Shaya Cohen -


The Voices of Women Change Things – Even in the Ancient World

We often assume that in a world closer to a state of nature, women are necessarily weaker than men, are thus less forceful, and are comparatively disempowered. And so, the narrative goes, until we had Enlightened Modern Feminism, women were second-class citizens, weaker, ignored, often used and discarded by powerful men.

Except that this is not what is actually found in the text of the Torah, not at all.

In the text of the Torah, every single Hebrew woman with a speaking role acts according to her conscience, in opposition to a powerful male figure in their life:

The Woman Acts Against
Eve (Chava) By eating the fruit, she rejects both Adam, her husband, and G-d
Sarah She speaks against Avraham and eventually separates from him
Rebekkah She deceives and tricks her husband and works against her Type A son, Esau
Rachel She rails against her husband, Jacob. She lies and deceives her father concerning the idols.
Leah She deceives her new husband by pretending to be her sister.
Tamar She deceives Judah and manipulates him
Pharoah’s Daughter She saves Moses from death, rejecting Pharoah’s decree
Midwives Shifrah and Puah They lie outrageously to Pharoah to save the lives of newborns
Moses’ Wife, Tzipporah The “bloody bridegroom” episode where she separates from him
Miriam She speaks against Moses, her brother
Daughters of Tzelofchad Their arguments force a change in Jewish Law

These women were all far more than flotsam and jetsam in a man’s world. And the text helps explain why Judaism does not even pretend that women are (or even should be) obedient and submissive.

Note that the results were mixed; even with the best intentions, the results did not always pan out. Perhaps, in many cases, direct communication before action would have avoided a lot of the negative outcomes: what if Eve had talked to Adam before eating the fruit? Or Rebekkah had checked with Isaac to see what blessings he had in mind?

Indeed, the negative results shown in the text might go some way toward explaining why, in the laws on vows, men must listen to their wives, and consider “cancelling” the vows spoken by women. Women should be incentivized to confront men directly, and men need to be incentivized to listen!

P.S. I should note that there are also two women who are not Hebrews who also speak in the Torah: Potiphar’s wife, who tries to commit adultery and then, as a woman scorned, seeks to destroy Joseph. She was surely no force for good.

And there is Hagar, who is the only compliant woman who is given a speaking role. Note that Hagar was an Egyptian, and Egypt in the Torah is always symbolic of being in harmony with nature, and accepting external forces (including the Nile and more powerful men).

[An @iwe and @blessedblacksmith and @eliyahumasinter work]

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