Sunday, December 17, 2006

WOMEN PROPHETS

Posted by Tamar


Firstly I would like to apologize to everyone who is sick and tired of hearing and/or discussing the place of women in Judaism, but I found this kind of interesting.

According to tradition, we believe that there were approximately 1.2 million prophets [back in the good old days] and of that 1.2 million there are around 55 that we still know of today. About 48 of them were men while only 7 were women. According to wikipedia though, we believe that 600,000 prophets were men, and 600,000 were women. If it was such an equal distribution why do we know of so much less women than we do of men?

The female prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Channah, Avigail, Chuldah and Esther were all very prominent people in Jewish history. Without Sarah, Judaism as we know it would not exist for she was the first of the Emahot of Bnei Yisrael. Devorah, the first Shofet to be described as a prophet {Shoftim 4;4} was a strong military leader and judge. Channah was the woman who came up with the basis for the silent Shmoneh Esrei. Chuldah warned Yehuda of their impending destruction by the hand of God. Miriam, a spiritual leader along with Aharon and Moshe; Avigail, the wife of David; and Esther, who with the help of Mordechai saved Bnei Yisrael from annihilation by the hands of Haman. Despite the fact that they helped men, these three prophetesses were just as great as the former four. These women were clearly not lacking in courage, ability and faith in Hashem. Although these women were extraordinary I believe that most women of that time were great and equal in their own way to men. I don’t believe that the lack of women leaders in Jewish history come from chauvinism rather I would just like to know, what happened to the other women prophets and how come there is such a big difference between the amount of male prophets and the amount of female prophets discussed today.

22 Comments:

Anonymous LISA AMY said...

well... I also think this is a very interesting topic, tamar. I think that we certaintly should know about more women prophets.. I thought of one answer- which is annoying to me but its the only reason i can think of at the moment- we talked about in class that the reason we only know about a small percantage of the prophets is because only their prophecies can live on forever and can still be applicable. Perhaps, more of the womens prophecies are not applicable. So now i'd say well i dont care i want to hear about some more of the womens prophets nonetheless... However a thought just popped in to my mind that maybe this isn't a bad thing- while the man were prophesizing random things that would make sence in other time periods- women were focusing all of their attentions on the time that they were in- they were putting all their energy into making their society and time the best ever! WOMEN RULE!! YAY!!
~lisa

December 26, 2006 12:48 PM  
Anonymous dasi said...

Quite an interesting topic indeed. True, the female prophets that we have documented are fantastic. They did courageous things and spiritual things. I think the biblical setting, however, prevented many of the other women form making it. The status of women In ancient times was generally lower than the status of men, and any women that were able to overcome of complete their societal duties and then move on to becoming a spiritual neviah was to be greatly admired. The many wise women that grace the pages of our tanachs are stronger than any number that is given to us. They are just THAT GREAT. In p-laying devil’s advocate, I was thinking, “oh, maybe some of the thoughts women had a t the time were thought frivolous and therefore were unfit for Nevuot lidorot”. But such an important facet comes from many of the women prophets: the spirituality. Miriam, a prophetess, was able to just break down and dance. That is not frivolous; in fact, it is nothing less than inspiring.
-dasi

December 26, 2006 4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey fancy seeing Lisa and Dasi here....anywayyyy about women prophets....
ok so my answer might be a little out of character (no sarcasm), but I think the reason we have very few mentions of women period in the cannonical texts, including prophetesses (for sure not a word) is because of gender roles. I don't think anything about the time is particuarly satisfying, because the Torah is supposed to be a liquid document. I think that these particular gender roles are universal and timeless-men's role, as the male gender, includes a need to be more public with all their actions. Men have more of a need than women to be acknowledged and noticed for their actions, and I think you can see that a lot today, in work environments and school settings. I think women are more capable of achieving things without the need to publicize it to the world, which makes them the ideal parent in charge of the family. I'm not sure its about right and wrong even---or better or worse. Rather, it's about being different. Those supposed "600,000" (check your facts btw on wikipedia) female prophets may have been less of national leaders and rather familial leaders. So what about those 7? Well, they're our cue to know that there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule. All of them took more public roles in Judaism, and emerged as historical figures. But who says those other female prophets even wanted to be remembered by history? It may seem to be the ultimate goal, but thats according to us, now. Anyway, hope it wasn't too much of a shocker/that this came out right
;-) Tali

December 26, 2006 6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree I think that this blog is very interesting. I think that the reason that many women's prophecies aren't recorded, but men's are is becuase the women's nevout weren't applicable to future generations, unlike the men's prophecies. I also think that the women that received the prophecies were righteous women and therefore were modest and didn't need/want to announce the fact that they received a nevuah. Also, men were also more prominent leaders- as mentioned before- and so maybe they were afriad that the Jews weren't going to have the same amount of faith that they had in the prophecies from the men.

Amanda

December 26, 2006 7:50 PM  
Anonymous Eliana said...

I thought of two things upon when I read this blog and its posts.
Number 1: this is pretty consistent with the rest of the Torah. What you're really asking Tamar is why is the torah sexist in general? throughout the torah we see so many examples wher women are shut out and the spotlight is entirely on the men. men have more mitzvot, men can do many things that men can't, the whole Kidushin gender issue, and so many more. You're also essentially asking, why are the patriarchs a more focal role than the matriarchs. the fathers have all the power they are the leads. the women are just supporting roles. You can give as many answers, there have been so many, about the gender difference. but frankly it has to do with the time. if the torah were written in the 21st cnetury i'm sure more women prophets woudl be publicized but the torah was not written in the 21st century and women did not have the same power they do todya.

second, also having to do with the time. i was thinking about the whole idea of the qualifications of the navi. The navi has to go to Navi school, has to have the certain character of the navi, or has ot be declareda nvai by someone else reputable. in a time when women did not have the same power or rights as men these qualifications were much harder to fullfill i am sure. frankly, i doubt there were 600,000 navuot.

December 26, 2006 10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intersting blog and comments. I don't know where Wikipedia got the statistic that there were 600,000 neviot, but nevertheless, I'm not convinced that to be a Neviah one had to have a public position at all. I agree with Tali on the whole gender roles notion. Perhaps those 600,000 Neviot were more of family and perhaps community leaders rather than political leaders or otherwise. The seven famous ones were exceptions to the rule. Despite this, I also agree with Eliana that historical context does play a significant role in our conceptions of women's roles as Neviot. Even if the Torah itself is a liquid document applicable to all times, the way that we were always taught to view it,perhaps, is not. The Mepharshim and the Judeo-Cristian society that have no doubt helped shape our conceptions of the Neviot came from a context of history and time. At the end of the day, I think that if we want to have faith in the Torah we have to accept that according to our teachings the Torah utilizes gender roles.
Hope that made sense
-Rachael

December 27, 2006 2:17 PM  
Blogger saragaut said...

o.k. i'm very opinionated about this whole women and us being put down or whatever. I'm kind of sick of everyone being so obsessed with this whole sexist issue b/c really us women being so upset about it just pushes us further into being seen as emotional meek whimps. now that i got that off my chest, i will answer the question. The answer in my opinion is quite simple. In class we learned that those few male neviim that we still know about were chosen b/c they served lessons that benefit future generations. So no, i don't think the torah is cheating women. I think that those few women neviim are still known b/c they had useful lesson for the dorot just like the men. Just because we know of fewer women doesn't mean the torah is some huge sexist document. And besides haven't you people ever heard of quality matters over queantity. ggeeeezzzzzzzzzz
bye ladies
--sara

December 27, 2006 4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok about a billion people commented on this, but i didnt get a chance to read all of them, so if i repeat something im really sorry. When i first saw tamars question i answered as lisas answer- maybe the prohphises weerent pertienent to society today. But after thinking, there is no way that after all those phrophetssess, there wouldnt be more then 7 that were pertiant. So what i kinda think is ok im not trying to get anyone raylled up but maybe since throguhtout history, there has been MAJOR sexism, that people belived even if the nevuot by women phrophets were pertinant from generation to generation, their nevout were dropped bc they were women. Maybe at some point some1 thoguht, no one is going to belive or listen or learn anything that a woman says so why write it down or teach it to our children. Furthermore, my next idea is kind of weird but all the same maybe the men phrophets that are written in the Torah were really women but bc people dindt think anyone would listen to women, it was wrritten as a man. Have a good break everyone!!!!
-Shira Zurndorfer

December 27, 2006 5:17 PM  
Anonymous TOVA said...

ok
nmbr 1: GO SARAH GAUT!
nmbr 2: 600,000 seems kinda an out of proportion number but even if theere were lots more niveot which werent recorded, and yes clearly more men were recorded them women, but hey in the torah clearly men are the overdominant gender and yes u can have problems with that and argue with it, but thats just the way it was and theres nothign we can do about it now. ya we can go all crazy and fight for womens rights for the FUTURE but that isnt gonna change anything about back then during the time of neviim. we cant ry to argue that ya maybe if the neviim were recorded now maybe more women would have been recorded...but thats just a waste of time considering were arguin about the past. its just the way ti was, and we can have fun arguin as to wether it was right or not but thats not gonna change anything
flat down, the torah is slightly sexist but we just gotta live with that wether we beleive it or not
nmbr 3: getting more to the topic of answering the question...ya that it was kinda sexist as to which neviim were kept and which now and ya men (lots more) were chosen over women, however the 7 neveot we doo have can be honored greatly for "making the cut" and beign extrodianry women, both for even qualifiying for nevuah (considering all the hard steps we talked about in class to eveng et ot that stage) and for being so extrodinary as to be recorded and rememberED as neviim l'dorot!
CONGRATS TO THOSE SEVEN!

December 27, 2006 5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alright... in connection to what shira z said i think that the reason these 7 prophetess was not because there actually prophecies where pertinent rather that they all lead to a major event in jewish history. Tamar in her blog gave the hand each of the prophetesses played. most of the women are women that can easily be recognized by even the youngest children. some might argue chuldah i have barely ever heard of her but she really had a major part. according to tamar she warned yehuda on the destruction. i truly think that these 7 women along with the other women mention in tanach are women who have marked their territory in the jewish world.
on another note, if there really were 600,000 women prophetesses(i have no idea how to spell that) something to get your mind thinking is, is it possible that the other promient women in the torha such as leah, rachel, rebeka, is it possible that they received some sort of prophecie yet it was never recorded? intesting thought....
-iris wertheimer

December 28, 2006 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, number one; TAMAR-GREAT TOPIC! shkoyech...im luvin it...
Anyway, i would like to expand on what sara said-about quality versus quantity. Often in Judaism it is easy to find that women's involvement in Judaism lacks in the quantity, yet it clearly does not lack in quantity. For instance, though women might have less mitzvot, and though some might see that as denegrating, i think that with the mitzvot the women do have, those are just as quantitive as the other mitzvot they dont. Additionally, though Judaism does not necessarely encourage women to be out in public, being the backbone of a family is something vital to our jewish survival; family is the basis for our society, and without such basic structure, a developing Judaism would remain questionable. Therefore, i think that if we look solely and the number of prophetesses, are the number of prophetessess mentioned in the torah we most certainly will be dissapointed and denegrated. Yet if we look at the number as a positive thing, we will be uplifted and strengthened. Perhaps the small number is specifcally symbolic of just how much more important each prophetess was. It's kinda like writing a sentence in an essay; it's always better to stick with less words and be direct, than to write an extensive sentence which is full of suffisticated words yetas a whole lacks a basic point. Therefore, i think that if we take this approach and with it view women's role in Judaism, will be surprised how strong a role women really do have in Jewish development.
-Arella

December 28, 2006 10:30 AM  
Anonymous allyc said...

No one truly knows why Hashem made it so the spotlight is sort of taken off of the women nevuot, but some things in history kind of give an answer. Proven by Tamar, the nevuot the the seven prophetees were remarkable and changed society. Yet in their society, women were not veiwed as equals to men. Possibly the women did not want to be so known to everyone as navis. ( i have no idea if theres like a female version of a navi.. there deffintly is...sorry)Anyways, their nevuot couldv'e caused either admiration or jelously/negativity. It might've caused both. They deffintly didn't want negativity/jelousy, and they also might of not wanted special treatment/admiration. It's really to say since we were not there, but that is what makes sence to me.

December 31, 2006 4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was thinking about this and I do agree with what most of you were saying. Maybe it was just the way it worked out –majority of the prophets were male- that’s that. But then again, maybe there was a reason for that. Now up until fairly recently, relatively speaking, women were not really taken seriously. Society decided that women were not as worthy as men. This was even true in the biblical times, but maybe the reason had to do with the womens relationship with God. In order to receive a nevuah, it seems that there has to be a close relationship with God, or at least close enough that He would communicate. I don’t want to get stoned for saying any of this but I was reading that women are more likely to gossip in comparison to men. This relates back to what some of you were saying-someone who receives a prophecy has to be reputable. Now if some of the women were gossipers, I can’t imagine society taking them seriously. Miriam is an example of a female who gossiped but I suppose not the best proof for she was an influential prophetess-just something to think about.
I hope you had an easy fast
-Naomi Z

December 31, 2006 6:57 PM  
Anonymous Shira Moer said...

I agree with Naomi. I mean I dont know if the whole woman gosspiing is true but it could be. I think that it could have been that most prophets were male or for some reason the women's prophecies were not as important but it could also be that people would listen more to men. Hashem picks a prophet that He thinks is good for the job and that people will listen to. Back then men were higher in society and people listened to the men. The women who were prophets were obviously extremely special if they were able to get their point across. I think there could have been an equal amount of male and female prophets but since now we only know about more male prophets it shows that theirs were either the ones that would last for generations or that really made a difference. It is hard to comprehend that the women did not really make a difference back then but this proves that this could be the case. We only know about seven women who were prophets becasue those were the ones that really made a difference and that people porbably listen to.

December 31, 2006 9:52 PM  
Anonymous becky said...

alrighty soo the way i see it, is that if we know about more male prophets than female prophets, or more stories about male prophets then they are probably more important. that sounds bad but we are always being taught every word of like everything we learn is important in its own way and the storys about male neviim probably pertain more to us and what we need to know for jewish history and just about the people
sweet bex

January 01, 2007 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Firstly, I would like to address the opening paragraph of Tamar's post. Why is it that anybody should be tired of the women's issue? I realize that we frequently discuss the role of women in orthodoxy, mainly because Tali and I bring it up often, but, what could possibly be more important to a girl's class? You can study halachot that only pertain to men until you are blue in the face, but it will never relate to you. It is a normal human reaction to find people to latch onto. People need relatable rolemodels and a key to feel a part of something greater. For example, African Americans will look throughout history for heros, as will Asians, homosexuals, and other minority groups. People need to find a way to feel included and involved - like a club. It is for exactly those reasons that I find it ironic that all the ladies in my morning classes seem so adement about avoiding female questions. In fact, my experience has shown me that most males are actually more receptive to discussing women's issues/rights than women are. This in my opinion is a form of sexism - a bizarre one. What is sad to me is that we all feel as if asking questions about women is wrong - that to ask if something is sexist, or how women fit into a certain picture transforms somebody into a feminist. Anyway, I clearly digress...
So, why aren't there more recorded female prophetesses? I disagree with Eliana in that it was a matter of preserving time and the prophecies of women were too time consuming, so they weren't recorded. It is a nice thought but I believe that their stories were not recorded because they did not exist. I do agree with Eliana in that women did not have many rights way back when. It is for this reason that I believe Hashem did not speak to them in the first place. If Hashem wanted to send a prophet to get an entire city to repent, why would he send a female? At a time when women barely had rights to get jobs, how would anybody take them seriously enough to believe G-d had spoken to them? I feel it is a matter of believability. We learned in class that a poor person could not be a prophet, because he is dependent on others and might be influenced by people (i.e. accepting bribes). Similarly with women. Women also couldn't even testify because they were deemed too emotional.
So, even though I think this is unfair, and yes, somewhat understandably sexist those were the times. Of course, this is just a hypothesis.
-Rebecca

January 01, 2007 4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DISCLAIMER: there are too many comments to read everyone thouroughly but I did skim them all
First and foremost I would like to agree with Rebecca and say we should never be tired of the womens issue. It is constantly discussed because women are put beneath men, not neccecarily in the torah, but in the commentaries are peoples perception of the torah.

Back then, as Eliana said women had little rights and were very much involved in the family. Therefore thier prophecies were for thier audience- the family.(these propecies, although important, were not important enough to be preserved for future generations).

Adding on to what Ally said, a woman had to be EXTREMELY progressive to b heard, and so much more so to have her prophecy written down.

In terms of the number 7 (7 female) prophets it could be because they complete a unit, but becaue the 7 span throughout tanach, I have a feeling the number may not be significant. After all there could be spelling errors in Nach.(which shows how nach was not meticululsly planned like the Torah was).

Debbie K

January 01, 2007 8:16 PM  
Anonymous Suz said...

Ok, there are 17 comments on this already, so I can't exactly reaed all of them right now so I apologize if this is repititous.

So going back to something from earlier about nevuah, we learned that prophecy was kept ie, the ones we know of, because they bore significance to future generations. Yet if we know of 1.2 million prophets but only know 58, it can be assumed the rest were unimportant for posterity. Therefore, i would like to suggest that perhaps the women prophets were amongst that group for whom they prophecised but the prophecies were unimportant for furture generations.

January 02, 2007 1:04 PM  
Anonymous luna said...

first of all i would just like to express my love for rebecca.
ok so this reminds me of stat bc were doing this thing like if you take a sample and like the evidence is strong then you can belive it or something but if its weak then it can be by chance or somehting weird and statistical like that. but it makes sense to this because im sure if you did that whole formula with this you would find out that us only knowing about 7 women and 55 men didnt happen by chance. there was obviosly a reason for it. i agree with suz about what she said that maybe they just werent important. and by they and mean their nevuahs. i think that men and women are equal (to a certain extent, nobosy hold me to that please) and Hashem chose whoever the "best" people or the most appropriate ideas to pass on to future generations.

January 02, 2007 9:53 PM  
Anonymous RAYDOTT said...

ok im totally freaking out cuz i just wrote a really long blog and then it got erased. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! ok

~*~breathe~*~

so i dont think the number 7 has any significance here because the 7 women mentioned werent necissarily all "prophets". for example, in migillar esther there is no mention of God directly communicatiing with esther at all, not even the mention of Gods name. Although ether had a critical role in God's miracle, I wouldnt call her a prophet. although we try to find meaning in just about every word and idea in the tanach, sometimes things seem like a bit of a stretch to me.

also i dont think that the reason men are mentioned more is because of a natural male desire for recognition. i know plenty of females who are far more attention/recognition/spotlight craving than any males i know. dont think a need for recognition goes hand in hand with a gender at all, i think it only depends on ones personality.

i do think that the reason women are mentioned less than men is because of their general role in society back then (so im agreeing with many people here). Far more men are mentioned in the torah than men, and although the women who are mentioned have critical roles, so do most men who are mentioned. Women (as a whole) were much less powerful back then, which also ties in with rebeccas idea of a a prophets credibility. as she said--how could a women get an entire city to listen to her and repent?

so in conclusion--the significance of the number 7 is a stretch, the need for recognition is irrelevant to ones gender, and women had less power in society back then.

gooten nacht (as they say in switzerland). im jet lagged, gnight all

January 03, 2007 10:41 PM  
Anonymous dani said...

so i belive that women are just as good as men, if not better(joke rabbi), but i feel that people would listen to a male leader more then to a women leader. People today still have not gotten over the whole men and women ar equal thing, it must have been even worse hundreds of years ago. hashem needed people that the nation would listen to, so it was probably more convenient to use a man. I dont think it was just a coincidence that we only have record of 7 female prohphets and 48 male prophets, i just think there were way less females then males. Also going back to my whole the people probably listened to men more, there is a pattern with the women. For the most part the women didnt need to do anything that involved getting the entire nations attention. Most of the women worked behind the scenes to fix everything.

January 04, 2007 11:07 PM  
Anonymous chavie said...

i have to agree with the 3 most common points on this page- less women, gender role, and relevance. If our "tradition" is correct, and not wikipedia, then the reason can just be that there were only 7 female prophets and there just happened to be more males. furthermore, like dani pointed out, if women still struggle to be treated as equals today, how much more so it must have been thousands of yrs ago. but lets dig a little deeper here. Lets say wikipedia is right; gender bias shouldnt even come into play and shame on you all for thinking so. kidding. no but seriously- if in fact there were that many, then it doesnt matter which men were remembered and which women were remembered. What matters is the relevancy to our lives today. And, even though i am of the female species, i'm not going to just come out and say "oh the torah is discriminating agaisnt women"...i dont believe thats true. i truly believe that, whatever the numbers may be- 48 men, 7, women, hundreds of men, hundreds of women- the stories we study today are the ones that have the most applicable lessons for today.

January 12, 2007 2:27 PM  

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