The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

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Tikva Frymer-Kensky

Tikva Frymer-Kensky (1943–2006), a professor of Hebrew Bible and the History of Judaism in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, also taught in the Law School and the Committees on the Ancient Mediterranean World and Jewish Studies. She held an M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Her areas of specialization included Assyriology and Sumerology, biblical studies, Jewish studies and women and religion. Her books include Reading the Women of the Bible, which received a Koret Jewish Book Award in 2002 and a National Jewish Book Award in 2003; In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth; and Motherprayer: The Pregnant Woman’s Spiritual Companion. She was also the English translator of From Jerusalem to the Edge of Heaven by Ari Elon. At the time of her death in 2006 she was working on a commentary on Ruth and a book on biblical theology.

Articles by this author

Tamar: Bible

Tamar, whose story is embedded in the ancestor narratives of Genesis, is the ancestress of much of the tribe of Judah and particularly the house of David. After Judah blames Tamar for the death of two of his sons and subjugates her so she is unable to remarry, she tricks him into freeing her from her limbo, illustrating both her loyalty and assertiveness.

Sarah/Sarai: Bible

Originally named Sarai, Sarah is the ancestress of all Israel and the wife of Abraham. Barren for most of her life, she gives birth to Isaac at 90 years old, and after securing his position as Abraham’s heir, she largely disappears from the story of Genesis.

Rachel: Bible

The younger daughter of Laban and wife of Jacob, Rachel is the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, who become two of the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 35:24; 46:15–18). Rachel, who died young, becomes an image of tragic womanhood. After the biblical period, “Mother Rachel” continued to be celebrated as a powerful intercessor for the people of Israel.

Leah: Bible

Leah is the sister of Rachel, and many of the stories about her center around her turbulent relationship with her sister, as they are both Jacob’s wives. Jacob clearly prefers Rachel, and the sisters repeatedly compete with each other for Jacob’s affection. Leah and Rachel are remembered as the ancestresses “who built up the house of Israel” (Ruth 4:11).

Hagar: Bible

Hagar is Sarah’s Egyptian slave woman, whom Sarah gives to Abraham as secondary wife and who would bear a child for him. After Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarah treats her harshly. Eventually Hagar flees from her mistress into the wilderness, where God’s messenger speaks to her. Hagar has long represented the plight of the foreigner, the slave, and the sexually abused woman.

Deborah: Bible

Deborah is one of the major judges (meaning charismatic military leaders, rather than juridical figures) in the story of how Israel takes the land of Canaan. The only female judge, the only one to be called a prophet, and the only one described as performing a judicial function, she is a decisive figure in the defeat of the Canaanites.

Elisheba: Bible

Elisheba was the wife of the high priest Aaron and the mother of their four sons, but she does not appear in any stories. Mention of her in the genealogy signifies the importance of women in the destiny of their children.

Zipporah: Bible

Zipporah is the wife of Moses, given to him in marriage by her Midianite priest father. She heroically saves Moses and her sons from a random attack from an angel by cutting off her son’s foreskin; the explanation for this act is unclear. However, Zipporah is shown as fiercely devoted to her husband, even though he neglects her.

Shelomith 1: Bible

The story of Shelomith relates to the Egyptian practices concerning parentage and how a child is named. Shelomith herself is not explicitly described in the narrative, but the story of her son shows the punishment issued to blasphemers of God.

Rahab: Bible

A Canaanite woman living in Jericho, Rahab is a prostitute who is also a biblical heroine. Rahab, who begins as triply marginalized (Canaanite, woman, and prostitute), moves to the center as bearer of a divine message and herald of Israel in its new land. She is remembered in Jewish tradition as the great proselyte, as ancestress of kings and prophets, and, in the New Testament, as ancestress of Jesus.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Tikva Frymer-Kensky." (Viewed on August 3, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/author/frymer-kensky-tikva>.

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