Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on the Women of Genesis

By Marion Ann Taylor; Heather E. Weir | Go to book overview
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§52 Grace Aguilar
(1816–1847)

Grace Aguilar9 was a Jewish woman living in England. In her book The Women of Israel (1845) she wrote about Rebekah, her Hebrew foremother, for her intended audience of Victorian Jewish women. Aguilar called her audience to follow Rebekah's example, writing: "Let us ponder well upon these things, and, as daughters of Israel, make it our glory and our pride to do our simplest duty 'with all our might'; our pleasure, to scatter flowers on the path of all with whom we may be thrown; and dwelling with meek and loving contentment in our appointed sphere, remember that the cause of Israel is our own, and it is in our power to exalt or degrade it." Unlike Morgan, who urged change in women's position, role, and status, Aguilar looked for ways to empower women within their traditional spheres in society, family, and religion.

Aguilar saw Rebekah's conduct in the daily routine of domestic duties as exemplary for women of the nineteenth century. Rebekah drew water at the well as she did every day. When she was presented with an opportunity she showed kindness to Abraham's servant. This followed the spirit of the Old Testament law regarding receiving strangers. Aguilar suggested that while Jews living in Christian Britain were strangers in a strange land, they should still live out this same spirit of the law in kindness to others.

Aguilar used Rebekah's prayer to raise the question of woman's spiritual status within Judaism.10 She reasoned that if their foremother Rebekah could pray without mediation, no one could deny her daughters the right to pray to God without the mediation of men or angels. Aguilar also argued that since God spoke to Rebekah, women must have sould and be able to hear God. She used strong, polemical language in discussing this issue; it was important to the whole argument of her book that Jewish women did not need Christianity to be able to pray directly to God.

Aguilar used the technique of comparison to draw lessons from the story of Rebekah. She compared Eve and Rebekah: the language of the fall highlighted parallels between Eve's and Rebekah's trials, their weaknesses, and their

9 For more information on Aguilar see part 2, "Sarah—The First Mother of Israel."

10 Traditionally, ten adult Jewish males make up a minyan for prayer. At the time Aguilar
wrote, women were not counted toward a minyan.

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