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Midrash and Aggadah

Queen of Sheba: Midrash and Aggadah

In the midrashic account, the Queen of Sheba heard of King Solomon’s great wisdom and declared: “I will go and see whether he is wise or not, and I will come to test him with riddles.”

Puah: Midrash and Aggadah

Puah was one of the two Hebrew midwives (Shiphrah and Puah) who delivered the children of the Israelites during the Egyptian servitude. The Torah chronicles (Ex. 1:15–21) that they disobeyed Pharaoh’s command and did not kill the Israelite male newborn. Apart from this brave act, the midwives are not mentioned elsewhere in the Exodus narratives, nor in the entire Bible. The Rabbis identify the midwives with various Biblical heroines, thereby transforming them from secondary characters to central, fully developed figures whose annals spread over additional chapters of the Torah.

Judith Plaskow

Judith Plaskow is the first Jewish feminist to identify herself as a theologian. Deeply learned in classical and modern Christian theology yet profoundly committed to her own Judaism, Plaskow created a distinctively Jewish theology acutely conscious of its own structure and categories and in dialogue with the feminist theologies of other religions.

Peninnah: Midrash and Aggadah

In its depiction of Elkanah’s two wives, the Bible contrasts Peninnah, who had children, and Hannah, who was barren. The Rabbis state that Hannah was Elkanah’s first wife; after they had been married for ten years, and he saw that Hannah bore him no children, he also took Peninnah as a wife (Pesikta Rabbati 43). The midrash explains that Elkanah was compelled to marry Peninnah because of Hannah’s barrenness, which explains his preference for Hannah, his first wife.

Naomi: Midrash and Aggadah

The midrash is generally quite positive in its appraisal of Naomi, who is called “a righteous woman” in various places, and is included among the upright women outstanding in their righteousness with whom Israel was blessed throughout the generations (Ozar ha-Midrashim [Eisenstein], p. 474).

Miriam: Midrash and Aggadah

Together with her brothers, Moses and Aaron, Miriam is described in the midrash as part of a family triumvirate of leaders. Although, unlike her brothers, she did not have any formal position, the Rabbis assert that she contributed greatly to the redemption of Israel from Egypt.

Michal, daughter of Saul: Midrash and Aggadah

Michal was Saul’s younger daughter, who fell in love with David and married him for one hundred Philistine foreskins. According to the Bible, Merab, Saul’s older daughter, was to have married David, but she was given in matrimony to Adriel the Meholathite, while David married Michal.

Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael: Midrash and Aggadah

The Rabbis identify Mahalath with Basemath (based on the exchange of names between Gen. 28:9 and 36:3; cf. “Esau’s Wives”). Some of the Rabbis maintain Esau’s marriage to Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael reflected his desire to repent of his evil deeds and act in accordance with the wishes of his parents Isaac and Rebekah for a proper mate (JT Bikkurim 3:3, 65c–d). Mahalath’s name indicates that the Holy One, blessed be He, pardoned (mahal) Esau for all his wickedness. Her other name, Basemath, also teaches that by this marriage Esau’s character improved (nitbasmah; Gen. Rabbah 67:13).


Until the late twentieth century the demon Lilith, Adam’s first wife, had a fearsome reputation as a kidnapper and murderer of children and seducer of men. Only with the advent of the feminist movement in the 1960s did she acquire her present high status as the model for independent women. The feminist theologian judith plaskow’s [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:357]midrash[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] on the story of Lilith played a key role in transforming Lilith from a demon to a role model. As an individual Lilith is first known from the Alphabet of Ben Sira, a provocative and often misogynist satirical Hebrew work of the eighth century c.e., but the liliths as a category of demons, along with the male lilis, have existed for several thousand years.

Leah: Midrash and Aggadah

Leah is depicted in the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:424]Torah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] as the woman who was married to Jacob against his will, and as the sister of the beloved and beautiful Rachel. The Rabbis compare Leah and Rachel: both were equivalent in beauty and in their erect stature. However, Leah’s eyes were weak from crying, for she feared that she would have to be married to the wicked Esau. The Rabbis found this weeping to be praiseworthy and declared that by merit of her prayers this fate was set aside and she was married to Jacob.


How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Midrash and Aggadah." (Viewed on October 22, 2016) <>.


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