Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

On-line Tanach Class
Izevel [Jezebel]


This week we had the first of a two-part series on Izevel, who is known in English as "Jezebel."

Izevel lived approximately 100 years after the building of the First Temple, which places her approximately 750-800 years before the Common Era.

King Solomon, son of King David, reigned for 40 years. At the end of his reign, the Jewish nation split into two parts - Yehudah and Yisrael. Yehudah included the area of the Temple. Rechavam reigned over Yehudah, and Yeravam ben Nevat reigned over Yisrael. During the subsequent 100 years, this is the way the monarchy ran:

AsaNadav ben Yeravam
.Basha ben Achiyah
.Ela ben Basha
.Achav ben Amri

Just to provide chronological perspective, Yeravam reigned in Yisrael for 20 years before Asa came to power in Yehudah, and Asa reigned for 38 years in Yehudah before Achav came to power in Yisrael.

Izevel was Achav's wife.

The People in Izevel's Neighborhood
The Jewish people of Izevel's time, both in Yehudah and Yisrael, tended toward idolatry. Asa, king of Yehudah, tried unsuccessfully to wean the Jews from idolatry; the kings of Yisrael actually promoted idol worship.

There were two main types of idolatry in that region, at that time - Baal, a Canaanite god, and Asheirah, which was a type of worship centered around a tree-dwelling god.

The rise of Achav and Izevel coincided with that of Eliyahu the Prophet; his first recorded message was from Gd to Achav. Izevel would outlive Eliyahu's time on Earth, though; she did not die until the period of Eliyahu's student, Elisha.

An Interesting Detail
There is a fascinating Midrash (Midrash Shemuel 2:1) regarding Chanah's prayers to Gd for a child. We discussed it somewhat in the class, but for the e-mail I'll just mention that the Midrash says Achav and Izevel had 70 children.

Timeline for Izevel's Life
Melachim I 16 introduces Izevel as Achav's wife, and informs us that she was actually the daughter of the king of the Sidonians. The commentators indicate that she likely did not convert to Judaism.

After Achav takes the throne, Gd sends Eliyahu to inform Achav that there will be a drought, until further notice. Eliyahu then flees to the desert, and Achav is unable to find him. In Melachim I 19 Gd tells Eliyahu to go to Achav. Eliyahu appears to Ovadiah, an aide of Achav, with a message for Achav. In discussing Ovadiah, the Torah tells us that Izevel had conducted a crusade, slaughtering the prophets of Gd. [Ovadiah successfully saved 100 of them in caves.]

In Melachim I 19, we read the famous story of Eliyahu's showdown with the prophets of Baal at Har haKarmel, in which Eliyahu apparently proved that HaShem was the true Gd, and that Baal was a fake. Eliyahu had the prophets of Baal killed. When Izevel was informed of this, she sent a messenger to tell Eliyahu she would have him killed the next day. Eliyahu fled.

In Melachim I 20, Achav successfully waged war against Aram.

In Melachim I 21 we read that Achav desired a vineyard owned by a man named Navos, and that Navos refused to trade it, even for a better vineyard. This was Navos' family plot. Achav told Izevel about the problem.

Izevel set up false witnesses to incriminate Navos on charges of blasphemy against Achav and against HaShem. Navos was killed. She told Achav that Navos was dead, and Achav took the field. Eliyahu came to them and warned them that they, and their household, would die horribly. Achav repented, and Gd postponed the punishment for the next generation.

In Melachim II 9 we are told of Izevel's murder, and of the fact that her body was left for the dogs to consume, in Navos's vineyard.

Izevel's Approach to Religion
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 102b) mentions that Izevel was dedicated to idolatry, and that she gave them money daily. This is seen in the verse in Melachim I 19, which mention that the prophets of Asheirah ate from her table.

It is interesting, though, that she apparently lacked full confidence in the prophets of Asheirah. When Eliyahu issued his challenge to the prophets of idolatry (Melachim I 18:19), he invited the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Asheirah. Achav gathered his prophets, of Baal, but Izevel did not gather her prophets of Asheirah (Radak Melachim I 18:19). It appears she was afraid to test them against Eliyahu.

Izevel is marked for two positive traits in the Midrash, though:

1. Pirkei deR' Eliezer 17 picks up on the verse (Melachim II 9:35) which says Izevel's hands, feet and head were spared by the dogs, and left for burial. The Midrash states that she would come out of her house to clap in mourning with mourners, and to celebrate with wedding parties; her reward was that these limbs were spared.
2. Midrash Shemuel 22:3 points out another positive act of Izevel's. When Izevel wanted to kill Eliyahu, she gave him a warning, which is more than King Saul did when he ordered men to go kill David (Shemuel I 19:11). This gave Eliyahu a chance to flee. [For an interesting aside on Eliyahu's flight, see Pirkei deR' Eliezer 28.]

Next week, Gd-willing, we will learn about Izevel's political power, and her relationship with her husband, Achav.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner



This week we had the second installment of our two-part class on Izevel (Jezebel). You may need to look back at last week's e-mail to recall some of the incidents of her life, which we will refer to in here.

We focussed on two aspects of her life - her political power, and her relationship with Achav, her husband.

Izevel's Political Power
Technically, there is no role of "Queen" within Jewish law. There are certain laws which pertain to the king's wife, but they don't actually invest her with power. Izevel, though, was a woman of great power.

In the ninth and tenth chapters of Melachim II we read that a man by the name of Yehu, who had been annointed by Elisha to replace Achav, wiped out the house of Achav. In the tenth chapter, Yehu encountered travelers who had come from the Yehudah section of Israel to meet with Achav. They told Yehu, unaware that Yehu had wiped out Achav's family, "We have come to greet the sons of the king and the sons of the Gevirah." (Yehu slaughtered them.) Izevel was referred to as the Gevirah, a term which connotes power - a Gibor is a powerful man, and Gevirah is the feminine equivalent. The term is Thatcheresque, like "Iron Lady."

The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 3:2) tells us that Izevel was one of four women who took the reigns of a kingdom for themselves. Another was Queen Asalyah, who was another "problem" case - when her son died, she tried to destroy the royal line descendant from King David, and she nearly succeeded. Only Yoash survived her massacre. The other two were queens of non-Jewish kingdoms - Vashti, and a woman identified as Shamiramit. I don't know who this last one was.

Izevel's authority extended beyond the area of Yisrael, which her husband ruled. The Radak (Melachim I 19:4) was troubled by the fact that Eliyahu, in fleeing before Izevel's death threat, needed to flee into the desert. Why didn't he escape into Yehudah? Radak takes this as an indication of Izevel's long reach - Eliyahu didn't feel safe in Yehudah.

Similarly, Eliyahu receives a prophecy at the end of Melachim I 19, in which Gd makes reference to seven thousand Jews who did not bow to the Baal idolatry. The Talmud (Chullin 4b), in the midst of a separate discussion, makes reference to these 7000 as having been "in hiding from Izevel."

The Midrash on Shir haShirim (Shir haShirim Rabbah 1:3) actually goes so far as to blame Izevel for the corruption of the Jewish people. The verse in Shir haShirim (1:6) reads, "The children of my mother were angry (alternatively, 'caused anger') at me. They made me guard the vineyards, and so I did not guard my own vineyard." The Midrash comments that Izevel caused Gd to grow angry at the Jewish people. She made them work for the idols, and so they did not serve their Gd.

Limits on Izevel's Power
It is interesting that there were certain limits on Izevel's conduct, despite her great power.

The Midrash in several places (such as Devarim Rabbah 5:6) asks why that generation was so successful in battle (see Achav's defeat of his enemies in Melachim I 20 for a striking example), if they were so wicked. The Midrash points to the fact which we mentioned last week that Ovadiah was successful in hiding 100 prophets from Izevel when she tried to wipe them out. How could Ovadiah hide 100 people? Clearly, although the Jewish people were idol worshippers, they were not tattlers; they did not seek to cause problems for each other.

The Midrash contrasts this with the deeds of other generations. See, for example, the slander which went on against David to King Saul; that generation was righteous, but they were not victorious in war because they were not at peace with each other.

We see here that although Izevel was powerful, her power was not so great as to cause people to turn in those who opposed her.

Izevel also felt some need to abide by the rule of law. When Achav wanted Navos's vineyard, and Navos refused to give it to him, Izevel set about having Navos killed. Izevel did not simply order his death, though; she arranged for false witnesses to incriminate him for blasphemy against Gd and against Achav. The Radak (Melachim I 21:10) says that the Jewish people would not tolerate a corrupt monarchy, if that corruption extended to social affairs.

It is also interesting that Izevel, apparently, did not feel entirely secure in her power. When she sent a message to the elders regarding Navos, as part of her plot, she did not do so in her own name; she did it in her husband's name.

Izevel and Achav
Izevel was a powerful woman, but beyond that she was, it seems, the driving force behind Achav. (See Sanhedrin 39b for one possible reason behind her great influence over Achav; I prefer to exclude it from the e-mail.)

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 102b) debates Achav's status, attempting to discern whether he was essentially a good person who had gone bad, or a truly evil person. At first the Talmud lists Achav's idolatrous achievements, and it mentions one redeeming factor - his respect for Torah. After this, Rav Nachman states that Achav was "Shakul" - 50/50. The Talmud then rejects this view, based on the fact that the Torah describes, at length, Achav's evil deeds. Rather, Achav's good deeds in supporting Torah study atoned for some of his evil acts.

Be that as it may, there is a very important verse describing the relationship between Izevel and Achav. We are told (Melachim I 21:25), "There was none like Achav who sold himself to commit evil in Gd's Eyes, as he was seduced by his wife, Izevel." This verse clearly lays blame at Izevel's feet.

The Midrash (Eliyahu Rabbah 10) says that Achav "sold himself to idolatry" in marrying Izevel; this caused his destruction, and the destruction of his children. The Midrash contrasts this with the fate of Devorah the Judge, whose merit saved her husband and her descendants.

The Tosefta (Sanhedrin 4:5) holds Izevel up as an example. It says that when the Torah warns a king not to marry too many wives, it is warning him about wives such as Izevel, who will seduce him into evil acts.
On a similar note, the Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 10:2) brings an interesting passage. R' Levi taught a negative lesson regarding Achav, based on the verse, "There was none like Achav who sold himself to commit evil in Gd's Eyes." Achav appeared to him that night and asked what he had done to R' Levi to deserve that R' Levi should do this. "Look at the end of the verse," he said; the end of the verse is "as he was seduced by his wife, Izevel." R' Levi reversed himself, and taught lessons praising Achav.

Of course, Achav was responsible for his own deeds and their results, regardless of who led him into it. Ralbag (Melachim II 6:32) points out that Achav was identified as a "murderer," and he says this was in connection with the murder of Navos and the massacre of the prophets, even though those actually were orchestrated by Izevel.

That's it for Izevel; next week, Gd-willing, we will begin a look at Binayahu ben Yehoyada.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

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