Aug. 27, 2020

Erika Dreifus on Proverbs 31:10-31 – “A Woman of Valor: A New Perspective on the Great Shabbat Prayer”

Mark’s guest on the podcast today is author, poet, and lecturer, Erika Dreifus. Erika has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University, taught history, literature, and writing there for several years, is a fellow in the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary Institute, and is also an adjunct assistant professor at Baruch College of The City University of New York. The passage she has chosen to discuss with Mark is Proverbs 31:10-31.

Erika begins by introducing this Eshet Hayil passage, her reasons for selecting it, its recitation on Shabbat evenings, and how she first encountered it. Mark recounts the qualities of a ‘woman of valor’ as outlined in the passage as well as Dr. Ruth’s selection of the most erotic line in all of literature which is found within it. Erika follows with the feminist perspective that her study group offers on the passage, and her poem, A Single Woman of Valor, is read and discussed. As with all guests, the podcast concludes with the lessons about mankind which Erika has learned. Today’s episode takes this ‘most frequently said…and rarely studied’ passage and finally provides it with the analysis it so richly deserves.

Episode Highlights:

  • The Eshet Hayil passage and Erika’s reasons for selecting it
  • Its recitation on Shabbat evenings
  • How Erika encountered it
  • The qualities of a woman of valor as outlined in the text
  • Dr. Ruth’s selection for the most erotic line in all of literature
  • The feminist perspective on this passage from Erika’s study group
  • Erika’s poem, A Single Woman of Valor
  • The lessons about mankind which Erika has learned


“Probably the most frequently said prayer…and rarely studied.”

“It essentially delineates the qualities of an ideal woman, a woman of valor.”

“Always listen to one’s mother.”

“It’s a really terrible melody, I think. I mean it sounds like a funeral dirge.”

“I was really moved by the text itself.”

“It seems to be a quintessential text of female empowerment.”

“She’s an amazing woman.”

“She does everything…she doesn’t sleep much.”

“Dr. Ruth is the youngest 92 year old in the history of the world.”

“If you stop learning and stop growing, then you basically consign yourself to a kind of death.”

Proverbs 31:10-31 What a rare find is a capable wife! Her worth is far beyond that of rubies. Her husband puts his confidence in her, And lacks no good thing. She is good to him, never bad, All the days of her life. She looks for wool and flax, And sets her hand to them with a will. She is like a merchant fleet, Bringing her food from afar. She rises while it is still night, And supplies provisions for her household, The daily fare of her maids. She sets her mind on an estate and acquires it; She plants a vineyard by her own labors. She girds herself with strength, And performs her tasks with vigor.


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