Jezebel (circa 910–841 BCE) was the wife of Ahab—king of Israel, daughter of Etbaal— king of the Tyrian empire,1 and mother of Ahazia and Jehoram—Ahab’s sons and successors.2 She is famous for her cruel and idolatrous ways.

At a time when political alliances were cemented through matrimony, King Ahab sought to create a pact with the neighboring Tyrian kingdom and married the king’s daughter.3 Her tenure as queen of Israel is equated with that of Queen Vashti of Persia, who was renowned for her ruthless and hedonistic lifestyle.4

Jezebel and Idolatry

Immediately upon her marriage, Jezebel introduced Ahab to the worship of the Baal,5 the chief Canaanite god,6 and at her urging he sought to broaden its practice throughout his kingdom.7 According to the Talmud, each day Jezebel would contribute her (and her husband’s) weight in gold to promote the practice of idolatry.8

Jezebel also engaged in the occult arts,9 a practice the Talmud says “contravenes the upper legion,”10 sabotaging the inner peace and symmetry of the world by violating its Divinely ordained parameters. One way sorcerers disturb the tapestry of creation is through sexually deviant and immoral activities,11 which is why the Torah describes the divinations of Jezebel in the same breath as her promiscuity (“the harlotries of your mother Jezebel and her abundant witchcraft”).12

To advance her aspirations through the occult arts, Jezebel installed immodest imagery in the royal carriage of her husband, King Ahab.13

Persecution of the Prophets

Jezebel’s fascination with Baal worship led her to persecute believing Israelites who overtly rejected idolatry, beginning with the prophets of G‑d. Scripture tells us that she had these ideological adversaries murdered,14 and in turn promoted 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the idol Asherah.15

Jezebel pursued Elijah the Prophet as well. Elijah had challenged the false prophets of Baal to produce a tangible response from their deity, during an epic showdown on Mount Carmel. When they failed to do so, Elijah emerged as the undisputed victor and truthful prophet. The prophets of the Baal were proven false and Elijah had them all killed.16 When Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah in retribution, he fled for his life.17

The Zohar explains that although Elijah was a prophet of G‑d, it is the practice of the righteous to avoid situations that require miraculous Divine intervention unless absolutely necessary. Because Jezebel had threatened to harm him, Elijah escaped quickly to avoid a supernatural rescue mission.18

Stealing a Vineyard

Navot, neighbor of Ahab and Jezebel, owned ancestral property upon which he grew a beautiful vineyard. Ahab wished to acquire it but Navot refused to sell. When Jezebel found out, she conspired to have Navot killed on false charges of cursing G‑d and the king. Ahab then took possession of the vineyard.19

G‑d dispatched Elijah to tell Ahab: “Just like the dogs licked Navot’s blood, so shall they lick yours . . And Jezebel will be eaten by dogs.”20 Indeed, Jezebel ultimately died a brutal death and her carcass was devoured by canines.21

Her Merits

Despite her evil actions, the kindness she performed for those in mourning and the joy she brought to newlyweds is noted. In reward for her actions, Elijah prophesied that the limbs with which she performed these mitzvot would merit a proper burial,22 which indeed came to pass.23

Was Jezebel Jewish?

The medieval commentators differ on whether Jezebel converted to Judaism in a halachically acceptable manner. R. Levi ben Gershom (Ralbag, 1288-1344) is of the view that Jezebel did not fully embrace Judaism and was not a halachic Jewess.24 This would mean that her two sons, Ahazia and Jehoram, also lacked Jewish credentials. But his assumption is challenged by the fact that there are indications throughout rabbinic works that Ahazia and Jehoram were regarded as bona-fide halachic Jews.25 Indeed, this is the position taken by a number of halachic authorities.26

Presumably, therefore, Elijah held out hope that as a Jewess, even a woman as evil-minded as Jezebel would realign herself with the will of G‑d when outright challenged regarding her wavering between belief in G‑d and the worship of pagan deities.27