Ibn Ezra

Ibn Ezra: And Women (Vayakhel)

Israeli artist Mirit Ben-Nun

The Torah Text

In Exodus 35, Moses transmits God’s commands about building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and the people fulfill the request. The language, like so often in Hebrew, defaults to masculine. Abraham ibn Ezra – while not exactly a feminist – goes out of his way to clarify that in this case we should assume that women are meant as well, when describing the excellent volunteerism and craftwork of the Israelites.

Ibn Ezra’s Teaching

כל. נדיב לב. או נדיבת לב. כדרך השפן שור שה כשבים

Exodus 35:22 AS MANY AS WERE WILLING-HEARTED. Nediv lev (willing-hearted in the masculine) includes willing-hearted women (nedivat lev). The term is used in the same sense as [other Hebrew words that are in masculine form but are meant to be gender inclusive].

וכל איש. או אשה. והוסיפו הנשים שטוו התכלת והארגמן והתולעת והשש גם העזים והיא אומנות צריכה לחכמה יותר

Exodus 35:23 AND EVERY MAN. Or woman. In addition, the women spun the blue and the purple, the scarlet, the fine linen and also the goats’ hair, a craft which required exceptional skill.

Reflections for the Path

It shouldn’t even need to be said, but it is worth lifting up when male medievals or sages of other ages are explicitly inclusive of women.

Here, ibn Ezra lauds the Israelite craftwomen for their exceptional skill. The phrase he uses in Hebrew is chochmah yoter, which could also be read as “more wise.” We (I speak as a white cisgender male-identifying person) would be more wise to create space for those who have historically and presently been marginalized in various ways, to lift up their voices in our time, so that soon the full wisdom of humanity can be truly heard and lived.

For more on Abraham ibn Ezra:
1. Read my introduction.
2. Listen to ibn Ezra’s opening prayer poem for his Torah commentary.
3. Explore the five paths, ibn Ezra’s introduction to his Torah commentary.