Whereas the biblical period had prophetesses, charismatic women in positions of influence and power, this means of attaining power was no longer feasible for women in the talmudic period. Prophecy had disappeared altogether and religious leadership had passed to the sages and was based on the teaching of the oral law, which was forbidden to women. There was not a single woman in the masculine world of the sages, and women had no influence on general society. For a woman with leadership potential, or, shall we say, a woman with the power to manipulate others, her sole recourse for expression was outside institutionalized frameworks, through witchcraft, for example. Even if the women themselves did not accord any importance to this occupation, masculine society enabled women to wield influence only by subversion. Women managed to find a way to make men do their will. This can be seen as a kind of revenge exacted by women on the masculine world that spurred them to become involved with the supernatural. It is thus clear that with the evolution of civilization, including Jewish society, and the move towards the promotion of equality, talented women could reach positions of decision-making and leadership (over men as well), a development which rendered witchcraft no longer relevant.
It follows that the accusation leveled by men against women is ultimately self-incrimination, since it reveals the glaring inequality created by men towards women. Sorcery as practiced by women constituted insurrection against the social structure no less than sorcery practiced by men, and was much less destructive than men’s usual activities. If women turned to sorcery, this stemmed indirectly from the male oppression that frequently brought about the opposite result: women, as sorceresses, gained control over the men who needed them.
Meir Bar-Ilan, “Sorceresses”, in Some Jewish Women in Antiquity (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1998), 128-129.