By Prof. Zehavit Gross, Chairholder, UNESCO Chair for Values Education, Tolerance and Peace & The Sal Van Gelder Center for Holocaust Research & Instruction, School of Education, Bar Ilan University, Israel

In the story of Noah, the  world was rebuilt after its destruction. Noah saw a world destroyed and a world rebuilt. God informs Noah that he intends to destroy the world and asks him to build an Ark and bring all the animals into it to ensure their survival. After the flood, when he  is deep inside the ark, Noah wants to check if the flood has ended. He turns to the raven – representing the male – but he refuses to fulfill this mission:  “And he sent forth the raven, and it went out, back and forth until the waters dried up off the earth” (Gen. 8: 7). The male raven is unable to perform the task. Then Noah asks the dove and she agrees, so the faithful female succeeds out of a sense of responsibility, passion and devotion to complete the mission.

 The dove fulfills its mission three times. The first time: “And he sent forth the dove from with him, to see whether the waters had abated from upon the surface of the earth, but the dove found no resting place for the sole of its foot; so it returned to him to the ark because there was water upon the entire surface of the earth; so he stretched forth his hand and took it, and he brought it to him to the ark.” (Gen 8:8-9).  

The second time: “And the dove returned to him at eventide, and behold it had plucked an olive leaf in its mouth; so Noah knew that the water had abated from upon the earth.” (Gen, 8:11).

The third time: “And he again waited another seven days, and he sent forth the dove, and it no longer continued to return to him.” (Gen 8:12) This picture of the faithful dove returning with an olive leaf in her mouth has become a universal cultural icon for peace. In fact, the olive leaf was a real signal that the world is beginning the process of rebuilding life, of real growth, renewal and rebirth.

feminist Noah

Noah erred when he turned to the raven; rather the repairing of the world (Tikun Olam) was performed or conducted through the trusty female dove, who was chosen for this special mission because of her trait of loyalty. The dove comes back with  an olive leaf in her mouth which is a sign of life, fertility, revelation of growth and renewal.

The dove “gets out of the box” and only this exit allows for life, generative creativity and renewal. Renewing the world is accomplished through a brave female who dares to step out of the confines and territory of the Ark. The male raven was unable to perform the task – he actually failed to leave the Ark and see over “the land”. The dove, on the other hand, is bold courageous, rigorous  and visionary. She  is goal-focused and goes back and forth  until she  brings a sign of life and hope. Only after the dove comes out is Noah able to leave the ark.

Looking at Noah’s story from a feminist angle gives the event a new perspective. The dove rescued Noah from his rigid narrow mindedness and limitations and gave him the ability to see beyond. Through the dove, Noah undergoes transformation and paradigmatic change that allows him to connect to the world and create and rebuild a new world – the world after the flood.

One of the existential questions that concerns modern individuals in general and women in particular is whether to stay inside the box and the ivory tower and settle into the warm, protective box and safe space that each of us creates, or should we dare to step out of our comfort zone into an uncomfortable space and thus create and contribute to the world? The female dove was able to make the decision to go on a mission, to carry it out, and come back.

There are four distinct stages that bring the world from a state of destruction to a state of redemption: decision making, exit, execution, and repetition, to create a new cycle of creation and rebirth. The dove “redeems” Noah from the Ark, and through its actions all the other animals and the entire world. This is why the dove with an olive leaf has become a worldwide symbol of peace, because it represents the potential for life and liveliness, and especially the hope expressed in the exit from the Ark to unlimited  horizons and  unfinished spaces of possibilities.

May we all want to “get out of the box” and lead the world to hope and freedom! Amen! Wishing you a fruitful conference in Athens and let us all get out to some new horizons to improve the life of women in this world!!