Jewish marriage is acclaimed as a positive model of interpersonal connection between a man and woman, in which it presents a paradigm of stability and mutual respect. Conversely, it has also been decried as constraining women through marriage, due to the unilateral acquisition of a woman by a man in the Jewish marriage ceremony. Unilateral acquisition by the husband results in the husband’s unilateral right to release her through divorce or prevent her release and possible remarriage. The technical formality of marital acquisition becomes oppressive for women in Jewish society when the marriage has disintegrated without the man issuing a writ of divorce (get). The roots of this dilemma are deep and were already well-established in the ancient world. One of the terms for husband in the Bible and later rabbinic literature is ba’al whose primary meaning is owner or master after the name of the Canaanite deity.
Judith Butler maintains that the foundations for interpretation in our postmodern age are clearly contingent. There can no longer be single claims to universality with a single totalizing narrative. Jewish marriage can no longer be described only as a paradigm of stability and mutual respect. When the foundations shift, epistemology must be transformed. G. W. F. Hegel’s description of the master-slave relationship is a fruitful model from which to analyze classical rabbinic texts concerning Jewish marriage and household slaves. Tractate Qiddushin juxtaposes the acquisition of women to the acquisition of slaves (mQiddushin 1:1–3). This article will focus on a Hegelian analysis of master-slave relationships through biblical and postbiblical classical Jewish texts, most of which relate to marriage, and the lasting impact of the master-slave relationship to Jewish marriage.
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See, for example, Yisrael ben Reuven, Male and Female He Created Them (Jerusalem: Targum Press, 1996), 31–50; Hyman E. Goldin, The Jewish Woman and Her Home (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1941) 267–73; Lisa Aiken, To Be a Jewish Woman (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 1992), 123–52; and Sarah Chana Radcliffe, Aizer K’negdo: The Jewish Woman’s Guide to Happiness in Marriage (Southfield, MI: Targum Press Inc., 1988).
See, e.g., Susan Aronoff and Rivka Haut, The Wed-Locked Agunot: Orthodox Jewish Women Chained to Dead Marriages (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2015); Jack Nusan,ed. Women in Chains: A Sourcebook on the Agunah (Northvale, NJ: J. Aronson, 1995) and Susan M. Weiss and Netty C. Gross-Horowitz Marriage and Divorce in the Jewish State: Israel’s Civil War (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2012).
Judith Butler, “Contingent Foundations,” in Feminists Theorize the Political, eds. Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott (New York: Routledge, 1992), 3–21.
This is followed by the acquisition of animals and objects (mQiddushin 1:4–5). In this article the following abbreviations will be used: m = Mishnah, t = Tosefta, b = Babylonian Talmud.
Howard P. Kainz, Hegel’s Phenomenology, Part I: Analysis and Commentary. Studies in the Humanities No. 12 Philosophy (University, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 1976), 73.
Object-ego is Kainz’s terminology on p. 86.
Other biblical texts demonstrating the relation- ship between a slave and his master include: Exod. 21:1–6 dealing with the Hebrew debt slave; Exod. 21:20–21 dealing with injury to a non-Israelite slave; Leviticus 25:39–55 dealing with a Hebrew debt slave owned by an Israelite or a resident alien. These texts will not be dealt with in this paper as the main focus will be wifehood and slavery. Lev. 19:20–22 dealing with a man who has carnal relations with a slave woman designated for another man but who has not yet been freed or redeemed will also not be discussed. For critical discussion on the last text, see Diane Kriger, Sex Rewarded and Sex Punished: The Status of the Female Slave (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2011), 151–218.
Targum refers to the Aramaic translations of the Pentateuch. Targum Onkelos is generally considered a fairly literal translation written in a form of Middle Aramaic, that is, postbiblical Aramaic. It has, however, several thousand changes or additions to the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible which reflect attempts to avoid anthropomorphisms, grammat- ical changes, additions of explanation, etc. See
H. ayyim H. amiel, HaMiqra veTargumav (Jerusalem: Meirim, 2001). Targum Onkelos was most likely composed in the Land of Israel but underwent editorial changes in Babylonia. As a result, its Aramaic is not totally Western as in the Land of Israel or Eastern as in Babylonia. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Targum Yerushalmi and the fragment Targums are somewhat later and tend to include a great deal of midrashic material, some of which is found in our extant midrashic collections or in the Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmuds. Targum Neofiti is considered as originating in the Byzantine period and also includes much midrashic material. These are written in western Aramaic.
Midrash Halakha is a genre of legal exegesis of the Pentateuch excluding the book of Genesis. In this literature rabbinic sages of the second and third centuries CE attempt to derive the law from words or phrases in the verses on the basis of certain hermeneutic rules.
Midrash Aggada is the homiletic exegesis on various biblical books. We shall refer to Theodor-Albeck edition of Bereishit Rabbah which is considered to be the earliest midrashic collection probably dating from the fourth century CE and composed in the Land of Israel. References to it will be by parasha number and section. Shemot Rabbah on Exodus and the other homiletic collections are considered to be somewhat later.
Nearly all of the rabbinic comments originate in the Land of Israel during the second to the fourth centuries of the Common Era during which time the area was under Roman rule and subject to very strong Hellenistic influence. Lieberman’s books, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine: Studies in the Literary Transmission, Beliefs, and Manners of Palestine in the I Century BCE.–IV Century CE (1962), and Greek in Jewish Palestine; Studies in the Life and Manners of Jewish Palestine in the 2 to 4 Centuries C.E (1965) were among the first major studies on Hellenism and rabbinic Judaism. This has continued to be a fruitful area of study with scores of books and articles.
This section is attributed to the J editor of the Pentateuch and most likely supplemented by another biblical editor. See Tzemah Yoreh, The First Book of God (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 49–57.
Biblical translations are from Jewish Publication Society Tanakh unless otherwise noted and all translations of the other Hebrew and Aramaic texts are mine.
The early rabbinic homiletic midrash, Bereishit Rabbah 45:16 claims that Hagar actually lost royal status because she was given to Sarai by her father, the Pharaoh, who had taken Sarai into his household when Abram claimed to be her brother in Genesis 12:12–13. “Rabbi Shimon ben Yoh . ai said: Hagar was Pharoah’s daughter. Once he saw the deeds that were done to Sarah in his house he took his daughter and gave [her] to her [Sarai] and said: Better she be a slave in this house than a Matrona [high status mistress] in another house.” This is fol- lowed by a word play based on Hagar’s name and the root for reward or payment, agar, is used there as proof that she was the slave. Earlier in this midrash, a claim is made that Hagar was a particular type of slave who could not be sold onwards and must be supported. These conditions are similar to the status of wife and the beautiful captive woman. A similar gifting of a daughter as a slave is attributed also to Abimelekh as compensation for taking Sarah into his household in the continuation of the midrash. He was threatened by God in a dream for attempted adultery. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Genesis 17:1 identifies Hagar as “the daughter of Pharaoh who gave her to him [Abram] as a slave when he took her [Sarai] and troubled her.” This is an attempt by the rabbinic sages to demonstrate Pharaoh’s and Abimelekh’s submission to the Israelite deity. God afflicts Pharaoh for his attempted adultery, albeit unwitting adultery, as he believed Sarai was Abram’s sister. According to Bereishit Rabbh 40:17, Pharaoh did know Sarai was married and yet persisted in his sexual overtures. Only angelic intervention guided by Sarai prevented his success. See below.
It is unclear whether this is the life-and-death combat to which Hegel refers. See Michael Inwood, trans. The Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 187, 78 and Inwood’s commentary on it pp. 398–99. Rape certainly was possible in the situation and perhaps even mortal violence.
See Yoreh, The First Book of God, 50–51.
Targum Yerushalmi is a fragmentary Targum similar in many ways to Targum Pseudo-Jonathan.
The reference to miracles is connected in Bereishit Rabbah 45:2 to the pursuit of Chedorlaomer and his fellow kings and soldiers who captured Abram’s nephew, Lot, and his family by Abraham and his three hundred and eighteen servants born of his household in Genesis 14. The servants were apparently led by Eliezer (or Eliezer by himself because the numerical equivalent gematria of Eliezer is 318) and pursued the kings all the way to Damascus. They successfully recap- tured Lot and all others of Sodom and their goods and restored them to their king. The exact nature of the miracle is unspecified but is connected to warfare.
The Fragment Targum V on this verse has “he thinks in his bones” rather than “expects” which seems to indicate a more deeply held belief. See The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon on this verse for FTV at this website: http://cal.huc.edu/showtargum.php
The Nuzi documents give testimony to the ancient practice of the use of a slave woman by her infertile mistress as a surrogate and the mistress’ subsequent authority over the child. See James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, trans. W. Albright (Princeton: Princeton University Press), Code of Hammurabi 146, 172. See also A. K. Grayson and J. Van Seters, “The Childless Wife in Assyria and the Stories in Genesis,” Orientalia n.s. 44, no. 4 (1975): 485–86 and the bibliography there; Raymond Westbrook, Old Babylonian Marriage Law (Horn: Ferdinand Berger, 1988), 106; Tikva Frymer-Kensky, “Patriarchal Family Relationships and Near Eastern Law,” Biblical Archaeologist 44 (1981): 209–14. Nahum Sarna in Genesis (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 207 refers to the Hittite adoption ceremonies which include birthing child on the knees of the adopter. Such language is found in Gen. 30:3 in reference to Bilha giving birth on Rachel’s knees and in Gen. 50:23 on Joseph’s great grandchildren being born on his knees. See Kriger, Sex Rewarded, 313–44 for thorough discussion of the status of Zilpah and Bilhah.
Seder Olam Rabbah, chap. 1 claims that Abram did not “marry” Hagar until there had been ten years of infertility with Sarah in the land of Canaan. See below.
The offspring would have its father’s Hebrew status. This is in contrast to later rabbinic law where Jewishness goes through the mother.
Despite the fact that Sarai’s name has not yet been officially changed, Bereishit Rabbah refers to her as Sarah.
This is one of the foundations of ‘woman,’ that is, one of the ways women have been represented and evaluated throughout history. See, e.g., Lorrene M. G. Clark and Lynda Lange, eds. The Sexism of Social and Political Theory: Women and Reproduction from Plato to Nietzsche (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979). Feminist standpoint theory attempts to make a theoretical basis for knowledge production by women which is distinct from that of men. Nancy Hartsock, “The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism,” in Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science, eds. S. Harding and M. B. Hintikka (Boston: Reidel, 1983), 283–310 sees the master-slave relationship as the foundation for the founding dynamic for gender relations which she calls abstract masculinity. The hostility, conflicts and domination in that relationship eliminates the possibility of emancipation. Others, like Nancy Changfoot, “Feminist Standpoint Theory, Hegel and the Dialectical: Shifting the Foundations,” Journal of Philosophy & Social Criticism 30, no. 4 (2004): 477–502, see the Hegelian master-slave relationship as dynamic. The master depends to some extent on the recognition of the slave. The recognition by the slave of the master is incomplete because equality does not exist between them. This leaves space for feminist theorizing. Changfoot (p. 499) feels that Hegel’s sexism and disqualification of women as unequal in capacity for self-reflection “are not essential to his idea of the knowing self.”
See, e.g., mYevamot 6:6 and tYevamot 8:5.
Nimrod was considered a powerful idol worshiping king who imprisoned Abram. One manuscript of Targum Pseudo-Jonathan added in this complaint an anachronism because it is out of the biblical nar- rative sequence: “I came before Pharaoh the king of Egypt [Genesis 13] and before Abimelekh the king of the Philistines [Genesis 20] and I said to them on your account: ‘He is my brother’—in order that they will not kill you.” We shall return to these episodes below.
Jeffrey A. Gauthier, Hegel and Feminist Social Criticism: Justice, Recognition, and the Feminine (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997), 128. He is discussing “Self-Consciousness” 187. I shall quote from Michael Inwood’s new translation and commentary G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 78: “Thus the relationship of the two self-consciousnesses is determined in such a way that they prove themselves and each other through a life-and-death combat. They must engage in this combat, for they must elevate their certainty of themselves, certainty of being for themselves, to the truth, in the other and in themselves. And it is only through staking one’s life that freedom is established, that is proved that to self-consciousness the essence is not Being, not the immediate mode in which it comes on the scene, not in its submergence in the expansion of life,—but rather there is nothing present in it which would not be a vanishing moment for it, that it is only pure Being- for-itself. The individual who has not risked his life may well be recognized as a person; but it has not attained to the truth of this recognition as recognition of an independent self-consciousness . . . ” Inwood comments on p. 399, “Perhaps Hegel’s idea is that X begins by simply wanting to kill Y, but as the fight proceeds and Y displays his mettle, it occurs to him that it would be better to get his recognition.”
In Gen. 26:8 Abimelekh witnesses Isaac “fondling/sporting” with Rebekah, a form of intimate behavior from which he deduces that that they are married. A parallel to the root, tz.ḥ.q., in another dialect of Hebrew, is s.ḥ.q., meaning“to play”and is used in bNid- dah 13b as one who marries a minor girl or has homo- sexual relations with a boy. Bereishit Rabbah 53:9–10 lists a number of transgressions connected to the root tz.ḥ.q., including sexual sins such as rape and adultery as well as the reference to Potiphar’s wife’s claim that Joseph attacked her sexually (Genesis 39:17), along with idol worship and murder. These transgressions— adultery/incest, idol worship and murder—are the only ones absolutely forbidden to Jews, who given a choice between transgressing them or martyrdom must choose death. This usage is rhetorical and is used to emphasize the severity of a given act. See, e.g., bNiddah 13ab in reference to male masturbation.
Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer (Higger 29) and Yalkut Shimoni (VaYeira 95) have similar additions. According to Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer Abraham fastened some kind of garment to her hips that flowed after her to indicate that she was a slave. Other versions have a water barrel or a chain to indicate her status as slave. See Michael Maher, The Aramaic Bible Volume 1B Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), 75, note 15. See also the discussion by Avigdor Shinan, The Aggadah In the Aramaic Targums to the Pentateuch (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Makor, 1979), vol. 1; Gen. 21:14.
See, e.g., mHorayot 3:8 where the freed slave has a status below the convert, tYevamot 11:2 where his freed slave brother has no obligations in levirate marriage, and tQiddushin 4:15 where even if a woman born Jewish married a freed slave, the offspring would have the status of a freed slave. In contrast, a man with an unmarried daughter who had reached adulthood is urged to free his slave enabling the slave to marry his daughter in bPesahim 113a. The manumission constitutes conversion.
According to this midrash, the “young men” who accompanied Abraham and Isaac are not only called slaves but compared to animals: “He said to his two young men: Do you see what I see? They said to him: No. He said: Since you do not see, sit you here with the donkey because you resemble a donkey. From this [we learn] that slaves resemble donkeys.”
A similar argument is found in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan 22:1 between Isaac and Ishmael about who should inherit Abraham. Ishmael claims his right to inherit as he is the firstborn to which Isaac responds that he is the son of the maidservant as opposed to the son of the wife which he is. Ishmael counters that he offered himself willingly for circumcision at the age of thirteen whereas Isaac was only eight days old but he might not have been willing to undergo circumcision had he been aware. Isaac responds that if God asked of him all his body parts he would not refuse. This sets up the binding of Isaac.
The reference to the status of the child according to the defective status of the parent is to mQiddushin 3:12.
See Tzemah Yoreh, The First Book of God, 65–78 in which the Elohist does sacrifice Isaac but the Yahwistic supplement rescues him.
See Diane Kriger, Sex Rewarded, 54–57, 62. Hagar’s slave status did not extend to her son in the biblical texts, but he was not Abraham’s heir. The midrash, in contrast, emphasizes his quasi-slave status.
According to Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer 32, Sarah dies because the Satan Samael reported to her that Isaac had been sacrificed as a burnt offering.
In midrashic sources the steward is equated with Eliezer, but in this chapter of Genesis only the term עבד slave/steward is used rather than the name.
Midrash Sekhel Tov (Gen.) 29:24; 29 claims that Zilpah and Bilhah were actually biological daughters of Laban, the father of Leah and Rachel, through concubines. The difference in status between the mistresses and the maidservants had to do with the legitimacy and status of the mothers. An alternative explanation in that text states that they were the daughters of the brother of Rebekah’s nursemaid whom Laban redeemed from captivity.
Martin McNamara brings the relevant bibliography for this reading in The Aramaic Bible Volume 1A Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis p. 171, note 3.
The polygynist husband, according to rabbinic law, was expected to provide a separate dwelling for each of his wives. It seems here that the wives had their own tents, but that Jacob preferred to stay with Rachel. When Rachel died her maidservant replaced her to some extent. It is not clear if she became the wet nurse for the newborn Benjamin as only birth order but not the relative ages of children are mentioned in the Bible.
For a fuller discussion on the significance of not reading in the vernacular see M. McNamara, The New Testament and the Palestinian Targum to the Pentateuch. Analecta Biblica 27. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1966; reprinted 1978, and Michael Klein, “Not to Be Translated in Public –l’ mtrgm bsbwr’,” JJS 39 (1988), 80–91 especially 82–84. Targum Neofiti does not provide an Aramaic translation here.
See, e.g., 2 Sam. 16:22 concerning Absalom having sexual relations with David’s concubines.
James H. Charlesworth, ed. The Old Testament Pseudoepigrapha (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1983–85), 782.
One possible reason for the change in terminology is that different biblical sources are involved. Many of the Abraham sources and Jacob sources are attributed to the Elohistic (E) source while this account of Reuben is attributed to the Priestly source (P). See Tzemah Yoreh, The First Book of God, 111–12.
See Ian Craft et al, “Will removal of anonymity influence the recruitment of egg donors? A survey of past donors and recipients,” Reproductive BioMedicine Online 10 (3) (2005): 325–29.
This latter work is fragmentary and partially reconstructed from quotations and other rabbinic literature and commentaries. Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael is divided into pareshiot and verses. The references will include the page number in the Rabinovitz-Rabin edition appear as Mekh.RY I 2, 247, with the Roman numeral referring to paresha and the number to the verse of Exodus 21. Mekhilta of Rabbi Simeon ben Yoh. ai (Mekh. Rashbi) will be referred to according to chapter and verse and page in the Epstein-Melamed, for example, Mekh. Rashbi 21:2, 159.
Mordekhai Margaliot, ed., Midrash HaGadol Shemot (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1967).
Deut. 15:12–18 does envision women Jewish slaves, but it is unclear whether they are debt slaves in their own right or taken in with their husbands where the husband or the Jewish master would provide protection.
Manumission of a non-Jewish slave by a Jewish master constituted conversion to Judaism for that slave.
For a thorough discussion of the status of female slaves in rabbinic literature, see Diane Kriger, Sex Rewarded, 121–50.
Inwood, Phenomenology, 193 refers to the ‘servile consciousness’ and in 194 the servitude does not exist only in relationship to lordship. In our situation the servitude constitutes a livable reality for the slave.
For a short discussion of the three parallel blessings (who has not made me a slave, who has not made me a woman, who has not made me a Gentile) see Saul Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-fshutah Zera’im on Berakhot 6:18, 120, notes 72–77. See also Rachel Elior “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, who hast not made me a woman,” in Men and Women: Gender, Judaism and Democracy, ed. Rachel Elior (Jerusalem: Van Leer Jerusalem Urim Publications, 2004), 81–96.
Minority in Jewish law extends to the time a girl sprouts two pubic hairs after she has reached the age of twelve years and a day. After that time she is considered a‘maiden’for six months. Betrothal or marriage was expected during that time or earlier. She was under the absolute control of her father during these two stages of her life. If she had not been betrothed as the Hebrew maidservant prior to the time she sprouted pubic hairs, she was automatically released without further payment. Six months after sprouting the pubic hair and attaining the age of twelve years, the girl became a legal adult. For a more complete discussion of the legalities involved, see Tirzah Meacham (leBeit Yoreh), Sefer Ha-Bagrut leRav Shemuel ben Hofni Gaon, Introduction, 17–24.
The reference number refers to the pisqa number in Finkelstein’s edition.
The word ‘take’ from the Hebrew root l.q.h. signifies sexual intercourse as well as marriage. We see that bKiddushin 22a makes the assumption that he had intercourse with her prior to taking her to his home.The final verse of this section uses another root, ענה , which means among other things to humiliate and to rape. Sifrei Deuteronomy 214 assumes that there was at least one act of rape. See Pearl Elman, “Deuteronomy 21:10– 14: The Beautiful Captive Woman,” in Vixens Disturbing Vineyards: The Embarrassment and Embracement of Scriptures, eds. Tzemah Yoreh et al (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2010), 208–18; Yoam Yoreh, “The Beautiful Captive Woman in Sifrei and Early Exegesis,” (Hebrew) in Vixens Disturbing Vineyards, ed. Tzemah Yoreh et al (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2010), 626–34; and James Diamond, “The Deuteronomic Pretty Woman Law: Prefiguring Feminism and Freud in Nahmanides,” Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society n.s. 14, no. 2 (2008): 61–85.
This text is attributed to the Yahwist (J).
This story has an Elohistic basis but with some Yahwistic additions. See Tzemah Yoreh, The First Book of God, 49–57.
Because the story of Abimelekh is juxtaposed to the pregnancy with Isaac, Bereishit Rabbah 53:6 and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (Gen. 21:2) ‘prove’ that Abraham was Isaac’s father by the fact that his (Isaac’s) physical features were the very likeness of Abraham’s features.
Elsewhere these children are considered to be con- ceived from nocturnal emissions. Lilith and other demonesses function as succubuses, producing children with human men by using their ejaculate from nocturnal emissions.
Concerning the types of marriage in the Bible, see Louis Epstein, Sex Lawsand Customs in Judaism (New York: Kav Publishing House, 1968).
See Kriger, Sex Rewarded, 219–37.
For example, Harry Fox (leBeit Yoreh) and Tirzah Meacham (leBeit Yoreh), “Sanctity in Jewish Marriage,” (Hebrew) in To be a Jewish Woman, Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference: Womanand Her Judaism, Tova Cohen, ed. (Jerusalem: Kolech-Religious Women’s Forum, 2007), 325–45. See RAMBI marriage ceremonies for other examples.
For example, Susan M. Weiss and Netty C. Gross-Horowitz, Marriage and Divorce in the Jewish State: Israel’s Civil War (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2012).
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