Jewish Studies, DWEC, NCCA, DES 1
SECTION 6: SACRED WRITINGS AND COMMENTARIES
SECTION 6 Sacred Writings and Commentaries
Topic 6.1 The Hebrew Bible
Structure and content of the Hebrew Bible
The main structure of the Torah and its components
The main events of Israelite history as presented in the
The Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and the
Matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah), and the
great leaders, Moses, Aaron and Joshua
The roles of women in the Hebrew Bible as judges,
prophetesses, military and logistical strategists, teachers,
moral leaders and mothers; The key messages conveyed in
one of the Books of the Prophets or in another sacred
Hebrew text, e.g. the book of Job, the book of Psalms
Sketch the general structure and content of the main
Jewish writings and commentaries; construct a time line to
show the main events of Israelite history as presented in
the Torah; explain briefly the role of the Patriarchs,
Matriarchsand leaders in the Hebrew Bible; discuss and
assess the different roles of women in the Hebrew Bible;
give a brief account of the key messages conveyed in one of
the books of the Prophets or in another sacred Hebrew
PART ONE: TORAH (Instruction, Teaching)
The Torah is the collective memory of a society expressing its self-understanding
and faith through its belief in a deity G-d. Call to mind how a society, group,
community, remember their history. It is recalled through story (written and oral),
myth, legend, poetry, song, some historical narratives which are verified by other
soucrces e.g. archaeology. Ancient scribes and priests of the Jerusalem Temple - an
elite group of society because they could read and write in a time when about 2%
of the population were literate – were those who wrote it. Jewish communities
throughout the Diaspora and in the land remembered and preserved it. The process
by which Torah took place was through oral tradition: story-tellers pass on stories
through the generations. Oral tradition is flexible, can be adapted, embellished,
made relevant to the needs of specific individuals, villages, tribes. It was probably
written on potsherds or small clay tablets; on tablets stored in ancient libraries
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which were usually attached to Temple or place but possibly also private houses of
the wealthy. Only around 300 BCE did scribes begin to use scrolls which could
facilitate the production of longer narratives.
Genesis: Chapters 1-11 relate G-d's creation of the world and the first humans,
the stories of Adam, Eve Cain and Abel, the flood, the tower of Babel, and the
invention of various human arts and industries. Chapters l2-50 contain the
stories of the patriarchal and matriarchal ancestors of the Israelites: Abraham
and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel. The descent of the
Jacob's son Joseph into Egypt, his rise to power and the eventual arrival of all of
the Israelites in Egypt
Exodus: Contains the story of Moses who is charged by G-d with leading the
Israelites from Egypt where they have been enslaved. At Mount Sinai in the
wilderness, G-d enters into a covenantal relationship with Israel, imparting
divine instructions which the Israelites promise to obey. Includes instructions
for the construction of G-d's tabernacle.
Leviticus: Contains instructions concerning the sacrificial cult and other priestly
rituals, the initiation of Aaron and his sons as priest, as well as laws concerning
purity and impurity (both ritual and moral).
Numbers: Continues the narrative of the Israelites as they wander in the
wilderness. Further instructions are given in this period.
Deuteronomy: A set of three speeches delivered by Moses on the plain of Moab on
the eastern side of the Jordan river, as the Israelites are poised to enter the
promised land. Moses reiterates the divine instruction delivered at Sinai and
charges the people to be faithful to G-d so as not to incur his displeasure. Moses
dies without entering the Promised Land.
PART TWO: NEVI'IM (Prophets)
Subdivided into the books of the Former Prophets (Joshua through 2 Kings,
consisting of historical narratives featuring kings and prophets and the books of
the Latter Prophets (containing the oracles of the classical or literary prophets
from the mid 8th to 5th century).
A. Former Prophets
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Joshua: Relates the invasion of Canaan under Joshua and the distribution of the
land to the Israelite tribes.
Judges: Stories that center around heroic "judges" who led the people in military
victories over a variety of enemies.
1 Samuel: Samuel, the last judge and a prophet, reluctantly anoints a king at the
behest of the people. Stories about the first king, Saul.and his rivalry with David.
2 Samuel: The story of King David. The rich Court History tells of his adulterous
affair with Bathsheba and the revolt of his son Absalom.
l Kings: Relates David's final years, and the reign of David's son Solomon who
builds a Temple to G-d in Jerusalem. Succession of the ten northern tribes to
form the kingdom of Israel, leaving 2 southern tribes as the kingdom of Judah.
The prophet Elijah zealously promotes Yahwism in the north and comes into
conflict with King Ahab.
2 Kings: Stories about Elijah and his disciple prophet Elisha. Relates the
overthrow of Ahab, the succession of kings in Israel until the final destruction by
the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E.Traces the history of the southern kingdom until the
final destruction by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E.
B. Latter Prophets
Isaiah: Oracles by and narratives about the late 8th century northern prophet
Isaiah (chapters 1-39). Chapters 40-66 are from a later period.
Jeremiah: Oracles, poems and narratives of the late 7th early 6thc prophet
Jeremiah. Jeremiah witnessed the end of the southern kingdom.
Ezekiel: Oracles and narratives of the early 6th century prophet Ezekiel,
delivered in Babylonia.
The Book of the Twelve: a collection of shorter prophetic books spanning 3
1. Hosea -late 8th century northern prophet
2. Joel- postexilic oracles focusing on a day of divine retribution
3. Amos – mid-8th century northern prophet
4. Obadiah - post-destruction (post 587) prophet
5. Jonah - a short story about the prophet Jonah who is sent by G-d to Ninevah
6. Micah -late 8th century Judean prophet
7. Nahum - a poem on the fall of Ninevah (late 7th c)
8. Habbakuk - latter part of the 7th century
9. Zephaniah -- latter part of the 7th century
10. Haggai -late 6th century prophet, living at the time of the return from exile
II. Zechariah - combines late 6th century visions with later postexilic materials
12. Malachi - 5th century prophet.
PART THREE: KETUVIM (Writings)
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Psalms: 150 poetic writings of various types (praise, petition, lament,
Proverbs: A collection of sayings and aphorisms, including tributes to wisdom
Job: The tale of a righteous man afflicted with suffering is the prose framework
for a length poetic dialogue on the question of divine justice, human suffering,
and the value of righteousness.
The Five Scrolls
1. Song of Songs – a multi-voiced love poem
2. Ruth - story of a foreign women's faithfulness to her Israelite family by
marriage set in the period of the judges
3. Lamentations - Dirge on the destruction of Jerusalem
4. Ecclesiastes - Musings on the vanity of life
5. Esther - Story of a Mordechai and Esther who save the Jews of Persia from a
Daniel- Written in the 2nd century BCE, this book contains the adventures of the
Israelite Daniel and his friends residing in the royal court of 6th century Babylon.
The latter part ofthe book contains apocalyptic visions.
Ezra - Relates the return of the Babylonian exiles to Judea at the end of the 6th
century and the reforms of Ezra, a Babylonian priest and scribe, in the 5th
Nehemiah - Relates the activities of Nehemiah, governor of Judah under Persian
rule, in the mid-5th century BCE.
1 Chronicles - A recapitulation of the history of Israel down to the reign of David,
with different emphases and themes.
2 Chronicles - A continuation of I Chronicles relating the reigns of the kings of
Judah down to the Babylonian exile.
1. Draw a table outlining the main structure of the Hebrew Bible.
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2. Based on the outline of the Hebrew Bible above, construct a loose chronology
of memories of events which have taken place over time, i.e. Creation, the Flood
Tosefta - MISHNAH – Baraita
MIDRASH HALAKHAH MIDRASH AGGADA
Mechilta on Exodus (Compendium) Midrash Rabba
Sifre on Leviticus Tanchuma
Sifre on Numbers Pesikta
EXPANSIVE MEANING OF THE TORAH
Key to Diagram:
1. TORAH: Five Books of
2. Torah: Entire Bible:
3. Torah: Talmud (Mishnah
and Gemara) and Midrash
4. Torah: Commentaries,
Codes, homilies and all teachings
based on the Bible, Talmud,
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ABRAHAM (Genesis 12 and following)
Abraham is the father of the nation and recipient of G-d’s promise.
Faith in G-d means taking a risk, losing everything, becoming landless. The
Torah is all about the theme of reaching the promised land but the first step is to
become landless. Abraham sets out from Ur in Babylonia (present day Iraq). The
Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s
household to the land I will show you.’
I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name
great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever
curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
1. The Land Promise: ‘A land that I will show you.’
2. The National Promise: ‘A great nation.’
3. The Spiritual Promise: ‘All the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
The Patriarch as Obedient Leader
‘So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was 75
years old when he set out. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the
possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired and they set
out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.’ (Genesis 12:4-5)
He establishes the Boundaries of the Land
‘Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at
Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to
Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ (Genesis 12:6-7)
The Patriarch establishes Sanctuaries, sacrifices and prays on behalf of the
So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he
went on towards the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the
west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the
name of the Lord. (Genesis 12:7-8)
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Abraham as the leader of the nation is shown to be resourceful in famine. He
goes to a foreign land conscious of dangers for Israelites among foreigners. This
leads to the acquisition of wealth. Sarah, his wife, is obedient and cooperative.
When Abraham met the Pharaoh, he passed Sarah off as his sister. This ‘deceit’
was important to survival and the growth of the Israelite people. The theme of
tricking the great Egyptian Pharaoh was popular. From 2000 BCE on, people
from the Ancient Near East went to Egypt in times of warfare (seeking shelter)
and famine (seeking food) and they were often put into forced labour.
The Patriarch is the recipient of the Covenant command for circumcision
Then G-d said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your
descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you
and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep. Every male
among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be
the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every
male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born
in your household or bought with money from a foreigner – those who are not
your offspring… My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any
uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off
from his people; he has broken my covenant.’ (Genesis 17:9-14)
The Promise made to Abraham is fulfilled through Isaac
‘For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the
oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous
as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your
offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and
did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my
instructions.’ (Genesis 26:3-5)
ABRAHAM: SUMMARY BOX
Story is in Genesis Chapters 11-35
Abram was born in Ur of Mesopotamia (near Iraq)
At 75 years of age he was commanded by G-d to leave his home place
He travelled with Sarai, his wife, and Lot, his nephew, and their households, from Haran to
Shechem in Canaan (See map)
Famine in Canaan so they headed to Egypt.
Back up then to Bethel and Hai (See map)
Entered into covenant with G-d: descendants would be as many as the stars of heavens etc.
No children yet.
Abraham+Hagar (Sarah’s maid servant)=Ishmael
At 99 years of age, G-d gives Abram a new name: Abram to Abraham and Sarai becomes
He is declared by G-d to be father of many nations and the covenant is expressed through
circumcision of the male line.
100 years old Abraham and Sarah have child: Isaac
Akedah: The binding of Isaac, the test of Abraham’s faith
Promise from G-d about line continuing through Isaac
Abraham died at 175 years of age.
Abraham is one of the patriarchs of Judaism
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SARAH (Genesis 12-21)
Genesis 12-50 is generally termed the ‘patriarchal narratives’ these are the
chapters that focus on the founding fathers of Israel – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and
Joseph but Genesis also tells another story – that of the great matriarchal figures
– Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah.
Sarai comes from the verb ‘serar’ meaning ‘to rule’ and is translated as ‘my
We see that she was young enough to attract the Egyptians and in Gen 12:4 we
are told that Abram was 75 years old which would make Sarai (who was 10
years younger cf Gen 17;17) 65.
According to Genesis 12 Sarai and Abram they are living in Haran, north western
Mesopotamia. Haran means ‘highway’ or ‘crossroads’ – so G-d spoke to Abram at
the ‘crossroads’ of his life.
Sarah is barren
‘Now Sarai was barren, she had no child.’(Gen 11:30)
Sarah has no history in a world where a woman’s worth is calculated by her
fruitfulness Sarah is empty, without future. The very words ‘Sarai was barren’
mask a hidden story of personal pain and suffering. As we begin the Sarah story
we are faced with a kind of death, a dying. The natural rhythm of life is broken by
The promise depends on Abram having a child – a boy- since in ancient Israel
inheritance was passed through the male line. So Abram must have a child but
Sarai is barren so either G-d will have to heal her barrenness or Abram will have
to find another wife. Yet at this point the one obstruction to G-d’s plan is Sarai’s
barrenness and moreover although G-d repeats and expands his promise to
Abram seven times he never addresses them to Sarai.
Sarai the Protector of Abraham
Sarai will be enslaved like the Israelites but it is Abraham rather than the
Pharaoh who is the cause of enslavement.Abram is vulnerable as he approaches
the borders of the mighty lands of Egypt – with famine behind him and the might
of a powerful nation in front of him he is like so many refugees in our world
today. ‘He said to his wife Sarai, ‘I know well that you are a woman beautiful in
appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say ‘This is his wife’; then
they will kill me, but they will let you live.” Say please you are my sister, so that
it may go well with me because of you and that my life may be spared on your
account.’ (Genesis 12:11-13)
The inevitable happens – the Egyptians are stunned by Sarai’s beauty and sing
her praises to the Pharaoh. The result is that Sarai is ‘taken’ into the Pharaoh’s
household.And the whole of that night Sarah lay prostrate on her face, crying,
‘Sovereign of the Universe! Abraham went forth [from his land] on Thine
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assurance, and I went forth with faith; Abraham is without this prison while I am
within!’ Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to her: ‘Whatever I do, I do for thy sake,
and all will say, " It is BECAUSE OF SARAI ABRAM'S WIFE.’" (Midrash)
But G-d steps in on the side of Sarai and sends plagues on Pharaoh and his
household. The Pharaoh realises the reason for the plagues and that he
unwittingly has committed adultery:“What is this you have done to me? Why did
you not tell me she was your wife? Why did you say ‘She is my sister’ so that I
took her for my wife?” The Pharaoh spares Abram’s life.
Sarai’s name changes as she is called from G-d through Abraham
In Chapter 17:5 we hear that G-d changes Abram’s name to Abraham and then
makes a solemn promise:“As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but
Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by
her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall
come from her.”
Sarah’s matriarchal role is vital in the foundation of the people and their
establishment of their relationship with G-d.
Abraham fell flat on his face and laughed, thinking ”Can a child be born to a man
who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah who is 90 years old bear a child?” What
else does the laughter of Abraham indicate than that
he no longer sees a vision but a joke. They have
become fixated with what is: they have stopped
dreaming of what can be; they have become obsessed
with their own poverty, emptiness and the huge
absence that now dominates their life. G-d responds to
Abraham’s mockery by repeating the promise and
naming the child:‘Your wife Sarah will bear you a son,
you shall name him Isaac.” The name Isaac means ‘he
laughs’ so Sarah will bring laughter into the world.
SARAH: SUMMARY BOX
Story told in the Book of Genesis
Root of her name comes from verb ‘serar’ to rule, and means ‘my princess’
Wife of Abraham
Travelled with Abraham on his journeys (See Abraham)
Sarai was 65 when she left Ur with Abraham
In Egpyt, Abraham asked her to pose as his ‘sister’ in order to protect himself
She was held captive by the Pharaoh and given many gifts.
G-d sent plagues on Pharaoh’s household.
Abraham and Sarai had to leave Egypt
She suggested that her maid-servant, Hagar, and Abraham should have a child because she
herself was barren for so long.
Tension between Hagar and Sarah
Sarai gets a new name, Sarah, given by G-d to Abraham
She was to bear a child and laughed at the prospect of how ridiculous that sounded!
Abraham and Sarah had one child: Isaac
Sarah died at Kiryat Arba (Hebron) at 127 years of age
As husband of Abraham, she is a matriarch of Judaism
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WOMEN JUDGES AND LEADERS
DEBORAH/DVORA (Judges 4 and 5)
Exceptional leaders share certain qualities like a strong personal ethic and a
compelling vision of the future. Frequently, great leaders emerge in response to a
crisis as they attempt to achieve a bold new vision.
Deborah is one of the major judges (meaning charismatic leaders, rather than
juridical figures) in the story of how Israel takes the land of Canaan.
The only female judge, and also the only judge to be called a prophet, Deborah is
a decisive figure in the defeat of the Canaanites, a victory told in two accounts, a
prose narrative in Judges 4 and an ancient song known as the Song of Deborah,
probably composed not long after the original events,
possibly by Deborah herself, and preserved in Judges 5. In
Judg 4:4, Deborah is identified as eshet lappidot, which
may mean “woman of [the town] Lappidoth,” “wife of [the
man] Lappidoth,” or “woman of torches” (that is, “fiery
As the story opens in Judges 4, Deborah is already a judge,
settling disputes brought to her while she sits under the
“palm of Deborah” in the hill country of Ephraim (4:5).
Most of the major figures in the Book of Judges are
acknowledged as leaders after military victory; Deborah is a judge before the
battle, but the narrative does not include the story of how she became judge, why
she is called a “prophetess,” or the way in which G-d commanded her to begin
the battle against Jabin, the Canaanite king of Hazor, and his general, Sisera.
Deborah summons Barak to be her general, relaying G-d’s command to take ten
thousand men to Mount Tabor to begin the battle. When he responds that he
would go only if she will, she agrees to go, but informs him that Barak will get no
glory from the victory, for “the Lord will deliver [NRSV, sell] Sisera into the hand
of a woman” (4:9). The reader naturally assumes that the woman will be
Deborah. Sisera deploys his army against Deborah, and Barak and the troops
near Mount Tabor in Galilee. Deborah announces to Barak that the day of victory
has come, and “the Lord is indeed going out before you.” Barak and his warriors
destroy all the Canaanites except Sisera, who flees from the battle and seeks
refuge with a Kenite woman, Jael, who kills him; Jael is in fact the woman who
seals Sisera’s fate.
The Song of Deborah, preserved in Judges 5, tells more about this final battle. It
describes the chaotic conditions that exist until “you arose, Deborah,/arose as a
mother in Israel” (5:7). The poem hints that the battle against Canaan was
instigated by the people, who call, “Awake, awake, Deborah!/Awake, awake,
utter a song!/Arise, Barak, lead away your captives,/O son of Abinoam” (5:12).
Deborah’s job would not be to fight. As the prophetic leader, her job would be to
sing encouraging war chants and a victory song (such as Judges 5); the actual
fighting would be Barak’s job.
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G-d takes part in the actual battle, causing a sudden flood storm: “The stars
fought from heaven,/from their courses they fought against Sisera./The torrent
Kishon swept them away” (5:21). This disabled the Canaanite chariots, enabling
Israel’s infantry to win.
The Song of Deborah concludes with a heroic depiction of Jael as a woman
warrior and with a taunt of Sisera’s mother, waiting anxiously and in vain for
Sisera to return after the battle. Deborah does not show sympathy toward
another woman, Sisera’s mother. Quite the contrary—she portrays her as the
quintessential enemy woman, already anticipating the riches that the fighters
will bring as spoil when they return. These riches would include both materia1
wealth and captive women—“a girl or two [Hebrew, a womb-girl, two womb-
girls] for every man” (5:30). The battle is between Israelites and Canaanites, and
the women align solidly with their own group.
There is no other heroine like Deborah in the Hebrew Bible, but other women
did have some of her many roles. She is called a “mother in Israel” (Judg 5:7)
perhaps because she was a biological mother. This would be important, showing
that mothers might attain political prominence. More likely, the phrase may
indicate that her arbitration powers as judge were parental, even maternal.
“Mother,” like “father,” can be an honorific title for an authority figure or
protector in the community (compare 1 Sam 24:1 and Isa 22:21). Another
possibility is that she was a strong administrator of G-d’s plan, like the
matriarchs in Genesis. As a respected politico-judicial authority, she has a
counterpart in the wise woman of Abel, who spoke for and rescued the city of
Abel where, she said, the people of Israel brought their disputes to be settled (2
Sam 20:15–22). As a singer of victory songs, she echoes Miriam and foreshadows
latter women who celebrate David’s military success (1 Sam 18:6–7). And as a
prophetess, like Miriam, she anticipates later female prophetic figures, such as
Huldah, who prophesied the end of Israel’s time in Canaan, and Noadiah, who
appeared during the restoration from exile. But there are differences in these
roles. Women singers and prophets continue throughout Israel’s history, but
with the consolidation of the Israelite monarchy, politico-judicial authority of the
type enjoyed by Deborah and the wise woman of Abel was handed over to the
royal bureaucracies. And except perhaps for some queen mothers, they
apparently did not include women.
DEBORAH: SUMMARY BOX
Story is told in Judges Chapters 4 and 5.
Deborah in Hebrew ‘Dvora’ means ‘bee’
Wife of Lappidoth
The only female judge mentioned in the Bible
Proclaimed her judgements under a palm tree somewhere between Ramah and Bethel in
Warrior: She encouraged Barak, military captain of the Israelites, to wage an attack against
against Jabin, King of Canaan, and his military commander Sisera
10,000 Israelites under Barak battled with 900 chariots under Sisera.
The Israelites were victorious, and Deborah and Barak sang a victory hymn
She is called a mother in Israel because of that victory hymn.
She is both leader and prophetess.
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Miriam was a leader of the Hebrew people during the Exodus, the great founding
event of Judaism. Her name has been interpreted many ways – if derived from
Egyptian sources Miriam may mean ‘beloved’ a Hebrew interpretation might be
‘the one who sees water’ or ‘bitterness’.
Her place among the leaders is attested to by the prophet Micah 6:4 when he
‘For I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of
the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam.’
Miriam, Woman of Courage
1. Miriam saves her brother Moses
This event related in Ex 2:1-10 shows how the survival of the leader of the
exodus, Moses, depended on the courage and dignity of his sister Miriam. Jewish
Midrash relates that prior to Moses’ birth she had
said to her father ‘In the end you will beget a son
who shall deliver Israel from Egypt.’ (Mekhilta Ex
15:20). This prophecy convinced Amram to
renew intimate relations, despite the danger
involved because of Pharaohs decree against sons.
We next see her standing on the banks of the Nile,
life waiting on life, with all the emotion of
watching her baby brother being found by the
daughter of a hostile tyrant who had decreed that
all male babies should be destroyed. Through her
imagination, initiative and boldness Moses is
returned to his mother. ‘She turns the compassion
felt by the princess into deliverance.’
“Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I
go and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child
for you?’ and Pharaoh’s daughter answered ‘Yes’.
2. Miriam leads the dance
The second episode when the text speaks of Miriam is when the Hebrew’s led by
Moses’ Aaron and Miriam cross what was probably a large papyrus marsh, called
the Sea of Reeds in the Book of Exodus. The Egyptians had commanded that
Hebrew babies would be drowned. Now it was the Egyptians that were
drowned, as the soggy ground of the marshland gave way under the hooves of
the horses and the wheels of their chariots. When this happened, the Hebrews
expressed their jubilation by composing songs of victory. A remnant of the song
composed by Miriam is in Ex 15: 20-21. As leader of the Hebrew women, Miriam
lead them in singing and dancing:
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“Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s
sister took a tambourine in her hand,
and all the women went out after her
with tambourines and with dancing,
And Miriam sang to them;
Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed
Horse and rider he has thrown into the
Miriam’s Leadership and Initiative
These verses provide important
evidence of the independent action of
women in biblical times. This passage
attests first of all, to Miriam’s personal initiative: “Then Miriam… took a timbrel
in her hand.’ This in itself occasions comment in the midrash: “Taking the
initiative is the main thing” (Lekah Tov, loc. Sit.) Miriam sparks the women’s
enthusiasm, and they stream after her, following her lead: “ and all the women
went out after her in dance with timbrels.” Scriptures underscores Miriam’s
great influence by saying ‘all’ the women followed her lead, even though this is
not a realistic description. Furthermore, thanksgiving to the Lord through song
attains an additional creative artistic dimension, thanks to Miriam and the other
women: musical instruments and dance. Thus the women’s camp had a deep and
multi-faceted spiritual experience.
In addition the song was also Miriam’s choice:
“And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed
gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.”
It might seem that Miriam was merely repeating the words of her brother,
Moses, but this is not the case. There is significant difference between her words
and his. Moses began his song in the singular, ‘Iwill sing to the Lord, for he has
triumphed gloriously,’ whereas Miriam addressed all the women around her and
included them in the religious experience by saying,
‘Sing (all of you in the plural) to the Lord, for He has triumphed
Perhaps the Bible is thereby alluding to various types of leadership: that of
Moses, who devoted a large part of his life to isolated communion with G-d and
that of Miriam, who was with the masses, working on their behalf. Miriam is the
first female figure who is active in public life and of whose family life the Bible
says not a word. This song is recited every day by Jews in their prayers and
publicly read in the synagogues twice a year: on the seventh day of Passover and
on a mid-winter Shabbat in the course of the Torah reading cycle – a Shabbat
known as Shabbat Shirah ‘Shabbat of Song’. The congregation stand for the
reading – the only other reading that is given this honour is the reading of the
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Miriam cursed by Leprosy
Later we meet Miriam at Hazeroth, as the Hebrew people wandered in search of
their promised land. Aaron and Miriam questioned Moses’ marriage to the
Cushite because Hebrews condemned marriage with a foreigner and they
question Moses’ authority over them:
“Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?
Has he not spoken through us also?
And the Lord heard it and said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam
‘Come out you three to the tent of meeting.”
But the incident serves to underline her status in the eyes of the people. Miriam
was stricken with leprosy as punishment for speaking against Moses and her
brother. The people, as the Torah stresses, showed loyalty to their great leader
and halted their advance through the desert until Miriam could continue with
them: “So Miriam was shut out of camp seven days; and the people did not
march on until Miriam was readmitted.” (Num. 12:15)
Miriam’s death is related in Numbers 20:1-2
“The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the
first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh.Miriam died there, and was buried
Water the symbol of life, had played quite a large part in Miriam’s life. She saved
her brother from the water; she led the song of victory after the parting of the
Sea of Reeds; she died in a waterless place. Immediately after her death, G-d
gave abundant water to the people, in the form of a spring.Contemporary Jews
have begun to reclaim Miriam as a model for biblical leadership. Many now
dedicate a cup of water or wine during the Passover Seder to this woman who
led the Jewish people out of slavery with song and celebration, and encouraged
and nourished them as they journeyed for long years through the desert.
MIRIAM: SUMMARY BOX
Story is told in the Book of Exodus; She is also mentioned in Numbers and Micah
Name means ‘Bitterness’ because she was born at a time of great oppression
Daughter of Amram and Jocheved; sister of Moses and Aaron
Her earliest prophecy was that her mother was going to give birth to a son who would free
the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage.
This is one of the reasons why she was also called Puah, meaning "Whisperer," for she was
whispering words of prophecy (Sotah 11b, 12b).
Miriam watched at a distance when her mother hid baby Moses’s basket among the reeds
Pharaoh’s daughter picked up the baby. Miriam came and got the wet-nurse, her mother, for
the baby. 80years later that baby did free the Israelites from captivity. Miriam’s prophecy
Miriam and her brothers, accompanied the Israelites on their 40 year wanderings in the
According to tradition, Miriam’s well – a rolling rock that accompanied the Jewish people on
their wanderings – provided fresh water in the desert for people, cattle, sheep and plants.
She led the women in dancing with song and tambourine at the Crossing of the Sea of Reeds.
She was cursed with leprosy when she criticized Moses’s wife
Miriam died at Kadesh, the day before they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land.
She is considered a leader in Judaism
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VOICE OF THE PROPHETS
ISAIAH THE PROPHET (740-681 BCE)
Isaiah 3:1-15 A Commentary
Isaiah decries injustice by the elite against the poor. As a fit punishment, social
order will be upset, leaving the people in leaderless chaos.
Adapted from an article by Dr Solomon B. Freehof from
The section of Isaiah discussed here comes from the early part of the book,
written by Isaiah ben Amoz. It is a lesser-known passage, however, because it is
not included in the cycle of haftarot (synagogue readings from the prophets). In
this commentary, Dr. Freehof samples the major rabbinic opinions on the critical
passages. This selection is excerpted from Book of Isaiah: A Commentary.
Isaiah ben Amoz' Denounces the Elite
The sin denounced here (in Isaiah 3) is social injustice: "Ye grind the face of the
poor." (Verse 15) The money exacted unjustly from the poor enables the upper
classes to live in ostentatious luxury. (The end of the chapter, verses 3:16-26,
describes in detail all the ornaments of the pampered rich women of Jerusalem.)
As punishment for this the whole social order will be upturned, the young will
behave insolently to the aged (Verse 3), responsibility and moral leadership will
cease. (Verse 7)
Text: 3:1-6 Babies Shall Rule
1. For, behold, the LORD, the LORD of hosts,
Doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah
Stay and staff,
Every stay of bread, and every stay of water;
2. The mighty man, and the man of war;
The judge, and the prophet,
And the diviner, and the elder;
3. The captain of fifty, and the man of rank,
And the counselor, and the cunning charmer, and the skillful enchanter.
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4. And I will give children to be their princes,
And babes shall rule over them.
5. And the people shall oppress one another,
Every man his fellow, and every man his neighbor;
The child shall behave insolently against the aged,
And the base against the honorable.
6. For a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father:
'Thou hast a mantle,
Be thou our ruler,
And let this ruin be under thy hand.'
Commentary on 3:1- 6
3:1 The Lord . . . doth take away ... stay and staff.
Verses 1 to 5 are a list of punishments that G-d will send. Rashi (the 12th century
French commentator), quoting the Talmud (Hagigah 14a), says that these curses
mount up to a climax, the worst of all of them being: "The child shall behave
insolently against the aged." (Verse 5). The contempt and the hostility of the
young generation against the older is deemed by the prophet and the Talmud to
be the worst curse that can come to a society.
3:3 The skillful enchanter. Ibn Ezra (12th century Spanish commentator)
suggests that this may refer not only to a magician but to a clever orator, as we
would say today, a spellbinder.
3:4And babes shall rule over them. The word translated "babes" (ta'alulim) is
variously interpreted by the commentators. The Targum (the Aramaic
translation/interpretation) says, "You will be governed by weaklings." Rashi
takes the word to mean "mockers." The people will have so little respect for their
leaders that there will be a general air of cynicism. Kimchi says it means the
young since, as stated in the previous verses, the older leaders will all be killed in
war and famine. The Malbim (Meir Loeb ben Jehiel Michael, 1809-1879) agrees
that it means "young" but indicates that the word itself implies impulsiveness. In
other words, "You will be governed by the young, who themselves will be
motivated by wild impulses." Krauss offers a similar explanation: "You will be
governed by youth, who will rule you with violence."
3:5 The people shall oppress one another. Kimchi (R. David Kimchi; also known
as the Radak, a 12th century French commentator) elaborates and says that the
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people will scorn and fight each other; there will be no mutual respect.
3:6 Thou hast a mantle. Rashi bases his comment on the Talmud (Sabbath 119b)
in which knowledge of the law is compared to a garment, and therefore he says
the verse means, "You have learning, so become our ruler." Kimchi says it means,
"You look respectable; be our ruler." Ibn Ezra says, "We do not want anything
from you; keep your clothes, just rule us."
Let this ruin be under thy hand. The Hebrew word here means literally "let this
stumbling…" Rashi says, "The people say to the man whom they have picked up
on the street to be their ruler: 'Guide us in those commandments which we do
not understand and which we stumble over."' Kimchi says, "Be our ruler because
we are all stumbling and quarreling with each other." Ibn Ezra says that this
stumbling simply means, "Rule thou over Jerusalem," because the same verb is
used of Jerusalem in Verse 8 (see below), "for Jerusalem stumbles." In our
translation the words are, "Jerusalem is ruined," but the Hebrew reads,
"Jerusalem has stumbled."
Text: 3:7-9 Chaos and Moral Degradation
7. In that day shall he swear, saying:
'I will not be a healer;
For in my house is neither bread nor a mantle;
Ye shall not make me ruler of a people.'
8. For Jerusalem is ruined, And Judah is fallen;
Because their tongue and their doings are against the LORD,
To provoke the eyes of His glory.
9. The show of their countenance doth witness against them;
And they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not.
Woe unto their soul!
For they have wrought evil unto themselves.
Commentary on 3:7-9
3:7 In my house is neither bread nor a mantle. Kimchi says that this is the proof
of poverty, that, even in the house of the respectable, there is a lack of decent
3:8 Provoke the eyes of His glory. Ibn Ezra: They provoke G-d publicly.
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3:9 The show of their countenance. The Hebrew literally is "the recognition of
their countenance." Therefore Rashi says that the meaning of the verse is
connected with Deuteronomy 16: 19, which in our translation says, "Thou shalt
not respect persons," but in Hebrew is "Thou shalt not recognize faces in
judgment." Therefore Rashi says the prophet means that their perversion of
justice, their recognizing of faces, testifies against them. Kimchi connects this
phrase with "They declare their sin" in the next line and says that the verse
means, "Their face betrays their sin and their mouth openly declares it." (So, too,
Ibn Ezra, Malbim, and Krauss.)
Text: 3:10-15 Because You Crush My People
10. Say ye of the righteous, that it shall be well with him;
For they shall eat the fruit of their doings.
11. Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him;
For the work of his hands shall be done to him.
12. As for My people, a babe is their master,
And women rule over them.
My people, they that lead thee cause thee to err,
And destroy the way of thy paths.
13. The LORD standeth up to plead,
And standeth to judge the peoples.
14. The LORD will enter into judgment
With the elders of His people, and the princes thereof:
'It is ye that have eaten up the vineyard;
The spoil of the poor is in your houses;
15. What mean ye that ye crush My people,
And grind the face of the poor?'
Saith the LORD, the G-d of hosts.
Commentary on 3:10-15
3:10‑11 Say ye of the righteous ... woe unto the wicked! Since these verses
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interrupt the sequence, Krauss agrees with modern scholars that they are a later
insertion but they can also be described as having some connection with the
preceding verses which speak of perverting justice. They condemn the righteous
and vindicate the wicked; and the prophet therefore calls upon them to depart
from this sin but to vindicate the righteous and condemn the wicked.
3:12 A babe is their master and women rule over them. The same word here is
used for "babe" as in Verse 4, and the commentators translate it as either a
symbol of weak rulers or of mockers and cynics. Kimchi adds that, because of
their sexuality (it has been a common misconception, from ancient times up to
the present day, that women are more sexually enticing, and more sexually
motivated, than men are), the men will fall under the domination of women.
Krauss calls attention to the fact that the word for "women" (nashim) can also be
read as "creditors," and that all the ancient translations indicate that one of the
misfortunes that will come to them is that they will be always in the hands of