Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are two popular holidays celebrating women in the lens of love and maternity. As lovers, wives and mothers, women are (most often) characterized as warm, nurturing, soft and delicate. And while there is value, beauty and importance in fulfilling these vital roles, a woman’s potential, power and personality are far more diverse and expansive. In honor of International Women’s Day, a celebration of the “social, economic, cultural and political achievement(s) of women,” on March 8, let us embrace an eclectic array of six fierce Jewish women.
Judith (ca. 165 B.C.E.)
As the heroine of the Chanukah story, Judith was a widow who cleverly gained the trust of Commander Holofernes (sometimes identified with the Syrian-Seleucid general Nicanor) whose Syrian-Greek army besieged her town of Bethulia. Seeing her people in physical and spiritual danger, she asserted to the Jewish elders that the fate of the Jews could not rest on faith alone. In a carefully conspired and meticulous plan, Judith got Holofernes sluggish and drunk on goat cheese, breads and dry wine. With the commander in deep drunkenness and slumber, she took his sword, severed his head and brought it back to the Jewish camps. With the morale of the Syrian-Greek army crushed, the Jewish people won a coup d’etat. With her cleverness and bravery, Judith saved the Jewish people and showed everyone the true strength of a woman.
Deborah (ca. 1200 B.C.E.)
Deborah, a warrior and prophetess for the Jewish people, is the only female judge mentioned in the Bible. She provided authoritative judgements under a date palm tree. As a woman, Deborah’s influence and power was relegated over an entire nation and her strength and wisdom was respected by the Jewish people.
Beruriah (Talmudic era)
Beruriah is one of only a few women quoted as a sage in the Talmud. She was immensely knowledgeable in Jewish law and philosophy and is known to have learned “three hundred laws from three hundred teachers in one day” (Pesahim 62b). In addition, Beruriah is known for her wit; in many recorded instances she cleverly chastised rabbis who failed to follow the slightest subtleties of Jewish law and philosophy. Beruriah’s cognizance and chutzpah was well respected and admired by many rabbis.
Golda Meir (1898-1978)
Golda Meir was an Israeli teacher, kibbutznik, stateswoman, politician and the fourth Prime Minister of the State of Israel. As the world’s fourth and Israel’s first and only woman to hold this position, she is known as the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics. Golda Meir serves as a strong symbol of leadership and integrity.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an Associate Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. She is the second female justice and one of three females justices currently appointed to the Supreme Court. As an advocate of women’s rights and gender equality, she said, “My mother told me two things constantly: one was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent.” Having been one of only nine female students in a class of 500 law students at a hostile and male-dominated school, Bader Ginsburg not only serves as a symbol of authority but also one of perseverance and resilience.
Mayim Bialik (1975-)
Mayim Bialik is an American actress and former Ha’Am staff member, notably known for her work in the hit comedy television show “The Big Bang Theory,” and holds a doctorate in neuroscience (from UCLA!). Despite her involvement in Hollywood, she holds true to her Jewish beliefs and remains a committed Modern Orthodox Jew, frequenting synagogues and the kosher candy shop Munchies in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Mayim Bialik thus serves as a symbol of genuineness and of course, humor.
These aforementioned women, were and are more than just lovers, wives and or mothers, they were and are leaders, warriors, politicians, doctors and artists, in their own right and name. So, in honor of International Women’s Day and in honor of all the strong, intelligent, witty, brave and powerful women before and around us, ladies, stay fierce and true to yourselves.
*The cover image for this article is an original oil painting, “The Lion Queen,” created by the Los Angeles-based artist, Chana Davoudpour.