The story of Exodus opens with state-mandated oppression and violence against a rapidly growing minority population, increasingly feared by the ruling majority (brief summary). Women of different communities and classes engage in resistance, separately and jointly, that eventually leads to toppling of the entire system.
From Violence to Resistance
Today, many in the U.S. are calling for acknowledgement of “the structural violence and institutional discrimination that continues to imprison our communities either in a life of poverty and/or one behind bars,” and recognition of “the full spectrum of our human rights and its obligations under international law.” Black Lives Matter addresses
…a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise….an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression….we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. It is an acknowledgement Black poverty and genocide is state violence.
Midwives Shifrah and Puah act against the state, we are told, because “they feared God,” prompting them to act in preservation of life. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg elaborates:
…the very extremity of the edict forces a new moral vision upon the midwives, a radical choice between life and death. Disobedience to Pharaoh becomes more than merely a refusal to kill, it becomes a total dedication to nourishing life.
— Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture, p.23 (full citation)
Similarly, I think, the Herstory of #BlackLivesMatter exhorts us:
…when Black people cry out in defense of our lives, which are uniquely, systematically, and savagely targeted by the state, we are asking you, our family, to stand with us in affirming Black lives. Not just all lives. Black lives. Please do not change the conversation by talking about how your life matters, too. It does, but we need less watered down unity and a more active solidarities with us, Black people, unwaveringly, in defense of our humanity. Our collective futures depend on it.
Ferguson Action is asking individuals to declare 2015 their “year of resistance.”
I pledge to make 2015 my year of resistance to state violence against Black lives.
I challenge myself and those in my community to take risks as we confront the many ways that Black lives are diminished and taken from us….
This year, I will declare boldly and loudly through my words and actions, that #BlackLivesMatter.
—Ferguson Action Pledge
Does Exodus — with its powerful examples of resistance — call us to anything less?
Pharaoh sees the Israelites, once a small minority population, increasing (Exodus 1:7). He designs systematic oppression against them: “come let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply” (Ex 1:10). This is implemented, but the Israelites continue to “multiply and spread” [כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ] (Exodus 1:12). The Egyptians are “adread [וַיָּקֻצוּ] because of the children of Israel” (Ex 1:11-14). So, Pharaoh escalates to state violence, demanding the midwives, Shifrah and Puah, kill any baby boys born to the Israelites.
But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men-children alive.
— Exodus 1:17
Frustrated by the skilled women’s resistance, Pharaoh tries pitting ordinary Egyptians against their neighbors, demanding that THEY kill Hebrew infants. But at least one Israelite woman and one daughter of the ruling class commit an illegal act of resistance. And this, of course, is the beginning of the end for the entire regime.