Tonight we heard from Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, the editor of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary and it was truly inspirational. I cannot believe I will get to learn from her in the future – just an hour of listening to her tell the story of how this text came to be was just wow (no better words. I’ve tried). I had tears in my eyes for a large portion of the evening (did I seriously just admit that?), but this just felt like a big coming together of my passions for Judaism and feminism and they have been brought together in this awesome book that I will one day totally devour/use as inspiration/teach from (We get copies when we get back to the states! Luckily not here… zero space in my baggage for another huge book). Her theme throughout her talk was just how ideal and enjoyable the experience of creating this publication was. The process took nearly twenty years from its original conception to publication, with Tamara being deeply involved for about a decade. The editors wanted (and succeeded in creating) a commentary that was intellectual, challenging and yet accessible for both women and men across all denominations and even those outside of the Jewish world.
The organization of the commentary is very intentional and went through many revisions. It first was presented in Talmudic style, but this felt foreign for many of the reviewers. Ultimately, the text is organized by parshiot (always the intention) with an introduction and overview, text in both Hebrew and English and then a sentence or two to introduce the four commentaries on each parsha. The text gives the traditional translation found in the chumash used in many Reform synagogues (with few exceptions, this is word for word the same translation), then four alternative commentaries/readings – contemporary interpretation, rabbinic interpretation, another reading of the text and a poem. The poems came about somewhat organically… she said no one remembered how they came to be included, but they are added to give the reader another way to connect with the text. While the editors give the pasook (verse) that inspired this specific poem to be included, it is up to the reader to postulate as to how the poem connects with the text. She talked about hours long conversations of poetry reading between the editing team trying to find the right one. Sounds like a beautiful experience.
Besides the fact that I am so excited to learn from her in LA, I am really thankful this commentary exists. The other students who had used it before commented that the texts do not focus on the victimization or marginalization of women and instead aim to elevate women’s stature in the text and employ a woman’s perspective on the various laws/stories/histories in the Torah. I believe this helps the text gain recognition and stature outside of the progressive Jewish feminist community, which we learned was a big goal of the editors. I’m still geeking out a bit about the whole thing and it made me really want to dig up some of those old WGS readings.
In other news, week three of classes start tomorrow! There’s a whole bunch else I want to update this blog on, but this was just an experience that I needed to write about asap. Life is good, super busy but things are beginning to settle in. Our summer schedule is pretty crazy but I hear we get even busier so I’m trying to appreciate the few free afternoons I have while they still exist!