Books

Biblical Women Speak Hearing Their Voices through New and Ancient Midrash

About the Book

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What were biblical women thinking and doing when the men around them received all the attention and glory? How did Leah, Rachel, and their handmaids negotiate the complicated family dynamics of four women vying for Jacob’s affections? What compelled Potiphar’s wife to risk her high station to seduce Joseph, an enslaved foreigner? How did the midwives and Pharoah’s daughter conspire to rescue baby Moses, right under Pharoah’s nose?

Biblical Women Speak employs midrash (interpretative techniques) to discover ten biblical women’s stories from a female point of view and provide insights beyond how ancient male scholars viewed them. Each chapter brings alive a different biblical woman, including non-Israelite characters and others who are neglected in classical rabbinic texts, such as Keturah (Abraham’s last wife), Bat Shuah (Judah’s wife), Shelomith (the infamous blasphemer’s mother), and Noah (one of Zelophehad’s brave daughters who demanded inheritance rights). After each featured text we hear a creative retelling of the woman’s story in her own voice, followed by traditional midrash and medieval commentaries and the author’s reflections on how these tales and interpretations are relevant for today.

Rabbi Marla J. Feldman’s book is an engaging invitation to enter biblical narratives, challenge conventional wisdom, and recalibrate the stories and lessons through the lens of our own lives.

Praise

“Meeting these new role models of Jewish womanhood—some famous, others voiceless or infamous and nameless in the Torah—left me both enlightened and delighted. Reading the biblical text, rabbinic commentary, modern midrash, and Rabbi Feldman’s contemporary commentary illuminated four dimensions of these remarkable women.”—Maggie Anton, author of Rashi’s Daughters

“Rabbi Marla J. Feldman is a marvelous teacher, and in Biblical Women Speak she proves to also be a weaver of ancient, modern, and original texts that give voice to women of the Bible who were often ignored or nameless, filling a void that has existed for centuries. Accessible for both beginner and advanced students, Biblical Women Speak should be required in any class of midrash.”—Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, executive director, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism

“Rabbi Marla Feldman has created a dynamic and compelling conversation among the generations. Both individuals and groups will admire her captivating modern midrashic interpretations and her expert navigation of traditional texts. Feldman shows us how fresh and relevant our sacred tradition can be!”—Rabbi Mary L. Zamore, executive director, Women’s Rabbinic Network

“Rabbi Marla Feldman has added an imaginative, insightful contribution to our collective Jewish library. As she creatively gives voice to both familiar and lesser-known female biblical characters, she shows why their stories matter for us as contemporary readers.”—Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Provost, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion

“I am very impressed by the author’s creativity and in-depth understanding of her characters… There are ten retellings (or stories) in this stunning collection… Most of the stories focus on characters that we don’t usually think about… What is most interesting to me is how she enables us to empathize with these marginal biblical women. The book is arranged meticulously and is clearly well-researched… I plan to use Feldman’s fascinating midrashim…in my future classes.”—Naomi Graetz, Times of Israel blog

“Women in the Bible are often unnamed, defined sole­ly by their rela­tion­ships with oth­ers. Take Judah’s wife, for exam­ple. She is known as Bat Shua, or ‘daugh­ter of Shua.’ This label­ing, or lack there­of, makes it easy for sto­ries like hers to be sub­sumed by those of men. Feld­man, by con­trast, dives into these women’s sto­ries, bring­ing them to life with depth and insight. Feldman’s analy­sis of Miriam’s sto­ry is a stand­out of the book.”—Jewish Book Council

For the most part the sages neglected these minor [female] characters or viewed them negatively. Feldman brings this conversation into the modern era: She composes midrashim that turn these biblical characters into real human beings, facing problems familiar to those of women (and men) today…who deserve our attention and our respect, and who should never be cast out of our community.”Moment Magazine
“Readers looking to better understand midrash will particularly enjoy the sections on classic commentary, while those interested in new ways of understanding the text will find the contemporary midrash of interest. Biblical Women Speak would also make an excellent text for Torah discussion groups.”The Reporter, Jewish Federation of Greater Binghamton
“An inspirational book which speaks to us of the issues of our times… through Jewish classical, modern and feminist lenses… A masterpiece of scholarship, creativity and exquisite writing.”The Jerusalem Report
“A good choice for a synagogue library or a reader interested in a feminist viewpoint. The book can be used… [as] a reference source for Rabbis and educators. The author’s own modern midrashim can be read as short stories and used by discussion groups or book clubs to spark questioning and further delve into these biblical women’s lives.”Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews
“Like the traditional rabbis and commentators, [Rabbi] Feldman tells biblical verses, and midrashic commentaries, and lifts them out of their context, refashions them, and creates new understandings which can speak to us in our day.”Women in Judaism e-journal

Rabbi Marla J. Feldman

Rabbi Marla J. Feldman is the executive director of Women of Reform Judaism. She has published numerous articles about the role of women in Jewish life and social justice issues and her modern midrashim have appeared in several collections. She is the author of Reform Movement action manuals, including Speak Truth to Power.

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