Monday, December 31, 2012

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman ****

In 73 CE, it was clear that the Roman siege of the desert fortress at Masada would be successful. Rather than be captured, tortured, and enslaved, the entire population committed suicide, even though this was against Jewish law. All ... except two women and five children.
The stories of women have often gone unwritten, and The Dovekeepersis [Alice Hoffman's] attempt to imagine those stories.
This book tells the stories of four women in a time dominated by patriarchy - cold and abusive fathers and lovers - and before modern medicine - painful, dangerous childbirths and sick children. In the midst of these challenges, Revka kills the four soldiers who raped her daughter, Aziza dresses as a boy to fight the Romans, and Shirah uses the old knowledge of herbs and outlawed goddesses to aid women in childbirth and love. These are stories of passion and power.

But to be clear, these are difficult stories to read. This is not a triumphant story of Jewish victory like Exodus or the many other stories recorded in the Old Testament. This is a historical story of tyranny defeating piety, faith, and bravery. Starting with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, this story explains some of present day Israel ... fulfilling promises to the 960 Jews who died at Masada on April 16, 73. Wikipedia report that the remains of those who died were reburied with full military honors in July 7, 1969 - almost two millennia after the fact.

One anecdote reports that fathers did not see their children until they were ten days old and suggests that the father did not want to become attached to a child who would soon die. In the same light, I wonder whether fathers (and some mothers) discounted the value of daughters because they couldn't bear loving someone who was destined to live as women lived.

A hard book to read and a harder one to forget.

No comments: