Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

On-line Tanach Class
Chuldah the Prophetess

Chuldah haNeviah - Chuldah the Prophetess


This week, we learned about the life of Chuldah haNeviah - Chuldah the Prophetess.

Chuldah [like Baruch ben Neryah, whom we discussed last week] was a descendant of Yehoshua and Rachav. [Rachav was the woman in Jericho who advised and saved the Jewish spies, and whose family was then saved when the Jews invaded. She married Yehoshua, and was rewarded with 8 prophets among her descendants.]

Chuldah lived toward the end of the First Beis haMikdash, dying before the Temple was destroyed. Her name is a bit odd; a Chuldah is a form of rodent. The Gemara mentions that she was named thus because of a certain presumptuousness on her part, in taking a leadership position at a certain time. We'll see what this may be about, momentarily.

Her name also plays a part in an interesting Talmudic pun. The Gemara (Pesachim 9b) is discussing what happens if a person leaves bread in his house before Pesach, and then becomes aware that a rodent (Chuldah) has stolen it. May he assume that the Chuldah ate the bread? Perhaps the Chuldah stored it away, and now there is bread in the house!

One sage in the Gemara suggests that the Chuldah might realize there will be no bread in the house over Pesach, and might hoard the bread. An opposing sage responds, "veChi Chuldah Neviah He?" "Is the Chuldah a prophet?" Of course, this is a pun on the name "Chuldah haNeviah," "Chuldah the Prophetess." [Regrettably, too many people who learn that Gemara don't know who Chuldah is, and thus don't get the pun...]

Chuldah was one of the seven female prophets who had their writings recorded in Tanach [there were 48 males who had the same honor]. The Midrash also lists her in a list of 23 outstanding Jewish women. There is a Midrash which records a set of dwellings in the Garden of Eden, and it places her in the 4th dwelling, with the righteous women.

There were three leading prophets in her generation - Yirmiyah, Tzefaniah, and Chuldah. Yirmiyah prophesied in the marketplaces, Tzefaniah in the buildings where people congregated, and Chuldah prophesied to the women.

Chuldah was involved in one of the most important stories in Tanach, a story which we will re-tell in short form here. Melachim II 22 records an event involving King Yoshiyahu. Yoshiyahu came after two wicked kings, who had attempted to destroy Torah - Menasheh (who repented at the end of his life) and Amon. Yoshiyahu took the throne at age 8, and he was a righteous king. At age 26, Yoshiyahu decided it was time to turn the treasury toward fixing up the Beis haMikdash. In the course of the work, a scroll was discovered.

Chilkiah the Kohen Gadol, Shafan the scribe, and others, brought the scroll to Yoshiyahu. It is not clear what was in the scroll; those who attended our Jewish History class at shul will recall that it may have been a normal Torah opened to Gd's threats of punishment to the Jewish people. It also may have been a book of Devarim. Alternatively, it may have been a Torah which Moshe recorded, himself.

Whatever it was, it warned of punishment, which frightened Yoshiyahu. Yoshiyahu ordered them to petition Gd for guidance, and so they went to Chuldah. Chuldah informed them that HaShem was going to bring punishment upon the Jewish people, but that their personal goodness would spare them this experience. The suffering would come after their deaths.

The Gemara addresses an interesting question - Why did they go to Chuldah, when Yirmiyahu was around? They respond that it may have been because he was not in Yerushalayim that day, or because they were hoping she would be merciful. Yirmiyahu was known for his harsh rebukes; they thought that Chuldah, a woman, might be more merciful.

The presumptuousness to which we referred before may be a referrence to Chuldah's trespassing on Yirmiyahu's territory. Yirmiyahu, after all, was the main prophet when it came to warning the Jewish people about the coming destruction. However, the Gemara tells us that Yirmiyahu did not object to Chuldah's trespass; the Gemara indicates that they were actually family.

Chuldah's husband was also an interesting person. He was the guardian of the king's (perhaps the Kohen Gadol's) special garments. Midrashic sources link him to a story involving Elisha. Elisha had been promised that his miracles would double those of Eliyahu. Eliyahu revived one person. Elisha's famous resuscitation was the son of the Shunamis. Where was the second? The Gemara suggests that it may have been in Melachim II 13, when a body was put in Elisha's freshly-dug grave, and it came to life and popped out of the grave. Some suggest that this man went on to become a great man, sitting at the gate of Yerushalayim and providing water for travellers, and that he married Chuldah the Prophetess.

Chuldah had another unique point. The standard rule is that no body is buried in Yerushalayim (bodies aren't even left in Yerushalayim overnight; they are taken out and buried outside, even at night). The only exceptions are the tomb of King David, and the tomb of Chuldah. Various sources explain that a specially constructed tunnel allowed for the flow of impurity to leave the city out to Nachal Kidron, so that people walking in Yerushalayim would not become impure.

There was a gate to the Temple named for Chuldah, and the Midrash says this gate was never destroyed. Rashi comments that this was the gate where she sat and taught; it is referred to as "Mishneh" in the verse (Melachim II 22:14). Alternatively, "Mishneh" may refer to the walls which were there. [There is a comment added to Rashi's commentary on that verse in Melachim, suggesting that Chuldah taught Mishnah to the sages by that gate. I don't know the origin of that comment.]

All in all, Chuldah was a very interesting figure. We will learn next week, Gd-willing, about the prophet Nachum.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

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