This inquisitiveness led the Israeli professor to write her debut novel, The Song of Hannah, which gives voice to the two women, whose stories are noted briefly in the book of Samuel, and then are read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The work explores the relationship the women have with their husband, Elkanah – a triangle riddled with love, jealousy and sorrow.
The 71-year-old author spoke about the marriage and the fertility issues faced by these two females 3,000 years ago when she visited Philadelphia as part of a 13-city U.S. book tour.
At a private home in Elkins Park, 20 or so members of the Kol Ami congregation – some of whom had read the book, and others who were just interested in meeting the author – discussed their thoughts about the novel or asked questions about how the plot developed from just a few short lines in the book of Samuel.
"One of my motivations for writing the book was to show off the beauty of the Bible, to bring it closer to people's hearts," explained the author. "It also has some Jewish messages in it, and brings us back to the roots of Judaism as it was shaped 3,000 years ago."
Etzioni-Halevy's family escaped Vienna, Austria, in 1939, after the Nazi takeover, surviving World War II in Italy, partly in hiding. After the war, they moved to Palestine.
She lived in Israel throughout the rest of her childhood. She studied sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and earned a doctorate at Tel Aviv University. Later, she spent lengthy stretches of her academic career in the United States and Australia, during which she said she essentially ignored Judaism, even while raising her children, though she was vague about why.
But about 20 years ago, she returned to Israel to research her roots – and once again embraced her religion.
In fact, she eventually became observant, and found a great interest in reading and studying the Bible. A professor emeritus of sociology at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Etzioni-Halevy had only written sociology texts before turning to fiction, but the words simply poured out, and she was able to finish the first draft of the novel in just a couple of months. She plans to continue writing fiction.
Etzioni-Halevy said that some readers have been offended by the sexual and erotic content of the story, questioning how a religious woman can write such a racy novel based on the Bible.
The Bible is a racy book, and she wanted to make sure that her writing did not deviate from its spirit.
Still, some accusations the author has gladly accepted.
"I've been accused of writing an entertaining story – and to that, I plead guilty."