JAEL (Heb. יָעֵל), wife of Heber the Kenite. Jael slew *Sisera in the war of *Deborah and *Barak against the Canaanites (Judg. 4–5). His army routed by Israel, Sisera fled on foot to Jael's tent, where he was offered hospitality and security, only to be slain by her while he slept (4:17–22; the details of the deed differ somewhat in Judges 5: 24–27, and permit an interpretation first voiced in rabbinic literature (below) that Jael seduced Sisera). Deborah's prophecy to Barak that the Lord would "sell Sisera into the hand of a woman" (4:9) was thus fulfilled. Jael's deed received high praise from Deborah (5:24–27). The story has political significance as well as drama. Jael's husband, "Heber the Kenite" (4:11, 17), is described as a descendant of Jethro the father-in-law of Moses. His clan had apparently been allied to *Jabin, Israel's enemy (ibid.), and the slaying of Sisera indicated a switch of loyalties back to Israel. It should be noted that an earlier reference to Jael in the Song of Deborah (5:6) does not seem to be to the same person. The name Jael ("wild goat") appears in Ugaritic texts as that of a man.

[Nahum M. Sarna /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

In the Aggadah

Jael's action in killing Sisera teaches that a transgression performed with good intent is more meritorious than a commandment performed with no intent (Hor. 10b). But for her action, the children of the matriarchs would have been destroyed (Gen. R. 48:15). She slew Sisera with a hammer and tent pin, rather than a spear or sword, in accordance with the biblical commandment (Deut. 22:5) prohibiting the use of weapons by women (Targ. Yer., Judges 5:26). She was a descendant of Jethro, but whereas he received a redeemer (Moses) who was fleeing from the enemy (Pharaoh), Jael received an enemy (Sisera) who was fleeing from the redeemer (Barak), and killed him (Ex. R. 4:2). She was so attractive, that even her voice roused desire (Meg. 15a). Although Sisera had seven sexual relations with her on the day he fled from battle, she derived no gratification from these acts (Yev. 103a; Naz. 23b). She gave Sisera to drink of the milk of her breasts (Nid. 55b). Deborah blessed Jael and she was considered even greater than Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah (Naz. 23b).


EM, 3 (1958, includes bibliography), S.V.; Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1913), 37–38, 6 (1928), 198; I. Ḥasida, Ishei ha-Tanakh (1964), 200–1. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: B. Halpern, in: HTR, 76 (1983), 379–401: M. Brettler, Judges (2001), 61–79 (extensive history of research on Judges 4–5).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.