Friday, June 10, 2011

Mary, mother of Jesus, Jewish feminist

"Mary, mother of Jesus, Jewish feminist"

Well, doesn't that just grab your attention, your imagination?  In her comment to a blogpost earlier this week, Kristen started me imagining but also remembering.  She said:
... so it is natural that we [women] should have developed non-hierarchical ways of thinking, in contrast to Aristotle's and Hitler's. I find the ways of thinking Jesus displayed in the Gospel accounts to be distinctly non-Aristotelian and non-hierarchical (and female-inclusive) as well.  I imagine that Mary must have been a powerful voice in his early life. 
Earlier this week, I quoted several Jewish feminists who spoke of G-d's presence in Auschwitz.  Some of them were speaking of their mothers and grandmothers.  And it appears that Hitler, as early as 1919 by his "Gimlich letter," was targeting these women of "Mosaic faith," although both what he wrote and how he reasoned is starkly "in contrast to" how these women write and speak and live, who they are.

So today in this blogpost I just want to make clear four things.  First (1), the roots of this lineage of women really do grow deep.  Second (2), the womanly resistances to masculinist logic (i.e., that uber-male reasoning of Adolf Hitler) really are exceptional in just extraordinary ways.  Third (3), it would be useful to recover the historical Miriam (or Mary) as the mother not only of Jesus but also as a mother and daughter of Jewish feminisms.  Mary was a Jew.  Mary was a woman.  Mary was of faith.  Mary was a feminist.  Mary did not limit herself to binary logic but expressed other ways of knowing, of being.  Fourth (4), our paying attention to Hitler's rigid logic allows us, ironically, to focus on her and her methods of speaking and of knowing and of being.  Given that this is just a blogpost (and not a dissertation) I'm going to have to keep it short, to draw sharp conclusions only indirectly, to invite you yourself to make some of the connections.

"(1) Deep Roots and (2) Extraordinary Resistances"

Outside of Auschwitz, non-Jewish women in Germany were resistant to the Nazi conceptions of Mary and of religion.  They were drawing profoundly on a lineage of womanly thinking that goes back, at least, to the Jewish woman, Mary.  They could easily see through the duplicity that Hitler attempted to hide.  It wasn't just his closest followers who saw how politically two-faced the Führer was; nonetheless, to be clear, his male fellows were able to see the intended deceptions of this man.  "Amid his political associates in Berlin," Albert Speer recalls, "Hitler made harsh pronouncements against the church, but in the presence of the women he adopted a milder tone -- one of the instances where he adapted his remarks to his surroundings" (page 95, Inside the Third Reich).  Speer goes on to say how Hitler ordered his "chief associates ... to remain members of the church" even though "vast numbers of his followers had left the church."  And Hitler "too would remain a member of the Catholic Church, he [himself] said, although he had no real attachment to it," although he would continue to make those private "harsh pronouncements against the church." He knew that publicly he needed to impress women.  However, women could see through what he was doing and how he was trying to do it.

German women saw through Hitler's veneer of acted religiosity.  Lillian Leigh Westerfield in her wonderful book, "This Anguish, Like a Kind of Intimate Song": Resistance in Women's Literature of World War II, notes how they recognized and resisted.  "German women resisted," she notes, "when they spoke out against the [Nazi] regime's official view of womanhood."  And continuing from page 49 (through page 51), Westerfield explains how religious women protested:
Some Protestant women chose resistance in conjunction with the Bekennende Kirche, which made extensive use of women behind the scenes.... [The] women took over the bulk of the illegal Church's routine work....  Female curates were permitted [by the Church] to assume ministerial functions ... and they kept the Church in operation by doing such routine tasks as duplicating politically dangerous liturgies or lists of intercession.... [even] falsifying the records of the collection money for the previous twelve months because the Church was trying to prevent the Gestapo from seizing the funds it used to finance its work....
      ... Catholic women [were] more sceptical [sic] than the Protestants of the Nazi ideology of womanhood. The Roman Catholic tradition of the Virgin Mary stood in direct contrast to the regime's portrayal of women as the biological provider of children who would strengthen the race.... Catholic women found themselves unable to honour the Church's ideal of virginity and at the same time fulfil [sic] their duty to the nation and the 'Aryan' race as child bearers. Already reluctant to embrace the dictatorship's image of womanhood, Catholic women were further alienated by the Third Reich's interference in the private, Catholic-run schools.... Women cooperated with Catholic bishops.... Catholic women have been credited with helping to bring an end to Hitler's euthanasia program.... The issue that became a lightning rod for Catholic women's anger and dissent... was the regime's demand for the removal of crucifixes from schools in 1936.
In the short space of this blogpost, I'd like to suggest that there was a sisterhood in Germany among Protestant women (in the illegal Bekennende Kirche and in other congregations) and Catholic women and observant Jewish women.

In Germany (15 years before Adolf Hitler typed up and signed his racist, sexist, religionist, "reasonable" letter to Adolf Gimlich) the deep roots and extraordinary resistances of feminism were showing and growing among Jewish Germans of Mosaic faith. We can look back to pre-Hitler Germany with biographers Elisa Klapheck and Lara Daemmig, who look forward to and particpate in "Jewish Feminism in Post-Holocaust Germany."  Klapheck and Daemmig recall:
In 1904 Bertha Pappenheim had established the Jüdischer Frauenbund. Together with like-minded fellow militants, she fought for equal status for women in the Jewish community, for the right to vote and be elected and for women’s right to professionalize their abilities. For Pappenheim, all these constituted no deviations from Jewish tradition.
Pappenheim did inspire observant Jewish feminists in Nazi Germany, women such as Regina Jonas:
In 1930 Regina Jonas, the first woman rabbi in the world, completed her studies at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums (Academy for the Science of Judaism) in Berlin with a halakhic thesis entitled “Can Women Serve as Rabbis?”
And yet Pappenheim and Jonas would both recognize their foremothers.  Pappenheim worked, for example, to recover what Glückel von Hameln, a German, a Jew, a woman, a person of faith, a feminist, had written by hand in Yiddish as preserved by her daughters and then her granddaughters after she died in 1724.  In 1910, in her preface to her translation, Pappenheim wrote:
Die Übertragung des Textes in gemeinverständliche Sprache und Schriftzeichen hat den Zweck, das Bild einer Frau neu zu beleben, die, tief in ihrer Zeit wurzelnd, durch ungewöhnliche Geistesgaben hervorragte, die treu war ihrem Glauben, treu ihrem Volke, treu ihrer Familie und treu sich selbst.

Translating the text [from handwritten Yiddish] into generally-understood speech and print has the effect of recovering anew the image of a woman, deeply rooted in time, exceptionally extraordinary by intellect, and genuinely true to her faith, true to her people, true to her family, true to her herself. 
[her German, my English translation]
To be sure, there is much to remember of Pappenheim.  She is one of the Jewish intellectuals that Hitler was likely referring to when he warned other women in Germany that "slogan 'Emancipation of Women' was invented by Jewish intellectuals."  But Pappenheim was aware of a deeper, wider sisterhood; Marion Kaplan observes:  "Aware that Protestant and Catholic women had their own national organizations, Pappenheim believed Jewish women also needed a national organization to represent their needs."  And she went on to found that organization and to do much recovery work, much work of translation and of writing, sometimes using the pen name Paul Berthold, but often now buried, only referred to by the history of, and the name, Anna O.  And now Kristen started me thinking of Bertha Pappenheim as someone like Mary, or Miriam, of the gospels.

"(3) the quest for the historical Mary
and (4) the recovery of her Jewish religious feminist rhetorical translational methods"
My name is Shosanna Dreyfus and THIS is the face... of Jewish vengeance!  I am going to burn down the cinema on Nazi night.  And if I'm going to burn down the cinema, which I am, we both know you're not going to let me do it by myself.... But that's not all we're going to do....  Marcel, my sweet, we're going to make a film.  Just for the Nazis....  I have a message for Germany.  That you [Nazis] are all going to die.  And I want you to look deep into the face of the Jew that is going to do it!  Marcel... burn it down.  -- Shosanna
Well, doesn't that just grab your attention, your imagination?  In contrast to those Inglourious Basterds in Quentin Tarantino's film by the same name, is the imagination of what it might be like to reverse Hitler's methods, to use his duplicitous, masculinist propaganda against him.  To recover what has been covered over.  And I'm intentionally taking a bit of a digressive path here from my subtitle, "(3) the quest for the historical Mary."  But what if it takes this kind of imagination to get at, to start to use, some of "(4) her Jewish religious feminist rhetorical translational methods"?  What does it take, what must it take, for women and men to get back what's been lost in our creative, egalitarian God-Created image?

Let's, for now, just listen in on the child of Mary speaking?  What did he recall?  And how?  Here, hear for yourself:
And you have heard in Deuteronomy,
If a man sends his wife away,
Give her a proper bill of divorce,
But I also tell you that any man divorcing and sending his
    wife away,
Except for dirty harlotry,
Makes her the victim of adultery;
And any man who marries a woman divorced and sent away
Is himself an adulterer.

Ἐρρέθη δὲ [ὅτι]
Ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ,
δότω αὐτῇ ἀποστάσιον·
ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, ὅτι
ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ [/πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων] τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ,
παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας,
ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχᾶσθαι [/μοιχευθῆναι]
καὶ ὃς ἐὰν ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσῃ

  --Jesus, aka Yeshua (Willis Barnstone's English translation of Matthew's Greek translation of Mary's son's Hebrew Aramaic and perhaps of the Hebrew of Devarim.)
And now (y)our turn.  This is not a dissertation but is something inspired by Kristen's blogpost comment.  What do we remember?  What did Miriam say?  And how?


Kristen said...

Mary said (Luke 1:46ff): My soul glorifies the Lord. . . He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts; He has brought down rulers from their thrones but lifted up the humble."

She is no doubt mindful of her humble state as an unmarried Jewish woman in Roman-occupied Palestine; that she should be chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Kenneth Bailey has some very interesting thoughts on this in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. I'm at work, on my lunch break just now, but I will look it up sometime this evening and post more.

Kristen said...

Ok, here's the gist of what Kenneth Bailey points out in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 191-192:

Mary's song is remarkable because in speaking first of herself, and then of the whole community, she shows her full grasp of what she has been asked to do. Also, each of her phrases about the nation of Israel combines one line of exaltation for the lowly and one line of humiliation for the powerful-- until she mentions Israel as a nation. It would be customary in saying, "He aided Israel His servant," to add "and brought down the Gentiles, or some such line about retribution to Israel's enemies. This sentiment is remarkable in its absence, particularly in light of the Roman occupation. Mary does not join her people in any typical calling down of judgment on Gentile nations. The attitudes reflected in her song are themes repeated later in many of her Son's teachings.

Mary's themes of God's mercy to the lowly, together with her omission of the expected emnity towards the Gentiles, reveal her to be, as Bailey says, "a woman with boundless compassion for the oppressed, along with a vision for lifting that oppression. . . Mary knows that God has grace [both] for her ethnic community and for all who believe. . . Jesus was raised by an extraordinary mother who must have had enormous influence on his attitudes."

Kristen said...

Compared, then, with Aristotle and Hitler, what we see in Mary is inclusiveness instead of exclusion. Though she does speak in a binary fashion of oppressed/oppressor, she does not speak in the expected binary of Israel/Gentiles. Instead, her use of phrases like "proud in their innermost hearts" shows that her vision is on what is within a person, not on externals such as nationality. The Jewish women who saw God's face in the oppressed other faces in the concentration camps, show this same attitude. It's a beautiful thing.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks very much for the introduction to and brief analysis of Mary (in contrast to Aristotle and Hitler). I haven't yet read Bailey's book; but I will because of what you've shown here. Thank you!

I see that Bailey has had lived experience himself in the middle east and with language(s) there. I see that he's been thinking about Mary and her words for some time. (The book you send me off to find has this in its bibliography:

"The Song of Mary: Vision of a New Exodus (Luke 1:46-55)," Theological
2,1 (1979), pp. 29-35.

Have you read other things Bailey's written?)

J. K. Gayle said...

Oh, and I just found and read this:

And this:

And I love Bailey's conclusion in his article (but I'm not giving anything away by quoting it here, because he really does get to "method" to "this manner"):

"In this manner all the NT texts considered can be seen supportive of the great vision in Gal. 3:28 where ‘in Christ... there is no longer male and female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’"

Kristen said...

Thank you for those links, Kurk! I have not read any of Bailey's other books, though I have read some of his online writings.

He is also quoted frequently by Michael Kruse on his website. Are you familiar with it? You would be particularly interested in his "Household of God" series, in which he discusses the use of family metaphors in the New Testament and specifically contrasts Mew Testament household codes with Aristotle's. It's a long series but well worth reading.

Kristen said...

"Mew Testament." Hee, hee! Sorry!


J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for the link to Michael Kruse's blog. It's a good series! (Your "mew" slip reminds me of the LOLCat Bible. Ha.)

JazzFest said...

You would be lovely on twitter