The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

“By Your Bloods you Shall Live, By Your Bloods You Shall Live”: Gender and Power Fluidity in the Reception History of Ezekiel 16 and Exodus 12

Ezekiel ch. 16 stands as a counter-narrative to the Torah account of the Exodus as Israel’s birth-narrative. It is a terribly disturbing text, aptly labelled pornographic in feminist scholarship. Yet two of the verses in this text that R. Eliezer sought to censor from public recitation (b.Meg. 25a) are given prominence at the Passover seder, the central text of family liturgical recitation. “By your blood you shall live” is a standard English translation of Ezek 16:6 in the Haggadah—is this saving blood, the life force that animates from within? Or is it blood of injury or defilement, as NJPS translates the verse, “Live in spite of your blood”? In transforming the negative valence of the biblical text into a positive gloss on the word “and great” (ורב), the Haggadah follows the tradition of the Mekhilta of R. Yishmael, which expounds Ezek 16:6 in relation to Exod 12:6-7: “the Holy One Blessed be He gave [Israel] two commandments—the blood of the Paschal lamb and the blood of circumcision to engage in for their redemption.”

The blood in Ezek 16 is female blood—the blood of childbirth and/or injury associated with the foundling’s vulnerability, and menstruation. The midrash and Haggadah reverse Ezekiel’s flip, switching the female blood of defilement, shame, and helplessness into male-associated blood of merit, activity, and redemption. The liminal events of birth and puberty in Ezekiel are replaced by the powerful apotropaic acts of circumcision and the placing of blood on a literal limen-the doorposts at the threshold of the Israelite’s homes in Egypt. This redemptive exegetical transformation of Ezekiel’s degradation of Israel-as-woman is, in its turn, an erasure of women. One corrective for the vilification/erasure of women is found in the Sefer Nizahon(13th c.), which uses the imagery of the two sideposts and the lintel in Exod 12:7 to offer an inclusive alternative: “the passage refers to three types of blood—[the blood of the pascal lamb], of circumcision, and of the menstruant woman.”

This paper explores the gender dynamics of the exegetical process in the reception history of Ezek 16 and Exod 12 outlined above.