Dao
, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 175-191
Date: 10 Apr 2010

The Value in Storytelling: Women’s Life-Stories in Confucianism and Judaism

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Abstract

This essay retells the stories of four exemplary women from Confucianism and Judaism, hoping that the tension these stories exhibit can teach us something about women’s lives within the boundaries of tradition, then and now. It refers to two ideal “family caretakers”: Meng Mu 孟母, who devoted her life to her son’s learning, and Rachel, who devoted her life to her husband, the famous Rabbi Akiva. Then it tells the stories of two almost completely opposing exemplary figures: The sages Ban Zhao 班昭 and Bruriah, who dedicated their lives to learning and self-cultivation. It stresses that there is more than one dichotomized resolution to inner conflicts within the traditional framework in both Confucianism and Judaism, and, moreover, the plurality of resolutions is inherent in the traditions. Through reading a story and appreciating the complexities in others’ lives, while reflecting on our own, we can attain a level of abstraction that enables better sensitivity and more responsibility for the life we live.