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Female Personalities in the Babylonian Talmud

by Tal Ilan

Aside from various women for whom short entries are available throughout this encyclopedia, it is necessary to list several women mentioned in the The discussions and elaborations by the amora'im of Babylon on the Mishnah between early 3rd and late 5th c. C.E.; it is the foundation of Jewish Law and has halakhic supremacy over the Jerusalem Talmud.Babylonian Talmud under a common heading.

  1. EM (fourth century c.e.). This woman is mentioned in no fewer than seventeen separate incidents in the Babylonian Talmud (of which only one is parallel to another). She is always mentioned in exactly the same formula: a rabbi states: “Em said to me (???? ?? ??)” and these words are followed by useful, thoughtful and authoritative advice, which is never disputed.

Because in fourteen of these traditions the person who quotes her is the fourth-century Babylonian Lit. (Aramaic) "spokesman." Scholars active during the period from the completion of the Mishnah (c. 200 C.E.) until the completion of the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds (end of the fourth and fifth centuries respectively), who were active primarily in the interpretation of the Mishnah. In the chain of tradition they follow the tanna'im and precede the savora'im.amora Abbaye (278–338), it is usually assumed in scholarly circles that she was his mother, and that Em is a description (mother) rather than a name. The Babylonian Talmud itself already voices this explanation. The editors of the Lit. "teaching," "study," or "learning." A compilation of the commentary and discussions of the amora'im on the Mishnah. When not specified, "Talmud" refers to the Babylonian Talmud.Talmud, however, knew that this woman could not have been Abbaye’s mother, since according to another tradition, his mother had died while giving birth to him (BT Kiddushin 31b). They solved the contradiction by assuming that the woman in question was his adoptive mother.

However, one tradition in the Babylonian Talmud suggests that when a sage quotes his mother he does not say “(a) mother said to me” but rather “my mother said to me” (BT Pesahim 112a). Furthermore, one other rabbi, aside from Abbaye, his late contemporary Ravina (the editor of the Talmud) is also mentioned as quoting Em authoritatively in the same way (BT Berakhot 39b; BT Menahot 68b). This suggests that Em was perhaps a famous, authoritative woman known to the rabbis of Babylonia.

It is therefore interesting to note what is the source of her authority. In one tradition she explains the nature of gossip (BT Mo’ed Katan 12b). In another she shows expertise in amulets (BT SabbathShabbat 66b). But in most other traditions she is an expert on folk remedies and diets (e.g. BT Eruvin 29b; BT Ketubbot 10b; BT Writ of (religious) divorceGittin 67b; 70a; BT Avodah Zarah 28b). In most of these she specializes in the welfare of children and their growth. One set of traditions preserved in her name is a compendium of information relevant to the circumcision wound (BT Shabbat 133b–134a). In another place she advises about the age from which a child is able to fast on the festivals (BT Yoma 78b). This knowledge in pediatrics allows her to also make The legal corpus of Jewish laws and observances as prescribed in the Torah and interpreted by rabbinic authorities, beginning with those of the Mishnah and Talmud.halakhic recommendations regarding children. In BT Ketubbot 50a we read: “Said Abbaye: Em said to me: At the age of six [a boy is fit] for Scripture [study], at the age of ten for Codification of basic Jewish Oral Law; edited and arranged by R. Judah ha-Nasi c. 200 C.E.Mishnah [study] and at the age of thirteen for fasts once in a while. And a girl [is ready] at the age of twelve.” This is an extremely weighty halakhic decision and it is surprising to find the rabbis depending for it on this woman’s advice. Nevertheless, gossip, amulets, folk medicine and the raising of children are traditional women’s occupations, and it is exactly in these areas that we find Em’s advice undisputed.

It therefore seems that Em must have been an impressive Jewish woman in Babylonia, a physician with a great reputation, who gained the rabbis’ confidence and trust to a very high degree.


Fonrobert, Charlotte. Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reconstructions of Biblical Gender. Berkeley: 2000, 151–159.


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How to cite this page

Ilan, Tal. "Female Personalities in the Babylonian Talmud." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 11, 2019) <>.


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