I just finished The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. First, let me say, that I really enjoyed the book. In fact, I was so captivated by the author's weaving of this ancient story that I dreamed about it at night! What the book does is take an actual person and fill in the details of the story that surrounded her, in this case, Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah.
The book starts when Jacob comes to Laban seeking refuge after fleeing Esau. Jacob, in return for working and building Laban's wealth, is allowed to marry the daughters, Leah and Rachel and also the maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah. I enjoyed the author's take on these marriages especially since it showed Leah as having held some attraction from Jacob, and not just Rachel. I guess Jacob must have loved Leah in some way since he fathered about 7 kids from her. But indeed, Rachel was the most beloved, as it says in the Bible. But have you ever felt sorry for Leah? She took her sisters place, which must have been awkward the next morning for them, and her husband's heart still desired the love of his life. But the author told a story of where Jacob loved his wives for their strengths and the family prospered.
With the birth of Dinah, the mothers (as the wives were referred to) had someone to pour out the womanly stories and traditions to. And we follow Dinah throughout the rest of her life.
The Red Tent is the tent in which the women retreated to for their monthly periods and for births. This is the place where the women could break from their work for a few days and tell stories and braid each other's hair. (Wouldn't that be nice if we still got to break for a few days?)
The Red Tent is also symbolic as the place where women's power lies. Women have this amazing ability to have life grow inside them and then the capability to bring it forth into life.
What I found interesting about the book is that the women, when they married Jacob, did not make God (or El as she referred to Him) their God. Instead they continued to worship the pagan gods of the land. Jacob, at first, did not insist that their gods be removed, even after they left Laban. He worshiped God, with the circumcision and other sacrifices. But the women, even to the last, worshiped the gods of the land, including those of fertility.
I want to draw attention to the idea that wives are incredibly influential in the spiritual realm of the family. I think the Bible makes this point as well. If a woman does not worship God, she will worship something or someone and probably bring the children with them. It is important that a Christian woman seeks God in front of her children! The children of Jacob were still used by God (amen!) but several of them did not act righteously and I wonder how much of that was the result of a multi-god upbringing.