The stories we tell about crisis and catastrophe often intensify structural violence, augmenting existing dynamics of racism, sexism, classism, and ableism. Disaster stories often reinforce cultural narratives of suffering womanhood and tragic stories of disability to portray people with disabilities—especially women—as “natural” and “inevitable” victims of a harsh new world. Examining both contemporary rhetoric in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and classical rabbinic Jewish narrative, I argue that tales of communities in crisis commonly depoliticize disaster. By inscribing the disabled body with a narrative of “natural” vulnerabilities and inevitable suffering, conventional disaster discourse obscures the political significance of structural inequalities that render people with disabilities more at risk in disaster. Bringing together disability studies scholarship and Jewish feminist ethics, I challenge the discursive tendency to portray disabled individuals as symbols of suffering—and to focus on the pathos of an individual in distress instead of critiquing social inequality. I advocate a constructive, redemptive storytelling that illuminates and critiques social and political exclusion, that underscores the agency and dignity of people in crisis, that valorizes the disability justice movement’s call for interdependence in community, and that captures the artistry and resiliency of disabled lives.
This article examines the religious significance of rain in Tractate Ta'anit, a 6th century volume of the Babylonian Talmud that addresses fasts in response to drought among rabbinic Jewish communities in late antiquity. Through a close reading of several key narratives within the tractate, this article examines how Tractate Ta'anit incorporates rain symbolism into key rabbinic conceptions of Torah, revelation, and divine compassion. As the tractate crafts rain into a symbol that expresses God's presence and relationship with Israel, it also articulates drought as the essential expression of divine absence. Within the tractate, fasting serves as the quintessential collective response to the physical and spiritual crisis of drought. Fasting practice in Tractate Ta'anit fashions the vulnerable collective body into an instrument particularly suited to cry out for divine answer. By invoking and intensifying the experience of suffering caused by drought, the community uses its communal body to align itself with both a suffering God and a suffering earth, each of which yearn for reconciliation.