Book-club tales of love and lust

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - MAU­REEN KENDLER

the Ap­ple: Women in the Bi­ble — Time­less Sto­ries of Love, Lust and Long­ing Naomi Har­ris Rosen­blatt Mi­ra­max, £8.99

Naomi Har­ris Rosen­blatt sets out her in­spi­ra­tions for this book in an in­ter­est­ing in­tro­duc­tion. “What wis­dom, what wis­dom,” was her mother’s re­sponse to her daugh­ter’s ex­cited re­count­ing of Bi­ble sto­ries.

Rosen­blatt’s love of th­ese sto­ries helped lead to her ca­reer as a psy­chother­a­pist. She con­nects one par­tic­u­lar qual­ity dis­played by both her fe­male pa­tients and the women in her beloved sto­ries: re­silience.

She her­self drew im­mense strength and sus­te­nance from read­ing about th­ese women — not al­ways just the hero­inesheroines —— and ran Bi­ble classes in Wash­ing­ton both for women and sen­a­tors. They also found much to iden­tify with: ap­par­ently the David and Bathsheba study week co­in­cided with Clin­ton and Lewin­sky head­lines.

Rosen­blatt was al­ways sur­prised and cheered by re-read­ing the texts. “I did not find women to be grov­el­ling ser­vants or blindly obe­di­ent wives,”” she writes. “They use their power as women to sub­vert, to se­duce… they use their fem­i­nine intelligence to chal­lenge pa­tri­ar­chal author­ity… Th­ese coura­geous, proac­tive women are not pun­ished, but are in­stead re­warded for their bold­ness.”

Her 17 chap­ters, each ex­plor­ing a wo­man’s story — in­clud­ing Eve, Sarah, Rachel, Re­becca and the Queen of Sheba — she sees in the tra­di­tion of Midrash, invit­ing read­ers to search for in­ter­pre­ta­tion and con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance. Her mis­sion is to “ex­tri­cate the womens’ voices from a male­cen­tred nar­ra­tive.”

Her thought­ful con­clu­sion re­it­er­ates the sub­ver­sive role of bib­li­cal women and cel­e­brates their doc­u­mented vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties as well as their strengths.

The chap­ters them­selves tell the womens’ tales with­out much adornment and the au­tho­rial com­ments are en­thu­si­as­tic but hardly deep or ground-break­ing.

We are cer­tainly in book-group ter­ri­tory here: an ap­pen­dix sug­gests ques­tions to guide such a group. “Af­ter the Ap­ple” is ideal for women read­ers who might never have thought they could make a con­nec­tion with th­ese an­cient char­ac­ters.

For women com­ing en­tirely anew, and per­haps neg­a­tively prej­u­diced to th­ese sto­ries, this book would of­fer a great frame­work for dis­cus­sion and self-dis­cov­ery.

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