27 November 2010

Ask for Directions

from Proverbs Five

"For the lips of a strange woman drop honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword."

Here's where metaphor can get ahead of you.  Good wisdom is a familiar man; bad wisdom is a strange woman.  Proverbs' author is intent on driving that point home ("driving the point" a typically "male" thing to do; "home" being the traditional domain of the "female.")  Rashi is concerned about this--being the father of daughters as well as an inherently fair and brilliant man--and he's insistent on reading this chapter with discomforting metaphor in mind because the implications of the literalist reading is to mean that bad wisdom *is* a female creation.

"Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on the nether-world; lest she should walk the even path of life, her ways wander but she knoweth it not.  Now therefore O ye children, hearken unto me, and depart not from the words of my mouth.  Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house; lest thou give thy vigor unto others, and thy years unto the cruel; lest strangers be filled with thy strength, and thy labors be in the house of an alien."

Like a rabid dog's teeth cut deep into the bone, this is the metaphor that won't let go until maximum damage is done.  It proves, without a doubt, the feminist critique of our sacred texts and calls into question their validity if the texts themselves are predicated on misogynist premises. 

Of course Rashi is right--it *is* metaphor!  But there is a recognition in having to say so that the damage is already done.  Corrective interpretations are among the ways the Tradition seeks to save itself from its worse impulses. 

A small people, concerned with its ethnic and national dissolution; stubborn ethical monotheists in a sea of pagan culture; human nature, where otherness attracts; take your pick--any one of these serve as a valid explanation for why the authors are concerned with the "seduction" of a female wisdom from a culture other than their own. 

But Zipporah circumcised Moses' son; Ruth stayed with Naomi; and in our contemporary context, thousands of woman not-born-Jewish ensure the Jewish education of the sons and daughters of Jewish men by insisting on a religious education, membership in a synagogue, obligatory participation in a community of meaning. 

Though not born Jewish, many women in our synagogue and others subscribe to Proverbs command here:  "Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.  Let thy springs be dispersed abroad, and courses of water in the streets."  One of the realities of our plural culture is that people pair up with whomever they want to pair up with; I've yet to see a communal policy that can truly prevent that from happening.  Therefore, our wisdom must be made accessible, an open well from which all who seek its waters may drink. 

Fact is--and a lot of Jewish men know this--when they get to the well, they discover "strange women" already there, having discovered the water's healing powers long before they found. 

Maybe it's like driving.  Women ask for directions; men get stubbornly lost trying to find their own way.

1 comment:

Old First said...

This is SO ffn wonderful.