essays kaddish in two-part harmony the rebbe's queer daughters

orah, the androgyne — 1.1.7

Malkah, too, however, was not the queerest of them all.

There was a fifth daughter that the rebbe had, although that should not be, especially after the fuss of Vavah. Especially after the birth of perfect Malkah.

And yet there was one more.

And she, needs be, was the mysterious light of the rebbe’s eye, and so he called her Orah.  A nice little pun that made him chuckle, for their ancestors had come originally from Ur, the City of Light—albeit moonlight, for Ur was the ancient dominion of the Moon God himself.

The rebbe had not thought that a father could be more blessed than to have a Malkah of his own, but Orah delighted and confused him beyond his comprehension.  Unlike any of her sisters, she had startling, unmistakably blue-green eyes with almost white lashes, and the palest of skin that made both the rebbe and his wife search hard and long their ancestry to explain it, almost translucent it was, with barely visible delicate blue rivers meandering beneath her gleaming skin.  Any educated person would have seen clearly that Orah was more a genetic anomaly than a misplaced accidental daughter of Yafet.

Orah was no sneaky oops, thus no aspersion upon her mother’s soul.

So unlike her sister Malkah was this fragile child, that she could not abide the sun at all.  She did not bronze, she blistered painfully, the sun abused her so.  It was not her friend. In nature, it is not every oyster (if I may be so bold) that produces the pearl we treasure beyond reason.  And Orah was the tzaddik’s hidden treasure.  Her hair, too, was not dark like that of all her sisters, but was almost white, long and fair and straight, like summer wheat just before the sickle cuts it down for harvest.

Orah, too (unlike the other girls) was tall, fine-boned and delicate. A tree unlike Vavah’s mature and solid hulk. Orah was a slender sapling blowing in the wind. She had exceedingly narrow branches (with downright prehensile digits at the end). She had unformed hips and breasts that had not yet bud—and that seemed indeed, at this rate, might never bud at all.

But for now, okay, she was only fourteen.

She could sing with the voice, the voice of the Divine emerging not through sound but through its afterglow, more like the memory of voice—its echo reverberating in our body, in our mind.  Her voice could be sonorous, light, loud and clear, yes.  But more often it was muted, subtle, softened, with hidden strength—not even a whisper.  A warbling in the back of your mind.  You turn your head, but no being is there. You walk through the forest and hear the distant sound, but never can you find her or get closer. It was a voice like that.

And Orah could have, when her tzaddik father called for it in prayer, a five-octave range beyond the ken of men.  And she could weave with it intricate patterns of ancient tribal trills and murmurs rooted in the trope of her people, for she was inventive, and also a good listener at her father’s library door.  And at those times when her voice would fall, deep and tremulous into minor keys of heart-wrenching desperate melody, she could set the entire congregation of manuscripts atremble with five thousand years of accumulated desire.  Oh, she could strut her stuff alright.

Orah loved her papa with all her heart, with all her soul, and with all her might, and wanted to please him with the sanctity of her being.  And for Orah, albino daughter of moonlight, her voice was the only visible darkness within her.  She was her father’s crowning joy, and given privilege beyond those of her elder sisters.

And in this way the rebbe, in his indulgence of the light, never once thought to fear for her, never dreamed to feel a shred of concern for her interminable pre-pubescent stalk of a self, for who could harm luminosity itself? And he bedded her a gift, and he gifted her a bed, alone and apart from all her sisters, that may well have done her harm. Or may well have been her destiny.

But by now, you must be wondering about the mother of these angels.  And the rebbe himself, you might wonder, some, at least a little, about him as well.

For, as it would happen, the rebbe’s name was Avram and his wife, indeed, was Sarah.  And like their forebears, they had waited long years to conceive with issue, and once they had begun, it was not for them to choose to terminate their fruitfulness.

By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

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