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

Jezebel: Why Do We Care? – Recipe for an Empire

What’s In A Name? And Why Do We Care About Jezebel?

For Inquiring Minds…

This section is intended to give you some extra information.  Enjoy it or ignore it.

1) Names, Names All Around…

מדרש שם – exegesis based on a name (usually of a person or a place) which functions to highlight the important traits, events etc relevant to the story.  As the biblical narrative is sparse in descriptions, this tool enhances our reading and understanding of the story.  Sometimes such Midrashim are spelled out, as with Moshe (Ex. 2:10,) and sometimes we have to figure it out.

Keep in mind:  It does not have to be grammatically correct, and sometimes the narrator takes the liberty to fix a name so that it creates a Midrash (see I Sam 25:3 and 25.  No parent would have named his child Naval – villain, but perhaps Nevel – a musical instrument or a jug of wine.)

Many biblical names are theophoric – they include the god’s name as a component of the name.  For example: Daniel – judge+God (El), Isaiah-Yisha’ya – salvation+Hashem (Ya).

Let’s try this on the main names in this story: (It has to be done in Hebrew.  If you can, try it yourself before reading the comments.)

Ahab אחאב – A theophoric name (the ‘ab’ part meaning ‘father’- God.  Similar to its use in Abigail – God’s joy) that relates closeness to God:  God’s brother.

Jezebel איזבל – Hmmm… I suspect the narrator had some fun with this one. Zevel is not found in Tanakh, but is well known in mishnaic Hebrew.  It means dung.  It is doubtful that her royal parents had this meaning in mind.  How about changing the vowel to zevul (temple)?

Elijahאליהו  – “My god is Hashem”.  That is indeed the character of Elijah in a nutshell.  He defines himself as a zealot for Hashem (I Kings 19:10.)

Another interesting name is that of Jezebel’s father, king of Sidon.

Ethbaal – is a theophoric Canaanite name.  Have you found the god-element in the name? Might it hint to the source of the sudden change on the state level from Hashem worship to Baal worship in Israel?

Names with Baal as their theophoric component existed also in Israel, before Jezebel. See the list of Saul’s family in I Chronicles 9:39.  One of his sons is Eshbaal.  Was this an indication of idol worshiping on Saul’s part?  Probably not.  We name our children based on the popular names at the time, with little thought of the full meaning of the name.  But here comes the twist:  Eshbaal is mentioned also in II Sam 2:8, but with a little editing.  Now he is called Eshboshet (Boshet=shame).

2) Elijah and Jezebel:– The Great Conflict

For those of you who want to pursue the topic further:

The book of Kings devotes a great deal of space to the period of Ahab.  As the narrator shows little interest in the physical and economic growth of the country under Ahab, why does this period merit attention?

Because the great conflict of the time will repeat itself in Jewish history, also past the period of the book.  Along with the wonderful physical growth, the national and religious identity was threatened by a foreigner, Jezebel.  Against her rose one of the most legendary prophets – Elijah.  (Ahab just happened to be there.)

As you read these biblical stories, watch for the religious conflict that pits Elijah, as the representative of Hashem (and his supporters) against the foreign queen who sought to integrate Israel into the Canaanite culture and religion around them, rather than to adapt to the culture of her new country.

Go to Next Class – Conclusion


Jezebel – Recipe for an Empire


  • Daughter of Ethbaal king of Sidon
  • Wife of Ahab king of Israel
  • Killed during Jehu’s coup

The Marriage (I Kings 16:31-33)

  • What do we know about Sidon (Jezebel’s birthplace)? Wikipedia will give you some information.
  • Why would have married a Phoenician princess?  Why would her father agree?  What might it tell us about the kingdom of Israel under Omri and his son Ahab?
  • Jezebel seems to come into Israel as entitled to a powerful position.  Might there have been such conditions set by her father?  Can you think of a similar situation under Solomon?

At all times, marriage of people of different religions created conflict; which religion will be the controlling one? Was the physical move into the territory of a god and a nation enough to settle the issue?


  • I Kings 16:31 seems to say that marrying Jezebel was worse than Jeroboam’s calves.  It then proceeds to tell us that he worship the Baal and built a temple for it.  How might Jezebel be connected to this?
  • I Kings 18 is the famous scene of Elijah on mount Carmel.  Let’s glean Jezebel’s involvement in the religious situation in the country that led up to this event:
    • 18:4 – what had Jezebel been doing to undermine the Hashem faction in Israel?
    • 18:18 – What was the status of the Baal and Ashera (his female cohort) prophets in Israel?  (And, what did Elijah do with them? 18:40.)
  • What is Jezebel’s religious belief?  Read her oath I Kings 19:2.  What have you noticed?  The narrator did a good job not editing out authentic speech.

As גבירה (Gevirah – the First Lady)

  • I Kings 21 tells the story of Navot’s vineyard.  Ahab desires it, Navot refuses to give up his ancestral plot, invoking God’s name, and Jezebel promises Ahab that she will get him the vineyard.  Read 21:8-16.
    • How is Jezebel able to carry out her plot?
    • Do the people believe that the king stands behind this?
    • What is her understanding of the position of the monarch in relation to the [popular] law?
    • How does she interpret Ahab’s (grudging) respect for the law?
  • II Kings 10:13 hints to the title that Jezebel had.  Who else had that title?  What does it mean?

The End (II Kings 9:30-37)

  • Jehu staged a coup, killing off Jehoram, son of Ahab.  He arrives at Jezreel (another palace, and the location of Navot’s vineyard.) and Jezebel looks out the window.
  • Jezebel has prepared for her meeting with Jehu.  How did she know about the events outside the palace and how did she prepare?
  • What does she say to Jehu (9:31) and what does she mean?  The list of kings of Israel until Ahab (in part 3) might help.
  • Why did she act as she did?  What was she hoping to accomplish?
  • Here are Rashi’s and Ralbag’s responses to the question above.  Which do you prefer?

רש”י מלכים ב פרק ט פסוק ל

(ל) ותיטב את ראשה – …כדי שתהא לחן בעיני יהוא וישאנה:

Rashi II Kings 9:30

She…dressed her hair – …so that she will find grace in the eyes of Jehu and he will marry her.

רלב”ג מלכים ב פרק ט פסוק ל

(ל) ותשם בפוך עיניה –…אולי עשתה כדי שתשא חן בעיניו, ויחמול עליה ולא יהרגנה. או עשתה זה להחזיק המלוכה עדיין. והוא יותר נכון. ולזה אמרה בגאוה ליהוא “השלום זמרי הורג אדניו?!”

Ralbag II Kings 9:30

She painted her eyes with kohl  – …maybe she did it to find grace in his eyes, and he will take pity on her and not kill her.  Or she did it to hold onto the reign.  And that is more correct.  And therefore she said with pride to Jehu “is all well, Zimri murderer of his master?!”

For the relevance of this ivory portrait of a “woman in the window” see:

Go to Next Class – Jezebel: Why Do We Care?

Concentrating The Power: State And Religion – Recipe for an Empire

Concentrating the Power:  State and Religion

We will begin with the point at which David, from the tribe of Judah, becomes appointed as king over all of Israel. (A certain period of chaos followed Saul’s death.  Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, located to the north of Judah.)  As the narrator of the book of Samuel has it, the conquest of Jerusalem and the ascent of the ark were among David’s first actions as a king.  We will study these sections, keeping in mind the question ‘what was David trying to accomplish by these actions?’

Text:  II Sam 5:1-12, II Sam 6:1-23

Section I:  II Sam 5:1-12 state matters

1) Read the text in vv.1-3 carefully.

a) Who is it that approaches David to offer him the kingdom?  There seem to be 2 answers to this question.  Try to explain the relationship between the groups in v.1 and 3.

b) Use of names, titles and pronouns is very important in a concise biblical story, as it is often the narrator’s way of letting you know the character’s interests and view point.  Compare the beginning of v.1 with the beginning of v.3.  Explain the change.

c) What title is not mentioned in vv.1-2?

d) Now look at the whole unit.  What is the difference between vv.1-2 and v.3?  What might be the reason for the difference?

e) Read I Chronicles 11:3.  What information did it add?  Why?

2) Read II Sam 5:4-10.

a) Note David’s length of reign and how many years he lived.

b) In v.6, who heads out to conquer Jerusalem?  Why is a title used here?

c) What will hinder David from conquering the city (or the fortress)?

d) Compare the conquest account in Samuel with that of I Chronicles 11:4-8.  What are the glaring differences?

e) What could be the reason for the different accounts?

3) Read II Sam 5:11-12

a) What do the dealings with Hiram tell us?

b) How does David interpret his success?

c) Looking at the unit from a literary perspective, note the connection between the opening (vv.1-3) and the closing (v.13).

To get some idea of the layout of the land of Jerusalem in Davidic times, you may want to check the following website. While they have a political agenda, it will give you a more concrete idea of the area known as ‘city of David.’  Note that this area is lower than and outside of the current old city of Jerusalem.

Section II:  II Sam 6:1-23 religious matters

1) Read II Sam 6:1-10

a) The story of the loss and return of the ark are told in I Sam 4-7:1.  Our story picks up from there.

b) Where is David planning to take the ark?  Who is helping him out?

c) What did Uzza do?  Why?  What is the reaction?

d) What is David’s reaction?  What does it say about people’s relationship with God (in this story at least)?

2) Read II Sam 6:11-15

a) Where is the ark kept until David is willing to make another attempt at bringing it to the City of David?

b) What is ironic about this?

c) V.14 tells us that David is wearing an Efod.  Consider a few other occasions on which the Efod appears and try to learn something about it:  Ex. 28:4, Jud. 17:5, I Sam 2:18, 28, I Sam 22:18.

d) The ascent of the ark is a cultic event, including sacrifices.  Who/what character(s) seem to be missing from the story?

e) What does this section tell us about religious life in the time of David?  Does any of this differ from the image that you had in mind?

3) Read II Sam 6:16-19

a) Who is Michal daughter of Saul? (You can delve into her character using section 4 below.)  Why is she, and her reaction, introduced here?

b) Where is the ark placed?

c) Note the popular involvement in the ascent of the ark.  What is David’s relationship with the multitudes?

4) Read II Sam 6:20-23

a) Note that the king’s household is blessed by him after he has taken care of the people.  Is that good or bad?

b) In this section we witness a conflict regarding the position of the king.  How did Michal perceive it and what was David’s view of the event?  (If you did section 4, what might have caused this change in Michal’s attitude to David?)

c) Who/what is responsible for Michal’s childlessness?

5) If you are interested in pursuing the story further, look at its parallel in I Chronicles 13, 15:26-16:4.  Consider what was changed, added, and omitted.  What might be the reasons?

Bringing it all together:

What insights did you get from this material regarding the steps David deemed necessary to lay the foundation for his empire?  Have David’s methods been practice (in whole or parts of them) elsewhere in human history?  How do you feel about theory behind his actions?

For Inquiring Minds…..

1) If you are interested, you may wish to read the coronation story of Saul.

a) I Sam 8:4-22.  Samuel the prophet warns the people of the dangers inherit in the institution of kingship.  Is he correct?  How did the Torah, in Deut      attempt to solve some of these potential problems?

b) I Sam 10:1, 17-27. This is the actual coronation by Samuel and in front of the people.  What potential problem of Saul as king is being hinted to by his behavior here?

c) How does Saul’s coronation (including his behavior and the role of Samuel) compare to that of David that we studied above?

2) More about the ark:

a) If you are interested in exploring the ark’s qualities further, you may wish to read I Sam 4-7:1, and compare some of the incidents with our story.

b) What happened to the Tabernacle at Shilo which used to house the ark?  The only biblical hint we have is in Ps. 78:60.  What do you think happened?

3) The character of Michal deserves its own unit, but here is something to get you started.  The marriage of David and Michal (part I) is told in I Sam 18:14-28.

a) What was Saul’s intention in marrying David, the charismatic warrior, into his family?

b) Is it possible that such a marriage gave David a possible claim to the throne?

c) What is Michal’s motivation for the marriage?

d) The story evolves in I Sam 19:11-17.  What side is Michal on?  You may consider comparing Michal with Rachel (Gen 29:6-30, 31:19-35) both thematically and linguistically.

e) I Sam 25:44.  What does it tell us about Michal’s (impossible) position?

f) II Sam 3:12-16.  Is this a happy ending?  Why does David insist on getting her back?

Go to Next Class – David and Bath Sheba

Introduction To Recipe For An Empire


In this course we will focus on biblical materials relevant to the issue of how a fragmented tribal nation became unified, powerful kingdoms.  While the event that we are studying took place about two and a half millennia ago, the ideas and concepts have remained relevant.

A little background

As you will realize by looking at the table-of-content of your Tanakh, the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) is composed of 24 books that are divided into 3 main parts.  This is reflected in the name Tanakh which is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im and K(h)etuvim.

The first part, the Torah, is the part most people are familiar with.  It contains the 5 books of Moses that are read in weekly portions in the synagogue and completed (and started) each year on Simchat Torah.

The second part, Nevi’im (prophets) contains the historical books from the entry into the land of Israel until the destruction of the first temple in 586bce.  It contains, as well, the classical prophetic books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah etc.  The active period of classical prophecy seems to start in the 8th century bce, and will not be covered in this course.

The third part, K(h)etuvim (writings) contains material that did not fit into the previous categories (even if some of it is historic material).  Here you will find Psalms, the Megillot (such as Esther) and wisdom literature.

The dating of the composition of the different books is often both difficult and intriguing.  While classic Jewish sources view the Torah as being God-given but handwritten by Moses, the Nevi’im and K(h)etuvim parts are composed or compiled by people but were felt to be inspired and worth canonizing.

The main books that will interest us in this course will be Samuel and Kings (in Nevi’im) and Chronicles (in Ketuvim.)  There is no doubt that these books were compiled from various sources, but the questions that we might want to keep in the back of our minds are: Why was this material included?  What is the point of view of the narrator of this book?

Where are we on the timeline?  We will cover a time period of under 2 centuries, from circa year 1000 bce, when David united the people and established the first state capital of the people – Jerusalem, to the establishment Samaria in mid 800’s bce.

What text should I use? The biblical text was written in Hebrew.  It is often a masterfully constructed story in which the sound and the artful use of language play an important role.  I encourage you to try to read at least some of the original text.  However, translations are acceptable.  Keep in mind that you are receiving the text through an intermediary, and be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the translation.  If you find yourself disagreeing with the translation, you may be correct.

How to use the guiding questions sheets

The questions will focus on the main material studied.  However, it is often helpful and enlightening to go off on relevant tangents.  Such tangents will appear separately in color.  It is up to you if you wish to turn to those sources now, save them for some other time, or ignore them.  In general, it is up to you to divide your time according to your interests.

At the end of each week there is a Bringing it all together corner.  While weeks can be approached as individual units, this section attempts to bring us to use the material as a building block in the greater picture of the creation (and loss) of the 2 empires of Israel.


The main sources used in this course are from the Tanakh.  You will be referred to such sources by location (book – chapter – verse) so that you will be able to use the Tanakh (and translation) that you are comfortable with.  When outside sources in Hebrew are brought in (such as Gemara, Midrash or commentaries,) the verse quoted from our text will appear in bold to make it easier to see why the source is relevant to our material. (There may be verses from other biblical texts as well.)  All such texts will be followed by an English translation.


טוֹבִים הַשְּׁנַיִם מִן הָאֶחָד אֲשֶׁר יֵשׁ לָהֶם שָׂכָר טוֹב בַּעֲמָלָם: (קהלת ד,ט)

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. (Ecclesiastes 4:9).  Hevruta is an old and tried Jewish method of approaching studying.  It means finding a study partner with whom one can share, discuss, and (even) disagree.  From my experience, Hevruta is a terrific example of “gestalt”: The result of the learning in Hevruta is significantly greater than what would have been accomplished if each of the people had studied on their own. 

Go to Next Class – Concentrating The Power: State and Religion

Women Of Power: Zeresh – Megillat Esther

Women of Power: Zeresh

As far as biblical stories go, the story of Esther stands out in the prominent place women hold in it, as well as their sheer numbers.  Both Vashti and Esther, as The Queen, hold a significant spot in the story.  One cannot ignore a woman of the nobility:  Haman’s wife, Zeresh.  Of course, in addition to these strong ladies there are an untold number of young and beautiful women who were gathered to Shushan so that the king could decide if they are The One. (The rest spent their lives in the Harem, and returned to the king only if he remembered her by name.)

Oh, Once There Was a Wicked Wicked Woman…

Every significant man in the Megilla seems to have his female counterpart.  These women are at least as strong as the men. They either work with their male partner, or highlight his follies.  Vashti demonstrates what is considered proper and respectable behavior, (a woman, especially the queen, does not show herself at a party of drunken men.) presenting Ahasuerus as a drunk fool who has to be put back in line by his wife.  Esther works with Mordochai for a common goal, but it is her plan that will receive our attention.  And Zeresh, Haman’s wife….Let’s study her.


What influences Haman’s decision making?

This man is above all other people in the court.  He has the king’s ear, and is trusted with major decision.  But he flies into a rage over a person’s refusal to move in his honor.  Despite having already made arrangements for the killing of the people of Mordochai, Haman is not satisfied.  Actually, his rage outweighs his delight at being honored by the queen.  It can be expected that a powerful person will have formal advisors, but what role did his wife play behind the scenes in her husband’s decision making?

Who does Haman invite (v.10) and who advises him (v.14)?  Pay attention to the order of the people listed.

Haman seems to have invited his close friends (or his fan club) and his wife Zeresh to hear about his greatness:  His wealth, his many sons, and his high position in the court.

But what should he do about Mordochai?!  Note the order of the invitees:  First the “those that love him,” then his wife, Zeresh.  But who pushes to the front and speaks up first with a plan?  From the plural language of the rest of the verse it seems that the “fan club” agreed with her.

What is the difference between hers and Haman’s approach to handling Mordochai’s behavior?

Until now Haman has been satisfied with taking a long term revenge on the entire people of Mordochai.  But that is no longer placating him.  While Haman is interested in getting Mordochai out of the way, Zeresh seems to suggest making it a public punishment.  Haman likes her approach.  He shows up at the court in the dead of night, not waiting until morning.  It turns out to be a terrible mistake, the beginning of Haman’s undoing.   The reader gets the sense that Haman and Zeresh push each other in the same (destructive) direction.

Zeresh shows up again in 6:13, after Haman’s debacle.    Who does Haman talk to this time?  Who answers him?  Again, pay attention to the order of the people.

We get the sense that Haman’s wife and fan club from the day before are waiting for him.  After all, he was supposed to come back and deliver the news that the enemy is dead.  This time Zeresh is addressed first.  Why?  Is Haman hoping for consolation and sympathy?  Is he angry at her advice that had ruinous consequences?  His advisors and his wife (in that order) enlighten him; he is on his way down.  Where is the fan club?  What happened to the eager wife that suggested that her husband’s nemesis dangle from an extra tall gallows?

How does Zeresh view Esther (or her place)?

Her husband is invited there for private parties. Perhaps it is not only Ahasuerus who wonders what is going on.  And if Haman might harbor thoughts about gaining the throne, (Ahasuerus certainly suspects him of it,) than perhaps Zeresh wonders how good she might look with a crown.

Unlike the rest of the family, Zeresh disappears from the story.  Why?

This would not be an issue if we did not find out about the fate of Haman and his ten sons.  (We did not really know about them until their death.)  What happened to Zeresh?  She is not the first woman whom the Tanakh seems to treat with silence.  Rebecca is not mentioned again after she helps her son Jacob trick his aging father (her husband!) and his brother (her son.)  Is the “silent treatment” a biblical way to pass judgment, especially on women who stepped out of bounds by giving ill advice?

Video Summary of Women of Power

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