|Ruth picking up left-over wheat by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld|
In February, during the activities of international women’s day, a friend sent me a meme that mentioned some of the amazing women of the Bible. It concluded with a sentence that said something like: “Women have ALWAYS been strong”.
I totally loved the sentiment, so in admiration to all the badass women we have always had here in Israel, I want to highlight these women from the Tanach.
The Tanach is the part of the Bible that Christians refer to as the Old Testament. There may be older scripts than Hebrew in the world but I doubt that they have such fascinating stories about the women of their times.
The wife of Abraham the patriarch followed him into Canaan, was ‘stolen’ twice from her husband and was barren for many years. Everyone always focuses on Abraham as the father of the monotheist religions but they forget that Sarah is just as an important part in these religions. As the first matriarch she was a formidable woman but we also read about her mistakes, jealousy and sorrow.
She also had a cool sense of humour. Abraham and Sarah both laughed when God told them that they become parents. When her son was eventually born, she called him Yitzhak which means “he will laugh” in Hebrew!
Why I like her:She did not hesitate to make the unpopular but correct decision. She knew that Hagar and her son Ismael could not stay and told Abraham to send them away. She also made several mistakes but I feel that this only show us that she was a real person, just like all of us and not a “superwoman” or “goddess-like” character that belongs on a pedestal
The wife of Yitzhak and the second of the matriarchs. She was also barren for a long time and then had a difficult pregnancy with twins, Esau and Jacob.
|Rebeccah giving water to Eliezer by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo|
Why I like her:She was kind-hearted, she gave Yitzhak’s servant and his camels water, and also adventurous. Rebeccah agreed to go to another country and marry a man she had never met. She encouraged the younger Jacob to deceive his father and receive the blessing of the first-born. This act of hers made her seem manipulative but who better than a mother who knows the nature of her children and what they are capable of?
She is the sister of Moses. Not only did she hide her baby brother in a basket in the Nile but she also kept watch over him. And when Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses when she took her bath, his big sister ‘conveniently’ knew of an available wet nurse.
Why I like her:Miriam is the typical older sister who has become a surrogate mother for her little brother. If it was not for her (and several other women as Pharoah’s daughter) Moses would not have lived. Later on, during the exodus, she was also an important leader, just like her brothers, Aaron and Moses.
Naomi was a Hebrew women but lived with her husband, her two sons and her daughters’ in-law in the Moabites land because there was a serious famine in Israel. When her husband and sons died, she decided to go back to her people in Israel.
Her daughter-in-law Ruth decided to accompany her poor mother-in-law to a country where she did not know anybody. Also the Hebrews were not exactly fans of the Moabites. Naomi and Ruth were so poor that Ruth had to pick up the wheat stalks that were left behind on the fields as charity.
Why I like them:They both took a leap of faith into a very unknown and uncertain future. Their strong love and regard for each other bonded them through the deaths of their husbands and going into an uncertain but probably poor future.They may not have much but at least they had each other.
Esther usually takes the center stage but she couldn’t have saved the Jewish people in Persia if it weren’t for Vashti.
Vashti was the queen of Persia. During a long festival her husband asked her to join him and his drunken cronies so that he can brag about her beauty. She refused and was executed because of it.
Esther, a Jewish orphan, was pushed by her uncle to apply to the beauty pageant that in the end led to her being chosen to be the new queen. Eventually she had to approach the king (without waiting to be summoned) to plead for the lives of her people.
Why I like them:Both of them were “beauty-queen” beautiful but they didn’t just enjoyed their elevated lifestyle that their good looks gave them. They stood by their principles and chose the difficult option even though it led to Vashti’s death and could have led to Esther’s death too.
Deborah was the only female judge that ruled over the Jews before they decided that they also wanted kings as rulers. During her time as judge, the Jews were terrorized by Jabin, a king of Canaan, and his general Sisera how had an army that included 900 iron chariots.
Deborah asked the Jewish general Barak to gather men to go and fight against him. He agreed but on the condition that she accompany them to the battle. She did so but added that Barak will not get the honour of killing Sisera but a woman will. The Jews defeated Jabin’s army with the help of a sudden flood that swept away some of his soldiers and that caused the chariots to get stuck in the mud.
Why I like her:Deborah showed excellent leader skills. She did not decide to lead the Hebrew army herself but choose the general, Barak, for the battle. And then she did not hesitate to leave her duties and family to go and support this unconfident and doubtful leader. (Maybe Barak was looking for someone to blame if the Jews lost the battle..)
Yael’s story is closely connected to that of Deborah. As Jabin’s army was defeated, Sisera abandoned his soldiers and looked for water and shelter. Yael helped him and when he fell asleep, she took a sharp tent pin and hammer and drove the pen through Sisera’s skull. She fulfilled Deborah’s prophecy that a woman will kill the general.
|Yael and Sisera by Jacopo Amigon|
Why I like her:She must have looked quite unthreatening to Sisera but her story shows that you should never underestimate a woman. Especially if she is very innovative with finding dual purposes for objects such as tent pins!
And many more...Abigail, Rahab, Tamar, Puah and Shiphrah and Jochebed and more. There are MANY other women whose acts of bravery saved the day and caused events to unfold as they did.
As long as I can remember, it was always the actions of the men mentioned in the Bible that got told over and over again. The women are usually presented as vague secondary characters, assistants to the men.
If you read their stories as they are written in the Bible, it is obvious that these women were strong badass three-dimensional humans with strengths and flaws just as interesting as those of the men of the Bible.
One of the ways to raise confident female leaders of the future, is to teach them about these amazing female leaders of the past.
Long live the matriarchy!
With grateful thanks for Alex, who set me that meme that inspired this post.