Christine Blasey Ford and the women of the Bible

By ALICIA JO RABINS
October 3, 2018 20:52
4 minute read.
#metoo

European Parliament member Terry Reintke (C) holds a placard with the hashtag "MeToo" during a debate to discuss preventive measures against sexual harassment and abuse in the EU at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, October 25, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS/CHRISTIAN HARTMANN)

Women telling intimate truths in the public sphere. Women raising their voices to demand they be treated fairly. Women challenging the leaders of the land to listen compassionately to their stories. We think of this as a new phenomenon: the #MeToo movement, the latest allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

But in truth, women have been speaking up for a long time. Millennia, at least. We need to look no further than the stories of the Hebrew Bible.

Granted, this all-time bestseller reflects the values of its time; you can hardly turn a page without tripping over what we now call sexism, among other isms. However, the Bible also contains a number of stories of women speaking up for themselves and each other.

I’ve been studying and teaching these stories for 20 years, holding them up as examples of the transformative power of telling the truth about our lives. These characters are important and inspiring, and their stories remain as relevant today as ever. But as I have watched some senators minimize Ford’s account of sexual assault over the past weeks, another critical element of these stories has come into focus for me.

The heroines of these stories are the women who dare to challenge discrimination and call out abuse. But equally important are the men in power who listen to the women with humility, wisdom and a commitment to justice.

The members of the Senate Judiciary Committee might do well to study their Bible a little more deeply.

Take, for example, the story of the five daughters of Tzelofchad. We know very little about the character himself. What we do know is that after he dies, leaving no sons, his five daughters appear in court to argue for a woman’s right to inherit land.

Their appeal is limited to families without sons. Still, it’s a radical demand by five women in the ancient world. Moreover, when these women take their complaint to the highest court in the land, the judge – Moses – has the humility and wisdom to consider the merits of their case. He rules in their favor, and the law is changed.

Another example: Hannah and the High Priest. Hannah, a young wife yearning for children, prays in the ancient Temple with such intense abandon that the High Priest kicks her out, assuming she’s drunk.

Rather than accepting her fate, Hannah returns and argues her case before the High Priest. She corrects the highest spiritual authority of her time, explaining that she was simply transported by her prayer.

Here, too, rather than shame or denounce Hannah, the High Priest apologizes. He acknowledges that Hannah is in the right, and her prayer will be granted.

A third example, the story of Queen Vashti, reads today as a cautionary tale for leaders who fail to listen to women. Vashti’s husband, King Ahasuerus, is so desperate for the admiration of his subjects that he throws a week-long open bar party for the men of his kingdom. At the end of the week, he commands his queen to appear in her royal crown, to display her beauty before the men. Vashti refuses.

At this, the king’s advisers insist that he divorce and banish her.

“Otherwise,” they say, “All the women will think they no longer have to obey their husbands!”

The king, susceptible to unwise counsel, agrees. Soon after he banishes Vashti, he is convinced by an evil adviser to kill all the Jews in his kingdom. The genocide is averted only when the king’s new wife, Queen Esther, who is Jewish, reveals her heritage to him. It’s a risky move, but she is urged on by her uncle, who tells her, “Perhaps for such a time as this, you have risen to power.” With power comes the responsibility to act with discernment, humility and courage.

Vashti, Esther, Hannah, the daughters of Tzelofchad. In our time, Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and most recently Julie Swetnick take their place among these heroines who made the wrenching decision to speak out, risking everything for the sake of the truth and justice.

To the men and women who hold the future of the Supreme Court in their hands, I offer these stories as proof that there is an ancient precedent for the courage required of you at this moment. Will you follow the example of Moses and the High Priest, those powerful ones courageous enough to truly listen? Or will you be like the king, unable to see the humanity of those standing before you?

These stories are ancient. They make it clear that the imperative to listen carefully to those with less power is not some modern trend. It is a fundamental human challenge, one every generation’s leaders will be called to meet. Perhaps the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have risen to power for such a time as this. I pray that they meet the challenge.

Alicia Jo Rabins is the author of Fruit Geode and the creator of “Girls in Trouble,” a musical project about the women of Torah.


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