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Rachel

Claiming Bilhah and Zilpah

One afternoon when I was in the 7th grade, my Hebrew tutor, Sarah, was wearing a shirt that read: “Sarah & Rebecca & Rachel & Leah & Bilhah & Zilpah.” The first four names, the names of the matriarchs, were familiar to me. I had heard these names for as long as I could remember at temple, but I had never heard the last two names before. 

The Rebel Women of Passover

My grandfather starts every Pesach Seder with the same opening lines. He talks about how he can remember being at the Seder table with his grandfather, who was once at a Seder table with his grandfather, and if you follow the generations back only a few more times you are right back at the original Pesach celebration, the escape from Egypt. These few words add so much meaning to my Pesach experience; I feel a direct relation to the Jews who escaped slavery so long ago. But while I love being able to draw this connection to the ancient past, something has always struck me about this tale: how come women are not part of this story of family linkage?

Hannah's Ghost

I love Hanukkah. Always have. Eight crazy nights of games, presents, impromptu dance parties to the songs of Jewish musical maestro Paul Zim, and examinations of a stack of illustrated children’s books about the holiday, among them one very special giant-sized coloring book. (When I tell you giant-sized, I mean the length and width of an average toddler.)

Rachel: Midrash and Aggadah

Rachel is depicted in the Torah as Jacob’s beautiful and beloved wife. The midrash portrays Rachel as a prophetess, and her statements and the names she gave her sons contain allusions to the future. Rachel’s merit continued to aid Israel even many years after her demise.

Rachel: Bible

The younger daughter of Laban and wife of Jacob, Rachel is the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, who become two of the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 35:24; 46:15–18). Rachel, who died young, becomes an image of tragic womanhood. After the biblical period, “Mother Rachel” continued to be celebrated as a powerful intercessor for the people of Israel.

Art: Representation of Biblical Women

In narratives or abridged cycles more or less faithful to the biblical text, art has portrayed biblical women as role models and reference, occasionally adding exegetical elements both Christian and Jewish. Although the text of the Bible became fixed at different dates and in various versions, these images are not fixed, but reflect the ebb and flow in society’s attitudes towards women and their role.

Matriarchs: A Liturgical and Theological Category

Among egalitarian religious congregations throughout the world, the most popular addition to the traditional liturgy is the mention of the Matriarchs in birkat avot (the blessing of the ancestors), the opening blessing of the Amidah.

Leadership and Authority

All early biblical leaders of the Jewish people were elected by God. The matriarchs and patriarchs, priests, prophets, kings, judges and warriors were chosen by divine plan to lead the nation at different points in its history. The [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:424]Torah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] offers us glimpses into the relationships between Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, Rachel, Leah and Jacob, based on the principle that ma’aseh avot siman le-banim (the deeds of the ancestors serve as a model for the descendents). Beyond the biblical text, the influence of matriarchal faith and insight is conveyed in the midrashic literature which expands the role of wife, helper and mother to include prophetess, teacher and visionary. Yet it is clear from the biblical narrative that females did not serve in the broader leadership roles filled by males.

Biblical Women in World and Hebrew Literature

This article focuses on the fate of biblical women in post-biblical times.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rachel." (Viewed on November 20, 2017) <https://jwa.org/taxonomy/term/10875>.

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