restricted access "The Daughters of Israel": An Analysis of the Term in Late Ancient Jewish Sources


This article recovers the history of the term "the daughters of Israel" (b'not yisrael) from its earliest usage in biblical passages and second temple sources to its appearance in late antique Jewish texts, focusing specifically on the term's connotations in rabbinic sources and ritual texts. Rather than taking the term at face-value as denoting women's subordinate status, we argue that this term may have a buried history, and that uncovering the history of the term "daughters of Israel" offers a fascinating entry-point into the role of women in establishing and transforming—rather than merely observing—Jewish law and ritual. Extending Mieke Bal's notion of feminist philology to the investigation of rabbinic and other late antique Jewish sources, we make the case that in rabbinic literature from late antiquity, the Hebrew term "daughters of Israel" appears in sites of contestation, sometimes deployed in discussions about women's innovation in ritual practice in ways that evoke women's ritual agency from narrative biblical sources. In late antique incantations bowls, the Aramaic term for "daughters of Israel" (b'not yisrael) evokes the legal language of second temple marriage contracts that explicitly includes women and may have served to highlight their particular agency as well. Thus in both sets of sources, the term often signals moments when women act as subjects (rather than objects) of ritual and legal discourse.