Biblical Women Speak


Biblical Women Speak

Hearing Their Voices through New and Ancient Midrash

Rabbi Marla J. Feldman

242 pages
1 appendix, 1 glossary


July 2023


$26.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
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July 2023


$26.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

July 2023


$26.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

What were biblical women thinking and doing when the men around them received all the attention and glory? How did Leah, Rachel, and their handmaids negotiate the complicated family dynamics of four women vying for Jacob’s affections? What compelled Potiphar’s wife to risk her high station to seduce Joseph, an enslaved foreigner? How did the midwives and Pharoah’s daughter conspire to rescue baby Moses, right under Pharoah’s nose?

Biblical Women Speak employs midrash (interpretative techniques) to discover ten biblical women’s stories from a female point of view and provide insights beyond how ancient male scholars viewed them. Each chapter brings alive a different biblical woman, including non-Israelite characters and others who are neglected in classical rabbinic texts, such as Keturah (Abraham’s last wife), Bat Shuah (Judah’s wife), Shelomith (the infamous blasphemer’s mother), and Noah (one of Zelophehad’s brave daughters who demanded inheritance rights). After each featured text we hear a creative retelling of the woman’s story in her own voice, followed by traditional midrash and medieval commentaries and the author’s reflections on how these tales and interpretations are relevant for today.

Rabbi Marla J. Feldman’s book is an engaging invitation to enter biblical narratives, challenge conventional wisdom, and recalibrate the stories and lessons through the lens of our own lives.

Author Bio

Rabbi Marla J. Feldman is executive director emerita of Women of Reform Judaism. She has published numerous articles about the role of women in Jewish life and social justice issues, and her modern midrashim have appeared in several collections. She is the author of Reform Movement action manuals, including Speak Truth to Power.


"Women in the Bible are often unnamed, defined sole­ly by their rela­tion­ships with oth­ers. Take Judah’s wife, for exam­ple. She is known as Bat Shua, or 'daugh­ter of Shua.' This label­ing, or lack there­of, makes it easy for sto­ries like hers to be sub­sumed by those of men. Feld­man, by con­trast, dives into these women’s sto­ries, bring­ing them to life with depth and insight. Feldman’s analy­sis of Miriam’s sto­ry is a stand­out of the book."—Jewish Book Council

"Few things are more powerful than bringing a voice to the voiceless. Biblical Women Speak is an excellent model for what bringing a voice to the voiceless can look like in the twenty-first century. Our rabbinic community will benefit from the masterful work."—CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly

"Like the traditional rabbis and commentators, [Rabbi] Feldman tells biblical verses, and midrashic commentaries, and lifts them out of their context, refashions them, and creates new understandings which can speak to us in our day."—Women in Judaism e-journal

"An inspirational book, which speaks to us of the issues of our times . . . through Jewish classical, modern and feminist lenses. . . . A masterpiece of scholarship, creativity and exquisite writing."—Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, Jerusalem Report

"A good choice for a synagogue library or a reader interested in a feminist viewpoint. The book can be used in a variety of ways. It could be a reference source for Rabbis and educators. The author's own modern midrashim can be read as short stories and used by discussion groups or book clubs to spark questioning and further delve into these biblical women's lives."—Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews

"Readers looking to better understand midrash will particularly enjoy the sections on classic commentary, while those interested in new ways of understanding the text will find the contemporary midrash of interest. Biblical Women Speak would also make an excellent text for Torah discussion groups."—Rabbi Rachel Esserman, Reporter

"For the most part the sages neglected these minor [female] characters or viewed them negatively. . . . Feldman brings this conversation into the modern era: She composes midrashim that turn these biblical characters into real human beings, facing problems familiar to those of women (and men) today. . . . Who deserve our attention and our respect, and who should never be cast out of our community."—Moment Magazine

"I am very impressed by the author’s creativity and in-depth understanding of her characters. . . . There are ten retellings (or stories) in this stunning collection. . . . Most of the stories focus on characters that we don’t usually think about. . . . What is most interesting to me is how she enables us to empathize with these marginal biblical women. The book is arranged meticulously and is clearly well-researched. . . . I plan to use Feldman's fascinating midrashim . . . in my future classes."—Naomi Graetz, Times of Israel blog

“Meeting these new role models of Jewish womanhood—some famous, others voiceless or infamous and nameless in the Torah—left me both enlightened and delighted. Reading the biblical text, rabbinic commentary, modern midrash, and Rabbi Feldman’s contemporary commentary illuminated four dimensions of these remarkable women.”—Maggie Anton, author of Rashi’s Daughters

“Rabbi Marla J. Feldman is a marvelous teacher, and in Biblical Women Speak she proves to also be a weaver of ancient, modern, and original texts that give voice to women of the Bible who were often ignored or nameless, filling a void that has existed for centuries. Accessible for both beginner and advanced students, Biblical Women Speak should be required in any class of midrash.”—Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, executive director, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism

Table of Contents

1. Keturah: Abraham’s Last Wife
            Biblical Text: Genesis 25:1–6
            Modern Midrash: Keturah, The Great Mother of Many Generations
            Classical Commentary and Midrash: Devoted Wife or Concubine?
            Author’s Commentary: Keturah’s Missing Story—Filling in the Blanks
2. Leah and Rachel: Devoted Sisters and Bitter Rivals
            Biblical Text: Genesis 35:16–21
            Modern Midrash: Leah’s Eulogy
            Classical Commentary and Midrash: Sisters, Wives, Rivals, and Matriarchs
            Author’s Commentary: A Tale of Two Sisters
3.  Bat Shua: Judah’s Unnamed Wife
            Biblical Text: Genesis 38:1–12
            Modern Midrash: The Woman Who Mourns
            Classical Commentary and Midrash: Judah’s Family Misfortune
            Author’s Commentary: Bat Shua’s Tragic Tale of Lust and Loss
4. Bilhah: The Loving Handmaid
            Biblical Text: Genesis 50:15–17
            Modern Midrash: A Letter to My Beloved Son Joseph
            Classical Commentary and Midrash: Bilhah the Servant, Sister, Surrogate, Spouse
            Author’s Commentary: Emissary of Forgiveness
5. Pharaoh’s Daughters, Part 1: Potiphar’s Unnamed Wife
            Biblical Text: Genesis 39:1–19
            Modern Midrash: Zuleikha, the Prison Mistress
            Classical Commentary and Midrash: Potiphar’s Wife in the Joseph Narrative
            Author’s Commentary: A Name and Narrative for Potiphar’s Wife
6. Pharaoh’s Daughters, Part 2: Puah, Shiphrah, and the Sacred Sisterhood
            Biblical Text: Exodus 1:8–22
            Modern Midrash: The Sacred Sisterhood
            Classical Commentary and Midrash: The Subversive Midwives
            Author’s Commentary: The Midwives’ Tale
7. Pharaoh’s Daughters, Part 3: The Princess and the Slave Girl Who Rescue Moses
            Biblical Text: Exodus 2:1–9
            Modern Midrash: Amat-Bat-Ra, the Servant Savior
            Classical Commentary and Midrash: Princess, Protector, Prophet
            Author’s Commentary: A Conspiracy of Women
8. Shelomith Bat Dibri: The Blasphemer’s Mother
            Biblical Text: Leviticus 24:10–14
            Modern Midrash: Testament of Shelomith
            Classical Commentary and Midrash: The Biblical Tale of the Blasphemer
            Author’s Commentary: A Mother’s Anguish
9. Miriam: Exiled by God, Dwelling beyond the Camp
            Biblical Text: Numbers 12:1–16
            Modern Midrash: Miriam’s Fringes
            Classical Commentary and Midrash: Crime and Punishment
            Author’s Commentary: Outcasts and Angels
10. Noah: Daughter of Zelophehad
            Biblical Text: Numbers 27:1–8, 36:1–12
            Modern Midrash: Noah and Elishama—A Love Story
            Classical Commentary and Midrash: Five Righteous Women
            Author’s Commentary: Rights Given and Taken Away
Appendix: Overview of Midrash
Glossary of Classical Sources

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