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The Red Tent: My Reaction

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In her book, The Red Tent, Anita Diamant attempts to expound upon the foundations laid by the Torah by way of midrashim. In doing so, parts of her stories tend to stray from the original biblical text. The following essay will explore this and several other aspects of the book as they relate to the Torah and modern midrash.

One of the first differences I recognized was the description of Leah's eyes. In Genesis 29:17, Leah's eyes are described as weak. Diamant dispels this 'rumor', saying that Leah's eyes, one blue and one green, "made others weak" because most people had difficulty looking her in the face. By making this small adjustment, Diamant is able to create a connection between Jacob and Leah that the Bible neglects. The Bible says only that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, which tends to give the impression that Leah was unloved. Diamant says that Jacob was able to look Leah in the eye without any trouble and never made any comment regarding them. This is significant because it shows that Jacob overlooked a flaw in Leah that most others seemed unable to ignore, and the physical attraction between them that she later addressed in the seven days following their marriage (which was a single night in the Bible) seems to make more sense. In addition, their discussion in the tent concluding that Jacob was to emerge after the week "feigning anger " is a midrash provides an explanation as to why Jacob slept with Leah and still complained to Laban that he had been tricked. Diamant makes Jacob appear to be more of a gentleman than the Bible does, and thus, a more likeable main character in her novel.

In The Red Tent, Diamant created people not mentioned in the Torah. One such person was Ruti, Laban's last wife. Laban beat Ruti badly and frequently for no apparent reason. In Diamant's book, Ruti's fairly small role serves as a clear reason for the reader to dislike Laban. Until Ruti is introduced, besides being a drunk and making love to sheep, we find Laban to be little more than pathetic. Including Ruti in the story adds another dimesion to Laban's character; one of cruelty and aggression. At this point, Diamant makes Laban begin to fit the novelistic "bad guy" mold quite well, and the reader finds him more repulsive than ever before. His daughters pay little attention to Ruti and ignore the evidence of their father's abusiveness because Ruti is "the mother of their sons' rivals, their material enemy." When she finally comes to them for help to be rid of the child in her womb, so that the baby girl would not suffer the same treatment from Laban as her mother did, they are eager to be of assistance. When Jacob goes to town to redeem Ruti after Laban had sold her as a slave, Jacob becomes more of a hero and is further distinguished as the "good guy" in the novel. Using Ruti, Diamante persuades the reader to side with the daughters and Jacob against the cruel Laban. Another discrepancy between the biblical text and The Red Tent is clear when Laban catches up to Jacob's camp as he and his wives fled from Laban's land. The Torah says that Laban was unable to find the statues and did not know where Rachel had them hidden, but Rachel blatantly tells her father that she was sitting on his precious statues during her period in Diamant's midrash. This act of defiance, as well as Laban's acceptance of it, are key events in the novel. It gives the reader the impression that Laban no longer had control over his daughters and they were finally free from that evil man. It is for these same reasons that Laban did not kiss "his sons and daughters good-by" as he did in the scripture, and as a result of Diamant's interpretation, their parting was much more dramatic and bitter than in the original text.

Even more dramatic is the rising tension between Jacob and his brother regarding the marriage of Dinah and Shalem, and it's horrible climax, resulting the murder of every man in Shechem. In The Red Tent, however, the fault lay not in the actions of Shalem, but in the pride of Jacob and his sons. The massacre dealt by Jacob's sons is the real tragedy of Dinah's life. In the original text, the actual Hebrew word for "rape" is used, but Diamant seems to ignore this seemingly solid fact. It is in my opinion that this scripture was literal, and changing this aspect of the story in her midrash was the straw that broke the camel's back. Jacob's stubbornness in his misunderstanding is uncharacteristic and in contrast with the person Diamant had described earlier on in the novel. Jacob, who was once the "good guy", had become cold-blooded and mean. The actions his sons took against the people of Shechem were no longer the actions of concerned and protective brothers, but the actions of greedy madmen. The original text does not project Jacob and his sons to be evil, though Diamant increasingly describes them as such with each chapter in Part Two. She seems to begin recklessly rewriting the story at this point, giving Dinah the opinion that her father was cowardly to change his name although it was majestic and was described more like divine intervention in the original text. It is also conflicts with the order of these events as laid out in Genesis. Jacob changed his name before he was even reunited with his brother Esau, so Dinah's belief that he



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