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.
Leah Grisham, PhD is a writer and educator whose upcoming book, Heroic Disobedience: The Forced Marriage Plot, 1748 – 1880 will be published by Vernon Press in 2022. She writes about Jewish life, literature, and feminism.