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If a Woman Had Written the Torah

“If a woman had written the Torah, the creation story would have been a birthing story.”

These words were spoken by an Orthodox feminist scholar at a CAJE (Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education) conference I attended about 27 years ago. I will never forget that moment, though I don’t remember the scholar’s name. It sent shivers down my spine. On the one hand, it exposed all the ways the stories of our tradition are limited by the experiences of those that wrote them; a powerful expression of the patriarchy. On the other hand, it opened me up to imagine an expanded canon of our sacred texts that had yet to be written.

Last week, almost three decades after that conference, I taught a midrash by Tamar Biala entitled “Miscarriage and Creation” in my Soul Food class. Building on a traditional midrash from Kohelet Rabbah that has God building and destroying worlds until God gets it right, Biala’s contemporary midrash imagines God as a woman. And instead of God destroying worlds, She miscarries those worlds.

“God saw all Her worlds falling apart at Her feet and She said to herself: I will just let my heart fall along with them, and I will sit in darkness, like those long dead.” (Lamentations 3:6)

From Dirshuni, edited by Tamar Biala

Like many women who miscarry, God experiences the loss, pain, despair, and heartache that comes with the unborn child—the world that doesn’t come to be. God goes through the mourning and eventually finds solace through faith, and loving-kindness, and a vision of her future children calling to her to remain hopeful.

Today is International Women’s Day amidst Women’s History Month. In course of my adult life—due to incredible creativity, imagination, and wisdom—a canon of feminist midrashim have been birthed: some imagining God as a woman; some giving voice to the women of the Torah who have no voice; some offering healing to parts of the tradition that seemed beyond repair. Each week as I study and teach a new midrash, I feel like I am standing at Sinai once again: humbled by the gift of ongoing revelation that is both radically new and timeless all at once.

In the midst of so many assaults on women’s reproductive rights, and with the barbaric sexual violence committed predominantly against women on October 7—and the denial that has followed—it is clear that sexism and misogyny continue to be pervasive in our world. There are so many worlds that are falling apart before our eyes: miscarriages of justice and a dominance of darkness. It is tempting to say, “I will just let my heart fall along with them,” for all that has not come to be, for all that has been lost.

And then every Tuesday, I teach these contemporary midrashim that expose, resist, and reinterpret old stories. And this past Tuesday, BJ member Dr. Judith Plaskow was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame—along with Ruby Bridges and Serena Williams (to name a few). We could get stuck in old stories, like the ones in the Talmud that compare women to cups, meat, bread, and the earth—inanimate passive objects used as vessels or to be consumed. They are devastating. And there is plenty in the present reality that is infuriating and devastating too. We also have choices before us: to create and live out new stories. That’s what Judith Plaskow did as a woman theologian who imagined God in non-hierarchical and non-punitive ways and birthed a modern feminist theology. That’s what Ruby Bridges did as a young girl who believed she deserved an education like everyone else and proudly walked into a school to begin the desegregation of the South in front of the eyes of all of America. And that’s what Serena Williams has done as a woman who not only built up incredible strength of body but of soul, and became one of the greatest tennis players of all time. These women defied what was and said yes to what could be.

And so does God in Biala’s midrash:

“She closed Her eyes, swallowed the pain lodged in Her throat, and pleaded for Herself, that She might find more compassion, and faith, as is written:

כִּי־אָמַרְתִּי עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה שָׁמַיִם  תָּכִן אֱמוּנָתְךָ בָהֶם׃

I declare, a world of compassion will be build, Your faithfulness will be established in the heavens (Psalm 89:3)

And from that She went and created new heavens and a new earth.”

For all the pain lodged in our throats, may we too find more loving mercy and faith to birth new worlds.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Felicia Sol