Eshet Hayil

A Woman of Valor

December 19, 2019 - December 19, 2020

Christy Roberts Berkowitz

Arlene Weinstock

Joel Silverstein

Heather G. Stoltz

Laurie Shapiro

​Jan Ayers Friedman

Sarah Zell Young

Dorit Jordan Dotan

Marleene Rubenstein

Christy Roberts Berkowitz

Arlene Weinstock

Joel Silverstein

Heather G. Stoltz

Laurie Shapiro

Eshet Hayil (“Woman of Valor”) is an alphabetic acrostic poem with 22 verses in praise of the ideal wife, based on Proverbs 31. It is most commonly heard chanted at the Shabbat table, where it is customary for a husband to offer it in praise of his spouse. Among the virtues that Eshet Hayil acclaims are modesty, charity, domestic achievements, and the good reputation she earns for her husband. While the spirit of this well-known text is admirable, especially for its time, it also reflects an understanding of gender that cries out for re-interpretation.

 

We live in an era that has seen both great strides forward and tremendous setbacks for women and female-identified people. We are living in a society in which 7 in 10 Americans support women’s reproductive freedom, and also are witnessing dramatic efforts to de-fund care providers, like Planned Parenthood. We are experiencing a social revolution against sexual harassment in the #metoo movement, and also have politicians at the highest levels openly degrading women and a new Supreme Court justice who was confirmed despite credible evidence of sexual misconduct. Queer and trans visibility is at an all-time high, and yet the rate of violence, particularly against trans women, continues to be shockingly high.

 

How, today, should we celebrate valorous women? Can we honor women’s wisdom, dignity, and strength without limiting ourselves to seeing women’s worth as coming only from home, marriage, and children? Could it be that the spouse who “trusts in her” might also happen to be a woman? Can we make space for women who do not to have children that “rise to call them blessed,” either by choice or because of infertility and pregnancy loss? As we increasingly recognize that gender lies along a spectrum, rather than being an exclusive either/or, how does that necessitate a re-reading of this highly binary text?

 

One of Eshet Hayil’s most famous lines reads, “She opens her mouth with kindness, and a Torat Hesed – a Torah of loving-kindness is on her lips.” This exhibition is about bringing a Torat Hesed to the re-imagining and exploring of our tradition's connection with womanhood, in light of our changing times.

This exhibition is organized with the help of the Enhancement Committee of Hebrew Union College- JIR, LA & NuART Projects.

Curator: Anne Hromadka Greenwald

Assistant Curator: Gal Zohar

Selected Artworks & Installation shots from Eshet Hayil Exhibition at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles.