And Rachel Stole the Idols: The Emergence of Modern Hebrew Women's Writing

By Berg, Nancy E. | Shofar, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

And Rachel Stole the Idols: The Emergence of Modern Hebrew Women's Writing


Berg, Nancy E., Shofar


And Rachel Stole the Idols: The Emergence of Modern Hebrew Women's Writing, by Wendy I. Zierler. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004. 368 pp. $49.95.

Wendy Zierler's book serves as an introduction to Hebrew women writers as well as an interim report on the state of the field. The works of most, if not all, of the writers the volume explores have recently become part of the revised canon, and the writers themselves subjects of study. Zierler builds on these earlier studies-generously giving credit to her predecessors-and adds to this growing body of literature.

The author is thorough; even the biblical story from which the tide is taken is painstakingly explored. She makes use of an eclectic body of sources and approaches from biblical texts and medieval exegesis to traditional feminist literary theory, feminist biblical studies, and Hebrew literary criticism. She incorporates better- and lesser-known material, including classic texts in the field, unpublished manuscripts, and nearly forgotten works.

Among her points of departure are Dan Miron's oft-cited book Imahot meyasdot, ahayot horgot, Lily Rattok's introduction to her anthology of women's short stories Hakol ha'aher, and the burgeoning interest in women's writing both in the academy and in the marketplace. The book brings together disparate works including earlier studies such as those done recently on Rachel, Devorah Baron, and Esther Raab.

She shows herself to be equally competent in prose and poetry, and skilled at finding the balance between creating chapters that both work as self-contained units and are integrated into a coherent whole. Even where Devorah Baron is discussed in three different chapters Zierler introduces her the third time in such a way that it gives the appropriate context without repeating earlier introductory material.

This work is immersed in the feminist enterprise of recovery, reassessment, and revision of literary history by incorporating hitherto less known or unappreciated foremothers. It resonates not only with English literary history as suggested in the introduction, but with literary histories of the Near and Far East as well. Zierler offers readings of individual texts informed by feminist theory, and correctives to earlier misreadings due to either lack of erudition on the part of the reader or aesthetic blinders.

In the book the idea of crossing borders serves as a dominant image, a leitmotif of transgression. While the idea pushes us toward an intentional fallacy-as if nearly every writer under discussion is conscious of trespassing into a male-dominated field-the very act of women's writing can be construed as subversive. Yet Zierler takes care not to push too far; she is careful, for example, not to claim a writer such as Leah Goldberg as a feminist; rather Zierler argues that the writer's work "raises issues of feminist import."

After a short introduction that sets out some of the framework (including the idol-stealing image), the first chapter offers the background on which the rest of the book is built. A history of Jewish women's writing briefly covers known precursors before focusing on Haskalah writers Rachel Morpurgo, Sarah Foner, and Hava Shapiro and then the more contemporary Yocheved Bat Miriam. The text returns to all three of these writers. Chapters Two and Three focus on poetry: first, poems written about female figures from the Bible ("search for foremothers") organized by the figures, and then a series of studies of three poets who are known for their landscape poetry (Rahel, Raab, and Bat Miriam). …

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