by Maggid Zelig Golden
7 Tamuz 5776 | July 13, 2016
In Memory of Rabbi Bonna Haberman z”l
Just one week after the first yahrzeit , the anniversary of her passing, I write in honor of one of the wisest luminary beings I ever met — Rabbi Dr. Bonna Devorah Haberman, z”l. Brilliant Torah scholar, founder of Women of the Wall, and author of Israeli Feminism Liberating Judaism: Blood and Ink and Rereading Israel: The Spirit of the Matter, Bonna left this world far too early after succumbing to cancer last year at the age of 54, but not before leaving a profound legacy at the intersection of Torah and feminism.
In last week’s Torah portion, Korach creates a famous rebellion against Moses and Aharon because of his perception of an imbalance of power. Most agree that Korach’s ego is out of check and his jealousy leads to his demise. In Bonna’s commentary on Korach, “Holy Rebels at their Spouses’ Command,” she takes a deeper look into the family and gender dynamics behind community leadership. While most commentaries locate the source of rebellion in the first verse, which states that Korach “took” himself aside, separating himself from the community (see Rashi), Bonna looks to the women behind the rebels.
In the case of On from the tribe of Rueven, his wife elucidates to him that rebellion will not change the power dynamics, and saves him by getting him drunk and sitting at the entrance of their home with loosened hair so that whoever comes to summon him will retreat. In Korach’s case, his wife eggs him on by challenging his masculinity in comparison to Moses’ power. Based on this, the Talmud explains, “Every wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pluck it down with her hands,” alluding first to On’s spouse and then to Korach’s spouse. (Sanhedrin 109b-110a).
In true Bonna fashion, she illuminates the deeper truth lurking in the politics of our communities, writing “the concept of spouses who lurk behind men is ultimately dissatisfying and demeaning to all. The women are literally behind the men, that is, hidden from view, excluded from the actions under consideration.” Yet they are possibly the most influential parties of the rebellion. Bonna did not stop with social politics, however. She deeply understood and taught how it is all connected and how the hiding of the feminine in politics reflects the same dynamic of how we have turned our back on the earth, our mother. Thus, we are left with only one conclusion: We must support women’s autonomy and leadership in all spheres of life, just as we must return to right relationship with the divine feminine found in the natural world.
I highly recommend that you learn about Dr. Rabbi Bonna Devorah Haberman and read her important works. In Bonna’s memory, and in the name of shlemut (wholeness) for all of Israel and beyond, may we realize Bonna’s vision in our time.