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Moses

Near(ly) a Woman

Every year in the Hebrew month of Shevat, Jews around the world read Parshat Yitro, the Torah portion that contains the Ten Commandments. But the “Big Ten” are only part of this portion – Parshat Yitro also contains a visit from Moses’ father-in-law, a feast, and a set of instructions from G-d transferred with questionable integrity by Moses to the Israelites. Before becoming a Bat Mitzvah at age 12, I spent months studying this portion and its various commentaries. One line was particularly alarming to me: “Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman.”

The Rebel Women of Passover

My grandfather starts every Pesach Seder with the same opening lines. He talks about how he can remember being at the Seder table with his grandfather, who was once at a Seder table with his grandfather, and if you follow the generations back only a few more times you are right back at the original Pesach celebration, the escape from Egypt. These few words add so much meaning to my Pesach experience; I feel a direct relation to the Jews who escaped slavery so long ago. But while I love being able to draw this connection to the ancient past, something has always struck me about this tale: how come women are not part of this story of family linkage?

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.

Miriam: Bible

Negative as well as positive traditions about Miriam testify to her prominence, power, and prestige in early Israel. She participates with Moses and Aaron to lead the Israelite community during the exodus and the wanderings. Her role in saving her baby brother and in celebrating the crossing of the sea highlights her concern for her people.

Jochebed: Midrash and Aggadah

The midrash portrays Jochebed as a wise woman who was righteous and God-fearing. By merit of her good deeds, she gave birth to the three leaders of the Exodus generation: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

Jochebed: Bible

Jochebed, wife of Amram and mother of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, is mentioned by name only in Exod 6:20 and Num 26:59, both genealogical listings. The narrative in Exodus 2 about Moses’ birth introduces her, without providing her name, as a member of the priestly tribe Levi; she marries a Levitical man, also unnamed here.

Zipporah: Midrash and Aggadah

The Rabbis ascribe many traits to Zipporah, whom they considered as differing from other women, in a positive sense, in both appearance and deed.

Zipporah: Bible

Zipporah is a Midianite woman who becomes the wife of Moses.

Hebrew Women in the Wilderness: Midrash and Aggadah

The Rabbis portray the women of the wilderness generation as righteous, not caught up in the sins that swept Israel. Moreover, the women sought to correct what the men had spoiled, repairing the breaches for which the men were responsible. The Rabbis cite a number of examples of sins committed by the Israelites during the period of their wanderings in the wilderness which the women attempted to prevent.

Hebrew Women in Egypt: Bible

Two references to women at the beginning of the story of the exodus focus on aspects of childbirth and lactation. Women are prominent in this narrative—as givers of life. They perhaps prefigure the “birth” of Israel in the story that follows.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Moses." (Viewed on September 25, 2018) <https://jwa.org/tags/moses>.

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