Nothing is said about women in listing the requirement of ten men as the bare minimum for the establishment of a synagogue. The express instructions about the process of Gentile conversion to Judaism focus on male proselytes, but the mention of female proselytes in the Mishnah de facto establishes that female Gentiles could also convert to Judaism. And though women could convert to Judaism, this does not necessarily indicate that women were allowed to become a part of the synagogue. Kaufman Kohler, renowned Jewish scholar and President of Hebrew Union College, asserted matter-of-factly,
Women could not be members of the synagogue, though they seem to have performed synagogal functions of their own, and so prominent women were elected as mothers of the synagogue (‘Mater Synagogue’)…. They attended the service…, but could take no part in the common service.1
Over the holidays, I took a bit of time away from writing. In a pastor’s family, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are one full-out sprint. There’s all the normal busyness as well as a full calendar of Advent-related activities—pageants, cookie exchanges, evening fellowships, and caroling. Once we hit Christmas Day, though, things tend to settle down, and I have time to visit with family and do extra reading.
One of the books I discovered over the holidays is a collection of vignettes about the women of the New Testament. I was prepping for this year’s women’s Bible study at church and like any good teacher (who is consistently running just shy of deadline), my first stop was the Amazon search engine. I typed in “Women of the New Testament” and one of the first entries was written by, of all people, Abraham Kuyper. Apparently in the midst of reforming turn-of-the-century Dutch society, establishing an entire branch of theology, and pastoring multiple congregations, Kuyper also had time to write on women of the Bible. (Abraham Kuyper: Statesman, Theologian, and Father of the Modern Women’s Bible Study?)
It is fascinating to see the part women had in the life of God’s Son during His third of a century on this planet. We all know of His arrival in the body of a young virgin and of the encouragement that Elizabeth and Anna gave to her at that time (cf. Luke 1:36-45, 2:36-38).
Then, for 30 years, Joseph and His mother had authority over Jesus (cf. Luke 2:51, Matt. 13:55). Mary suffered much shame in that notorious town of Nazareth for having a son by an unknown father (cf. John 1:46, 8:41, 8:48).
During the three years of His public ministry in Israel, the Savior cured women who were ailing (cf. Matt. 8:14-15, 9:20-22), raised one from the dead (cf. Matt. 9:18-26) and highly praised one for her sacrificial giving (cf. Luke. 21:1-4). He also reached out to “a woman of Samaria” (John 4:7ff.) and to “a woman of Canaan” (Matt. 15:22) in the land of Tyre and Sidon, concerning whom He said: “Great is your faith!” (Matt. 15:28).
Much if not most of the finances that our Lord and His apostles needed came from women who were thankful for his ministry in their own lives (cf. Luke 8:1-3). Also, Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus, provided rare hospitality and devotion to Him at Bethany, near Jerusalem (cf. Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-45,12:1-8).
Finally, when the Lord Jesus was betrayed by Judas and abandoned by the other disciples (cf. Matt. 26:47-56), it was women who stayed by our Savior as He was crucified (cf. Matt. 27:55-56, Mark 15:40-41). The one named last, Salome, was a sister of Jesus’ mother and the mother of the apostles James and John. Then the apostle John returned to Jesus with these four women (cf. Jn. 19:25-27). Amazing! Of all His disciples, only one man showed such devotion to the end—and four women!
Even more amazing, if possible, is the record of what women did when Jesus died and rose again. When Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus buried the body of Jesus in a special tomb (cf. John 19:38-42), “the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55).