Edited by Enid Dame, Lilly Rivlin, and Henny Wenkart--with an Introduction by Naomi Wolfe
Published by Jason Aronson Press: Northvale NJ and Jerusalem, ¸ 1998.
ISBN.0-7657-6015-0, 413 pp. Hardcover.
Who was Lilith-that mysterious legendary figure so associated with death and dark powers? Eve was not Adam's first wife. That honor belonged to Lilith. But, when Adam tried to dominate her, she uttered God's secret name and flew away. She is written of in the Talmud and whispered about in folk tales passed from mother to daughter down through the ages. Who was she really?
This new anthology presents essays, short stories, and poetry written by Jewish women authors who explore this mystery-never before effectively addressed in the sinister and conflicting accounts which have been passed along to us primarily by men. The pieces included in this collection search for the truth, attempt to pin a clearer identity on Lilith, and penetrate her thinking. A better team of editors could not have been chosen for this collection. Enid Dame, Lilly Rivlin, and Henny Wenkart bring with them their expertise in women's and Jewish literary themes and use it to assemble a diverse and provocative body of work. This unique group of women attacks the question of Lilith from every angle with a drive for understanding one of the most controversial female archetypes.
The book opens with an introduction by Naomi Wolf, who has been called the "grande dame" of young feminism in the 90's after the success of her 1991 book, The Beauty Myth. Wolf postulates about the psyches of women looking for a heroine, someone strong and independent as role model, to help ditch the role of "selfless homemaker". Well, it's about time! The stories, essays, and poems run the gauntlet, showing us Lilith through a prism--some by historical accounts and interpretations of scripture, others, by bringing Lilith into modern day scenarios:
"She stops and turns to Adam: [from "Lilith's Divorce" by Naomi Gal, trns.by Suzy Shabetai, p.95]
This is the late twentieth century she says to him,
how can you allow those primitive types to decide what's going to happen to us?
Adam gives his Machiavellian smile:
They're not deciding what's going to happen to us. You are.
Lilith doesn't bother to ask him what he means. She has to go to her lawyer."
These writers creatively personify our most coveted traits into a one-woman legend imbued with equality, strength, and satisfied sexuality:
"Lilith stopped her. [from "In The Garden" by Susan Gold p.199]
My juice is sweeter she whispered,
and my flesh will teach much more.
She pulled Eve gently down on top of her, slid her tongue across her eyelids, the tongue which could beat so fast in the right places."
There seems always to be an understandable undertone of resentment concerning what woman could have been if she were only allowed her birthright through the ages-equality? With so many varying interpretations of the meaning of Lilith as a legendary figure, we may not come to a conclusion as to who Lilith really was, but, perhaps, that's the very point. Lilith is someone different to all women and men who behold her. Yet, for all of us, she comes out on top-a champion. Living in exile? Maybe. But, at least, she has her dignity. Isn't that what we all want?
While reading this collection stirred up a real contempt for ancient scribes, who seemingly concocted myths designed to suppress women and 'keep them under control,' I am grateful that we have come to a place where we feel comfortable and empowered to challenge them and the images of women they provided. The existence of a book like this one proves how far we've come. Which Lilith? is a shining example of women's strength and creativity and should be treasured by women of all faiths.
This review was first published by Wise Women's Web.
BIO: Christine L. Reed is the editor and publisher of Maelstrom, and runs a cleaning service whilst being a mom and writing from time to time. She received a Pushcart Prize nomination for her work in The Journal of New Jersey Poets and has poetry forthcoming in Rosebud, The Silt Reader, and Poetry Motel.