role of biblical woman

The Essential Role of a Biblical Woman

In Jewish Culture and History by Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

In Torah we read the following about Eve’s primary function:

וַיֹּאמֶר יהוה אֱלֹהִים לֹא־טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ אֶעֱשֶׂהּ־לּוֹ עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ׃

The LORD God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” (Gen. 2:18)

The Hebrew word for “woman” is אִשָּׁה (isha) and for “man” אִישׁ (ish). What is interesting, however, is that these two words, “man” אִישׁ (ish) and “woman” אִשָּׁה (isha), although they sound similar do not share a common Hebrew root. The word אִישׁ (ish) comes from the root אִוֵּשׁ, connoting “strength”, while the word אִשָּׁה (isha) comes from the root אֲנָשׁ (anash), meaning “fragile”. The Hebrew Bible, while acknowledging the woman to be a “weaker vessel” (as in 1 Peter 3:7), assigned to a woman a very important role indeed.

Unfortunately, the English word “helper” does not sufficiently communicate the power of the original Hebrew meaning. This word is, in fact, a military term. The use of עֵזֶר (ezer) “helper” connotes an active intervention on behalf of someone. It describes someone who is committed to your well-being to the extent that s/he is willing to die or kill for you.

Most English translations (including the one cited above) describe Adam’s life-partner, Eve, as something akin to a “fitting helper”. However, the Hebrew phrase עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (ezer kenegdo), if translated more literally, carries an intriguing meaning. Eve is described in oppositional terms, as “a helper who is against him”. It is also interesting that Proverbs 31:10 in referring to wisdom personified as a woman, calls her a אֵשֶׁת-חַיִל (eshet chayil) “a woman-soldier”!

Bible stories such as Zipporah opposing Moses, Tamar opposing Judah, Rahab opposing the elders of the city, and the Samaritan woman opposing male-sanctioned traditions and politics come to mind as examples. These great women of faith intervened, opposing the will of the men involved, and at great personal risk merited an unprecedented place in Biblical history.



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