- Written by Alexandra D Smith
- Category: Yerushalayim
“Why would haShem make women so that they’re impure and befouled for part of every month? How does that further the ends of his creation?” Maybe Yoana knew what lay behind this stupidity, or at least the priestly explanation.
“I suppose it’s part of the punishment haShem visited on Havah for tempting Adam. Along with pain in childbearing. And serpents.”
“What about serpents? How do they come into it?”
“Well, they want to bite us, and we crush them under our heels. It says so in the Torah. Don’t you know anything?”
“Maybe I don’t know anything. I don’t remember that story. But maybe they tell different stories in the Tribe of Reuben than they do in the Tribe of Naphtali or Asher. You don’t have to be mean about it. I only want to understand what I’m seeing in this place where I have to live until Bet Maryam calls me home,” I flared.
“I wasn’t being mean. I was trying to explain, and I can’t help it if you don’t know things even the little babies know. You think you’re so special, travelling around and worshipping some filthy whore’s idol. I don’t know why they let you come here. Whatever else you are, I don’t believe you’re in good standing with the Tribes of Ysrael. If you were, you would never have gone somewhere to pray to foreign demons.”
“So you say, daughter of the Tribes. The Tribes who came late to this land, and slew all them that were here in order to make a place for yourselves. So who’s the foreigner, really? My mother’s mother’s mother’s foremothers were stewards of the land of Asher-ah well before Moishe and his rag-tag tribes popped their heads over the hill and decided to settle here, irrespective of its then current inhabitants,” I flung back.
“It was promised to the children of Ysrael by haShem. A promise Moishe himself witnessed and attested to. It was ours, whether the gentiles knew it or not. Who even counts their line through their mothers? I never heard of such a thing. That’s not how Reuben and Gad and Manasseh account their family ties.,” Yoana snarled.
“Ladies. Your debate concerning the confederation of the post Exilic Tribes, their conquest of Yudah, and their differences respecting traditions of lineage is both fascinating and inappropriate here under Shlomo’s Porch. While I enjoy a good cat-fight as much as the next devout citizen soon making Hakhel here at the very Beit haMiqdas, I wonder that the supervising Oregot choose to be so lenient regarding your public deportment. My grandfather, Rabban Hillel, felt that the weavers-- only newly accommodated here on Har Moriah, ought to display a certain piety in their service. He compared them to the mach’lakhah of the priests. He remarked that their service was undertaken all at once in an unbroken string of time, but that this only made it more imperative they should keep forward in their hearts always their debt to haShem who gave them both work and a home.”
The polished young hazzan who had, I hoped, finished with his erudite castigation, wore the robes and conical turban of a Kohen. His beard was still black and full, though only of medium length. Some I had seen in the dance rehearsal were tucked through their sacred belts, so that the waving chin hairs wouldn’t tangle their arms or hands.
“Your grandfather hung around the Oregot a lot to have such a well-developed opinion, right?” I shot back. His eyes had a twinkle in them which I liked, despite being called to account over what qualified as hoydenish behavior by any cultural standard.
“My grandfather advised Herod the Great himself in the proportions and assignments of every space on, or under the top of Har Moriah. It was he who decided the treasury should be situated beneath the Ezrat haNashim, and he who designed the bronze collection trumpets to smooth the path to making all right with haShem for the people of the Tribes, whilst lessening the logistical burden of the Kohanim. Truly a great man.” He nodded piously.
“Yes, maybe, but you haven’t answered my charge that maybe he hung around the Oregot more than a little if he had the luxury of considering their days and comportment in as much detail as you report,” I returned, and without any modest lowering of my maidenly eyes, or twisting of my hands, or shuffling of my feet.
“I see from your dress you are new to the precincts of Beit haMiqdas. Soon enough, you will learn to know the name, teachings, and judgments of Rabban Hillel. He was a reverend sage, and a great scholar. And he didn’t ‘hang around’ the Oregot in an unseemly manner.
“He was known by those who knew for his attention to proportion, mystery, and detail. All of these are evident throughout this profound memorial to the man who contributed most to its very form within the realms of existence,” he intoned in rich piety.
“One of my aunts is an amazing gardener, but I would feel a bit silly if that were all anyone knew about me. Congratulations on your choice of ancestry. Have you, in and of your own self, done anything we should know about besides getting born into the very purple of Ysrael?” I sauced. Yoana’s eyes were doing that wide, ringed-with-white thing she resorted to when I flouted some tradition or violated some statute still unknown to me.
“I am Gamliel ben Simeon. I serve in the Ehad-Esre Mach’lakah, Eliashib is our patron Kohen Gadol, o impudent Oreget. I learn and I teach during the greatest blossoming of Midrashic knowledge seen in the Tribes since Zerubabbel erected the first Second Temple. One day, I shall have risen and I shall, by the will of haShem and my own efforts, become Nasi of the Sanhedrin. And they shall call me Rabban as they did my grandfather,” again with the solemn intonations.
“Right. Slight and young though I am, I have dived for pearls and snails at Tzor, and danced with the Perfected One, our Elder Brother, in the ancient Phaistaieon at Kriti. Now I have come to weave the Parochet. If I do half as well here as I have other places, I do not doubt that my contributions will pass into legend.”
I had learned a little of Bragging and Mocking from Laylaha, whose goddess, the Eternal In-nanna, had claimed domain over both M’eh. Anam had said her draoidh also taught and practiced these skills. I ended learning well from both. Albeit none of us had ‘Elines for a first language. We felt this to constitute a suitable handicap for our competitions.
“Well done, little Oreget. I feel you may have a small gift for prophecy. If you have begun as you mean to go on, you may very well pass into legend,” he smiled with the smile that says ‘I know all manner of things you don’t which will eventually contribute to all you will attempt and all you may accomplish while Beit haMiqdas has you in her charge’. He always made a smile say so much. I couldn’t resist the urge, and gave him a reluctant smile in return.
“If you’re done flirting with this Kohen, and don’t think I won’t tell the Oregot on duty at the workshop, we must hurry. Everyone else has passed us long since,” Yoana interposed with no little petulence.
“Flirting? With a man who is as old as my father? Nay, likely older. Moreover, he stopped us. Weren’t you telling me that we must be obedient to the priests? That was certainly you. I don’t know anyone else here, do I?” I volleyed back.
Flirting? What was wrong with that girl’s liver? Aunt Mimi would have seen her purged of that nonsense, with a literal purgative.
All the same, I hiked up my now-dingy robes and scurried behind Yoana. Though I was faster, she knew the way and made all the polite excuses as she cut a path for me to follow. The stairs were almost empty, the better for us to race down them at a reckless pace. I pulled ahead at the first landing, and slid through the open doorway just before her.
Oreget Dinah looked up from the many charts, tools and a pair of battered abacuses spread across the great table by the door. Her look combined resignation with a bitter satisfaction. I sensed that I had already begun to live up to her low expectations for me.
“Yoana, you know when we reconvene. You and Hanna were some of the first to leave the refectory, how is it that you are the very last to appear? Were you lost? Should I set you to sweeping the Court of the Gentiles, so that you may become more familiar with the Beit haMiqdas? I cannot blame Hanna for your mutual tardiness, as she might not know the way on her first day. But you have lived under the roof of haShem for more than a turn of the year, Yoana. What have you to say for yourself?” Dinah had increased in volume and fury alike during the course of her diatribe.
“A Kohen stopped us. He noticed Hanna’s white robes and welcomed her to Beit haMiqdas and her service here with the Oregot. He took some time to tell us about himself. His grandfather was Rabban Hillel, who helped to plan this glorious expression of devotion by the Tribes of Ysrael for haShem. I am sorry, Oreget Dinah. But he would not stop talking to us, and I know it is improper for us junior Oregot to interrupt a priest. There was nothing we could do but nod and hope.”
Yoana had pared the incident to something believable, unavoidable, and forgivable. Despite her earlier threats, she wasn’t going to tattle on me to the Oregot with half-invented, wholly malicious tales of my backwardness-- and forwardness. I didn’t mind knowing I could scrap with her and she wouldn’t turn shrew on me.
“Well, what are you still standing here for, Yoana? You have an assigned task, please return to it. I will see what had best be done with Hanna. Thank you for showing her our facilities. Now scoot!” Dinah turned to me, “You have seen what we do here. Tell me what parts of it you already have learned, and where.”
“I learned the calculation of fleece weight to rough cubits finished yarn, based on the gauge of the yarn. I can do the same with fully heckled flax-- on different gages of course. I can walk rope; spin a little; ret, scutch, and heckle; and card wool. These things I learned from my mother, Miryam Shelomit bat Shlomo. l mix and cure dyes to repeatable formulae. This I learned from my aunt, Maryam bat Oachim bar Yudah who serves as a Viragoi of the gardens and still rooms at Tzor. I climb ladders like a monkey, and have no fear of heights. This I learned with my milk tongue from the other children at Migdala Nunnaya. I am a trained acrobat and dancer, and this gives me the coordination necessary to cleanly warp the back beam of the looms upstairs. That I learned at Tzor from the Matroi there.
“If someone cares to teach me how to read the charts, I ought to be able to thread the heddles as well, within one turn of the Lady’s… um, before the last day of Chag haAsif has fallen,” I spoke boldly. But I knew I had many useful skills, and some I prayed were only superfluous.
“And I must ask, wonder child, do you happen to weave at all?” Dinah put to me after a moment’s silence.
“I did a little, but I was small for the home loom when I left Migdala. I did not specialize in the Way of the Spider at Tzor. I know some knot-making, from my mother and my cousin, Sobe as well as my Marmar-- my grandmother Haha’s mother’s sister, who yet lives. If I had known Bet Maryam would choose to send me here, I might have chosen differently at Tzor.” No, I would not have. But a soft regret goes down more smoothly than brazen indifference.
“I see. As it happens, we have many calculations which need immediate attention. I shall have Rivka show you what you have to work with and how we want you to record it. You do have writing, do you, child?” Dinah asked.
“Yes, I can write in a number of alphabets, and keep clean tallies in twice as many number systems. What do you use here?”
“We use what haShem, Moishe and the Kohanim give us to use. Many’s the weaver who could write and cipher only the numbers and words to do with our project here. We don’t need more than that, and the Rabban Hillel used to say that learning in women not to do with the homely crafts is a blemish and a fault of their parents,” Dinah quoted with a hint of malice.
“I will apply myself to learning whatever I do not already know so that the records are cleanly made and passed. Thank you, Oregot Dinah,” I smiled sweetly.
“That will do, child. Save your smirking for those who will feel it. I have another barrow of fish to sort, and the longer I stand here talking with you, the further behind I will be, come the moment.
“And don’t, for the love of haShem, stand in the blessed doorway like a lump. Someone will run into you, sooner or later, and I have my shekel on ‘sooner.’” Grabbing a clutter of charts and several snarls of dye samples, she took herself off into the farther gloom of the workshop.