Vered Hollander-Goldfarb

About Vered Hollander-Goldfarb

Vered Hollander-Goldfarb received her M.A. in Judaic Studies and Tanach from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University and studied at Bar-Ilan University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Before making aliyah, she taught at Ramaz School and Stern College in New York. She teaches Tanach and Medieval Commentators.

Vered Hollander-Goldfarb



By the order of narrative this class should be reserved for Lot.  However, having just studied Sarah it seems incomplete without studying Hagar – the Other Woman in Abraham’s house hold.

The following video sets up the background for the course:

When the Other is The Mother (Gen 16)

In her attempt to fulfill her role as provider-of-an-heir, Sarah proposes that Abraham take Hagar, her handmaid, as a wife.
Some issues to ponder:

1) What might the relationship between Sarah and Hagar have been before this new status was conferred upon Hagar?
2) How might Sarah have pictured her future relationship with Hagar and with the child that would be born?
3) What kind of woman would Sarah want as mother of the heir of the household/a second wife to Abraham?

Things develop somewhat different than anticipated (by Sarah).

Read 16:1-6 carefully.  Pay attention to the descriptive titles by which each person is called.  What does it tell us about the point of view of the characters, as well as the source of the conflict, as the story progresses?

For example:  It is “Sarai the wife of Abram” that has an Egyptian handmaid (that means she too is a foreigner.)  She makes it clear to Abram that her handmaid that he is taking.  That title is missing in v.4 when describing the relations of Abram and Hagar.  The person that Hagar loses respect for is not Sarai, but rather her Mistress.  Was this not-yet-born child upending the hierarchy in the household?

Why is it important that Hagar is Egyptian?

There could be many reasons.  Remember that later both Abraham and Isaac will object to marriage ties to the local population.  It might be in order to preserve their unique beliefs; it could be to avoid any claim, physical or spiritual, by a local clan on the family.

After escaping, Hagar is found by an angel that speaks to her,
Telling her to return,
Telling her that she will have a great many offspring,
And telling her that she will give birth to a child that she will name Ishmael.

What does this encounter with an angel tell us about Hagar?

After all, not every person meets an angel of the Lord… Why is the angel introduced 3 times (v.9-11), with no apparent interruptions by Hagar?

Hagar might have given a non verbal response.  Did she agree with the first instruction (to return and suffer, clearly leaving Sarai the mistress of the house)?  Did the second statement satisfy her immediate needs and concerns?  Finally, the last statement, telling her that she will have a real child, with a name, seems to calm her down.  Try to imagine what her non-verbal response would be each time.

The Next Generation (Gen. 21:9-21)

21:9 seems crucial for understanding the dynamics that dictate the story. Read carefully.  This sentence could have been said with significantly fewer words.  Why is it written in such a cumbersome manner?

Other than Sarah’s name, no name is used.  The rest is all in form of description; those descriptions a very important in understanding the story.  Would it have said “Ishmael” we might not have realized that Sarah sees in Ishmael the symbol of the foreign (Egyptian).  The addition “that she bore to Abraham” puts him in competition with the child that she bore to Abraham.  His behavior might not have pleased her, but what is wrong with him is related to other people.

Continue reading carefully.  What term does Sarah use about him when speaking to Abraham?

Note that this is different than the way she thought about him in v.9.  Perhaps v. 9 tells us something the way Sarah thinks of Hagar inwardly, and what she tells the world.

Now pay attention to the manner in which Abraham thinks of Ishmael.

For all who wonder why Abraham does not protest when God tells him to sacrifice his son Isaac (next chapter):  The same question should be asked here. Ishmael is sent away by Sarah’s wish but also by God’s demand of Abraham.  (Although Ishmael is not being killed, and he will be a great nation, none the less Abraham has a difficult time sending away his son.)

Hagar, apparently lost, runs out of water.  She chooses to abandon the child under a bush.  She is apparently not a state of mind to look for a solution.  It takes an angel to point her in the direction of the water, but there is no need to miraculously create a source.

How do we, the readers, know that there was water there all along?

Final note:  Hagar’s child, just like Sarah’s child, will become a great nation.  However, here a great deal of credit is given to the involvement of his mother, Hagar.

What is the significance of Hagar taking a wife from Egypt for her son?

First, note that Abraham seems to have no involvement in the choice (despite that contact must have been maintained since Isaac and Ishmael bury Abraham together.)  Secondly, pay attention to that she links him to Egypt, not to the area of Haran and Abraham’s family there.

Part II – Other Sources:

Rashi Genesis 16:1

רשי בראשית טז, א

שפחה מצרית: בת פרעה היתה, כשראה נסים שנעשה לשרה אמר מוטב שתהא בתי שפחה בבית זה ולא גבירה בבית אחר:

an Egyptian handmaid: She was Pharaoh’s daughter. When he (Pharaoh) saw the miracles that were wrought for Sarah, he said, “It is better that my daughter be a handmaid in this household, than a mistress in another household.” – [from Gen. Rabbah 45:1]

As with many Midrashim, this one seems a little unrealistic.  We know today that the Pharaohs did not marry out their daughters, so it would be safe to assume that they did not send them to be maids in a shepherd’s tent, even a very rich one.  Even without the added knowledge that archeology has afforded us, the midrash (and Rashi who chose to bring it) must have been aware of the unrealistic nature of this story.  So – what are they trying to tell us?

Midrashic stories are frequently a simple looking façade for much deeper concepts.  It is our job to peel off the top layer and get to the depth.  Let us go back to the questions we contemplated on top.  Why is Hagar’s background important?  What qualifications might Sarah have looked for in the woman that will be the biological mother of Abraham’s heir? Perhaps Hagar’s behavior seems to reflect that of a person that is used to giving orders, not receiving them.  Of course, the midrash is also trying to give the reader the sense of Abraham’s importance in the region as a religious person.

 Nachmanides Genesis 16:3

רמבן בראשית פרק טז, ג 

ותקח שרי – להודיע שלא מהר אברם לדבר עד שלקחה שרי ונתנה בחיקו. והזכיר הכתוב שרי אשת אברם, לאברם אישה – לרמוז כי שרה לא נתיאשה מאברם ולא הרחיקה עצמה מאצלו, כי היא אשתו והוא אישה, אבל רצתה שתהיה גם הגר אשתו. ולכך אמר לו לאשה – שלא תהיה כפלגש רק כאשה נשואה לו. וכל זה מוסר שרה והכבוד שהיא נוהגת בבעלה:

And Sarai took – to tell that Avram did not rush to [take Hagar] until Sarai took her and placed her in his bosom.  And the text mentions: ”Sarai the wife of Avram”, “to Avram her husband” – to suggest that Sarah did not give up Avram nor did she distance herself from him for she is his wife and he is her husband, but she wished Hagar to be his wife as well.  Therefore it says “to him as a wife” – so she will not be a concubine but rather as a wife married to him.  And all this [demonstrates] Sarah’s moral standards and the respect she shows her husband.

How does Nachmanides comment fit with your own conclusions regarding the carefully chosen words of the text?

As you read Nachmanides on Genesis, pay attention to his attitude towards the events of this book.  They are foresights and educational tools for future generations.  He sensitively demonstrates the respectful and loving relationship of Abraham and Sarah in the midst of this difficult crisis over the lack of a child.  His words may resonate with couples of all times that have dealt with the heartache of childlessness.

Nachmanides Genesis 16:6

רמבן בראשית פרק טז, ו 

(ו) ותענה שרי ותברח מפניה – חטאה אמנו בענוי הזה, וגם אברהם בהניחו לעשות כן, ושמע ה’ אל עניה ונתן לה בן שיהא פרא אדם לענות זרע אברהם ושרה בכל מיני הענוי:

And Sarah afflicted her so she ran away from her – Our matriarch transgressed in this affliction, and also Abraham for allow this to be done.  So The LORD heard her affliction and gave her a son that will be a wild person to afflict the seed of Abraham and Sarah with all kinds of affliction.

What is Nachmanides’ assessment of the morality of the act?

The answer to this seems quite clear.  The amazing thing is how clear he is about it.  It is not a lightweight issue to criticize a matriarch (and note that he makes sure to call her ‘our matriarch’, lest we view the situation with aloofness.) I suspect that this comment was written with a great deal of emotion.  It is important to notice also the ending:  The people of Ishmael (the Arabs) have afflicted the Jews in history.  For Nachmanedies this is one of the principles of the book of Genesis:  What happened to the Patriarchs is a sign foretelling what will happen to the future generations.

6 Radak Genesis 16

רדק בראשית  טז,:

ותענה שרי – …ולא נהגה שרי בזה לא מדת מוסר ולא מדת חסידות…כי אין ראוי לאדם לעשות כל יכלתו במה שתחת ידו,…וכל זה הסיפור נכתב בתורה לקנות אדם ממנו המדות הטובות, ולהרחיק הרעות.

And Sarai afflicted her – … Sarai did not act here not according to morality nor according to kindness…for it is not appropriate for a person to do all that he is able to do to those that are under his hand,…and this story was written in the Torah to let a person acquire from it the good qualities and distance the negative ones.

Radak (1160-1235, southern France) attempts to deal with a very difficult issue for people who read the Torah as guiding text:  Why is a story that portrays one of the role model in such a negative light, included in the Torah?

First, it is important to recognize the courage that Radak shows in criticizing Sarah.   How many of us can really criticize our heroes and loved ones?  It is also important to notice that he takes the episode away from the individual people in it to a more universal concept (“it is not appropriate for a person to do all that they are able to do to those that are under his hand”.)  As he states clearly, this is a learning moment.  One may learn from failures as well.

Both Radak and Nachmanides are surprisingly open in their comments here.  Their frankness should not be taken lightly.  These leaders of their communities probably found it difficult to present Sarai in her failure.  We can assume that their comments come from a place of deep attachment to the matriarchs and patriarchs, not from distant scholarship.

Go to Next Class – Lot

Introduction – (Some) Villains of Tanakh

What makes someone a biblical villain?  I hope that you will keep this question with you as you study some of the biblical characters that have not received favorable press.  Some might seem quite familiar, but I hope that as we study these characters you will reconsider them:  Are they indeed worthy of the title?  Are they better or worse than I thought when I began to study them?  What motivated them?  Could they be read differently?

We will study different characters from around the Tanakh:  Lot’s daughters, Esau, Potifar’s wife, Datan and Aviram, Delilah, the “Witch” of Ein Dor, Jezebel, and Manasseh king of Judah.  (I hope that you will take this opportunity to skim some of the “neighboring” stories as well!) Our study will include a close reading of the biblical text, as well as a look at the rabbinic responses to these characters.

Go to First Class – His Daughters (and Lot)


Potifar’s Wife – (Some) Villains of Tanakh

Potifar’s Wife

(Genesis 39:1-20)

Part 1:  Text Genesis 39:1-13

Background:  Joseph, 17 years old, finds himself taken to Egypt (see Gen 37 and decide for yourself what role his brothers played in the event) and sold as a slave.


  1. What is the source of Joseph’s success?  Who comes to realize that this is the source of success, and what might be the ramifications for Joseph?
  2. How do you understand the limitation on Joseph’s authority stated in v.6?
    • Restrictions surrounding food are among the most efficient ways of avoiding mingling with people who do not share your set of beliefs.  Observing the laws of Kashruth certainly limits the food and social circle of its adherents. Did the Egyptians have any such laws?  Please read Gen. 43:31-32.  What, if anything, does this do for the understanding of 39:6?
  3. Why does the narrator tell us about Joseph’s good looks?
    • And where did he get them from…? (29:17)
  4. What does Potifar’s wife ask of Joseph?
    • Look at the Hebrew (last 2 words) in v.7.  Remember the difference between לשכב עם (to lay with) and לשכב את (to lay and object.)  How do you understand the situation?
  5. How does Joseph respond to her request?  Could he have acted/answered differently?
    • How many reasons does he give for refusing?
    • Is his refusal based on a technical or ethical reason?  What is the difference in the short and long run?
  6. In v.11, did Joseph know, or was he completely surprised, that there were no other workers in the house?
    • How does each reading affect our understanding of Joseph and of this ongoing situation?

Part 2:  Close reading of vv.14-20.

The biblical narrative is brief in words, but rich in content.  To direct our understanding of the views of the participants, the narrator uses titles to describe the role a character is playing at that moment.  Pay attention to those titles.

The video section for this session is on part 2.  Work on this section by yourself before viewing it.

Read vv.14-15Why does she call all her servants?  How does she address them?  What does she call Joseph?  Why?

V.16Who does Potifar’s wife address concerning Joseph’s misdeed?
Think of all the options the narrator had to describe this person.  Why did he choose this?

Vv.17-18: Carefully compare the 2 accounts of Potifar’s wife of what took place. What do the changes add to the story?Why did she change the description?

You might find the following set-up of vv. 14-15 parallel to vv.16-18 helpful. (An English version appears on the next page.)

She speaks to his master

She speaks to her servants

טז וַתַּנַּח בִּגְדוֹ אֶצְלָהּ עַד-בּוֹא אֲדֹנָיו אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ.

יז וַתְּדַבֵּר אֵלָיו כַּדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר

בָּא-אֵלַי הָעֶבֶד הָעִבְרִי אֲשֶׁר-הֵבֵאתָ לָּנוּ לְצַחֶק בִּי.

 יח וַיְהִי כַּהֲרִימִי קוֹלִי וָאֶקְרָא וַיַּעֲזֹב בִּגְדוֹ אֶצְלִי וַיָּנָס הַחוּצָה

יד וַתִּקְרָא לְאַנְשֵׁי בֵיתָהּ וַתֹּאמֶר לָהֶם לֵאמֹר

רְאוּ הֵבִיא לָנוּ אִישׁ עִבְרִי לְצַחֶק בָּנוּ בָּא אֵלַי לִשְׁכַּב עִמִּי

וָאֶקְרָא בְּקוֹל גָּדוֹל.

טו וַיְהִי כְשָׁמְעוֹ כִּי-הֲרִימֹתִי קוֹלִי וָאֶקְרָא

וַיַּעֲזֹב בִּגְדוֹ אֶצְלִי וַיָּנָס וַיֵּצֵא הַחוּצָה.


She speaks to her servants She speaks to his master
14 She called to the people of her house, and said to them, saying:
‘See, he has brought us a Hebrew man to play around with us; [he] came to me to lie with me, and I called with a loud voice.15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and called, that he left his garment by me, and fled, and got out.’
16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his master came home.17 And she spoke to him according to these words, saying:
‘[He] came to me, the Hebrew servant whom you brought us, to play around with me. 18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and called, that he left his garment by me, and fled out.’


V.19:  Who is Potifar’s master angry at in this verse?

There are 2 possibilities.  One might seem more obvious than the other, but try to consider the merit of each possibility in light of the work that you have done.

V.20:  This verse might help you decide about your previous answer.  What is unexpected about Joseph’s master’s behavior? 

Do not think in modern term, remember that the story takes place in ancient Egypt, with all that that implies.

Now you can view the video for this lesson here:

Part 3:  Outside Sources, both Rabbinic and Biblical

(One) rabbinic view of Potifar’s wife:

Midrash Bereshit (Genesis) Rabba 85:2

1)  בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשה פה

ב ויהי בעת ההיא, ולא היה צריך קרייה למימר אלא “ויוסף הורד מצרימה.” ומפני מה הסמיך פרשה זו לזו? ר’ שמואל בר נחמן אמר: כדי לסמוך מעשה תמר למעשה אשתו של פוטיפר. מה זו לשם שמים, אף זו לשם שמים. דאמר ר’ יהושע בן לוי: רואה היתה באסטרולוגין שלה שהיא עתידה להעמיד ממנו בן, ולא היתה יודעת אם ממנה – אם מבתה.

And it was at that time” (Genesis 38:1) – The text did not need to say anything [any other story following Gen 37] but “and Joseph was taken down to Egypt” (Genesis 39:1). So, why where these two narrative placed next to each other?  R. Shmuel b. Nahman said:  In order to put the deed of Tamar next to the deed of Potifar’s wife.  For just as she [Tamar, intended her actions] for the sake of Heaven, so she [Potifar’s wife, intended her actions] for the sake of Heaven.  As R. Joshua b. Levi said:  She would see in her astrology that she will have a child by him, but she did not know if it would be from her or from her daughter.

Q) How does R. Shmuel b. Nahman understand the actions of Potifar’s wife?

Note the positive language he employs to describe it.  It might be helpful to know that Joseph married Asenat the daughter of Poti Fera the priest of On when he became second to the king in Egypt, many years later.

Q) What might have pushed the midrash to this kind of a reading?

It’s not easy being Joseph…

Rashi 39:11

2)  רש”י בראשית לט,יא 

לעשות מלאכתו – רב ושמואל, חד אמר מלאכתו ממש, וחד אמר לעשות צרכיו עמה, אלא שנראית לו דמות דיוקנו של אביו וכו’, כדאיתא במסכת סוטה (דף לו ב):

To do his work – Rav and Shmuel:  One said his work, literally, and one said to fulfill his needs with her.  But then he saw an image of his father etc., as we learnt in [Talmud] Sota 36b.

Q) What tension did Rashi detect in the narrative that made him bring this midrash?

Rashi usually shies away from midrash that does not enhance our understanding of the narrative, sometimes on deeper human levels.

Q) On a human level, what tensions might a person in Joseph’s position find himself in, and what might help him cope with these tensions?

Think of his age and looks, of his success, of the great distance from home, of the position he was used to occupying before being sold into slavery.  This midrash does not claim to be historically true, but it offers and honest and deep look at the difficulties and temptations that Joseph faced, as well as the power of the values that he had been taught at home.

Of Interest:  At an early stage the cantilation signs (te’amim) were added to the text.  In

addition to their function as punctuation, stress markers and musical notes, they are a form of early commentary on the text.  On the word “וימאן” (he refused) in v.8 (the first word) appears a shalshelet, a rare sign that looks like a zigzag line.  When read out loud, the word sounds prolonged and wavering.  How does this work with the midrash above?

3) Finally, internal Tanakh commentary:

Midrash reflects an oral transmission – tradition regarding the understanding of a certain text.  While most of the recorded account of this begins to show up (in written form) in the early centuries CE, early echoes of an oral tradition are detected already in the Tanakh itself.  Sections in the Tanakh (especially in post Torah material) reflect and comment on stories found elsewhere in the Tanakh.

The story of Potifar’s wife and Joseph is commented on in II Samuel 13:1-22, the rape of Tamar by her half brother Amnon.  Here is a chart that demonstrates the linguistic link between the narratives: (If the Hebrew is difficult, skip to below the chart.)

מקבילות בסיפור אמנון ותמר (שמ”א יג) יוסף ואשת פוטיפר

א וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי-כֵן וּלְאַבְשָׁלוֹם בֶּן-דָּוִד אָחוֹת יָפָה וּשְׁמָהּ תָּמָר וַיֶּאֱהָבֶהָ אַמְנוֹן בֶּן-דָּוִד.  ב וַיֵּצֶר לְאַמְנוֹן לְהִתְחַלּוֹת בַּעֲבוּר תָּמָר אֲחֹתוֹ כִּי בְתוּלָה הִיא וַיִּפָּלֵא בְּעֵינֵי אַמְנוֹן לַעֲשׂוֹת לָהּ מְאוּמָה… וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אַמְנוֹן אֶת-תָּמָר אֲחוֹת אַבְשָׁלֹם אָחִי אֲנִי אֹהֵב.  ה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ יְהוֹנָדָב שְׁכַב עַל-מִשְׁכָּבְךָ וְהִתְחָל וּבָא אָבִיךָ לִרְאוֹתֶךָ וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו תָּבֹא נָא תָמָר אֲחוֹתִי וְתַבְרֵנִי לֶחֶם וְעָשְׂתָה לְעֵינַי אֶת-הַבִּרְיָה לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֶרְאֶה וְאָכַלְתִּי מִיָּדָהּ. …  ט וַתִּקַּח אֶת-הַמַּשְׂרֵת וַתִּצֹק לְפָנָיו וַיְמָאֵן לֶאֱכוֹל וַיֹּאמֶר אַמְנוֹן הוֹצִיאוּ כָל-אִישׁ מֵעָלַי וַיֵּצְאוּ כָל-אִישׁ מֵעָלָיו…  יא וַתַּגֵּשׁ אֵלָיו לֶאֱכֹל וַיַּחֲזֶק-בָּהּ וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ בּוֹאִי שִׁכְבִי עִמִּי אֲחוֹתִי.  יביג וַאֲנִי אָנָה אוֹלִיךְ אֶת-חֶרְפָּתִי וְאַתָּה תִּהְיֶה כְּאַחַד הַנְּבָלִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַתָּה דַּבֶּר-נָא אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ כִּי לֹא יִמְנָעֵנִי מִמֶּךָּ.  יד וְלֹא אָבָה לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹלָהּ וַיֶּחֱזַק מִמֶּנָּה וַיְעַנֶּהָ וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֹתָהּ.  טו וַיִּשְׂנָאֶהָ אַמְנוֹן שִׂנְאָה גְּדוֹלָה מְאֹד כִּי גְדוֹלָה הַשִּׂנְאָה אֲשֶׁר שְׂנֵאָהּ מֵאַהֲבָה אֲשֶׁר אֲהֵבָהּ וַיֹּאמֶר-לָהּ אַמְנוֹן קוּמִי לֵכִי.  טז וַתֹּאמֶר לוֹ אַל-אוֹדֹת הָרָעָה הַגְּדוֹלָה הַזֹּאת מֵאַחֶרֶת אֲשֶׁר-עָשִׂיתָ עִמִּי לְשַׁלְּחֵנִי וְלֹא אָבָה לִשְׁמֹעַ לָהּ.  יז וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-נַעֲרוֹ מְשָׁרְתוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁלְחוּ-נָא אֶת-זֹאת מֵעָלַי הַחוּצָה וּנְעֹל הַדֶּלֶת אַחֲרֶיהָ.  יח וְעָלֶיהָ כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים כִּי כֵן תִּלְבַּשְׁןָ בְנוֹת-הַמֶּלֶךְ הַבְּתוּלֹת מְעִילִים וַיֹּצֵא אוֹתָהּ מְשָׁרְתוֹ הַחוּץ וְנָעַל הַדֶּלֶת אַחֲרֶיהָ.  יט וַתִּקַּח תָּמָר אֵפֶר עַל-רֹאשָׁהּ וּכְתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים אֲשֶׁר עָלֶיהָ קָרָעָה וַתָּשֶׂם יָדָהּ עַל-רֹאשָׁהּ וַתֵּלֶךְ הָלוֹךְ וְזָעָקָה. …  כא וְהַמֶּלֶךְ דָּוִד שָׁמַע אֵת כָּל-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וַיִּחַר לוֹ מְאֹד.  כב וְלֹא-דִבֶּר אַבְשָׁלוֹם עִם-אַמְנוֹן לְמֵרָע וְעַד-טוֹב  כִּי-שָׂנֵא אַבְשָׁלוֹם אֶת-אַמְנוֹן עַל-דְּבַר אֲשֶׁר עִנָּה אֵת תָּמָר אֲחֹתוֹ.

בראשית לז

ג וְיִשְׂרָאֵל אָהַב אֶת-יוֹסֵף מִכָּל-בָּנָיו כִּי-בֶן-זְקֻנִים הוּא לוֹ וְעָשָׂה לוֹ כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים.  ד וַיִּרְאוּ אֶחָיו כִּי-אֹתוֹ אָהַב אֲבִיהֶם מִכָּל-אֶחָיו וַיִּשְׂנְאוּ אֹתוֹ וְלֹא יָכְלוּ דַּבְּרוֹ לְשָׁלֹם.

יג וַיֹּאמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-יוֹסֵף הֲלוֹא אַחֶיךָ רֹעִים בִּשְׁכֶם לְכָה וְאֶשְׁלָחֲךָ אֲלֵיהֶם וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ הִנֵּנִי.

בראשית לט

ו וַיַּעֲזֹב כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ בְּיַד-יוֹסֵף וְלֹא-יָדַע אִתּוֹ מְאוּמָה כִּי אִם-הַלֶּחֶם אֲשֶׁר-הוּא אוֹכֵל וַיְהִי יוֹסֵף יְפֵה-תֹאַר וִיפֵה מַרְאֶה.  ז וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וַתִּשָּׂא אֵשֶׁת-אֲדֹנָיו אֶת-עֵינֶיהָ אֶל-יוֹסֵף וַתֹּאמֶר שִׁכְבָה עִמִּי.  ח וַיְמָאֵן וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-אֵשֶׁת אֲדֹנָיו הֵן אֲדֹנִי לֹא-יָדַע אִתִּי מַה-בַּבָּיִת וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יֶשׁ-לוֹ נָתַן בְּיָדִי.  ט אֵינֶנּוּ גָדוֹל בַּבַּיִת הַזֶּה מִמֶּנִּי וְלֹא-חָשַׂךְ מִמֶּנִּי מְאוּמָה כִּי אִם-אוֹתָךְ בַּאֲשֶׁר אַתְּ-אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֵיךְ אֶעֱשֶׂה הָרָעָה הַגְּדֹלָה הַזֹּאת וְחָטָאתִי לֵאלֹהִים.  י וַיְהִי כְּדַבְּרָהּ אֶל-יוֹסֵף יוֹם יוֹם וְלֹא-שָׁמַע אֵלֶיהָ לִשְׁכַּב אֶצְלָהּ לִהְיוֹת עִמָּהּ.  יא וַיְהִי כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וַיָּבֹא הַבַּיְתָה לַעֲשׂוֹת מְלַאכְתּוֹ וְאֵין אִישׁ מֵאַנְשֵׁי הַבַּיִת שָׁם בַּבָּיִת.  יב וַתִּתְפְּשֵׂהוּ בְּבִגְדוֹ לֵאמֹר שִׁכְבָה עִמִּי וַיַּעֲזֹב בִּגְדוֹ בְּיָדָהּ וַיָּנָס וַיֵּצֵא הַחוּצָה.  יג וַיְהִי כִּרְאוֹתָהּ כִּי-עָזַב בִּגְדוֹ בְּיָדָהּ וַיָּנָס הַחוּצָה.  יד וַתִּקְרָא לְאַנְשֵׁי בֵיתָהּ וַתֹּאמֶר לָהֶם לֵאמֹר רְאוּ הֵבִיא לָנוּ אִישׁ עִבְרִי לְצַחֶק בָּנוּ  בָּא אֵלַי לִשְׁכַּב עִמִּי וָאֶקְרָא בְּקוֹל גָּדוֹל.  טו וַיְהִי כְשָׁמְעוֹ כִּי-הֲרִימֹתִי קוֹלִי וָאֶקְרָא וַיַּעֲזֹב בִּגְדוֹ אֶצְלִי וַיָּנָס וַיֵּצֵא הַחוּצָה.  טז וַתַּנַּח בִּגְדוֹ אֶצְלָהּ עַד-בּוֹא אֲדֹנָיו אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ.  יז וַתְּדַבֵּר אֵלָיו כַּדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר  בָּא-אֵלַי הָעֶבֶד הָעִבְרִי אֲשֶׁר-הֵבֵאתָ לָּנוּ לְצַחֶק בִּי.  יח וַיְהִי כַּהֲרִימִי קוֹלִי וָאֶקְרָא וַיַּעֲזֹב בִּגְדוֹ אֶצְלִי וַיָּנָס הַחוּצָה.  יט וַיְהִי כִשְׁמֹעַ אֲדֹנָיו אֶת-דִּבְרֵי אִשְׁתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר דִּבְּרָה אֵלָיו לֵאמֹר כַּדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה עָשָׂה לִי עַבְדֶּךָ וַיִּחַר אַפּוֹ.

In translation: These are the highlighted parallel words and phrases (some appear more than once):

Israel (=Jacob), loved/lusted, An Ornamented Coat (multi-colored coat?  Striped coat?), brothers, father, hate, unable to speak to, go – let me send you, anything, bread/food, eating, beautiful [looks], And it was after…, lie with me, refused, this great evil, did not listen, these things/words, he was angry.

For those of you comfortable with the Hebrew, try to match up the language in two narratives. (I included a few verses from Genesis 37 regarding the family relations that led to Joseph’s sale to Egypt.)  In either case, read II Samuel 13:1-22. Please contemplate the following points:

Q) Who, in our narrative, is Tamar parallel to?  How do you know?

   And what is the narrator saying about our story by this new casting?

Q) Why did the narrator of the story of Tamar choose to bring the listener (most people probably did not own a written copy) back to the story of Joseph?

It is not only the story of Potifar’s wife.  If you are interested in Joseph’s story, the story of Tamar comments on the entire narrative from Genesis 37-45.

Q) Our story is missing an evaluation (this is a biblical story, but the Tanakh does not declare Potifar’s wife a villain.)  What role does the story of Tamar fill for us?

View a summation video here:

Go to Next Class – Datan and Aviram

Manasseh – (Some) Villains of Tanakh


Part 1:  The Book of Kings Version: II Kings 21:1-18

For a detailed background, view this video:


Hezekiah king of Judah was the father of Manasseh.  Hezekiah carried out a very extensive cultic reform, ridding the land of all idol worship, as well as the high places that were used as worship places for the LORD.  In his day the Northern Kingdom came to an end, exiled by Assyria that was reaching the peak of its power. Manasseh’s years are approximately 699-645bce.

1)  Notice his long reign, the longest of any king of Judah or Israel.

This is going to pose a problem for the historiographer.  Long life/long reign are equated with rewards.  How do we understand his long reign in light of his behavior?

2)  How does the narrator of Kings define Manasseh’s cultic behavior?

We have the term Vayashov (he returned) in v.3.  Ironic, as it is the same root as Tshuva (repentance.)  What follows is a long list of active verbs to describe his reinstating of an impressive list of pagan worship.  While he is not the first king of Judah to allow other gods in Jerusalem, the comparison to Ahab is interesting, since in Ahab’s days the Baal/Ashera worship became the state religion, pushing out the worship of the LORD as the God of Israel.

3)  Manasseh places a pagan symbol in the Temple.  The narrator tells of this event in term reminiscent of God’s words to Solomon upon the completion of the building of the Temple (I Kings 9:2-9).  Why?

The book of Kings is drawing to a close, and several events that were told about in the beginning of the book are being wrapped up now.  (See also I Kings 13 that comes to a close in II Kings 23:14-18.) The echo of the warning text of I Kings 9 prepares us for what will come.

4)  What is the penalty for all of Manasseh’s behavior?

Here we seal both the fate of Judah and the book of Kings.  Everything from this point onward will be running towards disaster.  Even the righteous king Josiah (Manasseh’s grandson) will only be granted a stay of execution.

5)  Bottom line:  Why was the kingdom of Judah destroyed according to the book of Kings?

Part 2: The Chronicles Version, a Comparison: II Chronicles 33:1-22

The book of Chronicles parallels many of the narratives that appear in the book of Kings.  What will interest us are the differences between the versions.

1)  The beginnings of the narrative are similar with some changes in the list of pagan worship that was introduced in Jerusalem.  What seems the most drastic change?

Notice the absence of the Baal worship, as well as the absence of comparison with Ahab king of Israel.

2)  Where does the serious deviation begin?

At the point of the warning of the consequences the narrator has to decide if to take it to the point of no return, as did the book of Kings, or give it a chance for change.

3)  What is the historic event that is mentioned here, and why might it seem as a narrator’s mistake?

That Manasseh and his kingdom were under the control of Assyria we know from Assyrian sources as well (see below.)  It is likely that the arrival of the Assyrian forces in Jerusalem to carry off Manasseh was a reaction to some rebellious action by Manasseh, by why take him to Babylon, not Ninveh? (Ninveh, the Assyrian capital, was located near Mosul, Iraq, of today.)  Now scholars believe that this was not a mistake.  Read the information below about king Ashurbanipal of Assyria, whose reign runs somewhat parallel to Manasseh’s.  His brother’s rebellion in Babylon (about 55 miles south of Bagdad, on the Euphrates River) forced him to spend a lot of time there.  How does Manasseh’s arrest and delivery to Babylon support this?  Could there have been some correlation between the rebellions going on in 2 ends of the Assyrian empire?

Cylinder C (Ancient Near Eastern Texts pp.294-95)   – Ashurbanipal on his march to Egypt:

…Manasseh (Miin-si-e), king of Judah (Ia-u-di), Qaushgabri, king of Edom…together 12 kings from the seashore, the islands and the mainland; servants who belong to me, brought heavy gifts to me and kissed my feet. I made these kings accompany my army over the land… with their armed forces…

Background of Ashurbanipal (668-627): He was the last great king of Assyria.  In addition to his many campaigns, he collected (and wrote down by himself as well – he was trained as a scribe) an impressive and important library in Ninveh, containing about 22,000 clay tablets.  Babylon was under his brother’s rule (Shamash-shum-ukin) until his brother rebelled in 652 BCE.  Babylon surrendered in 648 BCE.

4)  Why is the historic event mentioned above included here, but is not even hinted at in the book of Kings?

Here we see the different agendas of the two books.  In Kings Manasseh is viewed as being responsible for the destruction of Judah, and repentance does not work well with that world view.  Chronicles does not wish to place blame on him personally.  Why?  To understand the agenda of each book it is worth while to see where they end.  Read the end of each book.  Kings ends with the destruction of Jerusalem, Chronicles ends with hope: the declaration of Cyrus king of Persia allowing the return and rebuilding of Jerusalem.  Could they be thinking of the next king?

5)  By claiming that Manasseh did Tshuva (repented) after his ordeal with the Assyrian, the narrator has solved a problem that the book of Kings was facing with Manasseh.  What was the problem?

As we asked in the beginning:  How could a king like Manasseh seemingly be rewarded?

Part 3:  Rabbinic Sources

Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin chapter 10

תלמוד ירושלמי מסכת סנהדרין פרק י ה”ב

כתיב וידבר ה’ אל מנשה ואל עמו ולא הקשיבו ויבא עליהם את שרי הצבא אשר למלך וילכדו את מנשה בחחים …כיון שראה שצרתו צרה, לא הניח עבודה זרה בעולם שלא הזכירה. כיון שלא הועיל לו כלום,

אמר: ‘זכור אני שהיה אבי מקרא אותי את הפסוק הזה בבית הכנסת: “בצר לך ומצאוך כל הדברים האלה באחרית הימים ושבת עד ה’ אלהיך ושמעת בקולו כי אל רחום ה’ אלהיך לא ירפך ולא ישחיתך ולא ישכח את ברית אבותיך אשר נשבע להם” (דברים ד ל-לא) הרי אני קורא אותו, אם עונה אותי – מוטב, ואם לאו, הא כל אפיא שוין!’

והיו מלאכי השרת מסתמין את החלונות, שלא תעלה תפילתו של מנשה לפני הקב”ה. והיו מלאכי השרת אומרים לפני הקב”ה: רבונו של עולם, אדם שעבד עבודה זרה, והעמיד צלם בהיכל, אתה מקבלו בתשובה?! אמר להן: ‘אם איני מקבלו בתשובה, הרי אני נועל את הדלת בפני כל בעלי תשובה.’

It says “and the LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people but they did not listen so He brought upon them the heads of the army of the king [of Assyria] and they captured Manasseh with spikes… (II Chron. 33:11)  As he saw that his distress was indeed distress, he did not ignore any pagan worship in the world [that he called to.]  As nothing helped, he said: ‘I remember that my father would read me this verse in the synagogue: “When you are distressed because there befell you all these things, in future days, you shall return to the LORD your God and hearken to his voice; for a merciful God is the LORD your God, He will not weaken you and not destroy you, and not forget the covenant with your fathers that He swore to them.” (Deut. 4:30-31)  So I shall call him, if he answers – good, and if not – all their faces are equal.’

And the angels were blocking the windows so that Manasseh’s prayer would not rise in front of the Holy One Blessed be He.  And the angels were saying before the Holy One Blessed be He:  ‘Master of the Universe, a person that has worship pagan worship, and placed an idol in the Temple, You will accept his Tshuva (repentance)?!’  He said to them:  ‘If I do not accept his repentance, then I am locking the door in the face of all repenters.’

1)  Manasseh approaches every deity he knows about.  What does this tell us about pagan worship thinking?

To a monotheist this is impossible.  Turning to another God is rejecting your God.  You only have one.  Not so in a polytheistic world.  When the two understandings of God/god meet, an impossible situation arises.

2)  His mention of his father (who is remembered in a synagogue setting, even if that is anachronistic) raises an interesting question:  Hezekiah was known as an extremely pious king who did a great cultic clean up.  How could his son have turned out this way?

This is asked in Mekhilta DeRabbi Ishmael (an early midrash), and it does not come to any conclusion.  They do suggest that Hezekiah must have taught his son, but that it did not help, he chose his own path and repented only after great suffering.

3)  What does Manasseh mean by ‘all their faces are equal’?

After contemplating what he means, consider the phrase that the Midrash chose.  In Lev. 20:3 God turning His face on a person is part of a punishment.  In the Priestly blessing (Num. 6:24-26) God turning His face towards a person is a blessing.

4)  Is his Tshuva (repentance) out of comprehension of the LORD?

Notice that rather than a bowed head we see bargaining.  But Moshe also “twisted God’s arm” at the Golden calf (forgive the people or erase me from your book, Ex. 32:32) and God accepted.  Could one come to Tshuva kicking and screaming?  Accepting God as true despite wishing it was otherwise?

5)  The angels are expressing good logic.  Tshuva (literally: turning back) is problematic.  It is not fair.  Should a person be able to walk away from the worst offenses?

In this case the offense is against God, and God is supposed to grant the option of Tshuva. (By rabbinic understanding, there is no Tshuva on transgressions against another human being unless the other person has agreed to forgive.  Tshuva involves the injured party.)

Watch the summation video for this class below:

Go to Course Descriptions

Jezebel – (Some) Villains of Tanakh


Part I – Background Sources

Jezebel’s background: I Kings 16:29-32

1)  What is her family background?

In this case her father’s occupation is important both for her upbringing and for suggesting why this marriage took place.  Sidon is on the Lebanese coast, half way between Tyre and Beirut.  The inhabitants were Phoenicians, a sea faring group of Canaanites.

 2)  What impact did she have on the cultic practices of Israel?

We will ask this question again, but let’s keep in mind that she comes from a polytheistic society where Baal and Ashera are prominent deities.

In Jezebel’s kingdom: I Kings 18:3-4, 17-20

3)  So, what impact did she have on religion in Israel?

What we are looking at is not necessarily on the issue of belief but rather the creation of a new state religion.   Jezebel goes about this in a two-fold manner; eradicating the old and using state funds for supporting the priests of the new official religion.

4)  Notice Ovadiahu, the head-of-the-palace, and his behavior.  What is ironic about the situation?

There is no lack of irony.  Ovadiahu means ‘the servant of the LORD.’  It is this worshipper of the LORD that is King Ahab’s trusted helper.  He is an impressive figure – saving the lives of 100 prophets of the LORD and providing them with food and water during a famine.  Where did he get the food from?  Maybe Baal priests were not the only ones living off the State?

The Clash (round 1):  I Kings 18:40-19:2

On Mount Carmel Elijah attempts to bring the people back to their ancestral God through a show of fire. Once the people declare that ‘the LORD is the God!’ he/He will provide rain.  That is the positive end of the story.  But how do you get rid of Jezebel’s influence?  (Don’t act this out in class…)

Out of all things that Ahab could have told his wife Jezebel about the amazing events, he chose to share that Elijah had killed the Baal priests.

5)  Why does she give Elijah notice that she will kill him tomorrow?

If the messenger can find him to deliver the message, why not kill him now?

6)  Read her words in 19:2.  She takes an oath to kill Elijah.  How can we see from her oath that she is indeed a polytheist?

If you can, peak in the Hebrew and notice the verbs: כֹּה-יַעֲשׂוּן אֱלֹהִים וְכֹה יוֹסִפוּןvs. the oath formula taken by Solomon in I Kings 2:23: .כֹּה יַעֲשֶׂה-לִּי אֱלֹהִים וְכֹה יוֹסִיף Notice that Solomon uses the verbs in the singular form ‘so may God to do to me and so may He add…’ (Meaning the person puts a curse on himself if he will not fulfill the oath.)  What form does Jezebel use?

Part II – Nabot’s Vineyard

I Kings 21:1-25 (The Clash, round 2)

In this story we meet Jezebel in her full power.  Ahab, her husband, appears as a weak monarch along side this iron lady.  Outside sources (and a few verses in Tanakh) tell us that he was actually one of the kings of Israel that did the most to advance his country.

1)  Nabot’s refusal to give up his vineyard puts Jezebel on the war path. Read the accounts of Ahab’s offer and Nabot’s refusal, they are not quite identical.  Try to notice the differences and their significance.


retelling of the Conversation to Jezebel

(2)Ahab’s Perception of the Conversation

(1) The Actual Conversation

And Jezebel his wife came to him, and said to him: ‘Why is your spirit so sullen,
that you do not eat bread?’ 6 And he said to her: ‘Because I spoke to Navot the Jezreelite, and said to him:
Give me your vineyard for money; or
else, if you wish, I will give you a vineyard for it;
and he answered:

I will not give you my vineyard.

And Ahab came into his house sullen and displeased
because of the
word which Navot the Jezreelite
had spoken to him;
for he had said: 

‘I will not give you the
inheritance of my fathers.’
And he laid him
down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.

And Ahab spoke to Navot,
‘Give me your
vineyard, that I may have it for a garden
of plants, because it is near my house; 
and I will give you for it a better vineyard than it; orif it seem good to you, I will give you the worth of it in money.’

 3 But Navot said to
LORD forbids it me,
that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you.’


(1) The Actual Conversation

Perception of the Conversation

retelling of the Conversation to Jezebel

 (ב) וידבר אחאב אל נבות לאמר:

 תנה לי את כרמך ויהי לי לגן ירק כי הוא קרוב אצל ביתי

ואתנה לך תחתיו כרם טוב ממנו אם טוב בעיניך אתנה לך כסף מחיר

(ג) ויאמר נבות אל אחאב חלילה לי מה’ מתתי את נחלת אבתי לך.

ויבא אחאב אל ביתו סר וזעף  על הדבר אשר דבר אליו נבות היזרעאלי ויאמר:

 לא אתן לך את נחלת אבתי

 וישכב על מטתו ויסב את פניו ולא אכל לחם:

(ה) ותבא אליו איזבל אשתו ותדבר אליו מה זה רוחך סרה ואינך אכל לחם:

(ו)וידבר אליה כי אדבר אל נבות היזרעאלי ואמר לו תנה לי את כרמך בכסף או אם חפץ אתה אתנה לך כרם תחתיו

ויאמר לא אתן לך את כרמי:

2)  What is the fundamental difference between Ahab’s and Jezebel’s understanding of Nabot’s refusal?

Different value and law systems are at play.  Ahab is a monarch.  Nabot invokes ancient tribal law.  Who takes precedent?  What is the place of the monarch vis-à-vis the law?

3)  How does Jezebel go about obtaining the vineyard?

Even Jezebel isn’t brazen enough to just appropriate the land.  (This might help us answer the question above.)  She invents a crime that carries a death penalty (cursing God and the king,) and that we can assume will let the monarch receive the property of the guilty man.  (Otherwise, his heirs should have inherited it.  It is an ancestral plot.)

4)  How do we know that the elders that had to play a part here knew that Jezebel stood behind the plot?

The letters were sealed with Ahab’s seal (v.8.)  But who receives word that the orders have been carried out?

5)  What is God’s verdict (delivered by Elijah?)

II Kings 9:6-10, 21-37

Jehu, an army officer, is instructed by a prophet to rebel against the king Jehoram, Ahab’s son.

1)  What is the moral basis for this instruction?

2)  Jehu tells a different account of the events that led to Nabot’s vineyard belonging to the king.  How do they differ?  Which is more sinister?

Notice that now we are not talking about a vineyard but rather a plot of land.  According to Jehu’s account (v.26) who was killed and when?  What is Jezebel’s role in this account?  Why did the narrator keep both accounts?

3)  How does Jezebel handle the revolt?

Why does she fix her appearance?  Why does she lean out the window to address Jehu?

4)  Her line to Jehu is a sharp barb.  What does it mean?

Look up the story of Zimri (I Kings 16:8-22.)  Compare Zimri with Omri who eventually reigned. (Omri was Ahab’s father…)  Consider their army position, the legitimacy of how they became kings, and how successful they were.

5)  How does Jezebel die, and how does Jehu treat her death?

The palace servants knew who to bet on.  But notice that Jehu is unable to be completely cool about the murdered Jezebel – she is a king’s daughter.  What does it tell us about Jezebel?

How is this connected to our story?

From: – the ivories of Samaria – Ahab’s capital.

Part III – Rabbinic Material (Midrash)

Before reading the Midrash, you can watch an intro video here:

Midrash Yalkut Shimoni II Kings 232

ילקוט שמעוני מלכים ב רמז רלב

גמילות חסדים אנו למדים מאיזבל

כי ביתה היה סמוך לשוק

וכל מת שהיה עובר בשוק

היתה יוצאה מתוך ביתה ומכה בכפיה ומקוננת בפיה ומהלכת עשרה צעדות.

וכל חתן שהיה עובר בשוק

היתה יוצאה מפתח ביתה ומסלסלת בכפי ידיה ומהלכת עשרה צעדות.

ונתנבא עליה אליהו זכור לטוב

“הכלבים יאכלו את איזבל בחלק יזרעאל”. (מל”א כא כג)

והאברים שגמלו חסד, לא שלטו בהם הכלבים, וניתנו לקבורה.

שנאמר “וילכו לקברה” וגו’. (מל”ב ט לה)

Acting out of Loving Kindness we learn from Jezebel,

For her house was close to the Shuk (the market place)

And [for] every dead that was passed through the Shuk  –

She would go out of her home’s entrance and clap with her hands and cry with her mouth and walk ten steps.

And [for] every groom that would pass through the Shuk –

She would go out of her home’s entrance and twist her hands [in dance motions] and walk ten steps.

And Elijah, he shall be remembered for good, prophesied about her

“The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the field of Jezre’el.”  (I Kings 21:23)

But the limbs that performed acts of Loving Kindness – those the dogs could not touch, and they were given a burial.

As it says: “And they went to bury her [but they did not find of her except the skull, the feet and the palms of the hands.]” (II Kings 9:35)

1)  Midrash is usually based on something in the text.  What in the story of II Kings 9:21-37 brought about this Midrash?

The death of Jezebel is rather strange.  This is not the first royal family that was wiped out, but never have we heard a story like this.  The window of opportunity for the Midrash came because of the curious details.

2)  How does this Midrash fit with her personality, as you saw it in the text?

In other words, does the Midrash have a leg to stand on from the image of Jezebel in the Tanakh?  Do we know anything about her in the social sphere?  Maybe her husband, Ahab, might offer a suggestion.  He introduced idol worship, and evoked Elijah’s wrath, but also developed his country greatly. In chapter 22 we are told of his death:  Despite being injured, he remained standing, bleeding, in his chariot during the battle so the people would not surrender.  It cost him his life.  So what grade should we give him, and how will he be presented in a historiographic narrative like the Book of Kings?

Watch the summation video here:

Go to Next Class – Manasseh

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