October 15, 2009

Noach: Something to Notice

Before the first yearly portion, Breishit [“in the beginning”], ends, Noah and his sons are introduced (Breishit/Genesis 5:28-32). Similarly, the second portion, Noach [Noah] — which is highlighted by the Flood (6:9 – 9:17) and Tower of Babel (11:1-9) stories — closes with an introduction of Abraham and Sarah (then called “Abram” and “Sarai”) and their family members (11:26-32).

By the time the portion Breishit draws to a close, humanity is in trouble: God has not only evicted Eve and Adam from Eden but has seen “how great was the wickedness of human beings [ki rabbah ra’at ha-adam]” and “regretted [va-yinacham]” having made humans (Genesis/Breishit 6:5-6). The portion ends with God contemplating wiping humans and other creatures off the face of the earth…
… “But Noah found favor in YHVH’s sight” (6:7-8).

In similar cliffhanger fashion, we learn, at the close of the portion Noach:

And Sarai was barren; she had no offspring.
— 11:31; this and above translations from TWC (Plaut/Stein [Stern])**


Ten generations link Adam and Noah. Another ten link Noah’s son Shem with Abraham. But the first named woman in seven chapters — the only one in Noach, and the only one about whom more than a verse or two is written* — is barren….
…stay tuned!

“The fertility of the barren women becomes a symbol of God’s special blessing, without implying necessarily that lack of fertility is a punishment. Stories about barren women subordinate the role of human beings in fertility and instead highlight God’s role,” writes editor Tamara Cohn Eskenazi in TWC.



*Between Eve and Sarah, only three women are named: Adah and Zillah (Lamech’s wives) and Naamah, introduced as “the sister of Tubal-cain” (Genesis/Breishit 4:19-22). The first two bear children, and Lamech sings to them of his power; Naamah is later identified, in extra-biblical texts, as the wife of Noah.

**The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (see Source Materials for complete citation and more information on translations and commentaries).

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Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.

The “Opening the Book” series is presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group pursuing spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.
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Breishit, Gender, literary analysis

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