to discover it. Maybe my cousin Jeremiah would be willing to proclaim it. All the teachings would be in the name of Moses. Then maybe the people, and even the king, might have to pay attention. 

Once I’m famous for having revealed this sacred Scroll by Moses, maybe I will be able to teach on my own. If I live long enough, maybe they will even begin to call me a Prophet!

All right, Huldah, this wild fantasy is going too far. But the Scroll of Moses, that I can really do.