Red Tent (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1997)
Reading Level: Young Adult Parent Adult
Author Biography: Anita Diamant (b. 1951) first wrote nonfiction such as “New Jewish Wedding’ and “New Jewish Baby Name Book” before she found success as a fiction writer. Mainly a non-observant Jew, she wrote these practical books telling today’s Jews how they should act in a variety of social situations. She was married to a lapsed Protestant, has one daughter and the family lives in Boston. Paperback copies of The Red Tent were mailed by the publisher to 1,000 rabbis and then to women ministers and book club leaders. It was labeled the “ultimate book-group book” as it takes a Jewish topic from the Old Testament and develops it into a fascinating story with a very broad appea
Plot Summary: Diamant has taken a brief story from the book of Genesis and expanded it into a fairly complicated, long story with many additional twists and turns, emphasizing the important role of women in biblical times and turning Dinah into an independent and very important matriarch figure. The patriarch Jacob had one daughter, Dinah, and she was raped by a prince who wished to marry her. Dinah’s brothers demand that all the men from the prince’s city be circumcised before the wedding. When the men come for circumcision, they are slaughtered by Dinah’s brothers. In the Red Tent, Jacob fraudulently receives the blessing from his father Isaac that should have gone to his brother Esau. Jacob brings his family back to Canaan and there is reconciliation between Jacob and Esau and Dinah meets the strong grandmother Rebecca. Women of the community erect a red tent and this is where women go for menstrual periods and childbirth. Men are forbidden to enter the red tent and the tent itself knows all the joys and sorrows that the women experience with one another, apart from men. Dinah becomes a midwife and develops her skills in the red tent. A high ranking Egyptian woman notices Dinah and introduces Dinah to her son, the two fall in love and the young Egyptian tries to convince Jacob to allow him to marry Dinah. Dinah's brothers interfere, saying that the Egyptian has raped Dinah and they insist that all the Egyptian men be circumcised before Dinah can marry. Once again, Dinah’s brothers kill all the men who come for circumcision. Dinah has become pregnant by her Egyptian lover and she gives birth to a son. Remose. Dinah stays in Egypt and becomes a respected midwife. When Remose grows up, he complains that he is not allowed to use his superior intelligence and talents in the Egyptian court, but rather, he is kept in his place by a court official, who turns out to be Joseph; his uncle, his mother’s brother and Rachel’s son. When her father Jacob was dying, Joseph brought Dinah to see him for reconciliation. Dinah remained aloof, denying her link to Jacob and returning to Egypt where she was a respected matriarch.
1. What scene or character sticks out in your mind the most from the Red Tent and why?
2. Do the events in this story seem like a plausible episode from the Bible?
3. Describe the Red Tent. Why was it important for Jewish women? What do women have today instead of a red tent?
4. Does the author have the right to re-write episodes from the Bible, or to construct new biblical stories?
5. Nowadays we would call this family “dysfunctional.” In what ways do the family problems of Isaac’s descendants still seem true and contemporary? For example, brothers trying to thwart a sister’s marriage suitor, children leaving the family, a daughter getting pregnant by a man from the “wrong” race or nationality, one sibling trying to get another’s inheritance they have done?
6. Women are not very prominent in Bible stories? Why do you think this is? What other women make brief appearances in Bible stories? What might they have done?
7. Which women of the New Testament would you like to know more about? What kind of story could be developed for women such as Mary Magdalene, the sisters Martha and Mary, or the wives of the apostles?
8. Do the “women issues” in this story seem authentic, or are these characters modern women in ancient clothing?
9. What do you think is the reason for the strong appeal of this book? In what ways do these episodes from the Old Testament ring true when we examine our own lives?
10. How does the author portray men in this book? What characteristics do the men share and are there any exceptions to Diamant’s general portrayal of men?
1. Look at passages in the Bible – both Old and New Testaments - that reflect how women were looked upon. Review those events in the Bible highlighted by Diamant? List citations: Is the author faithful to the biblical writer or how does she adjust the story?