I do not think this gift is something women consciously control; the
feeling one gets is that when one's wife is good and happy, all is well in
the family. This would explain, for example, Proverbs
31:10-31. What then is this gift; what exactly will these women
deliver, or save, the men from?
The conclusion I have come to is that women save men from being
forgotten, like the animals, and deliver them from obscurity. Children
insure a lasting family name, and care in one's old age, as well as a
reason to strive in life.
This would be exemplified by the women's names. As Ms. Levine points
out, "Anna's name evokes the biblical Hannah..." and "Sarah shares her
name with Abraham's barren wife...." The author goes on to show these
connections as disparaging things, yet they can also be seen as symbols
Who could have imagined the barren women so invoked could ever bear
children? And yet, according to legend, they did. So too will the Sarah
and Anna of the Book of Tobit be vindicated.
Anna is further used by the author as an example of the household in
disharmony. Yet if one assumes women are the saviors of men, then is it
not equally likely that Tobit is the cause of this marital disharmony?
God is testing him with blindness, and his wife goes out and supports
him. She is a good wife; she sticks to women's work, and does not dishonor
her husband's family.
How does Tobit repay her? In vs. 11-13 he accuses her of theft!
Subsequent to this, it is almost as if he recognizes the depths to which
he has fallen. It is at this point that he beseeches the Lord for death
In vs. 5:19, if anyone, it is Anna who is being faithful to the
tenets of Judaism, "Let us be content to live the life appointed for us
by the Lord." Could it not be significant that the kind and thoughtful
words spoken by Tobit to Anna (Tobit 5:20-21) are both the reason she
stops weeping in 5:22, and cause her deliverance to him, unconscious or
otherwise, to be re-invoked?
Tobit's words thus become both the cause and the foreshadowing of
good things to come. And again, in 10:1-7, it is Tobit's anxieties which
alarm her; again, his kind and affectionate words seem to keep this role
of savior still active in his wife.
Edna too receives short shrift at the pen of Ms. Levine. It
is pointed out "[T]he names of the women... are all connected with
procreation... Edna's name derives from a Hebrew term meaning '(sexual)
pleasure,' ...used... when Sarah laughs to herself saying, 'after I have
grown old, and my husband is old, am I still to have pleasure?' (Genesis
Yet again, this can be looked at in a different light. As it turned
out, Sarah did have pleasure. It is a kind and thoughtful god indeed
who provides such deliverance to his creations.
To be saved from obscurity and misery; to be remembered by God, is
a powerful gift indeed for a woman to give a man. Why interpret this
as a bad thing? Of course the men's names are concerned with God --
they do not have the special relationship that women seem to share,
as a critically important bridge between both God and Man.
Why not name the women after that great gift? Such a special
relationship deserves constant remembrance, just as the constant
aspiration of the men to be closer to God is reflected in their names.
Ms. Levine portrays Sarah as "...passive, dependent and silent,
...the perfect wife." Without a man she is barren; she is ignorant of
her true condition; the angel Raphael never speaks to her. While it is
true Sarah seems to be the perfect wife, I believe it is for a different
reason than that given by Ms. Levine.
Yes, she is initially barren. Yet it has already been shown that
broaching the boundary between the human and the supernatural is not
healthy for mankind (Tobit 3:8, Genesis 6).
It would seem a kindness from God to make her barren. Were she not, the
demon Asmodeus and she might procreate, and she would bear the children
of a demon, a thing of which God does not seem to approve. Again, it
is the demon which could plausibly be to blame for her ignorance. Why
tell the girl about any possible relatives to marry? The demon would
just kill them all. Better to hope someone turns up with a cure.
It is true Sarah is very quiet, yet she is eloquent enough when
speaking to God. Could not her words be interpreted as sincerity?
Silence is not only passivity. Sometimes it is the mark of the wise.
Also, it is interesting that the angel Raphael waits to bind Asmodeus
until it is away from the woman, Sarah (Tobit 8:3). Could it be that the
"deliverance" of women is so strong that it can protect even a demon,
and thwart even an angel of God?
In this light, it would make sense that Tobias wishes to pray and
confirm his marriage as based on "sincerity" and "singleness of heart";
he is a good son and husband, and by loving only his wife, only then can
he show himself as deserving of her deliverance. Lust is the domain of
the demon, not of Tobias.
Lastly the angel Raphael does not speak or deal with women. Then again,
if women are the saviors of man, why should he? It is not the women in the
Book of Tobit who seem to need to be tested, but rather the men. It
is the men who need guidance, and the angel is there to guide them.
Finally, there is Ms. Levine's assertion "[T]he woman's role... is
to be in the house; there she cares for her husband and comforts her
children. Her public or religious duties emerge only when men are
absent or disabled. When Tobit was orphaned, his grandmother Deborah
assumed responsibility for his religious training; when he is blinded,
Anna enters the work force."
I fail to see how this diminishes women. True, it is not absolute
equality, a concept our culture seems to feel is imperative for a culture
to be considered healthy by us. Yet it fails to take egalitarianism into
account: if there are things one gender does better, let them do those
things. I have yet to meet the man who can bear a child.
Being in command of the house and home and children is not a trap
for the women in the story. They are proud examples of egalitarianism at
work: they do both that which no man can do, and what needs to be done
to survive -- and they do it devoutly and well. They bear children,
run the home, and when the men fall down in their responsibilities,
the women do those too!
In conclusion, I see the Book of Tobit, as Ms. Levine writes,
as a cautionary tale and example of how the Diasporic Jews should live
the devout life. However, I strongly disagree with her conclusions
concerning the role of women in this tale.
Even if it is subconscious on the part of the storyteller, the
incredible meaningfulness of women to the culture is there in the
story. I believe the Book of Tobit can be interpreted to show a
beautiful example of how significant and valued they were to the culture
of the time.