Sarah's silence: a completely original reading


By Miriam Shaviv
September 20, 2010
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I know it's a bit late for Yom Kippur, but this interpretation of the story of the akedah, the binding of Isaac, is just dazzling in its originality and imagination.

The basic question is why Sarah - not the quiet type - is silent during the story. Dvora Yanow's startling answer (written in 1994, by the way) is that she is not really absent at all: the whole episode is part of a dream by Sarah, following the banquet Abraham made in the previous chapter following Isaac's weaning. In the dream, she is working out her own emotional response to a variety of themes from her own life, including the exile from her own father's home and land, and in particular, the circumcision of her son (represented as the akedah).

Sarah weaves the two "journeys" together in her dream: her wanderings from her land, her birthplace, her father's house (why have the commentators only noted the meaning of this uprooting for Abraham?); and the 8-day-old son's journey from the bedroom, from the crib, from the arms of his mother, to the sandak in the living room who will hold his legs down, awaiting the mohel's knife. How many mothers, waiting nervously, anxiously, angrily in a back room, have experienced this act as the binding and sacrifice of their sons?! Here she has protected her son from Ishmael's taunting, only to see him placed in mortal danger, and by her husband, his father, no less. Sarah is silent in the dream as she watches the circumcision-sacrifice take place, as many mothers have silently complied with an act which goes against their maternal instincts.

Yanow goes on to show how this fits in with the text and even solves some of the textual problems, and widens the issue to address the silence of Jewish women, as an ideal, throughout the ages.

I urge you to read the whole thing here. As a modern midrash, it's superb.

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