Press release: Reclaiming Women in the Hebrew Bible

Journalists sitting and writing in notepads

Refers to God creating humankind in the image of God both ‘male and female’

Explores the wide variety of women’s roles - and virtues - in the Hebrew Bible including leaders, foreign agents and carers

Tells the stories of boundary-breaking women in the third part of the Hebrew Bible, and the perfect ‘Woman of Valour’

Embargo: 25 April 2023 2pm UK time

I would like to invite you to a lecture on Reclaiming Women in the Hebrew Bible by Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris, on 25th April 2023, 1pm (UK time) at Gresham College or online. In this lecture, Rabbi Dr Kahn-Harris will explore the narratives of women in the Hebrew Bible, telling the story of how she looked in books like  Great Jewish Women as a child to find role models for Jewish women.

Kahn-Harris will begin by narrating the two creation stories of the Hebrew Bible to highlight that in “the very first book of the Hebrew Bible at the crucial moment of the creation of human beings, gender is already clearly indicated as a reflection of the divine – and it is both genders that are accorded this divinity.” She will look at the second creation story which creates a human being that is, perhaps, a hermaphrodite. “The early rabbis imagine that this creature was half-male and half-female and that when it was put into a deep sleep, rather than a rib being removed, the creature was simply divided in half….thus the woman is not subservient to the man but rather part of the original dual gendered human”. 

More complex stores of women are found in the books of Joshua and Judges, which “speak to a time first of conquest and then, as the Israelites attempt to settle the land, a time of decentralised governance, local politics, skirmishes, and lawlessness – a bit like the Wild West. During such a time, we should not be surprised to find that gender roles, like so many other social boundaries, are not rigidly enforced. Women can be leaders, like Deborah, and killers of enemy generals, like Jael, but they are also wives, mothers, prostitutes, spies, and victims of extreme, gender-based violence.”

Despite the numerous stories of female suffering, “perhaps the most problematic woman of the whole of the Hebrew Bible is not a real woman at all, but an archetype found in the Book of Proverbs. Described at the end of Proverbs is the most perfect woman in the world, the Woman of Valour. She works herself to the bone from before dawn until well into the night. She runs a perfect household, managing all of its affairs. She bears numerous children. She gives to the poor. She makes clothes for everyone. She provides so well that her husband has no responsibilities, bar sitting at the gates of the city with the other men. And, most of all, she is happy with her place in the world.”

Kahn-Harris will conclude with some of the questions which the Hebrew Bible poses for women: how can a woman deal with the demands of heteronormative society to have children? In what ways can women wield power and authority? How do women relate to their spiritual selves?


Notes to Editors

You can sign up to watch the hybrid lecture online or in person; or email us for an embargoed transcript or speak to Dr Kahn-Harris: / 07799 738 439

Read more about Rabbi Dr Kahn-Harris

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