Rachel and Leah's Shared Anger

The theft of the birthright is a story about women's potential to use and craft language.

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Along these lines, feminist biblical scholar J. E. Lapsley argues that Rachel steals the t'rafim because her status as a woman in a patriarchal household prevents her from confronting her father with her own grievances about her rightful inheritance. "Therefore, she goes about getting justice from her father through devious and extra-legal means" ("The Voice of Rachel," Genesis: A Feminist Companion to the Bible (Second Series), ed. Athalya Brenner, '998, p. 238). In telling her father that she cannot "rise before" him because the "way of women is upon her," Rachel is "speaking two languages simultaneously." Laban hears Rachel as saying that she cannot honor him by standing because she is menstruating. But Rachel's speech also reads as a complaint that she has no forum for rising before her father and pleading her case for inheritance; the social "way of women" constrains the possibilities for speech, advocacy, and direct action. According to Lapsley, Rachel's "subversive action in stealing the t'rafim is matched by her equally subversive undermining of male definitions of women her creation of new meanings out of male-generated language" (p. 242). According to this interpretation, Rachel steals not only the t'rafim but also the language that has been used by this patriarchy to define her as woman and limit her access to culture and law.

Rachel thus emerges from this story as an archetypal feminist writer, who dares to steal across the border of masculine culture, seize control of her cultural inheritance, and make it her own. In this way, the theft of the t'rafim becomes a story of women's potential to use and craft language, holy and mundane, in all of its many meanings, to speak potently--and cause others to listen.

The product of fourteen years of work and the contributions of more than 100 scholars, theologians, poets, and rabbis--all of them women--The Torah: A Women's Commentary is a landmark achievement in biblical scholarship and an essential resource for the study of the Bible. For more information or to order a copy, visit URJBooksandMusic.com.

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Wendy Zierler

Wendy Zierler is Associate Professor of Modern Jewish Literature and Feminist Studies at Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. She is the author of And Rachel Stole the Idols: The Emergence of Modern Hebrew Women's Writing (2004) and of the feminist commentary included in My People's Passover Haggadah (2008).