Friday, April 16, 2010

The Pioneer Women of Palestine

[This week's Toronto Torah is here!]

I'm delivering a shiur on Shabbos (in Hamilton) about "The Pioneer Women of Palestine" - the women's organizations and movements of 1882-1923 (hence the name "Palestine"). It's an update of a history class I developed in Allentown.

As part of the class, we'll note interesting parallels between the midrashic praise of the "Women of the Wilderness," the generation that entered Israel, and the experiences of the women who helped re-establish Jewish life in much of Israel in the First, Second and Third Aliyot. We'll look at Sejera, the Kineret Girls Training Farm, the Women's Workers Council, WIZO, Federation of Hebrew Women and more.

There is no space here (or time, for that matter) to expand on this, and as it's a Shabbos shiur there will be no recording. Nonetheless, in advance of Yom haZikaron and Yom haAtzmaut, here are some sources on the righteousness, and the love of Israel, of the Women of the Wilderness:

1. Talmud, Sotah 11b
Rav Avira taught: In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, the Jews were redeemed from Egypt. When the women went to draw water, HaShem prepared small fish in their pails, such that they drew half water and half fish. They then heated two kettles, one of water and one of fish, and brought them to their husbands in the field. They bathed and anointed their husbands, fed them and gave them water to drink, and lived with them.

2. Midrash, Pirkei d’R’ Eliezer 44
Aharon made a calculation for himself, saying, ‘If I tell the Jews to give me silver and gold then they’ll bring it immediately. Rather, I’ll tell them to give me their wives’ and children’s’ rings, and the whole idea will be nullified.’ The women heard and refused to accept the idea of giving their rings to their husbands. Rather, they said, ‘You wish to make a disgusting idol, which has no power to save you!’ They refused to listen.

3. Ibn Ezra to Shemot 38:8
They were servants of Gd, who abandoned the desires of this world. They gave their mirrors, which had been used to adjust their hair-coverings, to the Mishkan as a donation; they no longer had any need to pretty themselves. Instead, they would come to the Mishkan daily to pray, and to learn the Mitzvot.

4. Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei 9
The women said: What do we have that we can give as a gift for the Mishkan? They stood and brought their mirrors to Moshe. When Moshe saw the mirrors he reacted with outrage. He told the assembled Jews: Take sticks and break these people’s thighs! Why do we need these mirrors? Gd told Moshe: Moshe! These are the ones you disgrace? These mirrors are what created the entire nation in Egypt! Take the mirrors and make them into the copper sink and its base for the kohanim, so that the kohanim will sanctify themselves with them.

5. Talmud, Sanhedrin 109b-110a
Rav taught: On ben Pelet’s wife saved him. She said to him: What will come to you from all this? If one is the leader you will be his student, and if the other is the leader you will be his student. On replied: What can I do? I am in the plot, and I swore to join them! She told him: Sit, and I will save you. She gave him wine to drink, made him intoxicated, and put him to sleep inside the tent. She then sat by the door and untied her hair, so that anyone who came to the door saw her and left.

6. Kli Yakar to Bamidbar 13:1
Alternatively, this is why the Torah specified that the spies were men, because the sages said that he men hated the land of Israel, and they said, ‘Let us set our heads in the other direction and return to Egypt.’ The women were the ones who loved the land, and they [the daughters of Tzlafchad] said, ‘Give us a share in the land.’ Gd said to Moses: In My opinion, knowing what I see in the future, it would be better to send women, for they love the land and they won’t speak disgracefully about it. Send them for yourself, though, according to your opinion, for you believe these men are righteous.

7. Rashi to Bamidbar 26:64
The decree of death issued for the sin of the Spies was not applied to the women, for they loved the land.

8. Midrash, Sifri Bamidbar 133
Rabbi Natan said: The women’s strength was greater than that of the men. The men said, ‘Let us turn our heads and return to Egypt,’ and the women said, ‘Give us a portion among the brothers of our father.’

9. Midrash, Bamidbar Rabbah 21:10
In that generation, the women fenced in the ruptures created by the men.


  1. 5-they were ready to rebel against moshe but the hair scared them off. how do you explain?
    Joel Rich

  2. Hi Joel,
    The same chachamim who read On's wife's actions this way also identified Korach's group as somewhat lishmah, no?