The Miriam Tradition

The Miriam Tradition: Teaching Embodied Torah

CIA SAUTTER
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 184
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt2ttbn9
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  • Book Info
    The Miriam Tradition
    Book Description:

    The Miriam Tradition works from the premise that religious values form in and through movement, with ritual and dance developing patterns for enacting those values. Cia Sautter considers the case of Sephardic Jewish women who, following in the tradition of Miriam the prophet, performed dance and music for Jewish celebrations and special occasions. She uses rabbinic and feminist understandings of the Torah to argue that these women, called tanyaderas, "taught" Jewish values by leading appropriate behavior for major life events._x000B__x000B_Sautter considers the religious values that are in music and dance performed by tanyaderas and examines them in conjunction with written and visual records and evidence from dance and music traditions. Explaining the symbolic gestures and motions encoded in dances, Sautter shows how rituals display deeply held values that are best expressed through the body. The book argues that the activities of women in other religions might also be examined for their embodiment and display of important values, bringing forgotten groups of women back into the historical record as important community leaders.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09027-1
    Subjects: Religion, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface: WHY MOVEMENT MATTERS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Women and Sacred Power
    (pp. 1-22)

    When I tell people that I study ʺreligion and dance,ʺ the response almost always makes me wince. I often hear, ʺDavid danced before the ark and all that, but what else is there?ʺ Apparently no one remembers Miriam: a prophet and leader of Israel, she is the icon for dance in the Torah. Of the many overt passages on dance in the Bible, most refer specifically to womenʹs role as leaders of ritual for the community of Israel. The supreme example is the prophetess Miriam, who led women in dance and song after the crossing of the sea.

    So what...

  6. 2 Movement Matters
    (pp. 23-45)

    When I teach a class called ʺThe Movement of Meaning,ʺ my students learn about how we perform religious values. In the novel Nin, author Cass Dalglish outlines the background of a similar idea in her colorful tale that involves two women, Enheduanna and Shatapda, the first writers. When the main character in the book, Nin, has a conversation with these ancient Mesopotamian women writers, she discovers that they have an expansive concept of language. They tell her that each character they wrote in cuneiform can also be interpreted as a gesture or action, not separate from the meaning of the...

  7. 3 Miriam’s Dance
    (pp. 46-76)

    When I wrote my first biblical studies paper, I told the professor that I wanted to study Miriam. He attempted to persuade me to focus instead on Deborah, because she was a general. While he did not have a problem with the dancing Miriam as a topic, his concern was that there was not enough critical evidence on the biblical character. At the time, there was little historical research available on the dancing prophetess and what she represented in the Torah text. The scientific study of religion did not seem to view a dancing woman as particularly important, although rabbinic...

  8. 4 Miriam at the Wedding Celebration
    (pp. 77-106)

    In Judaism, womenʹs dance traditions are often more than just entertainment. Biblical, Talmudic, historical, visual, and written records indicate that womenʹs activity was important to the community. That is undoubtedly true with regard to weddings in the Sephardic community, where women were leaders of a large number of music and dance activities.¹

    What is a wedding dance? How and why do people dance at weddings? Current American culture might think in terms of a time after an official ceremony for excess drinking and bad music, with a few people moving around on the dance floor. For Jewish communities, the idea...

  9. 5 The Rachel Tradition: DANCING DEATH
    (pp. 107-131)

    Historically, Jewish woman have been experts on grief. Their performance of dance for death was seen as a means of dealing with the profound sense of sadness that comes with loss. As a symbolic dance of death, their wailing was a means of purging the body and soul of grief. Modern American culture tends to avoid such dramatic physical expression of sorrow, yet there are still songs of grief. Like the verse above, the following two verses are examples of such deep, heartfelt mourning:

    I long to live

    to see you and hear you;

    now that youʹre not here,

    I...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 132-136)

    In the now many years that I have been teaching religious studies, I have found that students often face the same difficulties with the fieldwork I assign. Many assume that because they are not experts in religious study, their observations at an event are invalid—despite the fact that I provide them with guidelines for noting the basic physical components of an event, in terms of motion, space, and sensual perception. While many are able to describe the use of space, artwork, gestures, behavior, ritual objects, smells, foods, and even clothing worn by participants, just as many are unable to...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 137-150)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 151-164)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 165-168)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 169-170)