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Midrash and Aggadah

Midrash and Aggadah: Introduction and Sources

This Encyclopedia presents the portraits of seventy-five women in the Bible as they appear in the aggadic and midrashic expansions of the Biblical narrative that were composed by the Rabbis in the first centuries c.e., in Erez Israel and in Babylonia.

Merab, daughter of Saul: Midrash and Aggadah

Merab was Saul’s eldest daughter. According to the Bible, she was meant to marry David, but she was given in matrimony to Adriel the Meholathite, while David married Merab’s younger sister Michal.

Matriarchs: A Liturgical and Theological Category

Among egalitarian religious congregations throughout the world, the most popular addition to the traditional liturgy is the mention of the Matriarchs in birkat avot (the blessing of the ancestors), the opening blessing of the Amidah.

Maacah: Bible

The regnal formula of Asa, king of Judah from 908 to 867 b.c.e., claims that his mother is Maacah the daughter of Abishalom (1 Kgs 15:10). This is problematic because the same woman is alleged to be the mother of Asa’s father, Abijah/Abijam (1 Kgs 15:2). An alternative tradition, calling Abijah’s mother Micaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah, is most likely an attempted harmonization of this difficulty (2 Chr 13:2).

Maacah the wife of David: Midrash and Aggadah

Maacah, the daughter of King Talmi of Geshur, was married to King David and bore him his son Absalom. In the midrashic account, David saw Maacah when he went forth to war; he desired her and he took her as an eshet yefat to’ar (Tanhuma [ed. Buber], Ki Teze 1)—a non-Jewish woman taken captive during wartime and who is desired by her Israelite captor, who wants to marry her. He may do so under the conditions that are specified in Deut. 21:10–14. The woman must first shave her hair and pare her nails, then wear mourning clothing and lament for her parents’ home for a month. Only after all these steps is her captor permitted to take her as his wife. The Rabbis did not look favorably on the man who took an eshet yefat to’ar for himself; they say that the disfigurement of the shaving of her hair was meant to make her repulsive to her captor (BT Yevamot 48a).

Maacah 4: Midrash and Aggadah

The [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:357]midrash[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] hardly mentions Maacah daughter of Abishalom, nor does it seek to shed light on her lineage, which is unclear in the Bible. Maacah is mentioned by the Rabbis as the mother of Asa. Most of the midrashic attention is devoted to her singular pagan worship of Asherah, which the Bible (I Kings 15:13) calls a “miflezet [an abominable thing]”: “He also deposed his mother Maacah from the rank of queen mother, because she had made an abominable thing for [the goddess] Asherah. Asa cut down her abominable thing [miflaztah] and burned it in the Wadi Kidron.” The word miflezet is derived from the root plz, meaning trembling, fear. In the verse in Kings, this is a derogatory term for such an object of idolatrous worship. The associative meaning is that the God-fearing were overcome by trembling and disgust when they saw people engaging in the cult of Asherah.

Lot's Wife: Midrash and Aggadah

The Bible does not mention Lot’s wife by name, but the Rabbis referred to her as “Idit” (Tanhuma [ed. Buber], Vayera 8). This woman’s sorry end teaches of her life: even though she was rescued from the upheaval of Sodom, she was stricken together with the other inhabitants of the city, from which the Rabbis conclude that her actions, as well, were no different from those of the rest of Sodom’s populace.

Lot's Daughters: Midrash and Aggadah

According to the Rabbis, Lot had four daughters, two of whom were married, and two betrothed. The two married daughters and their husbands, along with the two future bridegrooms, remained in Sodom and perished, leaving Lot with only two daughters after the destruction of the city (Gen. Rabbah 50:9; Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, ed. Higger chap. 25).

Jael Wife of Heber The Kenite: Midrash and Aggadah

The midrash praises Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, and includes her among the devout women converts, together with Hagar, Asenath, Zipporah, Shiphrah, Puah, the daughter of Pharaoh, Rahab and Ruth (Yalkut Shimoni on Joshua, para. 9, from Midrash Tadshe).

Infertile Wife in Rabbinic Judaism

Rabbinic Judaism constructed differing legal, religious, and social roles for men and women that were intended to foster women’s reproductive functions and nurturing qualities, even as it placed them under the control of a dominant husband. While childlessness was perceived as a grave misfortune for both men and women, a male’s failure to generate offspring violated a legal obligation, since men alone were obligated to have children. The prooftext frequently cited for this unilateral ruling was Genesis 35:11, where Jacob is commanded in the second person masculine singular to “Be fertile and increase.” According to BT Pesahim 113b, the childless man is reckoned as if menuddeh, “cut off” from all communion with God, like one who has deliberately disregarded divine commands. BT Nedarim 64b, among other texts, accounts him as already dead, together with the pauper, the leper, and the blind. BT Sanhedrin 36b ordains that the childless scholar may not sit on the Sanhedrin.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Midrash and Aggadah." (Viewed on September 17, 2014) <http://jwa.org/topics/midrash-and-aggadah>.

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