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Encyclopedia Judaica 2nd Edition An essential source of information on Jewish life, culture, history, and religion. In 1972, the Encyclopaedia Judaica fulfilled the longstanding dream of capturing the full richness of Jewish culture in a single authoritative publication, heralded in the scholarly community as one of the best reference works ever compiled.
MIRIAM  By : Isidore Singer Jacob Zallel Lauterbach

Biblical Data:
In Rabbinical Literature:
Her Names

Biblical Data

Prophetess; daughter of Amram and sister of Moses and Aaron (I Chron. vi. 3; Ex. xv. 20; Num. xxvi. 59). When Moses was left at the river Miriam watched from a distance until Pharaoh's daughter took him up, whereupon she proposed to the princess to find a Hebrew nurse; the princess assenting to this, Miriam returned with her mother (Ex. ii. 4-7). After the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea Miriam sang a song of triumph, in which all the women joined (Ex. xv. 20-21). Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses on account of the Cushite woman whom he had married, whereupon God summoned Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the tabernacle of the congregation, reproved her, and punished her with leprosy. She was healed through the prayers of Moses, but was obliged to remain without the camp of the Israelites for seven days, although the people did not proceed until she had returned (Num. xii.). Miriam died in the desert at Kadesh, where she was buried (Num. xx. 1). In Micah vi. 4 she is mentioned, with Moses and Aaron, as a leader of the people. S. J. Z. L.

(see image) Miriam.( From the Sarajevo Haggadah of the fourteenth century.)

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In Rabbinical Literature:

Miriam was born at the time when the Egyptians began to embitter the lives of the Israelites by imposing arduous tasks upon them (comp. Ex. i. 14), and for this reason she was called "Miriam," since the consonants in the word "Miriam" () may also read "marim" (="bitter"; Cant. R. ii. 11). She was called also "Puah," and was, like her mother, a midwife (comp. Ex. i. 15). When only five years of age she was skilful enough to help her mother (Ex. R. i. 17; see Jochebed). She had the courage to tell Pharaoh that he would be punished by God for his cruelty to Israel, and almost lost her life in consequence (ib.). When her father, Amram, had divorced her mother as a result of the cruel edict referring to the exposure of the children, she induced him to take her mother back (ib.; Sot.ah 12a), and she sang and danced on the day of the remarriage of her parents (Ex. R. i. 23; B. B. 120a). She predicted to her father that a son would be born to him who would liberate Israel from the Egyptian yoke. When Moses was born her father kissed her and said, "Your prophecy, my daughter, is fulfilled." But when subsequently the child had to be cast awayher parents upbraided her and asked what would now be the outcome of her prophecy. Miriam therefore went to the river (Ex. ii. 4) to see how her prophecy would be fulfilled (Ex. R. i. 26; Sot.ah 12b-13a).

Her Names

Miriam is said to have had also the following names: Ephrath, Helah, Naarah, Azubah, Jerioth, Zohar, Zereth, Ethan, and Aharhel (comp. I Chron. ii. 18, iv. 5-8), which were given to her on special occasions (Ex. R. i. 21; Sot.ah 11b-12a). She was married to Caleb b. Jephunneh, or b. Hezron, to whom she bore Hur (comp. I Chron. ii. 18-21). Then she fell ill (hence her name "Helah") and was thereupon left by her husband (hence the name "Azubah"). Subsequently she regained her health, became again like a young woman (hence the name "Naarah"), and was taken back by her husband (Ex. R. l.c.). Miriam was the ancestress of King David, and of Bezaleel, who made the Tabernacle and its vessels. Bezaleel's wisdom (comp. Ex. xxxi. 3) is said to have been due to his grandmother Miriam (Ex. R. xlviii. 6). To have so illustrious a descendant was Miriam's reward for not obeying Pharaoh (comp. Ex. i. 21; Ex. R. l.c.). When Miriam talked against Moses (comp. Num. xii.) she did not intend to slander him; she wished him to live with his wife and raise children (Deut. R. vi. 6). But when she was punished with leprosy, and had to remain without the camp, God honored her by officiating as priest Himself (Zeb. 102a). The Israelites waited for her seven days (Num. xii. 15; Sot.ah 9b), for she had once waited for Moses by the river (Ex. ii. 4).

Miriam is regarded as the savior of Israel (Ex. R. xxvi. 1). For her sake a marvelous well accompanied the Israelites, a rock from which water flowed. This well disappeared after Miriam's death (Ta'an. 9a). It was subsequently shown in the sea (Shab. 35a). Miriam, like Moses and Aaron, died by a kiss from God (M. K.. 28a), for the angel of death could not take her; and worms did not touch her body (B. B. 17a). Another legend says that Miriam, like Moses and Aaron, died on account of the water of strife ("me meribah"; comp. Num. xx. 7-13). This seems inconsistent, for, according to the Bible as well as the legends, water became scarce only after Miriam's death, with the disappearance of the well (Lev. R. xxxi. 5 and commentaries ad loc.).S. J. Z. L.