Major Events in a Woman's Life
Puberty and Menstruation
During her menstrual period, a Jewish woman was relieved of many of her normal duties. She was not required to draw and carry water from the well. She did not have to serve food to members of the family. She did not have to go to the marketplace. She did not have sexual intercourse. The days of her menstrual period were regarded as a time out, a time for herself. On these days, relieved of a number of her duties, she had time to think and rest.
After her menstrual cycle, a woman was required to bathe herself from head to toe in a special pool of clean water, called a mikveh. Each small community would have its mikveh, and towns and cities had large numbers of them, some public, some private.
The mikveh pool had to be designed and built a special way, so that it had
The purpose of the monthly bathing in the mikveh was for physical and spiritual cleanliness. The washing of the body was a tangible way for a woman to renew herself, refreshing mental, emotional and physical energies. It was a ritual that periodically gave a woman the feeling of a fresh start.
The rules of ritual cleanliness meant that most people were obliged to wash themselves, wash their clothes, and put on clean clothes at frequent intervals.
There is no doubt that the hygiene that resulted from the purity laws was beneficial to the health of the whole population. Where mothers maintain personal cleanliness, there is much less infant mortality, and so the cleanliness of Jewish women benefited the whole population.
It is difficult to say whether the laws regarding cleanliness arose from a conscious connection between cleanliness and good health, or an intuitive one. Indeed, Jews at the time (and now) would state that the ritual purity laws were obeyed not for their logic but because they were part of being a Jew.
The qualities of an ideal husband
A Jewish family tried to provide each daughter with a dowry, which was property handed over by her family at the time of her marriage, and afterwards owned by the wife. It was her share of the family inheritance, enough to act as an income for her should she be abandoned or widowed. Whether there was sufficient to do this for every woman, we do not know.
In neighboring Mesopotamia, the dowry could be inherited only by the woman’s sons, not by any of her husband’s family. This was a precaution against the dowry being used to enrich the husband’s family. Much of Jewish law is based on Mesopotamian law, so Jewish families probably had a similar practice regarding dowries.
In some cases, a bride-price was expected. This was compensation paid to the bride's family for the loss of their daughter and the services she could have provided to her family, had she remained with them. The bride-price was paid by the groom's family. Naturally, the amount depended on the wealth and status of the family.
For a woman, marriage plans could be made at the onset of puberty. For a man, 18 years was the recommended age. Any person who had passed the age of 20 without being married was not carrying out the will of God.
A man might postpone marriage in order to study the Torah, but only in very rare instances were people permitted to remain unmarried for life.
Hebrew women gave birth in a squatting position, above a hole hollowed out of the ground. On either side of the hole were bricks or stones for the woman to stand on. She was supported at her back and under her arms by other women, either midwives or family members. As soon as the baby was born its umbilical cord was cut, then it was washed and wrapped in long bands of cloth (swaddling bands) which held the limbs of the baby firmly, though not tightly.
It was obvious to the ancient Israelites that the central task of women, one that could not be taken over by anyone else, was childbirth. It was also obvious that women suffered in the process of giving birth. The explanation for this, according to Genesis, was that the original balance of creation had been disturbed: in an ideal world (that is, the Garden of Eden) birth would not bring suffering.
Some related websites:
A vivid description of childbirth in ancient Israel - preparing for the birth, midwives, the delivery, care of the newborn baby, and birth control: Childbirth in the Bible
Rachel longs for a child - Bible
Jesus possesses magnificent power, and his pointing arm speaks
with unanswerable authority. A friend supports Lazarus' body, and
the two sisters Mary and Martha stand at his head. But already
life is pouring back into Lazarus' body, evident from his raised
right hand. The onlookers cannot look away from Jesus' majestic
face. Painted almost at the end of Caravaggio's life, this
painting has the dramatic naturalism for which he is famous.
After visiting the tomb on the third day the body was not touched for a year, by which time it had decomposed. The bones were then collected and stored in an ossuary, a ‘bone box’, with the large bones at the bottom and the smaller bones and skull placed on top.
After the funeral, the family of the dead person stayed at home for seven days. They sat on the floor or on a low bench, barefoot. They did not wash themselves or their clothes, or do any work. They did not cook, but were given food by relatives. They were visited by a continual stream of friends and relatives, who sat with them and comforted them. For a thirty-day period after the death, the family members took no part in any entertainment, but lived a quiet, reflective life. After the death of a father or a mother, the mourning period was one year. This mourning period was an opportunity to pay respect to the two people who had given you life.
For photographs of tombs used by early Christians, see Bible Archaeology: Tombs.
Some related websites:
A Letter to the Past
Choose one of the major events described in this section and compare it with your own experience of the same event. You can use something that has happened to you, or something that you have witnessed, for example, a marriage, a funeral, etc.
Imagine that you are describing the event to a women from biblical times. What sort of questions would she ask about the event?
Dozens of extra ideas at Activities for Bible Study Groups and Schools
Read about the fascinating women of the Bible
Copyright 2006 Elizabeth Fletcher