Category: The Blessed Home
Talmidot shel Yeshua
As women, perhaps we've come to accept that the disciples of Yeshua were some sort of men-only club. That said, would it catch you off guard to learn that Yeshua took women as disciples too?
When we think of the disciples in Yeshua's time, most of us assume that they were men. After all, most of the Bible, at first glance, speaks of "The Twelve Disciples," who were all men. As women, perhaps we've come to accept that the disciples of Yeshua were some sort of men-only club. That said, would it catch you off guard to learn that Yeshua took women as disciples too?
This article is titled Talmidot Shel Yeshua ("The Disciples of Yeshua"). If you know Hebrew, then you will recognize that the word for "disciples" is in the feminine form. If you're not familiar with Hebrew, let's take a quick look at the Hebrew word for "disciple," talmid (×ªÖ¼Ö·×œÖ°×žÖ´×™×“). It means "learner" or "student." It comes from the root lamad (×œÖ¸×žÖ·×“), which means "to learn." Talmid is the masculine form of this word, but when we add the Hebrew letters, vav and tav as a suffix, the word becomes talmidot (×ªÖ¼Ö·×œÖ°×žÖ´×™×“×ª) and can be translated as "women disciples." After all, women can be students too.
In Yeshua's day, it was almost unheard of for a sage to take on a woman as a disciple. Yet we do find one exception. There was a famous "sage-ess" recorded in historical literature. Her name was Beruria. Beruria's father was the head of a second-century Torah school in the Galilean village of Sekaniah.1 Beruria's father discipled her along with his other students, and Beruria came to be known as one of the sharpest Torah scholars of her generation. As far as I know, there is no other mention of any other women being disciples or Torah scholars. Yeshua, on the other hand, did have women among His disciples.
"At the Feet" of the Teacher
One story that shows us Yeshua's attitude toward women becoming disciples is found in the book of Luke. While He was in the home of Miriam and Marta (Mary and Martha), Yeshua was teaching. His disciples were all gathered around Him, and so was Mary.
We're probably all familiar with this story, and we've probably all heard comments about it. I have sat through several women's Bible studies that berate Martha as an obsessive and irreverent woman for not listening to the Master's teachings in exchange for being too wrapped up in her housework. I have also heard belittling opinions of Mary for being a lazy woman who did not participate in hospitality of guests and left all the work to Martha in the kitchen. There may be some truth to both sides of the argument, but let's look at the story in its historical setting.
When we study the context and culture of the Gospels, we learn that these verses are pictures of Torah lifestyle within first-century Judaism. Luke says that Miriam (Mary) was "seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word" (Luke 10:39). To be "seated at a teacher's feet" is actually an early Jewish expression for discipleship.
For example, in the book of Acts, Paul says that he was "educated under Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3), who was a famous Torah Sage. The Greek for this statement literally says that Paul sat "at the feet of Gamaliel."
A proverb from Pirkei Avot, The Sayings of the Fathers, illustrates the scene in Miriam and Marta's house that day:
Yose b. Yo'ezer used to say, "Let thy house be a house of meeting for the Sages and [let] thyself be covered by the dust of their feet, and drink in their words with thirst." (m.Avot 1:4)
What a great picture of Miriam, who opened her home to let Yeshua meet with His disciples. While He taught, she sat at His feet and drank in His words! This was quite a different assessment of Mary than the one with which I had been familiar. Her heart was to learn from the Master, to be discipled by His teachings.
A Woman's Place
In the story, Miriam's sister Marta is busy with the meal preparations. They are hosting Yeshua and his twelve disciples for dinner. The Scriptures record that Marta becomes irritated with Miriam because, while Marta is busy in the kitchen, Miriam is learning with the men. Miriam appears to have stepped outside of her societal role as a woman. She is sitting with the disciples instead of cooking for them. Marta complains to Yeshua, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me" (Luke 10:40).
According to the social rules of Jewish culture, both then and now, we would expect Yeshua to agree with Marta and send Miriam into the kitchen "where she belonged." Instead, He turns everyone's expectations over and says:
Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41-42)
What is the "good part" that Miriam chose? She chose discipleship. Yeshua says that He would not take that privilege away from her.
This story should encourage us, as women, to choose discipleship when we can. But am I suggesting that women dismiss or look down on our traditional roles as mothers, homemakers and caretakers? No, and I don't believe Yeshua was either. Yeshua was not encouraging Miriam and Marta to defy their gender roles. Instead, He was encouraging them to broaden their definition of their gender role.
Previously, they may have thought of Torah study and discipleship as a "men-only club," something inappropriate for women to engage in. Study and discipleship in their day may have seemed outside of the feminine realm. To engage in discipleship meant stepping into the man's world. Yet we see that Yeshua challenged that assumption. He encouraged them to consider discipleship as something appropriate for women as well.
Discipleship with Submissiveness
While Yeshua invites women to sit at the feet of a teacher and listen, thus engaging in discipleship, it probably does not mean that we should be debating, arguing against, or jockeying with men over the Scriptures. As women, we do have additional and unique responsibilities that men cannot fulfill (such as bearing children and nurturing infants). In addition, we have also been given a specific position in the congregation. The Apostle Paul says, "A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness" (1 Timothy 2:11). Ideally, women should learn from our husbands. Paul says:
If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in the Assembly. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
This "quietness in the assembly" probably refers to the argumentation, or debate style, of learning common in the study halls of the day. Paul's rulings regarding women in the assembly are difficult verses, which must be understood in their context. And for this reason, I will not try to unravel them here.
It does seem clear, however, that Paul preferred to see a woman learn from her husband rather than usurp his role as spiritual head by speaking out among his peers, the other disciples in the assembly. At the same time ladies, we should not allow this language to offend us. We should not allow our pendulums to swing too far to the opposite extreme of abstaining from discipleship or attendance to the kehillah (congregation), because we do see Yeshua making room for Miriam to study and learn among His own disciples. There is a balance to be found. We can embrace the value of the unique position that God has placed us in, while at the same time seeking to know and understand the Scriptures within a proper context.
We can choose to defer to our husbands and be eager to learn the Scriptures. We can find the place where both of these criteria are met. However, we should not despise our years of childbearing and view raising our little ones as a 'lesser mitzvah' than studying. It is not. There will come a time when our children are older and our responsibility to them decreases when we can comfortably choose Miriam's posture "at the feet of Yeshua" and receive instruction quietly and humbly.
with Good Deeds
Discipleship is a broader concept than just learning Torah through debate and study in the synagogue. It is appropriate for older women to teach younger women in the ways of discipleship.
Older women are to encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored (Titus 2:4-5).
In the book of Acts we meet "a disciple named Tabitha ...abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did" (Acts 9:36). Tabitha showed her discipleship to the Master by caring for the widows in the community. As her act of discipleship, she sewed tunics and garments for the poor among the believers of Joppa. Tabitha may not have been a great scholar like Beruriah, but she was a great disciple of Yeshua nonetheless.
It is good for us to remember that a Hebraic understanding of discipleship constitutes complete 'imitation.' Tabitha saw that Yeshua was full of kindness and charity, always doing good for the needy. As His disciple, she wanted to be like Him. She did not try to become something she was not--a great scholar or Bible teacher; instead, she gave her talents to HaShem by imitating Yeshua with deeds of kindness and charity. That's a form of discipleship we should all want to excel at. In fact, this kind of discipleship trumps discussions that do not result in acts of chesed (loving kindness), no matter how intriguing they may be.
The next time you think about Yeshua's talmidim ("disciples"), I hope you also remember some of the talmidot (women disciples). The Master had more disciples than just Peter, James, John and the rest of the Twelve. Let's remember Miriam the sister of Marta, Miriam from Magdala, Joanna, Susana, Salome and Tabitha and the others. Yeshua has called both men and women to follow Him as disciples--talmidim and talmidot.
1 For an interesting story about another disciple, also from the village of Sekaniah, read "Jacob of Kefar Sekania" in this issue on page 24.
Adapted from Messiah Magazine #94. Â© 2012 First Fruits of Zion. All rights reserved. We encourage you to share this material with your friends for further personal study. However, this material may not be republished, in print, electronically, or any other form without our prior permission.
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