The birth of Perez and Zerah recalls the birth of Esau and Jacob. The two sets of twins form a chiasmus. The “red hairy mantel” which distinguishes Esau, the oldest, becomes the red thread around the youngest’s wrist. By wearing Esau’s attire, Jacob makes Esau’s distinguishing marking — namely, is “red hairy mantle” — his own. Isaac’s blessing assures Jacob’s superiority over his brother, and the garment becomes the signifier of Jacob’s prominence. Similarly, when Jacob gives Joseph a long robe with sleeves, it symbolizes Joseph’s superiority; and, when the bloodied robe is returned to Jacob, it signals Joseph’s elimination from the line of succession….For Michael Fishbane,* the power of the Jacob cycle is that “it personalizes the tensions and dialects which are also crystallized on a national level at later points: the struggle for blessing; the threat of discontinuity; the conflicts between and within generations; and the wrestling for birth, name and identity.” In the Jacob cycle, garments form the subtext which upholds these concerns. From Jacob to Joseph to Judah to Zerah, the red thread establishes an order of filiation, a metaphorical umbilical cord that relates directly, without he mediation of women, father to son to grandson.
–from “His Story Versus Her Story: Male Genealogy and Female Strategy in the Jacob Cycle,” by Nelly Furman.**
*Fishbane, Michael. “Composition and Structure in the Jacob Cycle” (Gen 25:19-35:22).” Journal of Jewish Studies 26:15-38 (1975).
**Bach, Alice. Women in the Hebrew Bible: A Reader. NY: Routledge, 1999. Much of Furman’s essay is available through the Google Books.
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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued 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.