Wednesday, October 28, 2009

David and His Women + The Michal/Jonathan Switcheroo

I'm reading Adele Berlin's book entitled Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative for class. She draws an interesting parallel between David's responses to his women/ the order in which he married them and the kingdom and his perception as a leader at the time. I don't completely buy into it because I don't think the text portrays David as impotent - it states v'lo y'daah; he did not know Avishag, but that doesn't necessarily mean he couldn't have (and it certainly doesn't mean that according to the Gemara) but according to the literary rendering I can hear where she is coming from.

Her depiction of Michal in opposition to Jonathan is also interesting. I don't completely buy this either since Jonathan is often depicted in heroic and warlike contexts (venturing against the Pelishtim with only his na'ar to help him, offering to die should God and Saul wish it, going into his final battle against the Pelishtim, etc). Then again, the point she is making is in reference to David, not Jonathan's character on a whole. However, there is also the fact that Michal seems shocked by David exposing himself to the maidservants, which could be construed as maidenly shyness, a feminine quality. Also, Michal assists David in his escape 'within the house' using rope and bedding to help him- she does not use weapons. See the many commentators to Yael and Sisra who claim Yael killing Sisra with a tent peg was dafka to not utilize true weapons, which would not necessarily be permitted to a woman (kli gever). The commentators praise Yael for acting like a woman even when murdering! (Thanks Rebbetzin Smadar Rosensweig, who taught me these commentaries.) So one could argue Michal is in fact super-feminine in that she helps David escape via 'womanly methods' vs. anything involving weapons (like Jonathan's arrows.) Berlin does not address this.

    Michal was the first, and in some ways the most interesting, of David's wives. Robert Alter (116-127) has given a vivid description of this character and the personal tragedy surrounding her, and it need not be repeated here. It is clear that she is a full-fledged character with opinions and emotions of her own. But beyond this, there is an aspect of Michal's characterization that emerges when it is compared with Jonathan's. This comparison cries out to be made; both Michal and Jonathan are the children of Saul who show more love and loyalty to their father's competitor than to their father. The biblical author further invites the comparison by juxtaposing their stories in 1 Sam 18-20. The results are surprising; the characteristics normally associated with males are attached to Michal, and those usually perceived as feminine are linked with Jonathan.
    The first of Michal's unfeminine traits is found in the notice that she loved David and made it known. It is recorded twice (1 Sam 18:20, 28), and is the only time in the Bible that a woman seems to have chosen a husband instead of the usual pattern of a husband choosing a wife. (Of course, the marriage could only take place because father Saul approved, for his own ulterior motives.) David, on his part, married Michal not for love but because 'it pleased David well to be the king's son-in-law' (18:26). His relationship to her is always colored by practical considerations. He apparently did not (or could not) object when she was married to someone else during his absence (I Sam 25:44), and his later demand for her return was motivated by political reasons (2 Sam 3:13-15). In this last incident Michal's feelings are not recorded, but her second husband appears somewhat effeminate as he tags along after her crying until Abner commands him to go back home.

    The feelings of love and tenderness that David might have expected to have for Michal are all reserved for Jonathan. Jonathan, too, like his sister, made known his warm feelings for David (1 Sam 18:1, 19:1, 20:17), but in his case they were reciprocated. The parting of the friends in the field describes how 'they kissed one another and wept upon each other until David exceeded' (20:41). At their final parting David laments 'I am distressed over you, my brother, Jonathan; you have been very pleasing to me- more wonderful was your love to me than the love of women.' (2 Sam 1:26).

    David, then, seems to have related to Michal as to a man and to Jonathan as to a woman. It is not a question of sexual perversion here, but a subtle suggestion that this reflects something of the essence of these two characters. Michal is the aggressive and physical one. She saves David by physically lowering him out of a window, and arranging the bed so as to appear that he is in it. She lies to the messengers, telling them that David is sick in bed, and then after the ruse is discovered and Saul himself questions her, she brazenly fabricates the story that David threatened to kill her if she did not aid in his escape (1 Sam 19:12-17). Jonathan, too, saves the life of his friend, but it is never by physical means; it is through words (talking Saul out of killing him in 1 Sam 19:4-5), and words with a coded meaning (the episode of the arrows in 1 Sam 20:20 ff.). Jonathan's most physical action is the shooting of the arrows for the prearranged signal- hardly a show of strength. The 'little white lie' that he told to his father to explain David's absence from the new moon feast (20:28-29) had actually been concocted by David himself (20:6). Jonathan is just the messenger boy. His words and deeds are certainly much less daring than Michal's.

    The last bit of information we have about Michal is that she never bore a child (2 Sam 6:23). Not only is this the culmination of the disappointment in her life, and a hint that the husband who never loved her now stopped having marital relations with her, but, in light of the foregoing discussion, it suggests that Michal never filled a female role, or at least the role that the Bible views as the primary female role. Significant, too, may be the fact that Michal, unlike many women in biblical narrative, is never described as beautiful. Far from being a typical woman, Michal has been cast in a most unfeminine role.

    -pages 24-25


Shadesof said...

"The results are surprising; the characteristics normally associated with males are attached to Michal, and those usually perceived as feminine are linked with Jonathan."

I didn't review the Navi recently, but it's an interesting idea, in general.

Years ago, I read a book called "Appreciating people Including Yourself", by Miriam Adahan(see link below, I think it's now out of print). One point was that different people have tendencies which are natrually dominant, and that the goal is to acheive a balance, even without changing one's self completely. This sounds similar to the Rambam in Hilchos Deios regarding acheiving balance.

Regarding this topic as well, while it would not be desirable for a man to go to an extreme and to be "unmanly", it is still a good thing to try to acheive balance in emotions and tendencies.

Anonymous1:45 said...

Though it is generaly the case that different inherent traits tend to predominate in men and women (due to testosterone levels, different sizes of different brainstructures, using 1/2 brain for certain tasks while other uses both- i.e. math speech..), though this is the general rule, it is certainly not the case in every situation, and their is nothing wrong with that. 1. The Gemarrah talks about relating to a woman who is in a position of power in the same way one would relate to a male in said position. 2. See Devorah in shoftim chapters 4 and 5. She is a hero and there is nothing wrong with her having traits that are generally found in males, for she uses all her God given traits and abilities to do good as God wants. That being said, I'm really not even sure if the analysis of the book you mentioned holds any water. Is cunning (exhibited by Michal) exclusively a male trait? With regards Yonatan see Shmuel Aleph chapter 14. Yonatan here is a brave and fearless warrior. As far as him and David. This does not seem feminine to me; rather it seems like the love exhibited by soldiers who have each others lives in their hands and become like brothers. Given what they had been through together and the sacrifices made and their love for Hashem, there is nothing odd about these statements. I suppose though, that it could be argued that despite feminine traits Yonatan was nevertheless a fearless warrior due to his faith in God. Lastly, regarding Michal. In fact she did have children. See Shmuel bet 3:5. Rashi states that this is another name for Michal. And, Chazal say that 6:23 means that she died in childbirth. Otherwise why would it state 'ad yom motah'? If she never had kids then these words would be superfluous and all you would need to say was "lo hayah la yeled" or "lo haya la yeled kol yemai chayeiha". Rather the pasuk states 'lo hayah la yaled ad yom motah'- i.e. after this incident of haughtiness to David (in the previous psukim), she did not have a child until dying in childbirth. An intersting asideinto Michals beautiful cunning. She cleverly tells Shaul not that David wanted to kill her or frightened her. But that David said "let me go, why should I kill you". These words connote a request a kind of emotional begging i.e. "I don't want to do it. Please I beg you don't threaten my life and force my hand". In this way she cunningly makes an appeal to her fathers' emotions by suggesting into his mind that even that even when in distress, David would not want to harm her. That he is faithful to his wife and doesn't want to hurt another person even when in distress. Thus Shaul would surmise that David wants neither to harm him nor to rebel against him. And her strategy does work, as for a little while he ceases his pursit of david. Lastly, lastly, lol- See Eshet Cahyil- Mishlei chapter 31. This description of a Woman of Valor wise, industrious, strong... not a tiny little wallflower.