Translating biblical stories with the #MeToo movement in mind


We might want to reconsider some of the stories we’ve been reading in the Bible for thousands of years. 

At least that’s according to Rabbi Aaron Benson of the North Shore Jewish Center, located in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y.

In Facebook Live videos transmitting from the Conservative synagogue with supporting documentation on his blog, congregants are getting a chance to rethink what they have been taught.

#MeToo is reframing the conversation about the treatment of women in our society, giving voice and power to those who may not have had it in the past.

“The idea [of the classes] is that Judaism should have something to say about issues in this day and age,” said Rabbi Benson. “Especially one like the Me Too movement that is so widespread.”

The more enlightened view of today can also extend back to the biblical stories — and only by revisiting them with a new perspective can people really start to understand biblical female heroes.

Rabbi Benson equates it to the way we digest our news today.

“Are we only watching Fox News talking about Obama or are we only watching MSNBC talking about Trump? In most cases we are,” he said. “And so therefore we have to wonder what is the real story of these women. I would argue they are getting the Me Too treatment by the tradition.”

Rabbi Benson says that these biblical figures might be presented in a biased way and not by objective facts.

He asks: What do we make of these figures? Are they to be despised? Or are the sympathetic and can we learn from them?

For example, he challenges readers to review what is written about Eve to give them a better understanding of her as a person.

Benson asks his audience to consider that Eve is more interested in wisdom than temptation. She doesn’t seduce Adam but gives him fruit and shares her knowledge. Is that such a bad thing? Is Eve responsible for the downfall of man or is she the mother of all wisdom?

“She becomes a character whose story seems to fit the Me Too movement and demonstrates the potency of the figure of Eve in modern society,” Rabbi Benson says. “Her story is at best challenging.”

Then there’s Jezebel, who’s largely known as a wanton woman.

Her story is one full of idolatry and downfall for her kingdom.

After King Ahab’s death, two of his sons succeed him while Jezebel retains her influence as Queen Mother.

“It is explained that Jezebel was the cause of the downfall of Ahab’s dynasty by exerting a negative influence on her family and by destroying her house with her own hands,” the Rabbi said.

But have we just misunderstood?

Interpreting the story from one point of view, the king was a heretic who becomes an idolator because of his evil wife. The story says she is at odds with the prophets and it is said she supported their persecution.

But perhaps, Benson says, Ahab is not some hokey tribal leader but simply has a more cosmopolitan attitude on religion than the people who scribed the tale.

History has notoriously been written by the victors.

(Bible spoiler alert: the hokey tribal leaders won that fight.)

In the end of the tale, Jezebel is thrown out a window by the new king — so we don’t really get her side of the story. We only know how she was painted.

According to Rabbi Benson, attendance in the classroom has been very good and people are also following along at home by reading his blog posts and watching the live Facebook videos.

The inspiration for the class came from Rabbi Benson following news. He thought that even the way Jews interact with the religion’s most holiest of ancient texts, one that predates modern problems, is still relevant today.

“I felt like it was important that there was something meaningful that Judaism could offer,” he said.

Find out more about the #MeToo in the Bible classes on the synagogue’s website. Also see links to the classes below:

  • Session 1: Eve – Blog, Video
  • Session 2: Nameless Women – Blog, Video
  • Session 3: The Matriarchs – Blog, Video
  • Session 4: Bad Queens? – Blog, Video
  • Session 5: Dina and Tamar – Blog, Video Live March 13, 2019
  • Session 6: Prophetesses, Widows and Prostitutes – Biblical Women with Agency – March 27, 2019

File Source AuthorАлонсо Кано (1601—1667)