The Role of Women in the Temple

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According to Jewish religious law, women were allowed in every area of the Temple precincts in which men were allowed. The Mishnah specifies areas within the Temple that non-priests were not allowed to enter, but it does not differentiate between men and women.

Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the LORD, as it is written in the LORD’s Torah: “Every first-born male is sanctified to the LORD.” (Luke 2:22-23)

Luke 2:22-39 describes the “redemption” of Jesus in accordance with Exodus 13:2,13, which commands that every first-born male Israelite be redeemed because his service belongs to the LORD. Luke also adds that Mary went to Jerusalem to sacrifice the prescribed offerings after giving birth: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons” (Lev. 12:8).

Pidyon Ha-Ben

According to Jewish religious law, it is not necessary to go to Jerusalem in order to redeem a first-born son. The ceremony, פִּדְיוֹן הַבֵּן (pidyon ha-ben, redemption of the son), can be held anywhere and the redemption money is included among those gifts or offerings which are given to priests any place in the land of Israel:

Twenty-four priestly gifts were given to Aaron and his sons… ten in the Temple, four in Jerusalem and ten anywhere in the land of Israel… [and among those received by the priests anywhere in the land was] the redemption of the first-born son.” (Tosefta, Hallah 2:7-9)

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This article originally appeared in issue 21 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

Comments 2

  1. Didn’t the first century Pharisees make additional laws that restricted women more in the Temple as well as other activities, where they were more free prior to that time?

    1. JP Staff Writer

      No, we think you are mistaken. The first-century Pharisees were generally more open to women’s participation in the Temple, and even celebrated the participation of prominent women like Queen Helena of Adiabene. After the destruction of the Temple, as the power of the rabbinic sages became more firmly established, the rabbis began to adopt more restrictive attitudes towards women. But the attitudes of the later sages should not be projected back onto the first-century Pharisees.

      For a helpful discussion of this issue, see Tal Ilan, “The Attraction of Aristocratic Women to Pharisaism During the Second Temple Period,” Harvard Theological Review 88.1 (1995): 1-33.

      Shmuel Safrai’s JP article “Were Women Segregated in the Ancient Synagogue?” may also be of interest.

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  • Shmuel Safrai [1919-2003]

    Shmuel Safrai [1919-2003]

    Professor and Rabbi Shmuel Safrai died on July 16, 2003. He was buried the following day in a section of Jerusalem's Har ha-Menuhot Cemetery reserved for faculty of the Hebrew University. His grave is only a few feet from the grave of his close friend…
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