(י) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֤ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה֙ לֵ֣ךְ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ֥ם הַיּ֖וֹם וּמָחָ֑ר וְכִבְּס֖וּ שִׂמְלֹתָֽם׃
(יא) וְהָי֥וּ נְכֹנִ֖ים לַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֑י כִּ֣י ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֗י יֵרֵ֧ד יְהוָ֛ה לְעֵינֵ֥י כָל־הָעָ֖ם עַל־הַ֥ר סִינָֽי׃
(יב) וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ֤ אֶת־הָעָם֙ סָבִ֣יב לֵאמֹ֔ר הִשָּׁמְר֥וּ לָכֶ֛ם עֲל֥וֹת בָּהָ֖ר וּנְגֹ֣עַ בְּקָצֵ֑הוּ כָּל־הַנֹּגֵ֥עַ בָּהָ֖ר מ֥וֹת יוּמָֽת׃
(יג) לֹא־תִגַּ֨ע בּ֜וֹ יָ֗ד כִּֽי־סָק֤וֹל יִסָּקֵל֙ אוֹ־יָרֹ֣ה יִיָּרֶ֔ה אִם־בְּהֵמָ֥ה אִם־אִ֖ישׁ לֹ֣א יִחְיֶ֑ה בִּמְשֹׁךְ֙ הַיֹּבֵ֔ל הֵ֖מָּה יַעֲל֥וּ בָהָֽר׃
(יד) וַיֵּ֧רֶד מֹשֶׁ֛ה מִן־הָהָ֖ר אֶל־הָעָ֑ם וַיְקַדֵּשׁ֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם וַֽיְכַבְּס֖וּ שִׂמְלֹתָֽם׃
(טו) וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם הֱי֥וּ נְכֹנִ֖ים לִשְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים אַֽל־תִּגְּשׁ֖וּ אֶל־אִשָּֽׁה׃
(10) And God said to Moses, “Go to the people and warn them to stay pure today and tomorrow. Let them wash their clothes. (11) Let them be ready for the third day; for on the third day Adonai will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mount Sinai.
(12) You shall set bounds for the people round about, saying, ‘Beware of going up the mountain or touching the border of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death:
(13) no hand shall touch him, but he shall be either stoned or shot; beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.”
(14) Moses came down from the mountain to the people and warned the people to stay pure, and they washed their clothes.
(15) And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman.”
(6) I alone, am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage:
(7) You shall have no other gods beside Me. (8) You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters below the earth. (9) You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, (10) but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
(11) You shall not swear falsely by the name of Adonai your God; for Adonai will not clear one who swears falsely by God's name.
(12) Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as Adonai your God has commanded you.
(13) Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
(14) but the seventh day is a sabbath of Adonai God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do.
(15) Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Adonai your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore Adonai your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
(16) Honor your father and your mother, as Adonai your God has commanded you, that you may long endure, and that you may fare well, in the land that Adonai your God is assigning to you.
(17) You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
(18) You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not crave your neighbor’s house, or his field, or his male or female slave, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
‘Women and Revelation’ by pioneer Jewish feminist Judith Plaskow:
Read from a feminist perspective, Yitro contains one of the most painful verses in the Torah. At the formative moment in Jewish history, when presumably the whole people of Israel stands in awe and trembling at the base of Mount Sinai waiting for God to descend upon the mountain and establish the covenant, Moses turns to the assembled community and says, “Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman” (19:15). Moses wants to ensure that the people are ritually prepared to receive God’s presence, and an emission of semen renders both a man and his female partner temporarily unfit to approach the sacred (see Leviticus 15:16-18). But Moses does not say, “Men and women do not go near each other.” Instead, at this central juncture in the Jewish saga, he renders women invisible as part of the congregation about to enter into the covenant.
These words are deeply troubling for at least two reasons. First, they are a paradigm of the treatment of women as “other,” both elsewhere in this portion and throughout the Torah. Again and again, the Torah seems to assume that the Israelite nation consists only of male heads of household. It records the experiences of men, but not the experiences of women. For example, the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (20:14), presupposes a community of male hearers.
Second, entry into the covenant at Sinai is not just a one-time event, but an experience to be reappropriated by every generation (Deuteronomy 29:13-14). Every time the portion is chanted, whether as part of the annual cycle of Torah readings or as a special reading for Shavuot, women are thrust aside once again, eavesdropping on a conversation among men, and between men and God. The text thus potentially evokes a continuing sense of exclusion and disorientation in women. The whole Jewish people supposedly stood at Sinai. Were we there? Were we not there? If we were there, what did we hear when the men heard “do not go near a woman”? If we were not there originally, can we be there now? Since we are certainly part of the community now, how could we not have been there at that founding moment?
Women as Eavesdroppers
(א) וַיֵּרָ֤א אֵלָיו֙ יְהוָ֔ה בְּאֵלֹנֵ֖י מַמְרֵ֑א וְה֛וּא יֹשֵׁ֥ב פֶּֽתַח־הָאֹ֖הֶל כְּחֹ֥ם הַיּֽוֹם׃ (ב) וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּה֙ שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יו וַיַּ֗רְא וַיָּ֤רָץ לִקְרָאתָם֙ מִפֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֔הֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ אָֽרְצָה׃ (ג) וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אֲדֹנָ֗י אִם־נָ֨א מָצָ֤אתִי חֵן֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ אַל־נָ֥א תַעֲבֹ֖ר מֵעַ֥ל עַבְדֶּֽךָ׃ (ד) יֻקַּֽח־נָ֣א מְעַט־מַ֔יִם וְרַחֲצ֖וּ רַגְלֵיכֶ֑ם וְהִֽשָּׁעֲנ֖וּ תַּ֥חַת הָעֵֽץ׃ (ה) וְאֶקְחָ֨ה פַת־לֶ֜חֶם וְסַעֲד֤וּ לִבְּכֶם֙ אַחַ֣ר תַּעֲבֹ֔רוּ כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֥ן עֲבַרְתֶּ֖ם עַֽל־עַבְדְּכֶ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֵּ֥ן תַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּֽרְתָּ׃ (ו) וַיְמַהֵ֧ר אַבְרָהָ֛ם הָאֹ֖הֱלָה אֶל־שָׂרָ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מַהֲרִ֞י שְׁלֹ֤שׁ סְאִים֙ קֶ֣מַח סֹ֔לֶת ל֖וּשִׁי וַעֲשִׂ֥י עֻגֽוֹת׃ (ז) וְאֶל־הַבָּקָ֖ר רָ֣ץ אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיִּקַּ֨ח בֶּן־בָּקָ֜ר רַ֤ךְ וָטוֹב֙ וַיִּתֵּ֣ן אֶל־הַנַּ֔עַר וַיְמַהֵ֖ר לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת אֹתֽוֹ׃ (ח) וַיִּקַּ֨ח חֶמְאָ֜ה וְחָלָ֗ב וּבֶן־הַבָּקָר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֔ה וַיִּתֵּ֖ן לִפְנֵיהֶ֑ם וְהֽוּא־עֹמֵ֧ד עֲלֵיהֶ֛ם תַּ֥חַת הָעֵ֖ץ וַיֹּאכֵֽלוּ׃ (ט) וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֵׄלָׄ֔יׄוׄ אַיֵּ֖ה שָׂרָ֣ה אִשְׁתֶּ֑ךָ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הִנֵּ֥ה בָאֹֽהֶל׃ (י) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר שׁ֣וֹב אָשׁ֤וּב אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ כָּעֵ֣ת חַיָּ֔ה וְהִנֵּה־בֵ֖ן לְשָׂרָ֣ה אִשְׁתֶּ֑ךָ וְשָׂרָ֥ה שֹׁמַ֛עַת פֶּ֥תַח הָאֹ֖הֶל וְה֥וּא אַחֲרָֽיו׃ (יא) וְאַבְרָהָ֤ם וְשָׂרָה֙ זְקֵנִ֔ים בָּאִ֖ים בַּיָּמִ֑ים חָדַל֙ לִהְי֣וֹת לְשָׂרָ֔ה אֹ֖רַח כַּנָּשִֽׁים׃ (יב) וַתִּצְחַ֥ק שָׂרָ֖ה בְּקִרְבָּ֣הּ לֵאמֹ֑ר אַחֲרֵ֤י בְלֹתִי֙ הָֽיְתָה־לִּ֣י עֶדְנָ֔ה וַֽאדֹנִ֖י זָקֵֽן׃ (יג) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֑ם לָ֣מָּה זֶּה֩ צָחֲקָ֨ה שָׂרָ֜ה לֵאמֹ֗ר הַאַ֥ף אֻמְנָ֛ם אֵלֵ֖ד וַאֲנִ֥י זָקַֽנְתִּי׃ (יד) הֲיִפָּלֵ֥א מֵיְהוָ֖ה דָּבָ֑ר לַמּוֹעֵ֞ד אָשׁ֥וּב אֵלֶ֛יךָ כָּעֵ֥ת חַיָּ֖ה וּלְשָׂרָ֥ה בֵֽן׃ (טו) וַתְּכַחֵ֨שׁ שָׂרָ֧ה ׀ לֵאמֹ֛ר לֹ֥א צָחַ֖קְתִּי כִּ֣י ׀ יָרֵ֑אָה וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ׀ לֹ֖א כִּ֥י צָחָֽקְתְּ׃
(1) Adonai appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. (2) Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground, (3) he said, “My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant. (4) Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree. (5) And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; then go on—seeing that you have come your servant’s way.” They replied, “Do as you have said.” (6) Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quick, three seahs of choice flour! Knead and make cakes!” (7) Then Abraham ran to the herd, took a calf, tender and choice, and gave it to a servant-boy, who hastened to prepare it. (8) He took curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them; and he waited on them under the tree as they ate. (9) They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he replied, “There, in the tent.” (10) Then one said, “I will return to you next year, and your wife Sarah shall have a son!” Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent, which was behind him. (11) Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years; Sarah had stopped having the periods of women. (12) And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment—with my husband so old?” (13) Then Adonai said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?’ (14) Is anything too wondrous for Adonai? I will return to you at the same season next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” (15) Sarah lied, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was frightened. But God replied, “You did laugh.”
Sarah's listening at the tent may be understood as an allegory of women's experience in history and especially in religious history: denied direct access to power - sacred or otherwise - women position themselves to "overhear" the plans of gods and men as a survival strategy...What is insidious behavior for men is normative for women.
Lori Hope Lefkovitz, Eavesdropping on Angels and laughing at God:Theorizing a Subversive Matrairchy, 160.
from Gender & Judaism: The Transformation of Tradition, NYU Press, 1995
(5) Rebekah had been listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau had gone out into the open to hunt game to bring home, (6) Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I overheard your father speaking to your brother Esau, saying, (7) ‘Bring me some game and prepare a dish for me to eat, that I may bless you, with the LORD’s approval, before I die.’ (8) Now, my son, listen carefully as I instruct you. (9) Go to the flock and fetch me two choice kids, and I will make of them a dish for your father, such as he likes. (10) Then take it to your father to eat, in order that he may bless you before he dies.” (11) Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man and I am smooth-skinned. (12) If my father touches me, I shall appear to him as a trickster and bring upon myself a curse, not a blessing.” (13) But his mother said to him, “Your curse, my son, be upon me! Just do as I say and go fetch them for me.” (14) He got them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared a dish such as his father liked. (15) Rebekah then took the best clothes of her older son Esau, which were there in the house, and had her younger son Jacob put them on;
The other matriarchs are also devious and subversive, and they too are approved of by the God of Hebrew Scriptures. Without too much elaboration, let me simply allude to Rebecca eavesdropping on Isaac and Esau, after which she tells Jacob how to steal the blessing of the firstborn. When Jacob says that he is afraid, Rebecca answers with evident self-confidence and in stereotypically maternal fashion, "I'll accept the blame." Rachel steals; Leah tricks Jacob in the marriage bed. Women are often represented as subverting male intentions in the very process of fulfilling God's mysterious plans.
The idea that women could be “other” and “subordinate” and yet not “inferior” is a critical insight into the way that the nation of Israel saw itself as it “provided a paradigm for understanding powerlessness and subordination without recourse to prejudicial ideas," (Frymer-Kensky, loc. 225).
Throughout its existence the people Israel was conquered and subjected to the more powerful empires in its midst. Just as women were subordinate in the patriarchal structure of Israelite society, so too was Israel vulnerable to the authority of more powerful nations surrounding it. Given the Biblical paradigm of power in the context of gender, it becomes possible for male members of the nation of Israel to maintain a powerful self-image despite their vulnerability and therefore, made it possible for Israel to fulfill its fate as the chosen people.
Lucy B. Fishbein, HaTishma Koli: Voices of Biblical Women in Israeli Popular Music,
“These women are paradigms for individuals, groups, and nations who find themselves in such disadvantaged situations, a dramatic representation of how they can nevertheless rise to redeem themselves and others. Like these women, the men of Israel can persevere to preserve their destiny."
Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Hebrew Bible, loc. 156.