Women as Shapers of Classic Judaism:
3rd in series on Women in Judaism
Classic Judaism may be defined as the Judaism of the past two thousand years, which took shape from the time of the building of the Second Temple through the Talmudic period, an era of a thousand years. It is the development of the Oral Torah, Torah shb’al peh, that defined Judaism, as distinct from Biblical literalist movements.
Women have been important, if overlooked players on the scene
I From the Maccabean period- Two images of Jewish women:
A) The mother as defender of the faith
Hannah and her Seven Sons,
HANNAH AND HER SEVEN SONS, II *Maccabees , Chapter 7, of seven brothers who were seized along with their mother by *Antiochus IV Epiphanes, presumably shortly after the beginning of the religious persecutions in 167/166 B.C.E., and commanded to prove their obedience to the king by partaking of swine's flesh. Actually, the mother is anonymous, as are the sons. Found in multiple sources, but name “ Hannah” is not given till middle ages!
2 Maccabees 7
1 It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh. 20 The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory . . "I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. 23 Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws." . . To the youngest son:: "My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. 28 I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. And in the same way the human race came into being. 29 Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers."
Two key elements appear in this account that are new to the 2nd Temple period, 1) punishment of the wicked in the next life 2) Reward of the righteous in the next life and the resurrection of the dead.. The mother figure is now the exemplar of that view/ It is this new belief, not found in pre-exilic Bible, that gives new found power to the Jews, and later, Christians.
b)The woman as defender of the people: Modelled after Esther, Deborah, the Jewish woman as powerful, dangerous, and seductive.. Yehudit( certainly a play on Yehudah)
Book of Judith- probably after time of the Macabees. Her figure may have been inspired the reign of Queen Salome Alexandra. Set in the time of Nebuchadnezzar and the saving of one of the cities from destruction at the hands of his key generals,Holfernes.
She was beautiful in appearance, and was very lovely to behold. Her husband Manasseh had left her gold and silver, men and women slaves, livestock, and fields; and she maintained this estate. 8 No one spoke ill of her, for she feared God with great devotion. (First, she cries out to God in prayer, and then marches out to carry out the redemption. The Judean generals are ready to quit and surrender, but she , like Deborah, springs into action.)
Ch 10 10 This done, Judith went out accompanied by her maid, …, an advance unit of Assyrians intercepted them,… I am on my way to see Holofernes, the general of your army, to give him trustworthy information
To the general: I, your servant, shall go out every night into the valley and pray to God to let me know when they have committed their sin.18 I shall then come and tell you, so that you can march out with your whole army; and none of them will be able to resist you.19 I shall be your guide right across Judaea until you reach Jerusalem; there I shall enthrone you in the very middle of the city.
11 He said to Bagoas, the officer in charge of his personal affairs, 'Go and persuade that Hebrew woman you are looking after to come and join us and eat and drink in our company.12 We shall be disgraced if we let a woman like this go without seducing her. If we do not seduce her, everyone will laugh at us!'… indeed since the first day he saw her, he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her.17 'Drink then!' Holofernes said. 'Enjoy yourself with us!'…. 20 Holofernes was so enchanted with her that he drank far more wine than he had drunk on any other day in his life.. . .2 and Judith was left alone in the tent with Holofernes who had collapsed wine-sodden on his bed. ( Like Sisera, from milk, he from wine) Standing beside the bed, Judith said, 'Make me strong today, Lord God of Israel!' 8 Twice she struck at his neck with all her might, and cut off his head.
At the end, we have a song of triumph, like that of Deborah
(Note: Jewish woman as temptress is a theme in Protocols of the Elders of Zion.)
II. The period of the Jewish Kingdom-or Queendom, under the Hasmoneans
Jewish women in position of power
a) Establishing Pharisaic Judaism as the dominant force:
Salome Alexandra or Alexandra of Jerusalem (Hebrew: שְׁלוֹמְצִיּוֹן אלכסנדרה, Shelomtzion or Shlom Tzion; 141–67 BCE), was one of only two women to rule over Judea (the other being Athaliah). The wife of Aristobulus I, and afterward of Alexander Jannaeus, she was the last queen of Judea, and the last ruler of ancient Judea to die as the ruler of an independent kingdom from 76 to 67 BCE. Of key importance: her brother is reputed to have been Shimon ben Shetach, mentioned in Pirke Avoth as the leader two generations before Hillel, and leader of the Pharisee movement. This would indicate that the Pharisaic movement, the precursor to classic Judaism, was by now established as a dominant force, so that one of their own could marry into Hasmonaean royalty.
According to archaeologist Kenneth Atkinson, “There are also some passages in the Talmud that say, during her husband’s reign( Alexander), that she protected Pharisees and hid Pharisees from his wrath.” On his deathbed Alexander entrusted the government, not to his sons, but to his wife, with the advice to make peace with the Pharisees.As a result, she was able to get the Pharisee camp to reconcile with the royalty.They, in turn,backed her claim to title of Queen –despite the Rabbinic interpretation of “ You shall establish a King, not a Queen”.. The Pharisees now became not only a tolerated section of the community, but actually the ruling class. Salome Alexandra installed as high priest her eldest son, Hyrcanus II, a man who was wholly supportive of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin was reorganized according to their wishes and became a supreme court for the administration of justice and religious matters, the guidance of which was placed in the hands of the Pharisees.
Rabbinical sources refer in glowing terms to the prosperity which Judea enjoyed under Salome Alexandra. The Haggadah (Ta'anit, 23a; Sifra, ḤuḲḲat, i. 110) relates that during her rule, as a reward for her piety, rain fell only on Sabbath (Friday) nights; so that the working class suffered no loss of pay through the rain falling during their work-time. The fertility of the soil was so great that the grains of wheat grew as large as kidney beans; oats as large as olives; and lentils as large as gold denarii… the rewards of obedience to the Law, and what piety could achieve.
The Gemara relates: King Yannai said to his wife before he died: Do not be afraid of the Pharisees [perushin], and neither should you fear from those who are not Pharisees, i.e., the Sadducees; rather, beware of the hypocrites who appear like Pharisees, as their actions are like the act of the wicked Zimri and they request a reward like that of the righteous Pinehas (see Numbers, chapter 25).
Judaism as a religion that spreads in the Greco-Roman and middle east because of the status of woman and the behavior of their males.
A Jewish Queen who was a convert: The defender of Marital purity
Attraction of Judaism:
For males, this required circumcision, a painful surgery that must have discouraged many a man. Gentile women who joined a synagogue were required only to undergo a ritual bath, and therefore converted to Judaism in much greater numbers than did men. The importance of women proselytes in the growth of Hellenistic Judaism is obvious. Josephus says that in 66 CE most of the women of Damascus were Judaean, but their husbands were not.62 Although the evidence is mostly anecdotal, we may assume that in such “mixed” families most children would grow up to be favorably disposed toward Judaism. Paul‟s companion Timothy (Timotheos meant, literally, “Honorer of God”), for example, seems to have found his way to the synagogue because his mother was Judaean, evidently having proselytized while her husband remained a Hellene. (https://my.vanderbilt.edu/robertdrews/files/2014/01/Chapter-Seven.-The-Remarkable-Story-of-Hellenistic-Judaism.pdf}
Helena of Adiabene (Hebrew: הלני מלכת חדייב) (d. ca. 50-56 CE) was a Median queen of Adiabene (modern-day Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan) and Edessa (modern-day Urfa, Turkey) and the wife of Monobaz I, her brother, and Abgarus V. …Helena became a convert to Judaism about the year 30 CE.
Helena of Adiabene was noted for her generosity; during a famine at Jerusalem in 45-46 CE she sent to Alexandria for corn (grain) and to Cyprus for dried figs "Helena had a golden candlestick made over the door of the Temple. . . when the sun rose its rays were reflected . . . the time for reading the Shema'. She also made a golden plate on which was written the passage of the Pentateuch which the rabbi read when a wife suspected of infidelity was brought before him.
The strictness with which she observed the Jewish law is instanced in the Talmud: Nazirite vow for 14 years. 'The sukkah [erected for the Feast of Tabernacles] of Queen Helena in Lydda was higher than twenty ells. Helena moved to Jerusalem, where she is buried. ( Tomb has been discovered)
III. Rabbinic Judaism:The Mothers of Jewish Law:
a) IMMA SHALOM (late first and early second century C.E.), wife of *Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, and according to the aggadic tradition of the Babylonian Talmud, also the sister of Rabban *Gamaliel of Jabneh.
Talmudic tale about the excommunication of R. Eliezer at the hands of Rabban Gamaliel and his colleagues. The oven of Achnai, whereby Rabbinic authority is established over direct prophecy form God.! (BM 59b) Imma Shalom was not only R. Eliezer's wife but also Rabban Gamaliel's sister, both key figures of the story. After Eliezer's excommunication, Imma Shalom did not permit her husband to prostrate himself in the supplications after the *Amidah (to prevent him praying for his humiliation and so bring punishment upon his excommunicators). On one occasion she found her husband prostrating himself, and exclaimed: "You have killed my brother!" And indeed they immediately blew the shofar to proclaim the death of the nasi Gamaliel. When Eliezer asked how she knew this, she replied: "I have a tradition from my paternal grandfather's house; 'all gates are locked except the gate of wounded feelings.'"
The second aggadah (Shab. 116a–b) tells of a certain "philosopher" in Imma Shalom's vicinity, who served as a judge and who had the reputation of not accepting bribes. She and her brother contrived a lawsuit, ostensibly in connection with the division of their patrimony, inherited from their father, Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel I, for the purpose of embarrassing this judge, and showing up his true character. Imma Shalom sent him a golden lamp before submitting the case to him. He ruled that the patrimony should be divided equally. Gamaliel said to him: "In our Torah it says that where there is a son the daughter does not inherit," to which he retorted: "Since the day you were exiled from your land, the law of Moses has been superseded by a new law" (Mss. read "the law of the Evangelium"), "and there it states that a son and daughter inherit equally." The next day Gamaliel sent him a Libyan ass. When they subsequently came before him he said to them: "I have looked at the continuation of the Evangelium and it states there: 'I did not come to subtract from the law of Moses but to add to it,' and there it states that the daughter does not inherit where there is a son." Imma Shalom exclaimed: "Let thy light shine forth like a lamp"; whereupon Gamaliel retorted: "An ass came and kicked over the lamp."
The third aggadah relates that Imma Shalom and Eliezer had very beautiful children (Ned. 20b). When asked the reason for this, she attributed this to her husband's great modesty in their marital relations, which she described in some detail.( kafaoh Shed) Kallah (1:1) and Kallah Rabbati (1:15).
Best known: Bruriah
Daughter of the martyr R. Hananiah ben Teradion, and wife of R. Meïr; born in the first quarter of the second century, …possessed a personality corresponding to the emergencies of the troublous times following upon the failure of Bar Kokba's insurrection. They betray intellectual qualities and attainments as well as womanly tenderness and stanch virtues. It is said that she studied three hundred Talmudic subjects daily (Pes. 62b), and R. Judah endorsed a decision of hers, on a question about clean and unclean, in which she went counter to the view of "the wise" ("ḥakamim") (Tosef., Kelim, B. M. i. 6).
She was also renowned for her sharp wit and often caustic jibes. The Talmud relates that she once chastised Jose the Galilean, when he asked her "By which way do we go to Lod?" claiming that he could have instead said "By which to Lod?" (two Hebrew words rather than four), and thereby kept the Talmudic injunction not to speak to women unnecessarily Eruvin 53b
Sudden Death of Her Two Sons.
Beruriah is best known in connection with the touching story of the sudden death of her two sons on the Sabbath, while their father was at the house of study. …reminded him of his answer to her question about the return of a treasure entrusted to one for safe-keeping, adding the verse from Job (i. 21): "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord( A late source, Yalkut, Mishle, maybe folklore).
The Bruriah scandal: is connected a legend mentioned by Rashi ('Ab. Zarah 18b). To explain R. Meïr's flight to Babylonia, the commentator relates the following:
"Once Beruriah scoffed at the rabbinical saying, 'Women are light-minded' (Ḳid. 80b), and her husband warned her that her own end might yet testify to the truth of the words. To put her virtue to the test, he charged one of his disciples to endeavor to seduce her. After repeated efforts she yielded, and then shame drove her to commit suicide. R. Meïr, tortured by remorse, fled from his home."
This is probably a rumor spread by someone who was opposed to women’s education. Maybe even Rashi himself- who had only daughters!!
The rabbis praised pious women such as Kimhit, the mother of several high priests, who took care not to uncover their hair even in the house (Yoma 47a; Lev. R. 20:11).
Finally-The woman as the supporter of the scholar-still the goal in Orthodox circles:
Rachel the daughter of Kalba Sabua, who loves Akiba, the shepherd, is disinherited, and supports him for 24 years of study.
Rabbi Akiva became betrothed to the daughter of bar Kalba Savua. When bar Kalba Savua heard about their betrothal, he took a vow prohibiting her from eating all of his property. Despite this, she went ahead and married Rabbi Akiva.
In the winter they would sleep in a storehouse of straw, and Rabbi Akiva would gather strands of straw from her hair. He said to her: If I had the means I would place on your head a Jerusalem of Gold, a type of crown. Elijah the prophet came and appeared to them as a regular person and started calling and knocking on the door. He said to them: Give me a bit of straw, as my wife gave birth and I do not have anything on which to lay her. Rabbi Akiva said to his wife: See this man, who does not even have straw. We should be happy with our lot, as we at least have straw to sleep on.
She said to him: Go and be a student of Torah. He went and studied Torah for twelve years before Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. At the completion of the twelve years, he was coming home when he heard from behind his house that one wicked person was saying to his wife: Your father behaved well toward you. He was right to disinherit you. One reason is that your husband is not similar to you, i.e., he is not suitable for you. And furthermore, he has left you in widowhood in his lifetime all these years. She said to him: If he listens to me, he should be there for another twelve years. Rabbi Akiva said: Since she has given me permission through this statement, I will go back and study more. He turned back and went to the study hall, and he was there for another twelve years.
Eventually he came back accompanied by 24,000 pairs of students. Everyone went out to greet him, as he was by then a renowned teacher, and she too arose to go out to greet him. That wicked person said to her: And to where are you going? As she was excessively poor, she was not dressed in a grand manner, as fit for the wife of one so esteemed. She said to him: “A righteous man regards the life of his beast” (Proverbs 12:10); he knows that I am in this state as a result of my dedication to him. She came to present herself before Rabbi Akiva, but the Sages tried to fend her off, as they were unaware of her identity. He said to them: Leave her. Both my Torah knowledge and yours are hers. When bar Kalba Savua heard that the famous man was his son-in-law, he came before halakhic authorities and requested the dissolution of his vow, and it was dissolved.