Talmud this Shabbat: Three Women Step Out of the Shadows


Tomorrow is Shabbat Shira, in which we read about the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Moses gets most of the press. “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord.” (Ex. 15:1). Miriam gets two lines at the end. (Ex. 15:20-21).

In Talmud tomorrow, we want to shine the light on three women whom most of us do not think about. They feature in the Haftarah.

There is Deborah, a prophetess. “She used to sit under the Palm of Deborah…and the Israelites would come to her for decisions.” (Judges 4:4-5). What did she do that made her a prophetess? How did she earn her credibility with the Israelites who sought her guidance? What do we learn from her?

There is Yael who uses her feminine charms to earn the trust of the arch villain in the story, the Canaanite general Sisera. She lulls him to sleep, and she “took a tent pin and grasped the mallet. When he was fast asleep from exhaustion, she approached him stealthily and drove the pin through his temple till it went down to the ground. Thus he died.”
(Judges 4:21). Is that okay? What is this story teaching us? Are we to do some version of this at home? If not, what is the point of this story?

There is the mother of Sisera, who stares out the window, pining for her son who is slow to come home. Where is he? Why does he delay? She is comforted when the women of Canaan reassure her he is okay, he is just out raping and pillaging the captive population. The mother of Sisera is what being blinded by love looks like.

Deborah, Yael and the mother of Sisera have stories that were evocative in their own time, and speak loudly to us now.

The texts are attached here.