Em: Female Personality in the Babylonian Talmud

This fourth century woman from the Babylonian Talmud gave halakhic and medical advice.

Print this page Print this page

In 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 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.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Tal Ilan is currently a professor of Jewish studies at the Free University, Berlin (Germany). She was born in Israel and received all her degrees from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a historian who specializes in Jewish women's history in antiquity.