An in-depth study of the psychology of female characters in the Torah

The Fruit of Her Hands: A Psychology of Biblical Woman can be read in two or three days, yet you can study it for a lifetime.

‘Women Leaders in the Bible,’ from an exhibition by illustrator Rinat Gilboa titled at The Jerusalem Women’s Leadership House (photo credit: RINAT GILBOA)
‘Women Leaders in the Bible,’ from an exhibition by illustrator Rinat Gilboa titled at The Jerusalem Women’s Leadership House
(photo credit: RINAT GILBOA)
This is a good book about The Good Book. The Fruit of Her Hands: A Psychology of Biblical Woman, by Matthew B. Schwartz and Kalman J. Kaplan, is of great interest for students of Western literature, Bible students, psychologists, historians, history students, clergy people, literary critics, rabbinical students, marriage counselors, sex therapists and feminists, especially Jewish feminists.
Orthodox Jewish feminists will find this book very interesting. This book is a feminist Biblical narrative, even though it was written by two men. The authors combine psychological, historical, sociological and religious insights for a compelling reading. Salvation for the Jewish people often came from women – Jewish and non-Jewish. Fruit of Her Hands: A Psychology of Biblical Woman gives incisive and clear contrasts of the view of women by the ancient Greeks vs the Jewish-Biblical view of women. Schwartz and Kaplan see woman as the culmination of creation in the Biblical-Judaic view: woman being the highest stage of creation.
The Fruit of Her Hands: A Psychology of Biblical Woman can be read in two or three days, yet you can study it for a lifetime. It is also a fantastic history book. It can be used for Christian Bible students or Jewish Torah study. Yet, you can read it like a novel. Schwartz and Kaplan are right on point. They show the kindness, wisdom and heroism of Biblical women. Fruit of Her Hands affirms the Bible. This is a good book for both people who are new and accomplished scholars of the Bible.
An early genocidal attempt on the Jewish people, after the Egyptian failures to destroy them with rigorous grueling labor, was Pharaoh’s command to the Hebrew midwives to kill the newborn baby boys – but “the midwives, fearing God,” did not do as Pharaoh commanded. The two midwives mentioned in Exodus were Shiphrah and Puah. Schwartz and Kaplan say it is not entirely clear whether these two leading midwives were Hebrews or Egyptians. Rashi says they were Hebrews. But Rabbi Joseph Hertz says that the context proves that they were Egyptians.
According to the Talmud it was a young girl, Miriam, who saved the Jewish people from Pharaoh’s second genocidal attempt. Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew newborn baby boys be drowned. Some believe that the order applied to Egyptians, as well as Hebrews, because Pharaoh believed that the savior of the Hebrews could come from a newborn Egyptian or Hebrew, based upon what he was told by his astrologers. As related by a Tanna and recorded in Satoh 11a: When Pharaoh made his decree that all Hebrew boys born should be downed, Amram, who was the greatest person of his generation (and according to the Talmud was one of four people who never sinned), divorced his wife, so others would follow his example and baby boys would not be murdered. The other men of the children of Israel followed him and divorced their wives. But Amram’s daughter Miriam, a child, told her father (1) Pharaoh’s decree would only destroy the boys, but Amram’s divorce example would prevent the birth of girls; (2) Not everybody would follow Pharaoh’s decree, but every one of the Israelites would follow Amram’s example and (3) Pharaoh’s decree would kill babies in this world, but Amram’s example would deprive them of life in this world and in the World-to-Come. So Amram took back his wife Jochebed and the other men of Israel followed his example.
According to Rashi, when the baby boy – who was to be named Moses was born – light filled the house. When Jochebed, his mother, could no longer hide him she put him a bulrush in the Nile River and Miriam watched to see what would happen. After Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby boy in the Nile River, she sent Miriam, Moses’ sister, to find one of the women of the Hebrew people to nurse him. His mother Jochebed nursed him and was paid to do it by Pharaoh’s daughter, who was to bring up Moses. Thus three women saved Moses. The Rabbis named Pharaoh’s daughter Batya, which means “Daughter of God.” Pharaoh’s daughter named this baby boy Moses, because she drew him from the water.
There are many other great heroines and compassionate women in Hebrew-Biblical history. Deborah and Yael, with the man Barak, led a heroic war which determined the future of Palestine “for all time” according to Hertz. Esther was most instrumental in saving the entire Jewish people. The mutual love of Naomi and Ruth goes without saying. Ruth was a “stranger” who was accepted in Bethlehem and became the ancestor of the Davidic line.
The courage of the Hebrew midwives, the wisdom of Miriam, the kindness of Ruth, the leadership of Deborah and the courage of Esther all go back to Eve.
Kaplan andSchwartz illustrate Adam’s great love for Eve by giving her the additional name Eve, meaning “mother of all life.” This is stressed in a different way in the Midrash. The first name he gave her was Zot. This one – “zot” – is “Bones of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” Many people believe that Adam had a wife before Eve, by the name of Lilith. There is a Jewish feminist magazine named Lilith. The authors cite a Mark Twain story where Twain said that Adam came to feel that as long as he was with Eve he was in the Garden of Eden. From the time Adam blamed his wife and God for his sin of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, until the time he gave her the name Eve there was a profound evolution in his attitudes toward her.
Part of the great contrast between the Greek and the Jewish view of women illustrated by Schwartz and Kaplan is seen in the word for “womb.”
“The Greek term is hystera, from which from which the English word ‘hysteria’ is derived.” Women are more likely to be saddled with the psychiatric diagnosis ‘hysterical’ than are men when medical doctors have a problem finding out what the medical problem is. Quite often this diagnosis is wrong. But, “The biblical term for ‘womb’ is “rehem” which… means ‘mercy’ or ‘compassion.’” This difference helps to explain the difference between the ancient Greek-Roman and the ancient Israelite-Hebrew attitude toward life itself: women being the ones in whose bodies the human being is conceived, women being carriers of growing new human life, and women being the givers of life. Eve was the mother of life.
There were two lines of descent from Adam and Eve: Cain’s and Seth’s. Seth replaced Abel. One of Cain’s descendants was Lamech – a violent and boastful man. Rashi tells us that the custom of men of the generation when the flood came was to take two wives. One for procreation; and the other for sex. The second one would be given a drink for birth control. Lamech took two wives; Adah and Zillah. Rashi tells us that Adah was used for begetting children and Zillah was used for lustful sex.
Adah’s sons made valuable contributions to mankind. Jabal invented tents and originated the domestication of animals. Jubal invented musical instruments – the harp and the pipe. Zillah’s son was Tubal-Cain. He perfected instruments of death. So we see the profound effect that the personality of mothers can have on their children. Zillah also gave birth to a good woman – Naamah. Kind world can be very important. Rashi and the midrash tell us that Naamah was the wife of Noah, indicating her name means that she spoke with pleasant words. Schwartz and Kaplan draw a distinction between sex for love and sanctification of God’s Name; and there is lustful sex. The former is exemplified in Judaism. Much of Greek, Roman, and other Western literature celibates lustful sex. Whether we view the narratives of Lamech, Adah, Zillah, Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain as literal or metaphorical, it is of interest that the sons of Adah, who was not for lust, make very positive contributions to the world, while Zillah – the woman used for lust – had a son, Tubal-Cain, who perfected the weapons of killing. In our own age the weapons of killing have been so perfected that Ben Hecht wrote:
“The modern soul… conditions itself for the great battles to come…of H-Bombs, which Professor Einstein prophecies will number their dead in the millions; a war which William Laurence, science reporter for The New York Times, will count as a casualty not nations but a planet.”
In his commentary on the book of Amos, Hertz connects theft and exploitation with sexual lust.
But Schwartz and Kaplan extoll loving sex of a man and a woman in the lives of Abraham and Sara, Rebecca and Isaac, Jacob and Leah, Zipporah and Moses, Ruth and Boaz and others. You will not want to miss these descriptions and Schwartz’s and Kaplan’s interpretations.    
The writer and his late, brilliant father, Sidney Solomon, did the design and layout for the Massachusetts Audubon Bird Identification Calendar for the years 1983 through 1998.

The Fruit of Her Hands: A Psychology of Biblical Woman
Matthew B. Schwartz and Kalman J. Kaplan
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
208 pages, paperback; Price: $18.