Tzaraat and Memory

Miriam's skin condition and the war with Amalek, Amnon, and Moab are all examples of memory.

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But we can also consciously cultivate memories that encourage us to stop the cycle of violence and domination. When we remember the courage and initiative of Miriam in helping to save her brother
(Exodus 2:1-10), when we appreciate her importance to the Israelites who refused to move on without her (Numbers 12:15), when we honor her insistence that her own leadership be recognized (Numbers 12:2), then we lay the foundations for contemporary communities in which women and other "strangers)' can take their full and rightful place.

Perhaps the process ofsifting through memory also can help to make sense of the last, enigmatic verse of the parashah that enjoins us to "blot out" all memory of Amalek and yet "remember" at the same time.

How is this possible? Having grown up in a Reform congregation in the 1950s in which women were on the bimah only to light candles, I am aware of how the enormous changes in women's roles over the last half century make such memories of prior injustices difficult to believe. We blot out the memory of Amalek when we create Jewish communities in which the perpetual exclusion of some group of people--or the denial of women's rights--are so contrary to current values as to be almost incredible. Yet, if we are to safeguard our achievements, we can also never forget to remember the history of inequality and the decisions and struggles that have made more equitable communities possible.

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Judith Plaskow

Judith Plaskow is a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College. She is the author of the landmark work Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective, and has written and edited a number of other volumes on the topics of contemporary religious thought and feminist theology.