The Prophetess Hulda:
Her Message of Hope
(Rachel Neiman is involved in Jewish outreach. She lectures and writes on
Jewish matters and specializes in topics related to the Jewish woman. Mrs.
Neiman lives in Baltimore.)
Of the seven prophetesses (Sarah, Chana, Dvorah, Miriam, Esther, Avigail
and Hulda) whose words the Talmud tells us are recorded for all
generations, Hulda is perhaps the least known. II Kings, 22:14 briefly
describes Hulda as, "...the prophetess, the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah
son of Harhas, the keeper of the (royal) garments, who dwelled in
Jerusalem, in the study house..." Hulda lived during the era of the First
Temple and was sole prophetess for the women. Our sages tell us that at
this time, "Jeremiah prophesied in the marketplace, Tzephaniah in the
houses of worship and Hulda to the women." In spite of this limited
biographical information we can surmise that, as a prophetess, Hulda was a
woman of great faith, moral character and broad Torah knowledge. These are
among the qualifications for receiving prophecy, as outlined by the great
Hulda's place of prophecy was in Jerusalem, between the Temple's two
southern - and busiest - gates. When the Temple was rebuilt, these gates
were named after Hulda, to commemorate her importance for all
generations. Excavations on the Second Temple site revealed that the
"Gates of Hulda" were built directly on top of those where she originally
sat. Like her namesake, the weasel, who digs an intricate system of
tunnels linking an entire community, Hulda linked the despair of the First
Temple's final days to the hopeful new generation of the Second Temple.
Kings II tells us that King Yoshiayhu turns to Hulda for advice when the
High Priest (Kohen Gadol) sends him a Torah scroll discovered inside the
Temple. (In the opinion of the commentator, Abarbanel, this scroll was
none other than that written by Moshe). The scroll is not turned to its
appropriate place, but rather to the text of curses in Deuteronomy 28:36,
which describes G-d leading Israel and its king into exile. Yoshiayhu
sends the High Priest and other ministers to consult with Hulda about this
seemingly ominous omen (Kings II, 22:14).
Why does the king consult Hulda, the women's prophet, rather than bringing
his question to the men's prophets, Jeremiah (Hulda's cousin) or
Tzephaniah? The Talmud answers that Jeremiah, as Huldah's cousin, does not
consider her prophesying to the king an affront to his own prophetic status
(Megillah 14b). Another opinion tells us at great length that Jeremiah was
abroad pulling together the ten Jewish Tribes, when the king needed a
prophet. Regardless, why did the king not turn to Tzephanah in Jeremiah's
absence? And if Jeremiah was in fact in town, why not to
Jeremiah? According to the tenets of prophecy, a prophet is compelled to
report God's message word-for-word. In this sense, Yoshiayhu would have
received the same answer to his inquiry from any prophet - man or
woman. The prophet is, however, at liberty to alter the tone of his or her
message, thereby imparting additional, if unspoken, information. And in
this area of the subtext tonality and nuance can convey, Hulda becomes
Simply stated, the Talmud (Megillah 14b) tells us that "women are more
compassionate than men," and this is the quality king Yoshiyahu sought from
Hulda's compassion - inherent to her nature as a Jewish woman - is what
Yoshiayhu's needs at this dark hour, when the fate of the Jewish Nation is
at stake. As stated, Hulda is compelled to relay Hashem's message
word-for-word. Thus, she confirms the king's fear that his country is in
trouble, by predicting the Temple's destruction and the exile of the Jewish
"...Thus said Hashem: Behold, I am bringing evil upon this place and its
inhabitants...because they have forsaken Me and burned offerings to the
gods of others. My wrath has been incited against this place and it will
not be extinguished..."
In spite of its dismal angle, Hulda's prophecy also includes a comfort for
"...because your heart is soft and you humbled yourself before Hashem when
you heard that which I have spoken about this place and its inhabitants,
that they would become a desolation and a curse...you will be gathered to
your grave in peace - and your eyes will not see all the evil that I am
bringing upon this place" (Kings II, 22: 19-20).
Hulda's tone of mercy is what differentiates her delivery of Hashem's
message from those Yoshiayhu might have received from the men. Hulda
prophecies contain a feminine tone of nurturing, sensitivity and
compassion. These are the qualities behind the Talmudic citation that,
"women are more compassionate than men." Hulda gives the king the
encouragement and hope he needs in order to eradicate idolatry from the
Temple. Her prophecy inspires the king, and perhaps the entire Jewish
Nation to repent. Her memory and the significance of her presence are
ultimately memorialized in the "Gates of Hulda" seventy years later, with
the rebuilding of the Second Temple.
Hulda speaks to Yoshiayhu with the compassion that is the heritage of every
Jewish woman. On a more specific, personal note, the events of Hulda's
life and the details of her ancestry reinforce her connection to the
qualities of mercy and hope that are part and parcel of her feminine
voice. Next week's class will explore this area of her gift, and its
relevance for Jewish women of all eras.
Women in Judaism, Copyright (c) 2001 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and Project Genesis, Inc.
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