(Learned) Women in the Talmud

UPDATED 5/9/19: removing outdated links; hope to add newer ones in their place sometime soon

Some basic info about specific women whose learning is acknowledged in the Talmud (vs., e.g. texts about women or women’s learning or, more generally, the status of women).

Below are some print resources and a few more links, but here are some basics regarding some of the most prominent women of learning in the Talmud:

Period of the Tannaim, Palestine, around 70-200 CE
[Aramaic, like the Hebrew “shana,” to repeat, as in “Mishnah”]

Imma (or Ima) Shalom

  • Learned woman of the late 1st/early 2nd Century CE in the family of Hillel.
    Wife of Eliezer ben Hyrcanus.
  • Sister of Gamaliel II (sometimes called his daughter, with a reconciling note that she was raised in his care); she and Gamaliel are grandchildren of Gamaliel the Elder, grandson to Hillel.
  • Imma Shalom, unlike Beruriah (below), is never cited as a legal authority in her own right. She does appear, however, in a number of stories involving halachic (legal) rulings. In one — the aftermath of the “snake oven” (Akhnai) story — she cites a teaching from her grandfather’s house concerning prayer and the “gate of wounded feelings.” She is considered by some scholars to be a “literary construct” and was adopted by feminists of the late 20th Century CE as proof that women could — and did — learn and play important roles in ancient Jewish culture.
    —–An older on-line source and a recent midrash:

  • Jewish Encyclopedia
  • The oven that coiled like a snake


    Beruriah

  • 2nd Century CE scholar, only woman in the Talmud cited as legal authority.
  • Wife of Meir.
  • Daughter of (martyr) Hanania ben Teradion.
  • Like Imma Shalom, Beruriah is sometimes believed to be a “literary construct,” rather than a historical or semi-historical character. Several Talmudic passages in which she appears to best a male colleague made her a heroine of mid-20th Century CE feminism; this served to diminish, in some ways, her teachings themselves, according to Dalia Hoshen, author of Beruria the Tannait University Press of America). Hoshen argues that rather than being either heretical (like Aher, see below) or subversive as a woman (as in the “construct” view), Beruriah is solidly of the Tanna mold.
    —–On-line references spanning a century —

  • Jewish Encyclopedia
    (1901-1906, note that Henrietta Szold is a co-author of this article)
  • MyJewishLearning (Article by Emily Taitz)


  • Daughter of Acher

  • Otherwise unnamed, woman of the 2nd Century CE.
  • Daughter of heretic Elisha ben Abuya, known as “Acher” [“the Other”].
  • Appears before Rabbi, Yehuda HaNasi (Judah the Prince), to demand financial support.
  • When Rabbi learns the identity of Acher’s daughter he refuses her request, but she presents an argument based on the merit of Torah learning: “Remember his Torah and do not remember his deeds.” Fire then comes down, nearly burning Rabbi (a student, by the way, of Meir and Meir’s teacher, Elisha ben Abuya), and Rabbi realizes his mistake.


    Period of the Amora, roughly 200 – 500 CE
    [Aramaic, “those who say”]
    Yalta

  • Prominent woman of 3rd-4th Century CE Babylon.
  • Daughter of “the Exilarch” (or “reish galuta,” in Aramaic, Jewish leader in Babylon), which some assume is Rabba ben Abuha and others identify as another Exilarch.
  • Often recognized as the wife of Nachman (bar Yaakov), sometimes as his patron.

  • Rachel Adler discusses a story about Yalta, Nachman and a traveling rabbi named ‘Ulla in her book Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics, parts of which can be read on-line through GoogleBooks. (Type in “Engendering Judaism,” and search for Yalta.)



    More Resources

  • Midrashic Women: Formations of the Feminine in Rabbinic Literature. Judith R. Baskin, 2002.
  • Judith Romney Wegner. Chattel or Person? The Status of Women in the Mishnah. Oxford University Press, New York, 1988.
  • See also,

  • The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature: A Psychohistorical Perspective. Menachem M. Brayer, Ktav, 1985.
  • Talmudic Stories: Narrative Art, Composition and Culture. Jeffery L. Rubenstein, 2003. Available in part through Google Books.
  • The Rebbetzin’s Husband’s blog on “Women in the Talmud, lists women who exemplify certain roles, such as “stickler for mitzvot” and “scholar”

    Materials on Talmud in general and women in Talmud, from the November 2008 Kol Isha session at Temple Micah are Women and Talmud

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