JWA has an enlightening poster series dedicated to 16 women tagged as Women of Valor. The exhibit introduces itself explaining, “Women of Valor recognizes and highlights the lives and accomplishments of sixteen trailblazing Jewish women, each of whom had the courage and conviction to overcome the social, cultural, and religious barriers she faced in creating a more just and equitable world.”
The exhibit has me thinking—about the concept of valor, about the traditional hymn, and about whom we might tag as contemporary Women of Valor.
The word itself, valor, can be defined as personal bravery—when I think of valor I think of someone who not only speaks, but also acts with a just intent, who is able to keep the needs of others in perspective to her own needs, and is dedicated to improving the world in both small and large ways. But, valor hasn’t always held this connotation in traditional Jewish Biblical literature. To understand how we define women of valor we must first take a look back at where the phrase originated.
I tend to be wary of educational musical acts, especially those that sound like they were written by teachers trying to be "cool." But after a quick listen, it is obvious that "Girls in Trouble" is far, far more than a simple "101" on biblical women.
As a young woman growing up in the Jewish community, I often sought out a woman's voice in the biblical text. I wanted to hear more from our matriarchs and yearned to know the real story behind Dina, Miriam, and Tamar. Too often I felt like I was confronted by Jewish publications that seemed dominated by the male perspective and left me hungry for something different.
It’s a thrill for me to see artist Joan Snyder listed among this year’s recipients of MacArthur fellowships, the “genius grants” that honor and advance the work of exceptionally creative thinkers and doers. Joan Snyder greets me each morning as I begin work. A copy of her print, “Our Foremothers,” occupies the wall opposite my desk. A collage of names of all the women in the Bible as well as women in her own family, the print is a visual metaphor for our work at the Jewish Women’s Archive.
It’s been a couple of weeks since the feminist biblical scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky passed away, and I find myself returning to her work as a way of honoring her memory. I didn’t know her well, but I have learned a great deal from her writing (particularly Reading the Women of the Bible and Motherprayer) and have used her scholarship in my own teaching.