By Gil Dekel, PhD

Painting of Ester (detail) - by Natalie Dekel

Painting of Ester (detail) – by Natalie Dekel

Quite a few people in the Middle Ages believed that women are inferior to men, and that they possess a limited intellectual capacity.

The article below is unique. Written in those Mediaeval times, it stands by women, describing their virtues and natural gifts.

The author, Gedaliah Ibn Yahya was a Rabbi and a scholar, best known for his book Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah. Gedaliah was born at Imola in northern Italy in 1526, and spent his final years in the city of Alessandria, Italy. Some scholars argue that he spent his later years in Alexandria, Egypt.

In his article, praising women, Gedaliah opens up with following point. He says that our sages (Hazal חז״ל‎) have already noted that ‘all Israel have a place in the world-to-come’ (Mishna, Sanhedrin, 10, a). Since women are part of Israel then they also have part in the redemption, the world-to-come, therefore it is obvious that women are as good as men. Gedaliah then continues to list and discuss women’s virtues. His article is divided into three parts:

  1. A list of 39 famous women, mostly form the biblical text. Against each woman, Gedaliah noted a quality.
  2. Examinations of women’s skills based on biblical stories, and on their role in modern society.
  3. A collection of proverbs from our stages (Hazal), describing women’s merits.

The list:

List of women's names against their virtues. Written by Gedaliah Ibn Yahya (1526-1587).

The article below, by Avraham Grossman, includes Gedaliah’s article (see, from page 52 [16]), as well as Avraham’s analysis of Gedaliah’s article, with further contextual information.

Below is a handwriting text by Rabbi Gedaliah. This is a page from a copy he made of a book written originally by his father. The page is from the book Sefer Derekh Hayim by Joseph ibn Jahia Yahya. Leeds University Library, Special Collections. Classmark: MS ROTH/401. Published here by permission from Leeds University Library.

Page from Sefer Derekh Hayim by Joseph ibn Jahia Yahya - Copied by his son Rabbi Gedaliah. This is the handwriting copy by Gedaliah.


6 May 2021. Last updated 8 July 2022.
English © Gil Dekel.
Hebrew article PDF © the Historical Society of Israel. Published here with the Society’s permission.

‘Women’s Virtues and Superiority in the Works of R. Gedaliah Ibn Yahya’ by Avraham Grossman. Zion, Volume 72, A (2007). Published By: Historical Society of Israel. Pages 37-61 (25 pages)

  ‘מעלות הנשים ועדיפותן בחיבור של ר’ גדליה אבן יחייא’, מאת אברהם גרוסמן. פורסם לראשונה על ידי החברה ההיסטורית הישראלית, ציון, תשס”ז (2007), כרך עב, חוברת א, עמודים 37-61.