Onto Cen­ter Stage: The Bib­li­cal Woman

  • Review
By – December 5, 2022

Sara Reguer’s Onto Cen­ter Stage: The Bib­li­cal Woman is an estimable intro­duc­tion to the women of the Torah. Reguer, a pro­fes­sor of Juda­ic Stud­ies at Brook­lyn Col­lege, com­bines her aca­d­e­m­ic exper­tise and sto­ry­telling skills to show­case many of the best-known bib­li­cal nar­ra­tives from the per­spec­tive of female char­ac­ters. Sara, Rebec­ca, Rachel, Leah, Deb­o­rah, Esther, and oth­ers move from the periph­ery to cen­ter stage, expand­ing our under­stand­ing of these influ­en­tial female char­ac­ters and the times in which they lived. 

Woman-focused Torah and Tal­mud study has grown rapid­ly over the last few decades, inspired by books like Ellen Frankel’s mas­ter­ful The Five Books of Miri­am: A Women’s Com­men­tary on the Torah and Elie Wiesel’s Wise Men and their Tales: Por­traits of Bib­li­cal, Tal­mu­dic, and Hasidic Mas­ters (which, despite its title, delves deep into female bib­li­cal char­ac­ters). Many books in this genre are inter­est­ed in mov­ing beyond the lim­it­ed rab­binic teach­ings on female char­ac­ters, explor­ing their opin­ions, moti­va­tions, emo­tions, and strug­gles in mean­ing­ful and even spec­u­la­tive ways. Onto Cen­ter Stage, how­ev­er, is more focused on tak­ing the bib­li­cal sto­ries as we know them, such as Abraham’s and Sara’s ori­gin sto­ry, and telling them from the women’s per­spec­tives. This is not to say Reguer’s project is infe­ri­or to these oth­ers, but that its aim is slight­ly dif­fer­ent — a fact that read­ers may not glean from the title.

For that rea­son, Onto Cen­ter Stage would make a strong intro­duc­to­ry text for new Torah learn­ers, per­haps young peo­ple study­ing for their b’nai mitzvot, rather than read­ers who already have a foun­da­tion­al knowl­edge of bib­li­cal women. Reguer fills her nar­ra­tive with minute details of what life was like in the women’s respec­tive his­tor­i­cal peri­ods, which helps well-trod bib­li­cal sto­ries come to life. 

Onto Cen­ter Stage is writ­ten by an aca­d­e­m­ic and pub­lished by an aca­d­e­m­ic press, but these facts should not scare poten­tial read­ers off. The prose is easy to read and engag­ing, mak­ing it acces­si­ble to a wide array of read­ers. Per­haps an author’s note dis­cussing the nature of slav­ery in bib­li­cal times would have been use­ful: there are many enslaved char­ac­ters that appear through­out the text. Over­all, though, Onto Cen­ter Stage is an enjoy­able peek inside the lives and times of bib­li­cal-era women.

Discussion Questions