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Radak commentary on II Kings 4:23 explains that it was common for women to visit the prophet on Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh. Questions:

  • When did this custom begin? The question that the husband asks the Shunamite woman seems to imply that this was a common custom that was around for some time. Certainly, there were prophets such as Eliyahu and Samuel before Elisha.

  • Why was this a custom to do this specifically on Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh?

  • What did they do when visiting the prophet? What was the purpose of the visit?

  • Did men visit the prophet on those days, also? Did they join their wives, or was this more an occasion for women to visit on those days?

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Radak does not say exactly what you said. Rather, he wrote (my own translation):

"Our Rabbis, za'l, deduced from this that a person (adam) is obligated to visit his teacher on Shabbat and the festival, as it states (in this verse) 'it is neither Shabbat nor Chodesh', implying that on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh she would (be obligated to) travel to him (Elisha)."

The reference to Chazal saying this is to Rosh Hashana 16b and Sukkah 27b:

"ואמר רבי יצחק: חייב אדם להקביל פני רבו ברגל, שנאמר 'מדוע את הולכת אליו היום לא חודש ולא שבת' - מכלל דבחודש ושבת איבעי לה למיזל"

This does NOT say that women in general visited prophets in general, as a custom.

The Shunamite woman had a special connection to Elisha, in that he was reckoned to be her teacher / Rebbe. Thus he would always stay in her (and her husband's) home when he visited the area. (See II Kings 4:8.)

Based on Rabbi Yitzchak's statement, this would apply to any other person who had a similar connection to the prophet, as rebbe. But it is not cast as a custom for women, or for husbands accompanying their wives to visit the prophet.

Further, this is casting a rabbinic practice back to Biblical times, akin to other midrashim claiming that the patriarchs kept the entire Torah. If we choose to take this non-homiletically, then I do not think that we should recast it into some sort of proto-custom, involving women in general and prophets in general, and then seek to establish the contours of this reconstructed custom. There won't be any sources to establish those contours.

As to the reason for the obligation of visiting one's rebbe, see here at Virtual Bet Midrash, it is possibly an expression of kavod, honor. R. Yonasan Eybeschutz explained it as a replacement for visiting the Temple.

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    "akin to other midrashim claiming that the patriarchs kept the entire Torah" 600 years after Sinai is very different from patriarchs doing Eruv Tavshilin/Techumin. Rabbis formalizing an obligation to visit teachers can fit nicely with an ancient sense of appropriateness for that sorta thing on holidays, like various rabbinic decrees for Shabbat learned from Isaiah דבר דבר etc. – Double AA Dec 29 '16 at 3:29
  • "he was reckoned to be her teacher / Rebbe. Thus he would always stay": source? Maybe he became her teacher during his stays? – msh210 Dec 29 '16 at 16:52
  • corrected to "woman", which is indeed in context important to spell correctly. re "source", sure: maybe say he became her teacher, but that is speculation and filling in details in need of a source. I am trying to claim the minimum, based on what the pasuk tells us, that there was this connection. And that connection is what R' Yitzchak deemed to be a teacher/rebbe relationship. By "thus", I didn't mean "therefore", but just to show there was the special kesher. The source for that he would always stay is the pasuk I cited. – josh waxman Dec 29 '16 at 17:41

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