Sunday, January 20, 2013

We all live like kings

Last night, I was reading to the girls the story of how Rebecca married Isaac, and came across a curious detail I have never noticed before... according to certain Jewish sources, apparently, Rebecca was only 3 (!) at the time when Eliezer comes to look for a bride for Isaac. I pointed this out to my husband; could it be true? How is it that a 3-year-old girl is sent away from her home to go with a stranger and marry a stranger? Furthermore, how can a 3-year-old girl be as responsible and mature-acting as Rebecca obviously was in her encounter with Eliezer? 

I checked it up online, and according to most sources, her being "3 years old" isn't to be taken literally (there are various, rather complex explanations). Still, she was supposed to be very young, perhaps in her teens, whereas Isaac is closer to 40 (he was 37 at the point of Sarah's death, and did not marry until later). This led to other interesting musings on our part... why hadn't the eligible bachelor Isaac marry earlier? Obviously Isaac and Rebecca were both holy people and belonged together, despite their large age gap. And sometimes we can't follow divine plans with our logic; we use our minds to the best of our ability, yet often it is insufficient.

Then we began to talk of other things, namely, of how his parents and their parents lived in North Africa. They lived in a desert; there were no shops nearby, no school, no doctor; no electricity, no running water; you ate what you grew, and if you were well-off you could supplement your diet with whatever you could contrive to buy in your neighbourhood. The environment was hostile. Jews were a minority, often unable to defend themselves properly, and many girls were carried off by Muslims if they were unmarried. 

Since Muslim law prohibits taking a married woman from her husband, many Jewish girls were married very young, as young as 5 or 6 years old. I had a neighbour who told me her grandmother, in Morocco, married at the age of 9 - although there were no marital relations until the girl reached at least puberty. The little girls would be raised after marriage in their husband's house by their in-laws, who would become like parents to them. I can imagine it was heart-wrenching for mothers to part with their little daughters, but the alternative was worse. It was a harsh life, no doubt. Yet people were content with their lot, stuck together, and mostly didn't contemplate divorce, even if problems arose. 

With distances so great and transportation so slow, there wasn't much social mingling on a day-to-day basis. In the absence of dating websites, the matchmaking was conducted by parents. My father-in-law mentioned an interesting fact that in the place where they lived, few girls were born, while in the Jewish community of Djerba, Tunisia, there was a surplus of girls - and from there many procured a bride. Still, it was far, so every girl was precious, and often matches were made while babes were still in the womb. 

Daily life was a challenge. Without electricity, there were no refrigerators, and in the heat food would spoil very quickly. If meat was to be prepared, an animal had to be butchered, cleaned and cooked with utmost speed, to avoid spoilage. Nights were dark and cold. Often, husbands had to leave their families for months to provide for them. 

This just got me thinking, once again, how spoiled we all are. In the place where we live, many make their homes in caravans (trailers), which are tiny and cramped; the heat/cold isolation is lousy. Several families of 6 people live on 46 square meters. And yet they all have running water and electricity, they need only to drive 10 minutes to see a doctor or buy food or clothes, they have cellular phones and internet. When a woman is pregnant she doesn't have to prepare for a 50% chance of losing her baby. As for me, perhaps I don't have a driver's license so I don't drive out and about, but I know that in an emergency I can pick up the phone and in a few seconds I will be talking to my husband, who comes home every day. My refrigerator and pantry are stocked with a surplus of food that can keep for months, and I have air conditioning and heaters. 

Truly, if we reflect on how people lived in the not-so-distant past, and how some still live in parts of the world today, we have nothing left to do but count our blessings. Yet so often, we are dissatisfied. My mother-in-law, an excellent woman with a lot of down-to-earth sense, said to me not long ago, "it's all these riches that are spoiling people. Everyone has a washing machine." Are you smiling? Perhaps in our time, it sounds ridiculous to equate owning a washing machine with being rich, but it does give us some perspective.


The Dutchess said...

Great post..thank you :)


Tammy said...

Your MIL's comment reminds me of a quote: Somewhere, someone is happy with less than what you have.

Very true, and rather sobering.
Excellent post!

Mrs. DishPanHands said...

Very interesting!
Our family has lived with out a washing machine, phone, tv, microwave, even a fridge one time. It's hard, but you always make do. People seem to think that those things are necessities - they're not. There was once a time that people didn't have them at all. Those times were more work but people did just fine. :)
Have a lovely weekend,
- Kristin

Julie Atnip said...

What a thought provoking post!

Of course, ALL your posts (In my opinion) are excellent, thought provoking, and Godly, with a little dash of humor in to make me smile. I've been following your blog for a couple years now, and truly appreciate them!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! Oddly I have had the exact thought this month- we really do all live like kings! It is amazing.

Anonymous said...

Are you saying there were Muslims in North Africa at the time of Abraham and Isaac? Or do you just mean other tribes carrying off girls? And, I though Abraham was from the middle east and only visited Egypt/North Africa a couple times where he rather sort of lied (didn't tell the whole truth) to Pharoah because of Sara.... Didn't think Islam started until sometime A.D....after or about the fall of Rome at any rate.

Is is possible that the "3 years old" means more that she was 3 years into a marriageable age? How could a 3 yo have watered all the beasts?

I've enjoyed your blogs on family and children and being a stay at home mom for a long time and look forward to more. I think you are doing a great job as wife/mother and being a blessing to your home.

Anonymous said...

I assume you mean Arabs not Muslims, as Muslims follow the teachings and writings of Muhammad who wasn't born until 570 CE (or there abouts), the story of Rebecca is from long before that. But yes we do live very privileged lives today.

Lady Anne said...

I teach American Colonial history (1700-1800) when life was very much the way you describe it - no electricity, no running water, no heat. It didn't matter how much money you had - these things didn't exist. Recently, we've been doing some on-line reseach about the Great Depression, when families lived in cardboard cartons and the backs of cars. Kids today don't connect those life styles with American - or any part of the industrialized world. You are correct; we are all as rich as kings.

Anonymous said...

You do realize that 1)there were no Muslims at the time of Isaac and 2)any real Muslim wouldn't just carry girls off.
Islam didn't come about until much later in history, in the 600's. And according to Islamic law you cannot just kidnap a girl and force her to marry you. She and her family has to consent to the marriage. If someone was kidnapping Jewish girls, they weren't Muslims and I am incredibly offended that you would blame Muslims for something that we didn't do. I may stop reading your blog now that I know you're no different than the rest of the world when it comes to hating Muslims.
You do realize that it wasn't until recently that Muslims and Jews had clashes, right? During WW2 Muslim countries protected Jewish refugees. When the Muslims controlled Spain, the Jews were treated fairly.

Mrs. Anna T said...

To the anonymous Muslim,

First off, while not an expert historian, I certainly *do* know that Islam started somewhat later than Judaism. You are confusing two parts of my post, which are talking of entirely different periods. When I spoke of Jewish/Muslim clashes, I meant mid-20'th century, in Algeria, where my in-laws came from.

You know what? I have not studied Islam. If you say Islamic laws prohibit the kidnapping/coercing girls into marriage, I readily believe you. But according to my in-laws, it *was* happening in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco all the time. Perhaps the people who did those things were not "real" Muslims, but they certainly came from Muslim communities.

As far as I understand, the Islamic law (Sharia?) prohibits sex before marriage. Yet in the town I grew up in, Jewish girls had sex with Muslim Arabs. I promise you these men were Muslim. I lived across the street from them. It was quite common. Yes, perhaps they were not the "ideal" Muslims... but Muslims they definitely were.

I do not hate Muslims. To paraphrase a Harry Potter quote, as far as friendship can exist between Jews and Muslims, I have Muslim friends, or at least Muslims I know well, and like. But to insist that all Muslims (Jews, Christians) behave ideally according to the moral obligations of their faith is naive, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

From Anonymous Commenter #2: Ah, I see what you mean by "his parents" were referring to your dh's parents. Silly me for not reading it right. Thought you meant Abraham's parents. This also puts the comments about Muslims in a different time period.

My 80 yo mother tells me her mother did not have a washing machine until my mother moved out when she got married..sometime around 18 years of age...about 1955. Washed everything by hand in a big iron kettle outside.

Something I'd like to try someday is washing clothes in a bucket strapped to the back of a camper. I've heard some people do this when on the road using the agitation of the driving to agitate the clothes.

Anonymous said...

I think this is my favorite of all your articles! Yes, we do all live like kings these days, we are so fortunate and yet all we do is complain, whine, and moan. Sometimes when I complain about the drudgery of housework, I remember that in prior eras it was much, much more laborious and that we do really take a lot for granted these days.
--Liora in USA

Anonymous said...

Oh sorry re-read your post, - you were not talking about the possibility of Rebecca being carried off and therefore being married young!

Heather said...

Excellent post!