Religions (Jul 2020)

Commemorating the Nameless Wives of the Bible: Midrashic Poems by Contemporary American-Jewish Women

  • Anat Koplowitz-Breier

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11, no. 7
p. 365


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A proper name individualizes a person, the lack of it making him or her less noticeable. This insight is apt in regard to the nameless women in the Hebrew Bible, a resolutely androcentric work. As Judaism traditionally barred women from studying, many Jewish feminists have sought access to the Jewish canon. Much of American-Jewish women’s poetry can thus be viewed as belonging to the midrashic-poetry tradition, attempting to vivify the biblical women by “revisioning” the Bible. This article examines two nameless wives who, although barely noted in the biblical text, play a significant role in their husbands’ stories—Mrs. Noah and Mrs. Job. Although numerous exegetes have noted them across history, few have delved into their emotions and characters. Exploration of the way in which contemporary Jewish-American poets treat these women and connect them to their own world(s) is thus of great interest to both modern and biblical scholars. Herein I focus on five poets: Elaine Rose Glickman (“Parashat Noach”), Barbara D. Holender (“Noah’s Wife,” and “Job’s Wife”), Oriana Ivy (“Mrs. Noah,” and “Job’s Wife”), Shirley Kaufman (“Job’s Wife”), and Sherri Waas Shunfenthal (“Noah’s Wife Speaks,” “The Animals are our Friends,” “Time,” and “Arc of Peace”).