Jan. 11, 2021

Michal Lemberger on Genesis 19:6-9 – “A Horrifying Crime”

Celebrated author and educator, Michal Lemberger, joins Mark for today’s podcast. Michal’s debut collection, After Abel and Other Stories, has garnered numerous awards, and her nonfiction and journalism have appeared in many publications, including Real Simple, Slate, Salon, and Tablet. She has taught the Hebrew Bible as Literature at UCLA and the American Jewish University, a course that Mark would dearly love to take. The passage Michal has chosen to discuss is one that no guest has previously chosen, Genesis 19:6-9.

Michal begins the conversation by summarizing the passage, noting its horrifying nature and the lack of female commentary on the Torah and the corresponding lack of attention given to violence against women within it. From that point on, this episode becomes a class in the art of arguing the Torah, as she and Mark explore differing perspectives and readings on a number of its passages. The back and forth of interpretations regarding such topics as the treatment of women, judicial systems, competing claims for power, government actions, and the lessons to be found in the negative aspects of the Torah, make for truly exciting and thought provoking listening. Michal’s literary expertise is on full display as she discusses the nature of storytelling in ancient times, the role of the ‘trickster’, and the lack of female perspective, particularly in Dinah’s story. This conversation draws to a close with the lessons Michal has learned about humankind and her thoughts on the need to ensure respect for all on a systemic level. As you listen today, you will understand precisely why Mark would absolutely love to participate in Michal’s class as, together, they exchange an array of informed and often differing perspectives and opinions throughout this episode which Michal fittingly describes as a ‘good little argument about the Bible’.


“I find that to be a truly horrifying passage.”

“What the Bible is sanctioning there is ‘You may rape them to death’.”

“What it shows is what gets ignored when certain people are not given voices to comment on the Bible.”

“Women were not really allowed to be the authorities on these texts, and so lines like that just got ignored.”

“Can’t we say that the Jewish people coalesced around being horrified at violence against women in the rape of Dinah?”

“Lot is like Fredo in ‘The Godfather’. He’s like a bumbling moron.”

“There really is a hierarchy in the biblical world, and the biblical world is interested in rich men.”

“I really think the Book of Ruth is a perfect book.”

“When you change the lens through which you’re reading this material, you see a whole world that is invisible to those at the top of the hierarchy.”

“My perspective is inherently political…it’s about who has power and who doesn’t.”

“I think one of the greatest things that the Jewish tradition gives to us is the notion that our heroes are not perfect.”

“Women and girls, daughters, were property and had no options, and maybe we can create a different world.”

“When we look at the story from below…we see different things.”

“When you trick the trickster, it really undoes the whole order of things, and the Bible is very concerned with order…right from the beginning.”

“We never actually get Dinah’s perspective.”

“People don’t like to give up their ideas.”

“Everyone wants respect. We need to change the angle at which we look at things so that everyone gets respect.”

“It is so easy for us to give people respect, and yet we don’t.”

Genesis 19:6-9 - https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.19.6-9?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en


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