The words for Handel’s “Theodora”
are not written in the Torah,
or even in the book they call
the gospels, or epistles Paul
wrote to the Romans and Galatians
and other gentiles whose persuasions
conflicted with his own. Their source
is neither classical nor Norse,
but comes from legends Christians told
about the martyrs in their fold.
Most of these martyrs met their death
with Jesus’ name upon their breath,
impressing Romans by their dying
joyfully, as if relying
on Jesus to provide them better
lodging with the First Begetter,
the Father who ruled heaven and
the still unholy Roman land.
They threatened Theodora with
a far worse fate, so goes the myth.
This fate all legends have reported
by martyrdom became aborted,
for only by her death could she
prevent this fate as accompli
avoiding less the cruel loss
of life, as on a Roman cross,
but of virginity within
a brothel––what a heinous sin
this seemed to her, and so she gave
her life, her purity to save.
Her fate recalls that of a maid,
a famous sister Romans made
a prostitute like Theodora.
Horny men would come from fora
to visit her, sister-in-law
of Rabbi Meir, brilliant Bruriah,
not really than her sister whorier,
she wrongly falsely was accused
of having purity abused,
committing no sin, but denied
long life, because of suicide
which she committed, due to shame
for no sin meriting some blame.
Bruriah’s sis in Rome would make
excuses like those wives who fake
a headache, thus remaining pure
till rescued by a saboteur:
the rabbi married to her sister.
In the brothel a resister
of all advances made by Romans,
she proved to him that she’d been no man’s
pet toy, a most unplayful harlot,
though widely advertised as starlet
whose famous father Romans knew
had burned because he was a Jew,
a martyr, ben Teradyon, burnt
because most of the Romans weren’t
as sympathetic as the man
who cooled him, burning, like a fan.
Like Bruriah’s sister, Theodora
avoided brothels. Was she more a
saint than Bruriah’s sis whose suicide
preserved her purity? Decide
this question for yourself! Would Handel
for her have ever lit a candle
as he for Theodora did?
Perhaps not. He was not a Yid,
and wore a wig instead of peyos,
while praising Judas Maccabeus,
my favorite of oratorios
with Jewish heroes most victorious,
not martyrs as in the Messiah,
like Jesus, messianic die-er.
The Moral of this Story is:
I think, like Jonathan Lord Sacks,
that moral flaws of heroes in
the Bible deserve less attacks
than lessons they teach about sin,
All of their flaws I think should be
evaluated with compassion
for those who had them, because we
are all err in our human fashion,
so that the story of their flaws
becomes for us a moral guide
no less than all the Bible’s laws
on which we all sometimes backslide.
In “How Perfect were the Matriarchs and Patriarchs?” Rabbi Jonathan Lord Sacks writes that Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes explained that the entire tendency of Midrash to make the heroes seem perfect and the villains completely evil is for educational reasons. He concludes the article:
No religion has held a higher view of humanity than the Book that tells us we are each in the image and likeness of God. Yet none has been more honest about the failings of even the greatest. God does not ask us to be perfect. He asks us, instead, to take risks in pursuit of the right and the good, and to acknowledge the mistakes we will inevitably make.