Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld 1828 cc:wikipedia
A warm wind paints stalks in the color of gold. The smell of early summer wakens in me childhood memories of stubbled fields, a white Shavuot shirt and the Bikurim parade with baskets filled with the first fruits. Gentle Mediterranean weather before the merciless heat of the Summer.
Shavuot is the holiday of the Book of Ruth, of friendship and grace between two women – Naomi and Ruth, a tale of female resourcefulness emerging from a non-belligerent but decisive place. Naomi the mother-in-law and Ruth the daughter-in-law have been left widows, but they are not alone. They support and strengthen each other. The goal is indeed to find Ruth a new husband (who is found in the person of Boaz), but it is obvious that the story is mainly about the actions of the two women. The book presents a language different to the one we are accustomed to hear in the masculine, belligerent, argumentative world. This language is missing today.
Although the days preceding Shavuot are days of grace and excitement, I cannot free myself from the discomforting feeling that things are not going in the right direction, that we are being consciously led to a dead end that will lead to disaster. I do not know if it is due to our adherence to empty slogans in the face of a raging storm. Or perhaps this is my private distress in the face of a growing cloud of a religious and a nationalistic fundamentalism coming from all directions and posing a threat to all my sacred values? I do not know. What is clear is that the common language today: “I am right”, “I am strong”‘ I am generous but demanding”, “If they will give they will receive…”, There is no one to talk with…” leads to a head-on confrontation (between: Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, poor and rich, those in pain and arrogent people). Instead of looking to the future, beyond the coming elections, our distinguished leaders focus on questions: “who is bigger,” and “who is more of a man”? Of course we must not appear to be “suckers”. The feeling is that even if the armed confrontation does not happen immediately, we are wearing ourselves out in this stupid and crazy wrestling.
Is the clash unavoidable? It seems like it as long as the aggressive language of winners (in the short run) and losers (everyone) is the rule. Can we use a different language that will rescue us from this collision course? It is possible. We have not tried the feminine language – the language of Naomi and Ruth. It is a different language, less loud and more colorful. It recognizes that the world is not divided into good people and bad people; a language that listens and does not declare; more inclusive and less hierarchic; its more pluralistic by nature and does not demand one truth (my); in the feminine language great ideologies and principles do not play the main role; it is hopeful and it is allowed to dream, but what is really important is the life here and now.
I admit here that I do not speak the feminine language very well and I have to make an effort in order to learn and practise it as a foreign language. The grammar is not easy, there are many more question marks than exclamation marks; the words are softer (but no less meaningful) and the intonation is different. As with every new language, it opens new worlds to me. It is also important to note that the feminine language is not necessarily only women’s language. There are many women who speak in a “masculine” language and there are men who feel comfortable speaking in a “feminine” language (even if they will not admit to it). The best thing is to combine the two languages and to enjoy both worlds.
Can you imagine what would have happened had we heard the feminine language of the Book of Ruth in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Instead of arguing over to whom the land belongs and who is more justified, the two sides of the conflict would have agreed that the other side has the right to dream (even terrifying dreams as greater Israel or greater Palestine), and then they would sit down to a cup of tea or coffee and say: “after we left our great ideologies in their suitable place (in prayers and yearning), now let us think together how to live our real life here”. It seems to me that had this been the language we would have already been in a better place.
IT IS OBVIOUS that the way of the Torah in dealing with marital problems is unequal: the man is suspicious of his wife, and the wife has to prove her innocence; it is needless to say that this is not the case when the woman suspects her husband of being unfaithful to her (because the man owns the woman) ; the whole procedure is conducted by a male priest (as it is in the rabbinical courts to day) and describes a scene that is very humiliating for the woman. The way suggested in this portion of how to deal with a husband’s jealousy does not take into account the day after… It is not occupied with the question of how the couple will be able to continue to live together after the woman’s humiliating experience.
When we simply read this portion it leaves us with the bitter taste of bias: the procedure described is intended to answer men’s needs and ignores the woman, her needs and desires. We can assume that had Parashat Sota been written or at least interpreted in the spirit of The Book of Ruth, had it considered the woman and her dignity, the way of dealing with the marriage crisis would have been completely different: the emphasis would have been on improving communication and on the way to go (together or separately) in order to be strengthened by the crisis and not in order to strengthen the man’s destructive feeling of possessiveness.
Ruth and Naomi coped with their disaster in an optimistic and practical way that proved itself. Maybe we also can try it. What have we to lose?