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Midrash and Aggadah

Esau, Wives of: Midrash and Aggadah

Esau married his first two wives, who were from among the daughters of Heth, against his parents’ wishes. According to the Rabbis, these women spent all their days in adultery and idolatry. Adah adorned herself with jewelry for harlotry, from which her name Adah is derived, with the meaning of the wearing [adayat] of jewelry (Gen. Rabbati, Vayishlah, p. 160). Adah’s other name was Basemath (based on the exchange of names between Gen. 26:34 and 36:2). This name also attests to her deeds, for she would perfume herself (mevasemet) for harlotry. Esau’s second wife, Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, was an illegitimate child resulting from an adulterous union (Tanhuma, Vayeshev 1). Judith was also named Oholibamah, a name she was given because she built places for idolatry (bamot). She dwelled in Esau’s tent, but “performed her needs elsewhere” (that is, she engaged in extramarital relations). In taking two wives, Esau acted the same as the men of the Flood generation, who also took two spouses: one to provide them with offspring, and the other to provide them with sexual pleasure (see Adah, the wife of Lamech).

Divorce: The Halakhic Perspective

Many scholars in the area of Jewish marriage and divorce point proudly to the fact that Jewish marriage is a private ordering between individuals. Those scholars claim that Jewish marriage is a matter of contract between two willing parties, and therefore, unlike the custom in most liberal Western democratic countries, the parties, not the state, determine their personal status. The parties by agreement can decide to get divorced, in the same way that they decided to marry. No reason need be alleged for the divorce. No fault is relevant. No time need elapse between separation and divorce. In theory, parties can marry one day, divorce the next, and then remarry without delay or period of separation.

Daughters of Zelophehad: Midrash and Aggadah

The Rabbis rain many praises on the daughters of Zelophehad: they are wise, exegetes and and virtuous (BT Bava Batra 119b); they are like the daughters of kings, fine and worthy (Sifrei Zuta 15:32). The [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:357]midrash[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] declares that all five daughters possessed all these admirable qualities: none was better than the others, and all were equal (Sifrei on Numbers, para. 133).

Daughter of Pharaoh: Midrash and Aggadah

The daughter of Pharaoh did not follow her father’s wicked ways, but rather converted and ceased worshiping idols. She was highly praised by the Rabbis, and the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:357]midrash[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] includes her among the devout women converts: Hagar, Asenath, Zipporah, Shiphrah, Puah, the daughter of Pharaoh, Rahab, Ruth and Jael wife of Heber the Kenite (Midrash Tadshe, Ozar ha-Midrashim [ed. Eisenstein], p. 474). The midrash specifically praised the daughter of Pharaoh for her rescue of Moses, thereby aiding in the exodus of all the Israelites from Egypt. Moses was raised in her home, by a woman who believed in God. She radiated warmth and loved him as if he were her own son, and accordingly was richly rewarded: she married Caleb son of Jephunneh and joined the people of Israel. Some midrashim attest to her longevity and claim that she entered the Garden of Eden while still alive.

Concubine of a Levite: Midrash and Aggadah

The story of the concubine at Gibeah is one of the most shocking narratives in the Bible. The [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:426]Tosefta[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] attests that these verses are read in public, along with their Aramaic Targum, that is, they are interpreted during the public reading of the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:424]Torah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] (Tosefta [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:354]Megillah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] 3:33). The [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:416]Talmud[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] explains that although a matter that publicly tarnishes the honor of the tribe of Benjamin should not properly be aired, the tribe’s reputation is not a consideration in this case (BT Megillah 25b). The Tosefta and the Talmud apparently find educational value in this narrative, and feel that something important is to be learned even from such a troubling occurrence.

Bilhah: Midrash and Aggadah

The Rabbis count Bilhah among the six Matriarchs (Cant. Rabbah 6:4:2). She was the handmaiden of Rachel, to whom she had been given by Rachel’s father Laban when she married Jacob.

Beruryah

Beruryah is the only woman mentioned in rabbinic literature who could be conceived of as a [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:424]Torah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] scholar.

Rayna Batya Berlin

Born into a family of distinguished lineage, whose members were the intellectual and spiritual leaders of Lithuanian Jewry, Rayna Batya Berlin, like the men in her family, viewed [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:424]Torah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] study as the loftiest means of worship of God.

Bathsheba: Midrash and Aggadah

Bathsheba is portrayed by the midrash as a modest woman who carefully observed the laws of family purity, but who found herself, without any conscious action on her part, in an adulterous affair with the king.

Athaliah: Midrash and Aggadah

The Rabbis state that Athaliah was one of the four women who wielded the scepter, two of whom ruled over Israel (Jezebel and Athaliah) and two over other peoples (the heathen Semiramis and Vashti) (Esther Rabbah 3:2).

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Midrash and Aggadah." (Viewed on May 26, 2016) <http://jwa.org/topics/midrash-and-aggadah>.

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