Strong Women, New Matriarchs

Heidi Slowinski wrote a terrific blog post about the women of modern Jewish literature: The Next Generation of Matriarch: Feminism in Jewish Literature.

Truth be told, I’d not given much thought to this topic, but now that she mentioned it, I find I’m thinking about it more and more. Of course, putting THE POMEGRANATE right next to THE RED TENT in the illustration makes my heart sing. But Slowinski is on to something when she points out there is a new kind of matriarch emerging in modern Jewish literature.

We do not strive to be replicants of the foremothers. G-d forbid!

If you read Genesis and Exodus as a story about people, suddenly these folks are not as awe-inspiring as they were when we were in Hebrew school. Torah gives us a family saga that would rival THE THORN BIRDS for total dysfunction. This is a horrendous tale of sex, lies, and unfortunately, no videotape. A handmaid impregnated by her master (Hagar,) a father banishing one son (Ishmael) then trying to kill the other (Isaac,) a mother ( intentionally dressing up one twin (Jacob) as the other (Esau) to fool his blind father (Isaac again,) brothers dumping their brother (Joseph) into a pit and selling him into slavery, that brother’s intended revenge, setting a baby (Moses) in a basket afloat down a river filled with crocodiles…the list goes on. If we were reading this stuff in a novel, trigger warnings would be all over the place! (Come to think of it….does the bible have trigger warnings on Amazon? Hmmmm.)

I contend this lack of teachings from the female perspective has left room for a genre of literature told from the female perspective. Jewish authors have created a varied cast of strong, independent, and learned characters who embody the teachings of Torah while pushing the traditional boundaries. Essentially creating the next generations of Matriarchs.

Heidi Slowinski

The biblical matriarchs leave a whole lot to be desired in the role model category. They were strong, determined, and frankly, more than a bit terrifying viewed from our modern perspective. But if you look at it from their perspective, their actions have one thing in common: the need for the tribe to survive. Theirs is a brutal world and their actions speak to their epoch.

Our world is brutal in a different way.

We live in a time when we can create, write, and publish our own vision of Jewish women forging their own paths. We get to tell stories of real women as well as women we wish were real. We convey their messages in hopes our readers will understand our characters have insights worth sharing.

I am overwhelmed that she considers Batsheva to be one of the new matriarchs. I wrote a strong woman, rooted in Jewish tradition and values, as she navigates her own dangerous world. She is a practicalist, a woman who refuses to stand down . I guess more like Miriam than Sarah. I didn’t start out to make Batsheva an Everywoman; she just turned out that way. Her determination to remain a Jew despite the odds is central to who she is as well as to the story. Frankly, I don’t think she’s all that different from strong Jewish women in our era.

In one of my other books, LINGUA GALACTICA, Sarah Jane’s mother, a general in her own right, sets the example for her daughter. Brigadier General Rothko is a powerful figure and strong enough to understand her daughter’s need to find her own place in the world. Sarah Jane eschews her father’s name, opts for Mom’s maiden name, Krieg, and demands to be accepted for her own merit. She’s very different from others on this list, but I think she and her mother might be matriarchs of the future. No reason why sci-fi can’t have their own matriarchs!

Slowinski’s books for this list span time and place. All are interesting choices, well-written and worth reading. I’ve read some, and a couple are already on my TBR list. I know my perspective has been shifted. I’m more than okay with that.

Published by SJSchwaidelson@The Author Is In

New York born and bred, living in Minnesota, I am a widow, mother, grandmother, and writer. These are the things I do well.

One thought on “Strong Women, New Matriarchs

Open for discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: