Monday, August 2, 2010

Shining Stars of Davida: Job and Fraydel bat Faigel

“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; that man was wholesome and upright, he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1), the Book of Job begins. While it seems like a lot of information is told about this notoriously unlucky man, the narrative never actually indicates whether or not Job was Jewish. The Gemara in Bava Batra 15a-b questions extensively as to whether Job was Jew or Gentile, never reaching an answer but suggesting strongly that he was Jewish. I disagree with this conclusion. When he heard that his children died, he “tore [the hair of] his head” (Job 1:20); if he was Jewish, then this would violate the prohibition of cutting oneself or ripping one’s hair out in mourning. However, he is never rebuked for doing so, either by God or the Gemara.

Whether Job was Jewish or not is immaterial to the plot, though. Since there are no extra words in Tanakh (Jewish Bible), there must be a reason why the narrative decided it wasn’t worthwhile to specify if Job was Jew or Gentile. A person is a person; it doesn’t matter if he or she is Jewish or not. We were all made by God. The fact that we are never told if Job was Jewish or not underscores that we are all equal, and that Jews must treat non-Jews fairly and with respect (an attitude that should be reciprocated, too).

In addition to not mentioning Job’s religion, the narrative also seems to leave out a seemingly important detail: when did the story of Job happen? The Gemara never concludes with a definite decision, suggesting as much as ten options. The time period that is usually cited as the correct one is during Moses’ time, as Moses is often credited as the book’s author.

The reason Job had to go through so many afflictions is also never said outright in the narrative. After introducing Job and his children, the Book begins discussing a heavenly meeting on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, where God asked Satan where he had been. When Satan replied that he had been going around the Earth to evaluate humankind, God asked him if he had seen Job, “for there is no one like him on Earth; a wholesome and upright man, who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Satan scorned Job’s piety, and God gave him permission to afflict Job to prove how much he believed in God. This seems extremely out of character for The Holy One. God has thirteen attributes, including compassion and mercy. To kill all of a Job’s oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants, and children, and then to curse him with painful boils, doesn’t seem very compassionate or merciful! How could God allow Satan to torture an innocent human being?

Accepting the explanation that the story of Job took place during Moses’ time, the Gemara explains that Job isn’t as innocent as he may seem. When Pharaoh was trying to think of a plot to kill out the Jews, he consulted with three people: Balaam, Jethro, and Job. Balaam supported Pharaoh’s plan of drowning the Jewish boys, and as a result was killed. Jethro fled, and was rewarded that his descendants would sit on the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin. Job opposed Pharaoh’s plot but was silent, virtually giving his seal of approval. Because of this, he was punished with great afflictions rather than death. (This is also another reason why Job can’t be Jewish - why would Pharaoh have been consulting with a Jew about how to kill the Jews out?)

There is another answer to why Job was afflicted, however. At the beginning of Job, it says, “Seven sons and three daughters were born to him…His sons would go and make a feast, at each one’s home each on his set day; and they would send word and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them” (Job 1:2, 4). At the end, the narrative says, “God blessed Job’s end more than his beginning…He had fourteen sons and three daughters…Their father gave [the daughters] an inheritance among their brothers” (Job 42:12-13, 15).

At the beginning, before Job went through all his trials, he did not give his daughters and sons the same inheritance. His daughters could not even host their own feasts and had to go to their brothers’ homes to do so. After Job lost his children, he realized that they were all equally precious gifts to him; a daughter is no different than a son. As a result, he righted his wrong and gave his daughters an equal portion. Is it possible that Job was being punished for not giving his daughters an equal inheritance to his sons? I think so.

This blog post is dedicated in memory of Fraydel bat Faigel. Fraydel was a strong, outgoing woman, and another Shining Star of Davida. She became a teacher, but that was not her original intention: she was thrown out of law school because she was pregnant. She opposed any sort of prejudice and was known to be friendly and accepting of all people, regardless of their sex, race, or any other factor. Fraydel’s son-in-law spoke about Job at the Shloshim meal her daughter sponsored and inspired this post.

I dub Job and Fraydel bat Faigel inductees into Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make feminists proud.

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