Saturday, November 8, 2008

Yaltha, the wife of R' Nachman: A woman of spirits (1)

I had often wondered why in the (excessive) modern focus on proto-feminist figures (here is the earliest article I know on the subject) I have rarely seen mention the name of Yalta, the wife of R' Nachman. After a quick internet search, I see that there is some discussion but surprisingly, no full-length study.

The name Yalta is acc. to Kohut - Aruch Ha-Shalem) is derived from the aramaic for doe or mountain-goat. Yalta was the daughter of the Reish-Galusa and wife of R' Nachman (bar Yaakov). Babylonia was the bread-basket of the Sassanian empire and hence of vital importance. The Reish Galusa as head of a significant minority group weilded considerable power (see wiki). Yalta, a princess of sorts, would have had a considerable sense of her own importance. This is crucial for understanding her action in many of the stories cited. She acts not as a proto-feminist but as a princess [1].

One full-length article analysing one of the Yalta stories is: Yalta's Ruse: Resistance Against Rabbinic Menstrual Authority in Talmudic Literature", in Women and Water: Female Rituals of Purification in Jewish History and Culture,ed. by Rachel Wasserfall, University Press of New England, 1999, pp.60-82 (here).

An over the top typical feminist analysis of the story in Berachot 51b (which I refer to in the title) is in R. Adler's Engendering Judaism (and see here). Adler's exposition involving cups and wombs is all very nice and Da Vinci Code-ish but it is also utter nonsense. It is all too easy to find hidden messages and symbolisms where none exist. I would like to discuss this source in detail in a future post.

There is an interesting thread here that collects R' Nachman's statements about woman whether there is a correlation between these statements and his famous wife is anyone's guess. (I saw one scholar insists that Yalta was not necessarily his wife, etc. ,etc. This is nonsense. It is clear from numerous statements is the Talmud that R' Nachman was the son-in-law of the Reish Galusa (see Graetz's lovely biography)) - or at the very least close to his court.

This is all that I have found of the scholarship on the subject. In the next post, I will discuss some of the other Yalta statements and see what we can make of them.

[1] I do not have Tal Ilan's - Mine, yours, and hers (see pgs. 121- 129 - basing herself on Shamma Friedman's "good story deserves retelling" hypothesis) but agree with her basic thesis.


expert coffee brewer said...

The article Yalta's Ruse: Resistance Against Rabbinic Menstrual Authority in Talmudic Literature reads like the Protocols of The Elders of Zion with the "Rabbis" plotting to take control of women's lives. Leaving aside the over the top "proofs" and the fallacious argument that the drasha of the 5 shades of blood is different from all the other drashot which don't impact women, I wonder if it seems imaginable to get a bunch of "Rabbis" to agree about anything if it doesn't have a solid basis. From my own experience it wood seem easier to drive all women into forced servitude than to get "Rabbis" to arrive at such a consensus.

wolf2191 said...

Welcome to the world of militant feminism - where ideology and scholarship don't mix.

See Elizabeth Shanks-Alexanders article in JQR on Mitzvos Aseh SheHazma Grama for real scolarship (she says like you that these are regular drashot w/o polemical intent)

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