In A. Zornberg‘s second book, The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus, she writes a lot about Miriam, one of the few women in our tradition who is said to have possessed the gift of prophecy. After playing a major role in the Exodus story, Miriam disappears – or rather is disappeared by the author(s?) – from the Biblical text. Zornberg considers this an example of the general disappearance of women from the biblical narrative. This invisibility has prompted much feminist ire. But Dr. Zornberg, arguably the greatest female Biblical commentator of our day, looks at this disappearance in a whole new way.
It is not simply, says she, that women are absorbed or robbed of particularity. It is rather that they have disappeared because they do not – and do not need to – take part in this long narrative of sin and retribution, fight or flight, lost and found, promises and betrayal. Zornberg says – and I like this a lot – “all along women have been really absent, really elsewhere.”
As someone who has been really elsewhere myself – for three decades I kept as far away from Jewish religious and communal life as I possibly could – I am drawn to her words. But I cannot claim exaggerated affinity with the esteemed scholar. When Dr. Zornberg ventures to say “ women have been absent, really elsewhere” it comes from the sensibilities of a scholar who has chosen to remain within the mainstream of the fold. Her persona is all the more alluring for its apparent contradiction.