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Praise Her Works

Conversations with Biblical Women

Edited by Penina Adelman

Publication Year: 2005

This rich collection celebrates 23 biblical women, from the familiar Sarah, Miriam, Ruth, and Esther, to the more mysterious Hatzlelponi mother of Samson) and the unnamed "Wife of Ovadiah." Based on the 13th-century Yemenite Midrash ha-Gadol (literally, the Great Midrash) -- a work only partially translated into English and, until now, virtually unknown to American Jews -- this new volume presents stories, commentaries, original monologues, and discussion topics touching upon the lives of Jewish women today. Penina Adelman became captivated by Midrash ha-Gadol while seeking a new ritual to perform before her daughter's bat mitzvah. She eventually enlisted a group of writers to join her in studying the midrash. These women agreed to step inside the Bible and "become" some of their ancestors. The resulting book is an unusual encounter among remarkable biblical women -- from different time periods and walks of life -- who are able to converse directly with one another and the reader. As the writers probe the hearts and minds of the biblical characters, they provide an insightful, behind-the-scenes look into the relationships of women whose feelings and actions have inspired readers throughout the ages. This book is a beautiful example of the way today's scholars are using midrash to weave together Jewish tradition and modern society. In the original Yemenite midrash, each of the women is linked to a line from the poem in Proverbs, "Eishet Chayil" (Women of Valor) -- the poem often sung at Jewish weddings by the groom to the bride and at the traditional Shabbat table by a husband to his wife, and recited at a Jewish woman's funeral. In this new book, the reader is invited to experience the blending of the familiar poem with the previously unexplored treasure trove of Midrash ha-Gadol and the new voices for each character. This extraordinary combination makes it ideal for Jewish educators, teen and adult study groups, readers of midrash, and scholars in the fields of women's studies and contemporary spirituality. It also makes a lovely gift for brides, mothers, and grandmothers.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

The Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University continues to provide me with a space of my own where I can write and think, as well as wonderful colleagues with whom I can bounce around ideas. The “22 Women” study group—including Nechama Cheses, Nurit Eini-Pindyck, ...

Eishet Chayil: Proverbs 31:10–31

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xxii

New rituals are found, not made. They are waiting to be uncovered, like the sculpture living inside the stone. Books are often the same. Praise Her Works is a book inspired by a ritual, which, in turn, emerged from a text. Jewish creativity encourages interaction between tradition, text, and human being.

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1 Wife of Noah

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pp. 1-7

Generations after Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, God sees that the people on earth are wicked. They think only of themselves; they stop at nothing to get what they desire; they are violent and destructive toward each other and the earth. God decides to destroy all that had been created. ...

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2 Sarah

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pp. 8-16

Sarah’s husband, Abraham, gets the call from God to leave his land and his birthplace and his father’s house for a land that God will show him. He is 75 when God summons him, and Sarah is about that old as well, which in biblical terms is quite young. God promises Abraham that once he reaches this land, ...

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3 Rebekah

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pp. 17-24

As soon as Sarah died, Abraham woke up to the fact that his son Isaac needed a wife. He sent his trusted servant, Eliezer, to find a suitable woman back in the land he had left years ago. When Eliezer asked what he should do if this woman were not willing to leave her land to marry, ...

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4 Leah

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pp. 25-32

Jacob encounters Rachel on his way to Haran to look for a wife. He falls in love with her. She is beautiful in bearing and appearance. The only bit of Leah’s appearance that is mentioned in the Torah is her eyes. Leah has eynayim rakot (gentle, tender eyes). It is hard to know what her eyes look like. ...

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5 Rachel

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pp. 33-40

When Rebekah and Isaac send Jacob to Haran, to find his first wife—among the daughters of Rebekah’s brother, Laban— Jacob obeys. His brother, Esau, had rejected his parents’ wishes by taking a wife from his Uncle Ishmael’s children. ...

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6 Batya

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pp. 41-47

When the Children of Israel are living in slavery—growing in numbers and seeming to become a thunderous power—Pharaoh proclaims an edict to kill all of the Hebrew baby boys. The daughter of Pharaoh goes to the river. Some midrashim say she is seeking relief from the pain of leprosy. ...

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7 Yocheved

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pp. 48-55

Yocheved’s story begins before the Jews went to Egypt. She is born on the way to Egypt to the tribe of Levi. She comes into the world in freedom, moving with her family to Egypt because of the terrible famine in Canaan. ...

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8 Miriam

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pp. 56-66

Pharaoh is worried that the Hebrews are multiplying so quickly they could become a potent enemy. He decides to enslave them and later decrees the death of all Hebrew baby boys. To protect Moses, his mother, Yocheved, places him in a small ark by the reeds of the Nile. We meet the young Miriam, introduced not by name ...

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9 Hannah

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pp. 67-74

There is a man named Elkanah who has two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Hannah is his favorite. But there is one thing she does not have that Peninnah has: children. Peninnah has many children. Hannah has not been able to bear even one child. ...

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10 Yael

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pp. 75-80

Yael lived in the period of the judges, roughly 1600–1200 B.C.E., from the time Joshua crossed over from the desert into the Promised Land until the establishment of the Israelite monarchy. The Israelite tribes settled in among the other various tribes of the region. Leadership patterns emerged that were somewhat regional. ...

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11 Widow from Tzarephath

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pp. 81-88

Before we meet the prophet Elijah for the first time, we receive the background to his mission. He is up against the mighty King Ahab, ruler of the northern Israelite kingdom. Ahab, together with his wife, Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon, has outdone all his predecessors with his sins, especially idolatry. ...

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12 Naomi

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pp. 89-97

Naomi’s story begins in Bethlehem in the time of the Judges, shortly before the monarchy is established. Her husband, Elimelech, is, according to later lore, one of the great men of his generation. When Judea is struck by famine, Elimelech decides to leave with Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. ...

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13 Rachav

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pp. 98-104

The Children of Israel are poised to enter the Promised Land under the guidance of their new leader, Joshua. He dispatches two men called meraglim (spies) to see the land, specifically the city of Jericho. The two spies, unnamed in the text (Josh. 2), stay at the house of Rachav, ishah zonah, (prostitute). ...

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14 Bath-Sheba

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pp. 105-113

The biblical story of Bath-Sheba is told in two parts, in two books: the first in 2 Samuel: 11,12, and the second in 1 Kings: 1,2. Bath-Sheba’s personality is so different in each of the books that she does not sound like the same person. In the Book of Samuel, Bath-Sheba is a woman acted upon, ...

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15 Michal

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pp. 114-122

Michal’s story emerges in fragments interspersed in the tales of kings and warriors in 1 and 2 Samuel. She comes onto the biblical stage as we begin to perceive the rivalry between Saul and David. Saul, Israel’s first king, has continued to reign, although rejected by God. ...

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16 Hatzlelponi

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pp. 123-133

God summons a certain woman to help stir the people of Israel out of their submissive attitude toward their foreign ruler. The story contrasts the woman’s perceptive qualities with the feeble character of her Danite husband, Manoah, meaning “rest,” and presumably of all other men of that time. ...

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17 Elisheba

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pp. 134-139

She has an illustrious lineage. Her father is Amminadab, a prince of the tribe of Judah. Her brother, Nahshon, is the first of the Children of Israel who dared jump into the Sea of Reeds. Because of Nahshon’s faith, God made the sea part, so that the Israelites could cross safely. ...

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18 Serach

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pp. 140-148

Serach, daughter of Asher, is mentioned briefly by name three times in the Torah, but she has inspired numerous commentaries on her role in history. Her grandfather Jacob’s heart has just been released from numbness and disbelief at discovering that his favorite son, Joseph, is not only alive in Egypt; ...

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19 Wife of Obadiah

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pp. 149-155

This oblique and fascinating story brings together not one prior passage from Scripture, but two, both from the period of the Books of the Kings. In them, we have the successive stories of the various kings of the northern and the southern kingdoms, each of them vying for their own kind of power. ...

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20 Shunammite Woman

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pp. 156-164

Elisha, the prophet and disciple of Elijah, visits a place called Shunem from time to time. A wealthy woman lives there and invites Elisha over to dine regularly. She is so impressed by the man’s holiness that she convinces her husband to build a special guest room for Elisha, which she furnishes for the needs of a prophet: ...

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21 Ruth

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pp. 165-172

Elimelech, a wealthy leader in Israel, and his wife, Naomi, leave Bethlehem in the Land of Judah because of famine. They go to Moab with their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Eventually, Elimelech dies, and the sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. ...

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22a Vashti

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pp. 173-180

When King Ahasuerus1 has reigned for three years, he holds a banquet in his vast gardens for all the people of Shushan. The drinking is according to the law; people are encouraged to drink as much as they can and the king makes sure that nothing is spared for the comfort of his guests. ...

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22b Esther

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pp. 181-194

The story of Esther, familiar to many from the popular holiday of Purim on which it is read, unfolds in Shushan, the capital of the ancient Persian Empire. It is the third year of Ahasuerus’s reign, and he holds a banquet for all his princes and servants. On the seventh day of the banquet, he orders his eunuchs to bring Queen Vashti, ...

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Epilogue: All the Rest of the Women

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pp. 195-197

How thoughtful the Rabbis were in interpreting this verse as they do! It shows how much they must have respected their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters to mention all the rest of us righteous women of the world in closing. Of course, it did go without saying that they valued the way we spoke Torah, as it was always on our tongues. ...


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pp. 198-203


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pp. 204-208

Midrash ha-Gadol: Commentary on Hayyei Sarah, Genesis 23:1

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pp. 209-219

Index of Scriptural Passages

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pp. 220-223

Subject Index

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pp. 224-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780827610361
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827608238

Publication Year: 2005