Women of the Bible, fears author Naomi Harris Rosenblatt, are perceived as “second-class citizens in a patriarchal society, robbed of any opportunity to express themselves, to be acknowledged, or to be respected.” These notions, she says, stem from the fact that many people first read this sacred text on a superficial level, as young children.
But, explains the Northwest D.C. resident, “When you read these stories as an adult, you realize that even though these women were legally under [men’s] authority, each one was indispensable to the survival of…her family, of her people.”
In her second book, After the Apple: Women in the Bible—Timeless Stories of Love, Lust, and Longing, Rosenblatt employs her lifelong study of scripture to provide an in-depth look at the lives of Rebecca, Rachel, Sarah, and other Old Testament figures, teasing out issues that are still relevant to today’s women. Sarah, wife of Abraham, for example, experienced a sense of personal failure over her infertility; the widowed Tamar defied social taboos to conceive the child she longed for out of wedlock.
“The characteristics that these women had of courage, of strength, of risk-taking are still necessary…in modern life,” explains Rosenblatt. “I get nurtured and strengthened by [them] as role models…because the stories are so realistic.You get all the details about their weaknesses, their frailties, and then [you learn] how these women overcome and prevail.”
The daughter of a nonobservant Scottish Jewish father and Canadian Jewish mother, Rosenblatt says she developed her love of the Hebrew Bible at the age of 6, when she was in first grade at the Reali School in Haifa, Israel. “Even as a child, I sensed that if I studied this one book thoroughly, I would understand all there is to know about the adult world without ever leaving my neighborhood,” writes the grandmother of five.
The author met her husband, Peter Rosenblatt, a well-to-do Manhattanite, while he was vacationing in Israel at the age of 15. After their first encounter, Peter returned to Israel every summer to volunteer with Naomi in a kibbutz—where he later proposed to her on top of a water tower. Once married, Naomi emigrated to the United States; she says she often thought of the biblical Rebecca, who left her family to meet her future husband, Isaac, in the unfamiliar land of Canaan.
“I found myself identifying with what the young Rebecca must have felt upon leaving her mother, father, and country to start her married life with a stranger in a strange land—her longings, hopes, excitement, and guilt,” she writes.
Since moving to the District at the tail end of the Lyndon Johnson administration, she’s actively shared her knowledge of scripture with others. For more than 20 years, she led a weekly Bible class for women at her dining-room table over steaming pots of tea, and from the mid-’80s to 2000, she taught a course to senators on Capitol Hill in the office of longtime friend Sen. Arlen Specter.
In her first book, 1995’s Wrestling With Angels: What Genesis Teaches Us About Our Spiritual Identify, Rosenblatt and co-author Joshua Horwitz examined the story of the first family of the Bible. After the Apple took four years to craft, but Rosenblatt is proud of the result.
“I was very concerned that the language come out smoothly and clearly, because English is not my mother tongue—Hebrew is,” she says. “And above all, that my book live up as much as possible to the high standards of the Biblical message.” —Heather Morgan Shott