Peninnah: Midrash and Aggadah

by Tamar Kadari

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 Codification of basic Jewish Oral Law; edited and arranged by R. Judah ha-Nasi c. 200 C.E.Mishnah ordains that when a couple has been married for ten years without bringing any children into the world, the husband is required to take a second (or additional) wife in order to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply (M Yevamot 6:6). The A type of non-halakhic literary activitiy of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).midrash explains that Elkanah was compelled to marry Peninnah because of Hannah’s barrenness, which explains his preference for Hannah, his first wife.

Another tradition has the initiative to marry Peninnah coming from Hannah. Realizing that she was childless, she said to herself: If I tell Elkanah to take an additional wife, God will see that I brought a rival wife into my house, and He will remember me (Pesikta Rabbati 43). The midrash thus likens the narrative of Elkanah and Hannah with the narratives of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Bilhah), in which the beloved wife, who is barren, initiates the taking of an additional wife in order to produce offspring.

Peninnah’s children are mentioned only briefly in the Book of Samuel (I Sam. 1:4): “Elkanah offered a sacrifice. He used to give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters.” According to the midrash, she had ten sons. This tradition is based on Elkanah’s question to Hannah (v. 8): “Am I not more devoted to you than ten sons?” He thereby seeks to console Hannah by asserting that his love exceeds that of Peninnah’s ten sons (Pesikta Rabbati loc. cit.).

I Sam. 1:6 tells of the tension between Peninnah and Hannah caused by the latter’s infertility: “Moreover, her rival, to make her more miserable, would taunt her that the Lord had closed her womb.” The midrash develops this theme, relating how Peninnah would vex Hannah by telling her: “Did you buy a sweater for your eldest son?” “Did you buy a shirt for your second son?” (Midrash Samuel 1:8). According to another midrashic tradition, Peninnah would rise early in the morning and ask Hannah: “Aren’t you getting up to wash your children’s faces before they go to school?” And six hours later she would ask: “Aren’t you going to greet your children when they come home from school?” (Pesikta Rabbati loc. cit.). According to this midrashic account, Peninnah would grieve Hannah by means of ordinary everyday activities, taking pains to remind her, at all hours of the day, of the difference between them.

Yet another midrash depicts that when they would sit to eat in Shiloh and Elkanah was apportioning the offering among his sons, Peninnah would tell her husband: “Give to this son of mine his portion,” “To this son of mine you did not give his portion,” all in order to anger Hannah (Pesikta Rabbati loc. cit.). According to this portrayal, Peninnah would annoy Hannah in a roundabout manner, so that she could not be directly charged with improper behavior, while nevertheless greatly hurting her rival wife. These different midrashim highlight the difficulty Peninnah faced living in the shadow of another woman. She knew that Hannah was Elkanah’s favorite wife, but nevertheless strove to win some recognition from him, either in their home or in the apportioning of the offerings.

The Rabbis feel that Peninnah’s unseemly conduct was the cause of Hannah finally being blessed with a child. God said to Peninnah: “You vexed Hannah [“to vex her (harimah),” I Sam. 1:6]—by your life, there is no thunder [re’amim] that is not followed by rain. I will immediately remember her [i.e., bless her with child]” (Pesikta Rabbati loc. cit.). This midrashic wordplay uses the two meanings of ra’am: (1) anger and (2) thunder. The barren wife is compared to arid soil and her being blessed with child is portrayed as the rain that falls and sates the earth, causing it to be fertile.

I Sam. 2:21 attests that the Lord took note of Hannah and “she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters.” The midrash tells that when Hannah bore her children, Peninnah was punished: Hannah would give birth to one child, and Peninnah would bury two; Hannah bore four, and Peninnah buried eight. When Hannah was pregnant with her fifth child, Peninnah feared that now she would bury her last two children. What did she do? She went to Hannah and told her: “I know that I have sinned against you. I beg you, pray for me, so that my two remaining sons will live.” Hannah prayed to God, and said: “Please, leave her the two sons and let them live.” God responded: “By your life, they deserve to die, but since you have prayed that they live, I will call them by your name.” Thus, even though Hannah bore only five children, she says in her song (I Sam. 2:5): “While the barren woman bears seven,” for Peninnah’s two sons were reckoned as Hannah’s (Pesikta Rabbati loc. cit.). This midrashic exposition also explains the end of the verse: “While the barren woman bears seven, the mother of many is forlorn.” Hannah, who had been barren, had five children of her own and two more who were attributed to her, while Peninnah, who had given birth to many children (ten), became forlorn.

A completely different midrash casts Peninnah in a favorable light. Her intentions were for the sake of Heaven and she grieved Hannah so that the latter would pray to the Lord (BT Bava Batra 16a). Peninnah wanted to aid Hannah and she knew that only the latter’s prayer to God could be of help. She therefore vexed Hannah at Shiloh, thereby causing her distraught rival wife to pray fervently. Thanks to Peninnah, Hannah’s prayer was answered, and she gave birth to children.

See also the entry: “Hannah.”

16 Comments

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I thank God for this great motivational message. There is a great lesson in this passage to every reader to learn from Hannah's forgiveness spirit.

Never heard or read this before. Very grateful. Bless you.

Eye opening I needed to understand Peninnah thanks

I truly thankful for what I have found here it's mind opening for me because I have been asking myself about how many years was Hannah crying and how did Peninah came as wife no:2 to Elkanah and also wanted to know how peninah was teasing Hannah, it helped me alot now I will teach about this chapter with an understanding and by the help of the Holy Spirit

Very nicely done. Good showing all aspects available...yet let the bible stand as The Word itself....

-You filled in the blanks, from 1st Samuel! Thank you!

Thank you for sharing this information. This shows that God fights for the innocent but only if that person's heart has faith in Him. And I see a forgiving heart in Hannah.

Thank you so much for this eye opening have always been looking for a way to know the details of this story and am so satisfied with all the explanations. God bless you writer

Hannah's prayer in 1 Sam 2:1-10  was after she took Samuel to Shiloh but before other five children she would later have.   And it is reasonable to understand that that Peninah is the subject that prayer in the same way David would reference Saul (Ps 18 & 59) and Ahithophel as the enemy even though they closely associated with him. 

And so the Hannah’s boasting of over her enemies in 1 Sam 2:1was because through the birth of Samuel she was delivered from the provocations (1 Sam, 1:6) And Peninah’s boasting that she was the fertile one were no silenced by Samuel’s birth a birth considered a clear miracle. The bows of the warriors speak infer the hurtful words with which Peninah fired at Hannah. And it would appear that even though the two were married to the same man the economic situation in respective households were different. That as the Peninah’s children grew older they had to fend for themselves by finding work outside the home as Elkanah may not have been a very wealthy man. and this would explain why there Hannah had enough as she was alone and Peninah struggled to cater for her family as denoted by the contrasting of the poor and the wealthy.

 

Even though Elkanah assured Hannah that he was more valuable to her than ten sons, Hannah in her prayer invokes the blessings of Ruth in where she is praised in reference to Naomi as a

“daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth. (Ruth 4:15)”  It may be Elkanah’s reference of ten sons may infer that Peninah had ten sons and daughters just like Leah who had ten sons and one daughter. In may be that Peninah saw herself as the very embodiment of Leah wife of Jacob as the latter had 10 sons and a daughter Dinah.  I don’t think Peninah’s children needed to die for every child born to Hannah rather that the borth of Samuel was so significant to that houselhold that he may have been treated and favoured as Joseph was favoured by Jacob. Perhaps this is a better rendering than the Midrash..

The waxing feeble (1 Sam 2:5) if pointing to  Peninah could be understood as struggling to keep her family fed as contrasted with the proverbs 31 woman who provides food for her family (Prov 31:15).

The second part of that sentence, “but she who has had many sons waxeth feeble” is echoed in Jeremiah 15:9 where it states The mother of seven will grow faint. The Hebrew word used in both verses is ‘amal’  And in reference it may be that Peninah after Samuek was born just was exhausted trying to make ends meet making enough to feed her very large family

Ilona Barnes, the account of Peninah's children as 10 is in order. Remember for every child born by Hannah Peninah lost 2. I.e when Hannah had 4 children Peninah lost 8. When Hannah wad pregnant with the 5th child, Peninah asked Hannah to pray for her not to lose the remaining 2 children who are later counted as Hannah's. Thanks for sharing this information

If two sons were left Peninnah had at least 12 children. It's stated Hannah one child to two of Peninnah. Then 4 to 8. Pls explain. Earlier it states Peninnah had sons and daughter's. Later only stating she had 10 sons.Hello.

Great interpretation. Never heard of such.
Very grateful indeed.
God bless the authors

very good read

Great interpretations! But I find the latest midrash a little bit hard to accept as there is no account in 1 Samuel that Peninnah was to be praised for the blessings that Hannah finally received.

Evil people really meant evil when they did it. That G-d turned it to the good of the one persecuted, it is another story. Never had they been credited, just like the brothers of Joseph were never credited for the blessings Joseph received from G-d.

Surely, the G-d of Israel doesn't need the help of man in blessing people who trust in him, much less from evil ones.

What a good revelation and interpretation. i will once more read from the Bible itself.

This is extremely interesting! I had known about Hannah and Peninnah story, but never known such interpretations. Will definitely be looking through this website when I have more time. (definitely will bookmark!!) Thanks for taking the time to enlighten others!! Much appreciated.

How to cite this page

Kadari, Tamar. "Peninnah: Midrash and Aggadah." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 15, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/peninnah-midrash-and-aggadah>.

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