Category Archives: women

The Imahot in rabbinic Judaism

“Who knows four? The Imahot in rabbinic Judaism.”
by Alvin Kaunfer “Judaism” Vol.44 (Winter ’95) p. 94-103

Ruth Rudin Imahot Matriarchs

Ruth Rudin, The Four Jewish Matriarchs

Many contemporary siddurim now include the imahot (Biblical matriarchs) in the first blessing of the Amidah, which has traditionally mentioned only the avit (Biblical patriarchs.) This article explores the little known extent and importance of the imahot in rabbinic literature. The author argues that adding the matriarchs into the liturgy is not a radical idea but is consistent with a long tradition that recognized and valued the concept of the imahot.

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Recently there has been much interest in the Imahot (the Matriarchs) and their use in the liturgy. A number of contemporary editions of the siddur have included the imahot, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, in the first blessing of the amidah, as well as in such prayers as the misheberakh which have traditionally mentioned only the avot–the Patriarchs. (1)

Justifications for such additions have been based on sensitivity to gender inclusiveness, as well as on historical precedents of liturgical flexibility, and on halakhic interpretations of the structure and requirements of the berakhah formula. (2)

However, there has been less attention given to an exploration of the concept of the imahot in traditional Jewish sources. Although there have been some attempts to look at classical midrashic images of various female personalities, those studies have been largely focused on individual characters rather than on “the Matriarchs” as a concept and rubric. (3)

This article will explore more fully the concept of the imahot in rabbinic literature, looking at how this concept was understood in classical sources, and how its submotifs developed within the context of rabbinic Judaism. I will also trace the concept beyond the rabbinic period and see how the imahot as a motif was employed in postrabbinic literature. I will suggest that inserting the imahot in the liturgy is not a radical idea, but is consistent with a long tradition that recognized and valued the concept of the imahot.

THE IMAHOT IN BIBLICAL AND RABBINIC TEXTS

The rubric of “the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” occurs numerous times in both Torah and in the subsequent books of the Bible in connection with God’s revelation and covenantal pronouncements. The first time that the phrase occurs with all three of the Patriarchs is at the revelation at the burning bush. In that short narrative, which introduces Moses to God’s plan to rescue the Israelite people, God is described three times as the “God of the father(s) Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”(4)

In Leviticus 26 it is the covenant with Jacob, with Isaac, and with Abraham that God will remember; however, neither the word imahot nor the set “Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah” ever appear in Tanakh. Imahot as a concept is absent in biblical literature. Both the Jewish Encyclopedia (1905) and the Encyclopedia Judaica (1972) have entries for “Patriarchs” but no corresponding entry for “Matriarchs.” The Matriarchs as a concept is treated only in passing in both articles, under the heading of the Patriarchs. Given the strong patriarchal emphasis of traditional Judaism, and given the hundreds of entries in rabbinic literature for the avot, and “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” this may not be surprising. (5) Yet, the motif of the imahot definitely exists both in classical Talmudic, and especially in midrashic sources which deal with the biblical narrative.

The number of occurrences of the term imahot and of the set Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah is not insignificant, appearing some 76 times as imahot, and 15 times naming the individual matriarchs. (6)

While a number of those occurrences are parallel versions of the same exegetical comments, the concept of “the imahot” was clearly a recognized motif in rabbinic literature. It would seem that at least to some rabbinic sages, the Matriarchs were deemed worthy of mention as founders of Judaism, along with their male counterparts. The motif of the imahot includes several major midrashic submotifs which, in turn, are transformed and transfigured in numerous permutations.

James Kugel has effectively demonstrated how midrashic motifs can travel through both time and biblical contexts as those motifs evolve. (7) Sometimes the motif is attached to one key exegesis which is then reapplied to other verses. Our concept enjoys a similar varied life as it is employed in a number of submotifs. These include the merit of the Matriarchs, the Matriarchs as prophets, the barren Matriarchs, the use of the Matriarchs as metaphors, and the six Matriarchs. Each of these is worth some discussion.

THE MERIT OF THE MATRIARCHS

Zekhut Avot, the merit of the forefathers, is one of the basic ideas in rabbinic theology. Schechter explored the notion in his classic essay in Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology.(8) The forefathers’ faith serves as a reservoir of merit upon which the Jewish people may call to plead their case for mercy in God’s judgment of their individual and corporate deeds.

Schechter mentions, in passing, the parallel notion of zekhut imahot, the merit of the Matriarchs, but his exploration of the motif is minimal.(9) However, zekhut imahot is a valid rabbinic concept, appearing in several forms in numerous texts. The motif of zekhut imahot seems to focus on an exegesis of the word gevaot, “the hills,” in a number of biblical passages. The exegesis is clearly well known in rabbinic circles. Though it is difficult to ascertain which verse was the original locus for the exegesis, we might surmise, by its simple repetition throughout the literature, that it was connected with Numbers 23:9: “For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him” – “the top of the rocks” refers to the merit of the fathers, “from the hills” refers to the merit of the mothers. (10)

A similar exegesis connects the idea with the verse, “The voice of my beloved, behold he comes, leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song 2:8). “Leaping upon the mountains” means the merit of the Patriarchs, and “skipping upon the hills” means the merit of the Matriarchs.” (11)

The choice of “hills” as a metaphor for the Matriarchs would seem to be an apt one, reflecting the contours of the female body. That association, of the merit of the matriarchs with gevaot, “the hills,” leads to a fascinating use of the concept, applied to the story of the battle with Amalek. A Tannaitic Midrash cited in the Mekhilta states: ‘Tomorrow I will stand upon the top of the hill” (givah) (Ex. 16:19).

R. Eleazar of Modim says, (Moses said) Let us declare tomorrow a fast day and be ready, relying on the deeds of the ancestors. For ‘the top’ (rosh) refers to the deeds of the fathers; ‘the hill’ (ha-givah), refers to the deeds of the mothers…. ‘And Moses, Aaron and Hur went up to the Top of the Hill.’ (v. 10) This bears upon what we have already said above–to make mention of the deeds of the fathers and of the deeds of the mothers, as it is said: ‘For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him.’ (Num. 23:9). (12)

Moses, in this midrash, is calling upon the zekhut imahot as well as the zekhut avot in a prayerful supplication to God for aid in the imminent danger of the attack by Amalek. The liturgical context is intriguing especially given the more current uses of the imahot in the siddur. One wonders whether this midrash reflects actual rabbinic prayers for fast days which included both the avot and imahot, but which are now lost.

In any case, it is clear that rabbinic tradition included calling upon the merit of the Matriarchs to rescue the Jewish people in times of distress. What happens, however, when the reserve of merit runs out and the “credit” upon which the Jewish people have drawn begins to wane and falter? Leviticus Rabbah states: If you see that the merit of the Patriarchs is failing and the merit of the Matriarchs slipping away, go and occupy yourself with deeds of loving kindness. (“depend on God’s grace”–in a parallel version) (F3) Here the understanding seems to be that there are parallel and equivalent reserves of merit of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs.

Although it must be said that the merit of the Patriarchs is the dominant concept in rabbinic literature, texts such as these indicate that an idea of zekhut imahot not only existed, but held a prominent and parallel status at least in some rabbinic circles. Not only was the merit of the Matriarchs a source for help in times of distress, but it was extended to more positive contexts. The Exodus from Egypt was viewed as a reward for the dedication of the Matriarchs. The Holy One … at length set them free from Egypt, but did so only as a reward for the conduct of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah; as a reward for Sarah’s taking Hagar and bringing her to Abraham’s couch; as a reward for Rebekah who, when asked, “Will you go with this man?” said, “I will go.” (Gen. 24:58) … as a reward for Rachel because she took Bilhah and brought her to Jacob’s couch; and as a reward for Leah because she took Zilpah and brought her to Jacob’s couch. (14)

This midrashic tradition, which is probably a later development, considers the earlier notion of zekhut imahot not only as a reserve of merit to be tapped in prayerful supplication, but also as the key factor in the saving of the Jewish people at the Exodus. This midrash reflects the broader midrashic motif that the righteousness of the Israelite women contributed to their liberation from bondage.( 15) The power of the concept is thus expanded to include historic significance: the imahot become the major factor in the redemption of the Jewish People. In another positive context, the notion of zekhut imahot is extended to the covenant between God and the Patriarchs.

On the verse in Leviticus 26:42, “I have remembered (et) my covenant with Jacob, and also (et) my covenant with Isaac, and also (et) my covenant with Abraham will I remember,” the Tannaitic midrash, Sifra, comments that “et” refers to God’s covenant with the Matriarchs. God not only made his covenant with the Patriarchs; he made it with their wives, the Matriarchs, as well. (16)

THE MATRIARCHS AS PROPHETS

A second major rabbinic leitmotif concerning the Matriarchs is that they were prophets, along with the Patriarchs. (17) The archetype was Rebekah. After Jacob steals the blessing from Esau and Esau plots to kill his brother, the text in Genesis 27:42 comments that “the words of Esau were told (vayugad) to Rebekah.” Genesis Rabbah states in the name of R. Haggai quoting R. Isaac: “The Matriarchs were prophetesses, and Rebekah was among the Matriarchs.” (18)

It seems that the Rabbis based this tradition on the passive voice vayugad–Rebekah “was told,” and “by whom was she told? by none other than ruah hakodesh–The Holy Spirit.”(19) However, the Rabbis had ample textual support in the Torah itself for the fact that God revealed future events to Rebekah. God directly communicated with her in the oracular message: “Two nations are in your womb, and two separate peoples will issue from your body (Gen. 23:23).” On that verse there was a strong midrashic tradition that “an angel” or “the Word” spoke to Rebekah. (20)

That both the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs were considered prophets is also expressed in the exegesis of the verse from Psalms 105:15: “Touch not My anointed ones, and do not harm My prophets.” “My anointed ones” are interpreted to refer to the Patriarchs, while “My prophets” refer to the Matriarchs. This verse is used in conjunction with “It was told to Rebekah,” in the various transmissions of this tradition that both the Matriarchs and the Patriarchs had the status of prophets.(FN21)

THE BARREN MATRIARCHS

One midrashic theme which recurs in a number of sources is the theme of “the barren Matriarchs” which may strike a discordant note to the modern reader. In Genesis Rabbah we read:

Why were the Matriarchs barren? R. Levi said in R. Shila’s
name and R. Helbo in R. Johanan’s name: Because The
Holy One, blessed be He, desires their prayers and their
supplications, as it is written, ‘O my dove, you are like the
clefts of the rock’ (Song 2:14). Why did I make you barren?
So that ‘I might see your countenance, that I might hear your
voice.'(FN22) It would seem that their lengthy state of
childlessness led the Patriarchs to pray to God more
frequently, and God longs to hear the prayers of the
Patriarchs. However, the idea that the Matriarchs’
barrenness provides opportunities only for their husbands to
approach God is not completely uniform in all of the
sources. In Song of Songs Rabbah(FN23) we find a similar
exegesis with a different ending: “Why did God keep the
Matriarchs barren so long? Because God wished to hear
their prayer.” In any case, as uncomfortable as this Midrash
may be to the modern reader, it was clearly meant to project
a positive quality in the Matriarchs, given the context of the
ancient rabbinic writers. The Matriarchs were responsible
for the desired prayers being offered to God.

OTHER METAPHORIC APPLICATIONS

The Matriarchs became symbols not only of merit, of prophecy, and of prayer; they also became metaphors of other concepts associated with the number four and with particularly female qualities.

In Pesikta De Rab Kahana, the “four species” taken on Sukkot are interpreted to symbolize aspects of the lives of the four Matriarchs: ‘The fruit of the tree hadar’ (Lev. 23:40). Hadar stands for our mother Sarah whom the Holy One gave a majestic bearing in her old age….

‘A branch of palm trees’ stands for our mother Rebekah: like the palm tree which bears both fruit and thorns, so Rebekah bore a righteous man and a wicked man. ‘And a tree whose boughs are leafy’ stands for our mother Leah: as the myrtle tree is rich in leaves, so Leah was rich in children.

‘And willows of the brook’ stand for our mother Rachel: as the willow in the lulav cluster wilts before the other three plants in the cluster do, so Rachel died before her sister did.(FN24) The fruitfulness of the four species may be an apt referent especially for females, indicating fertility. Similarly, in the exegesis of Abraham’s future blessing, the three times “great” mentioned is understood to refer to the three future Patriarchs, while the four occurrences of “blessing,” refer to the four future Matriarchs.(FN25) The implication is that we are to associate the Mothers metaphorically with the notion of “blessing,” which may be more relational and thus a more particularly female metaphor than “greatness.” In an exegesis of a verse in the Song of Deborah, “Above women in the tent shall [Yael] be blessed,” “women in the tent” is understood as referring to Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah.(FN26) These four women were the symbols of the “home,” as in the famous midrash in which Rebekah is envisioned as continuing Sarah’s quality of hospitality, as Rebekah enters to occupy Sarah’s “tent.”(FN27)

THE SIX MATRIARCHS

There is some disagreement as to how many Matriarchs there were. The assumption is that the Matriarchs includes only the four wives Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah. Yet, in some sources we find that Jacob’s concubines, Zilpah and Bilhah, are included as Matriarchs, making six: “And they brought their offering before the Lord, six covered wagons” (Num. 7:3) Six corresponding to the six Matriarchs–Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah.(FN28) Other sources connect the number six with the six days of creation.(FN29)

It would seem that some rabbinic traditions recognize that Bilhah and Zilpah were also mothers of the Tribes of Israel and thus deserve the status of “Matriarchs.” In most instances, however, the number is limited to four; indeed, the Tractate Semahot declares that one may not call any “fathers,” “our father” except for the three Patriarchs; and not any “mothers,” our “mother” except for the four Matriarchs.(FN30) Similarly, the unit Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah appears several times, as in the text cited about their merit contributing to the Exodus from Egypt, and in the metaphoric applications mentioned above.

IN LATER LITERATURE

The Matriarchs are mentioned in a variety of liturgical works in medieval and early modern times. The most well known of these is the fifteenth century poem sung at the Seder, “Who Knows One?” in which the answer to “Who knows four?” is the four Matriarchs; yet, there are other medieval poems which mention the Matriarchs. In a less well known piyut for the eve of Rosh Hashanah attributed to Gershom ben Judah of the tenth century, the righteous deeds of our forefathers are invoked. But then the poet asks that God recall, “berit avot v’imahot v’ha-shevatim,” the covenant with the Patriarchs, Matriarchs, and tribes.(FN31) In another medieval piyut, recited in the Italian rite on Shabbat Ha-gadol, after asking Isaac who was bound on the altar to stand by God’s right, the four Matriarchs are asked to stand on God’s left to intercede for Israel.(FN32)

Perhaps one of the most intriguing later liturgical developments of the imahot theme comes in the Yiddish Tehinah literature. These prayers and devotions for Jewish women, so popular among Ashkenazic Jewry, employed ample use of the imahot in expressing the deepest hopes and prayers of the women who recited them. In a “Tehinah of Sore, Rivke, Rokhl, and Leye,” we hear heartfelt supplication: Answer us this month, through the merit of our Mother Sore, for whose sake You commanded and said: ‘Do not dare touch my anointed ones.’ … And may the merit of our mother Rivke, who caused our father Yankev to receive the blessings from his father Yitskhok, cause the blessings to be fulfilled soon through her children Yisroel. And may the merit of our faithful mother Rokhl, to whom You promised that through her merit her children Yisroel would be delivered from exile, cause the promises to be fulfilled…. And for the merit of our mother Leye … that through her merit You may illumine our eyes so that we may overcome darkness. (FN33)

Turning to the merit of the Matriarchs for help becomes very personalized in these prayers. For example, a woman whose own mother is named Leye prays: Because of the merits of our Matriarchs, Sore, Rivke, Rokhl, and Leye, and the merit of my dear mother Leye, who also pleads before God – praised be He – on my behalf, may my wanderings serve as an expiation for my sins. (FN34) The Matriarchs, in these Tehinahs, become tangibly accessible to the woman praying. The sense of complete identification with and closeness to the Matriarchs is striking in this form of very personalized prayer. Here it is clear that the merit of the Matriarchs becomes more than an obscure rabbinic concept. The imahot concept is transformed into a central Tehinah motif.

CONCLUSIONS

This brief survey of the concept of the imahot indicates that it is not an invention of the past decade to infuse prayers with more egalitarian language. On the contrary, the imahot is a concept central to the classical sources of rabbinic and postrabbinic literature. Granted, it existed in connection with the concept of the avot–the Patriarchs–but it was not merely a subset of that idea. In many sources as we have seen the concept of the imahot was a parallel and independent concept. The imahot had their own merit and their own source of divine prophecy, analogous to, but separate from that of the avot. Their merit was credited with bringing the exodus and they, too, were recipients of God’s covenant.

In addition, the metaphoric symbolism of the imahot was characteristically female: they were the guardians of the “tent” and home; they were the “blessing” promised to Abraham, and they were the “fruitfulness” represented by the four species. The sages who created and transmitted these traditions recognized the significant role that the mothers of Judaism played in preserving both faith and family. In their eyes, the Matriarchs were neither silent nor invisible. Rather, they were partners in the development of Judaism and thus worthy of recognition. This recognition of the Matriarchs is even more noteworthy given the patriarchal society in which the authors of these texts lived.

Moreover, it is significant that many of the sources refer to the imahot in prayerful and liturgical settings. From the early midrashic prayer of Moses, through the medieval piyutim and into the premodern Tehinahs, the merit of Matriarchs was invoked to come to the aid of the Jew in distress. It therefore seems quite in concert with this tradition to include the imahot in the opening berakhah of the Amidah.

After all, in the first berakhah of the amidah, we turn to God who “remembers the loving kindness of the avot.” As Moses “made mention of the deeds of the avot and the imahot,” as the paytanim asked God to “recall the covenant of the avot and imahot” and asked the imahot to stand at God’s right hand, and as the Tehinahs pleaded for God to answer “through the merit of Sore, Rivke, Rokhl, and Leye”; we, too, might direct our prayers to, “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, who remembers the loving kindness of the avot and imahot.” Such an addition would not be so much an innovation as it would be a restoration of the concept to its use in former times.

ALVAN KAUNFER is the rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, Providence, Rhode Island. He has written about midrash and the teaching of midrash.

To the memory of Rabbi William G. Braude, teacher, colleague, and friend

FOOTNOTES

1. See, for example, Kol Haneshamah (Reconstructionist), and the notes there on the Amidah; and On the Wings of Awe Mahzor (Hillel). The new Siddur Sim Shalom (Conservative) will contain the imahot in an alternative Amidah. Note that the Orthodox siddur, Rinat Yisrael (Sephardic), includes the imahot in the mi sheberakh for the sick. Also see Harry P. Solomon, “Including the Matriarchs: A proposal for Birkat ha-Mazon,” Reconstructionist, March, 1988, pp. 12-14.

2. Joel E. Rembaum, “Regarding the Inclusion of the Names of the Matriarchs in the First Blessing of the Amidah,” unpublished paper adopted by the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly, March 21, 1990. 3. See, for example, Linda Kuzmack, “Aggadic Approaches to Biblical Women,” in The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives, Elizabeth Koltun, ed. (New York: Schocken, 1976). For a more serious midrashic character study of a biblical woman which could serve as a model for other character analyses, see, Devora Steinmetz, “A portrait of Miriam in Rabbinic Midrash,” Prooftexts 8 (1988), pp. 35-65. 4. Exodus 3:6, 15, 16.

5. The Davka CD-ROM locates over 900 entries for avot, and over 700 entries for the set “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

6. The Davka CD-ROM counts 76, excluding the general use of imahot as “mothers” in halakhic contexts. It is interesting to note that the four Matriarchs are named far fewer times, mostly in later midrashic collections.

7. James Kugel, In Potiphar’s House (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1990).

8. Solomon Schechter, “The Zachuth of the Fathers,” in Rabbinic Theology (New York: Schocken, 1909, 1961); see also, Ephraim Urbach, The Sages (Cambridge MA: Harvard Press, 1987), pp. 496-508.

9. Schechter, p. 172.

10. Bemidbar Rabbah 20, 19 and parallels listed in Vayikra Rabbah 36,6, Margulies, p. 852, note to line 6.

11. B. Rosh Hashanah 11a.

12. Mekhilta, Amalek 1, Lauterbach II, pp. 142-143; Horovitz-Rabin, p. 179. I have followed Lauterbach’s translation with minor changes. See Horovitz’s note to line 6 for parallels.

13. Vayikra Rabbah 36,6. See Margulies, p. 852. Note that this midrash quotes Isa. 54:10, again linking the Matriarchs with the word “gevaot.”

14. Tanna Debe Eliyahu, Friedmann, p.138; Braude, p. 340.

15. Shemot Rabbah 1, 12. See notes in A. Shinan, p. 54.

16. Sifra, Weiss, 112c; see also, Vayikra Rabbah 36,5, Margulies, p. 850.

17. Seder Olam, p.92 (see next note), and Gen. 20:7 where Abraham is called “navi.”

18. Bereshit Rabbah 67,9 and 72,6. See Theodor’s note on p. 765. See, also, Ratner’s note 25 to Seder Olam, p. 92, in which he quotes a number of parallel sources as well as suggests that the Seder Olam text should read, “How do we know that the Patriarchs [and Matriarchs] were called prophets?”

19. Midrash Tehillim 105,4, Buber, p. 450; Braude, p. 182. See, especially, Buber’s note 14.

20. See Theodor, p. 188 and J. Sota Chap. 7, and Theodor’s note to line 4 on p. 765.

21. See notes 18 and 19.

22. Bereshit Rabbah 45,14, Theodor, p. 450 and note; also Ginzberg, Legends, V, p. 231, n. 116. See B. Hullin 60b where God longs for the prayers of the righteous in general.

23. Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2,14.

24. Pesikta De Rab Kahana, Mandelbaum, p. 415; Braude, p. 422; Vayikra Rabbah 30, 10; Margulies, p. 708.

25. Bereshit Rabbah 39,11.

26. B. Nazir 23b. See Tosafot for the connection of “tent” with each. See also Bereshit Rabbah 48,15.

27. Bereshit Rabbah 60,16

28. Bemidbar Rabbah 12,17; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 6,4,2 and parallels.

29. Esther Rabbah 1,11; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 6,15.

30. Semahot 1, 12, quoted in B. Berakhot 16b.

31. Abraham Rosenfeld, The Authorized Selichot for the Whole Year (New York: Judaica Press, 1984), p.168.

32. “Kakh Gazru,” Mahzor Kol HaShanah Kefi Minhag Italiani (Livorno, 1856), p.91. My thanks to the JTS library for helping to locate this source based on Ginzberg, Legends VI, p. 7, n. 39.

33. Tracy Guren Klirs, The Merit of Our Mothers (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1992), pp. 84-86, Transliteration of names follows that in the book. Note the use of Psalms 105:15 indicating that the author knew of the exegesis of the verse referring to the Matriarchs. For additional examples, see, Tehinah Rav Peninim (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1916), pp. 176-183, where the merit of both Patriarchs and Matriarchs are invoked.

34. Ibid., p.12.

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Don’t restrict victims from praying at the Kotel

For the past 30 years, Haredim have been attempting to turn the Kotel into an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. Despite Israeli court cases ruling against this, the Israeli government, the Chief Rabbinate, and even at time the Israeli police, have refused to follow court rulings. Haredim have effectively banned all tefila at the Kotel that does not match ultra-Orthodox standards.

Western Wall Plaza Jerusalem Israel Wikimedia

One of the groups opposing this is the Original Women of the Wall (תפילת נשים בכותל.) Also opposing this are various Modern Orthodox rabbis, as well as Masorti (Conservative) and Reform (Progressive) Jewish movements. None want an end to Orthodox groups praying as they choose their; they merely want the ability to pray according to their own custom, without intimidation, threats, and violence.

In recent years the Haredim have intensified their verbal, and sometimes physical attacks on Jews who pray there. Women who dare to wear a tallit and tefillin; women who read from the Torah; groups that have egalitarian minyanim.  In response, some groups have been pursuing a legal course to allow them to pray without interference – a conclusion that the Israeli courts have already agreed with.

Yet some non-Haredim have proposed a peculiar, indeed bizarrely harmful “solution” to the problem, including attorney Susan Weiss and Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. Cardozo insists that we must “free the site of all synagogue services [or trappings]: no no minyanim, bar mitzvahs… Torah scrolls… mechitzot… make it a place… solely for individual prayer and meditation… as our ancestors treated it… where Jews can… pray [or not], and share what we have in common instead of focusing on what divides us.”

We strenuously disagree. That’s in fact surrendering to fundamentalist intimidation. Why ban most Jewish people in the world from being able to daven in a minyan there, just because certain Haredim are acting inappropriately? We never achieve justice by punishing the victims.

No one should say that our daughters must be forbidden from having their Bat Mitzvah there, just because certain individuals are angry or violent.

Robin Silver-Zwiren writes:

The idea of a mixed group administering the Kotel is great. If the Hareidi don’t agree to sit with women, Reform Jews or even Modern Orthodox Jews, then they are off.

I don’t agree that the Kotel should not be available for prayer. Eli haKohen once served while Chana prayed. Jesus even made his tri yearly pilgrimage to the site. We may not have the Temple Mount (yet) but the Kotel is as close as we can get.

If group prayer is forbidden then it is likely the Arab world will say that the Kotel is unimportant to us. The UN and the media will see that we don’t care much for what remains of our remaining Temple wall except to make it a national holy site. What comes next – no praying allowed at Kever Rachel? If we downgrade the importance of the Kotel as a fundamental prayer site, rather than just a historical monument, we lose our heritage.

The fact that even secular Jews want to visit Israel and the Kotel proves it has meaning. I have friends from Southern California who are Reform. It is not like the Israeli Reform synagogue that I attended last Shabbat where all men wore kipot and all those who read from the Torah, male or female, donned a Talit. My friend’s son is having his Bar Mitzvah in Israel over Succot because he chose this over the usual extravagant events his classmates will do. Mom and other female guests want to be a part of the simcha and Robinson’s Arch may end up to be their only option. However they would prefer to be at the Kotel where our ancestors stood thousands of years ago.

If only we could have a mixed faction in charge of the prayer services. Not the Haredi who disturb women’s services by “praying” even louder to drown out women’s voices, or those who come over to the women’s section to cause trouble. I personally believe the mechitza should remain but a mother should be able to hear and see her son chant from the Torah scroll. Just like I was able to do in our Orthodox synagogue when my son had his Bar Mitzvah and my daughters’ gave a dvar Torah when they celebrated their milestone. A raised platform so that women can see over the mechitza is not damning halacha. It is the men who look over at the women rather than facing the Wall who are desecrating the laws.

Modesty

Jewish concepts of צניעות, tzniut, modesty.

Ashkenazi Orthodox Judaism has developed detailed rules for how women should dress, talk and act, both in private and public. Entire books are written about the subject with laws, customs, measurements, in exacting details.

Here is an example of an Ashkenazi right-wing Orthodox prescription for women:
(I am using these qualifiers precisely, for good reason: Such controls on women’s clothing did not develop in the Mizrachi, Sephardic, or Modern Orthodox community, although now these communities are being influenced by right-wing Orthodox.)

Haredi modest clothing for women

Orthodox authors assure the reader that these are traditional and inarguable, and come from Torah mitzvot that are elucidated in the Mishnah and Talmud.  Perhaps the main problem with their rules about  צניעות, tzniut, modesty, is that until the 1920’s, most of these rules didn’t even exist!

These rules on tzniut were invented recently, accompanied by a deliberate censorship & historical revisionism campaign, to make it appear as if they had always been there. This is a recurring pattern in fundamentalist religious communities.

But are there in fact traditional, Jewish, halakhic rules on modesty? Yes. There indeed are some guidelines in traditional rabbinical literature on modesty that we can learn from, we just should learn about these rules in their historical context.  Some great resources include:

The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews, Ed. Martin S. Cohen, especially the chapyer “Public Appearance and Behavior” by Rabbi Gordon Tucker.

 

This quote, without specifics on clothing, gives a Jewish perspective to the idea of modesty:

Kedusha is one of the most important aspects of tz‟niut; “privacy,” “modesty” are not expressions of contempt for the body, the physical, but on the contrary, expressions of their kedusha (holiness). A Torah scroll, for example, is covered, because of its high degree of kedusha. A woman‟s body – as well as a man‟s – is covered, because it is kadosh. The most intimate physical relation between man and woman is reserved, private, not for public display, and not for anytime, anywhere, with anyone – because it is kadosh, special, apart.

As Zalman Posner points out, tz‟niut “is not a question of a bit of cloth, it is a life-mode, perhaps the bedrock of Judaism.” It has not to do with just hemlines or head coverings, but with thought, speech, sexual relations – our sense of who and what we basically are, a sense that our personhood is kadosh, inviolate. The body is not a piece of property, an object to be disposed of casually; it, too, is an integral part of the sanctity of personhood, the kedusha of the Jew.

– Shaina Handelman, “The Paradoxes of Privacy,” Sh‟ma, November 1978

Another great resource is this CJLS responsa “Modesty Inside and Out: A Contemporary Guide to Tzniut”, by Rabbis David Booth, Ashira Konigsburg, and Baruch Frydman-Kohl

___________________________

Excerpt

The choice of clothing is one key area of modest practice. Halakhic literature offers several broad descriptions of appropriate dress, but nowhere in rabbinic literature prior to the 20th century can one find specific and complete dress codes as we find today.

While the Talmud, Rishonim, and Aharonim describe and require certain ritual attire or distinctively Jewish dress, they do not describe any requirements more specific than that married women must cover their hair. Much of the literature focuses on situations and clothing that arouse sexual feelings, what is appropriate in public settings versus private settings, and the response of the viewer.

Although rabbinic sources describe many actions as exposing ervah,22 the minimum requirement of modesty is to cover genitalia and anus. This limit depends on two Torah passages, Deuteronomy 23:13-15 and Leviticus 18-20. The Torah prohibits the uncovering of nakedness, or ervah.

The holiness code of Leviticus similarly prohibits לגלות ערוה , often translated as “to uncover nakedness” of someone.

וְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יִקַח אֶת־אֲחֹתוֹ בַת־אָבִיו אוֹ בַת־אִמוֹ וְרָאָה אֶת־עֶרְוָתָהּ וְהִיא־תִרְאֶה אֶת־עֶ רוָתוֹ חֶסֶד הוּא
וְנִכְרְתוּ לְ עי ני בְ ני עַמָם עֶרְוַת אֲחֹתוֹ גִלָה עֲוֹנוֹ יִשָא…
וְעֶרְוַת אֲחוֹת אִמְך וַאֲחוֹת אָבִיך לאֹ תְגַ לה כִי אֶת־שְׁ ארוֹ הֶעֱרָה עֲוֹנָם יִשָאוּ:

If a man takes his sister and sees her ervah, and she sees his ervah, it is a disgrace….23 He has uncovered his sister’s ervah, he bears his guilt. … You shall not uncover the ervah of your mother’s sister or of your father’s sister, for that is to expose one’s own flesh; they bear their guilt…. (Leviticus 20:17-19)

Reading the two sources together suggests that ervah means specifically the genitals. The punishment in Leviticus is for one who exposes their reproductive organs. Similarly, the organs for urination and defecation must remain covered while in the camp. Brown, Driver, Briggs in their biblical lexicon define ervah as “pudenda,” meaning genitalia.24

According to Rabbis Karo and Isserles, there is no specific body part that needs to be clothed. Rather, it is dependent on context and how people usually behave or dress. 29

As a result, cultural norms have halakhic significance for determining appropriate dress. In a context where it is normal to go swimming in a bathing suit, for example, such behavior is permissible. A man wearing a bathing suit in a business environment is problematic because it is so different to the typical office attire and so will draw the eye. Flapper dresses in the 1920s were initially quite shocking; as society became accustomed to the style, the dresses began to be seen as appropriate.

Shorts or sleeveless tops for men or women may be inappropriate, depending on the context, because they raise similar issues of context and modesty. That is, a tank top might be appropriate at the beach but not in shul, in part, because it surprises. The change in people’s expectations affects their perception of modesty and appropriate attire. By the same token, a person has a responsibility to others and should choose clothing suitable to the context.

One might assume that as women’s breasts in our culture are often hyper-sexualized they must certainly constitute ervah. But this assumption is mistaken. For example, because of the commonplace occurrence of breastfeeding, Rabbi Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad (known as Ben Ish Hai, 1835 – 1909) considered the exposed breasts of a nursing mother as any other normally exposed body part.

י”א כיון דהאשה דרכה לגלות דדיה בזמן היניקה הרי הדדים נחשבים אותו זמן כמו כפות
הידים והפנים :

There are those who say that since it is her practice to uncover her breasts while nursing, a woman’s breasts in at the time of nursing are just as though they were the palms of her hand or her face. 30  For the Ben Ish Hai, a nursing woman’s breasts are without sexual connotation.

(Footnote 29) Within much of the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox sources, the covering of thighs and shoulders is asserted as a biblical ordained halakhah. Please note, however, that Rabbi Avrahom Karelitz (Hazon Ish) in the 1920s is the first person to suggest that thighs and shoulders must be covered to be modest outside of a prayer context.

Modesty Inside and Out: A Contemporary Guide to Tzniut 
Rabbis David Booth, Ashira Konigsburg, and Baruch Frydman-Kohl

Modern Orthodox responses

Rabbi Josh Yuter – Jan 9, 2012

The topic of “tzniut” or “modesty” has recently become a prominent point of discussion in the Jewish community… the common theme… is almost exclusively framing the issue in the context of women. In particular, modesty is most frequently defined in terms of how women ought to dress, how a woman is supposed to behave, and in some general instances the appropriate role of women in Jewish if not secular society. With this focus on women, it is not surprising that tzniut/modesty is almost exclusively construed as a sexual ethic.

In this shiur I challenge this assumption by approaching the topic of modesty not from the socially defined understanding of tzniut, but rather how and when the root “צנע” is used in the Talmud. While the term is certainly used in the context of female sexuality or displays of femininity (B. Ketuvot 3b, B. Berachot 8b, B. Shabbat 113b, B. Sotah 49b), the Rabbinic tradition also applies tzniut to men as it pertains to his relationship with his wife (B. Shabbat 53b) and his mode of dress (B. Menachot 43a).

Furthermore, the ethic of tzniut is asserted in the contexts of going to the bathroom (B. Berachot 8b, 62a), eating (B. Berachot 8b), not displaying one’s wealth (B. Pesachim 113a), and even religious observance (M. Ma’aser Sheni 5:1, B. Sukkah 49b/B. Makkot 24a).

Given the contextual range of the root צנע, I suggest that tzniut in the Rabbinic tradition may best be described not as a sexual ethic at all (let alone a female one), but a general attitude of behavior of which sexual behavior is only one component. In other words, the true Jewish ethos of modesty does not exclusively pertain to sexuality, but rather reflects a universal ethic, one which is equally applicable to men and women in all facets of life.

Current Jewish Questions on Tzniut Modesty. Josh Yuter.

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The truth about agunot and annulment in Jewish law

Jewish law – halakhah הֲלָכָה – like any legal system, provides norms for marriages and divorces.  Yet there is a crisis in the Orthodox Jewish community on this issue – through an unfair legal loophole, men can leave their wives, marry another women – and yet still leave their original wife technically married to them.This problem has grown to the point where thousands of Orthodox Jewish women are functionally divorced – and may even have state/civil divorces – but they are still married in the eyes of the Orthodox Jewish community, and as such they are unable to move on with their lives.

A belief among today’s Orthodox is that halakhah forbids annulment; even agunah advocates are usually not well-versed on the subject, and as such, even the best-intentioned Orthodox advocates for agunot have been ineffective. As such, this resource is meant to educate Jews on the legal remedy that has always been available within halakha:  hafka’at kiddushin (annulment of a valid marriage) and kiddushei ta’ut, annulling a marriage conducted under false pretenses.

Agunot and Annulment

Mechitza

A mechitzah (מחיצה‎, partition, pl.: מחיצות‎, mechitzot) is a partition used in Orthodox synagogues to separate men and women during formal prayer services.

For the last 2 centuries it has been erroneously taught that a mandatory mechitzah is an ancient law, followed since the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago, and enshrined in the Talmud itself,

Here is an unfortunate example of such a belief, popular among the ultra-Orthodox:

“It is my job as a Rabbi to teach and educate people. In the times of the second Temple (Beis HaMikdash) in Tractate Sukkos it was written that a special platform was made for the women so that they could view the men dancing and the Lulav and Esrog ceremony. WOMEN AND MEN HAVE ALWAYS BEEN SEPARATED from the time of Avraham until about 1800 in Germany. After the Sabbatai Ẓevi and Jacob Frank  false moshiachs [messiahs], the Reform Movement started.”

No historians would agree with this. The entire paragraph is an urban myth. There is no relationship between Zevi & Frank, and classical German Reform Judaism. Sabbatai Zevi was a kabbalist, and historians say that some of teachings actually influenced Orthodox Hasidic Judaism; in contrast classical German Reform was rationalist and rejected all kabbalah, both Zevi’s and Hasidic.

It is true that over the centuries, women and men didn’t sit together in modern-day style. Few historical sources exist, but those that do imply that perhaps men prayed more often in synagogue, and women less often. There were local customs for women and men to sit separately, but there is no evidence that this was ever a widespread law, indeed, perhaps no evidence that it was even considered a local law.

The idea that a mechitzah is mandatory didn’t develop until after the Enlightenment, and the emergence of classical Reform Judaism. In response to these changes, the Orthodox community created new rules on tefila (prayer) and gender.

Two rationales were developed by the Orthodox, in an effort to claim that this rule had always existed.

I. The Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 51b, 52a) describes a divider in the form of a balcony, in the Temple in Jerusalem. However, it was only set up only during the festive, raucous, Simchat Beit Hasho’evah (Water Drawing Ceremony) on Sukkot. Otherwise it was not used.

II. The Talmud cites a teaching that we may not daven in the presence of an ‘erva, an immodestly dressed woman. Berachot 24a states “tefach b’isha erva”, “an area of uncovered skin of a woman is ‘erva.” What an area (tefach) actually is, is not defined. Thus one may not daven in the presence of women where this much skin is exposed.

Noah Gradofsky writes:

In absence of evidence the claim that mechitzah started in an effort to avoid davening in the presence of ervah is conjecture. Somewhat reasonable, but you would have to argue that women going in to shul with ervah uncovered was commonplace enough to necessitate this enactment. This strikes me as unlikely, since if women were commonly enough going into synagogues with certain body parts uncovered, those body parts would be, by definition, not ervah. perhaps the conservative mores of a synagogue led people to label what offended them as ervah even though the cultural reality around them was different. One of the interesting points of the phrase במקום שדרקן לכסות – “where they normally cover” is whether the word מקום (place) refers to a geographic location, an anatomical location, or both.

During the same time period, Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews developed prohibitions on women from singing with men, the prohibition against Kol Isha. The result of this gender segregation (mechitzahs and Kol Isha) was to effectively render women not part of the Jewish congregation: Many Orthodox siddurim have a prayer asking God to “bless the congregation – and their wives”, clearly implying that women are full members.

The upshot: There is no mention of any mechitzah in the Temple in Jerusalem, not during the First or Second Temple, nor are there are mentions of it in the Talmud. Rabbi David Golinkin writes:

Towards the end of the Second Temple period the Sages directed that a women’s gallery be constructed in the Women’s Court to keep the sexes separated ONLY during the somewhat light-headed celebration of the water festival during Succot.

During the balance of the year men and women mingled freely in the Women’s Court. (It appears that this was so named because it marked the limit of approach by women who were not bringing sacrifices, to the inner courts of the Temple). There is no literary or archaeological basis for assuming the existence of a synagogue separation during the period of the Mishnah and the Talmud.

The first mention is towards the end of the period of the Geonim (around the eleventh century). From then on, such separation is occasionally mentioned in passing. Not until the end of the nineteenth century do we have a halakhic source *requiring* separation in the synagogue.

At this point one is reminded of the classic joke retold by the ThinkJudaism blog:

Conservative Jew: Why doesn’t Rav Yosef Karo’s law book, the Shulḥan Aruch, have a section for the laws of meḥitza?
Orthodox Jew: Why?
Conservative Jew: We learn from this that a synagogue really doesn’t need a meḥitza.
Orthodox Jew: No, we learn from this that a synagogue really doesn’t need women.

Jews in front of Western Wall Kotel

Image: Jews in front of Western Wall, Jerusalem, from a negative taken approximately 1900 to 1920. Library of Congress LC-DIG-matpc-12192

Laws about mechitzahs were never said to be a part of halakhah until the 1800’s.  Examples include

Chatam Sofer, Orech Chaim 5:190
Moses Schreiber (1762–1839), Germany

It is right according to our Torah law to listen to the voice of a woman in shul, in a place that men congregate, and the women’s voice goes from the women’s section to the men’s section?  The reason for this, is that we believe that all prayer and praise and thanksgiving should not be mixed with improper thoughts. And because of this we separate the women from the men in shul, to make sure they do not come to think improper thoughts during the time of prayer. And we learn this from the water libation ceremony that is spoken about in Tractate Sukka where they made sure the women were above and the men below so they would not come to kalut rosh. . And it is said there on 52a, as it says: “And the land shall mourn, every family apart: The family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart.” (Zecharia 12:12). And it is a kal v’chomer- here where they are talking about a eulogy where there is no evil inclination the Torah tells us that the men were separate, and here that we are talking about happiness, where there is an evil inclination, all the more so there should be a separation.
– Translation from Sefaria.Org

Maharam Shik מהר”ם שיק, Orech Chaim 77
Rabbi Moshe Schick משה שיק‎‎, (1807 – 1879), Hungary

Igrat Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:39
Rav Moses Feinstein משה פיינשטײַן‎‎  (1895–1986), New York

Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 7:8
Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg (1915–2006), Jerusalem

Joseph B. Soloveitchik יוסף דב הלוי סולובייצ׳יק  (1903-1993) Community, Covenant and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications. Ktav Publishing House, 2005. p. 129-130. During the 1950’s, Soloveitchik ruled that it was forbidden to pray in a synagogue without a separation between the sexes, and that this law was actually mi-d’orayta, an actual law in the Torah. At the time, during the political-social fighting between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, many Orthodox Jews accepted this claim as correct. Today however no person takes this claim seriously; there is not mitzvah in the Torah on this subject. He further stated that the use of a mechitza as we know it today was mi-derabbenan, a rabbinical prohibition from the Talmud (discussed above, which we now know is mistaken. He misread the Talmudic text about the temporary partition erected during raucously celebrated Simchat Beit Hasho’evah (Water Drawing Ceremony) on Sukkot.

Further reading

Is the Entire Kotel Plaza Really a Synagogue? Rabbi David Golinkin, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies

The Mehitzah in the Synagogue, Rabbi David Golinkin

Meḥitza: Do Orthodox prayers count in a Conservative Synagogue? from ThinkJudaism

The Mehitzah in the synagogue, by Rabbi Monique Susskind Goldberg (PDF file)

The Trichitza Phenomenon, by Jordan Namerow

Trichitza. A strange word, no? Until I was in Israel two weeks ago and prayed in a trichitza setting for the first time, I’d never heard the word before. Shortly thereafter, I came across a trichitza-related article in the November/December 2006 edition of New Voices. I’ve since learned that over the past few years, a growing number of communities have experimented with a trichitza, defining religious space in new, pluralizing ways. Adapted from the word mechitza (which literally means “separation” and refers to the physical divider traditionally used to separate men and women during prayer services), a trichitza divides the prayer space into three sections: one exclusively for women, one exclusively for men, and one not classified by gender. This provides options for nearly everyone: those whose Jewish practice is built upon gender-egalitarianism, those who wish to pray in a gender-specific space… , and those whose own gender-identity lies outside of the male/female binary. The author of Mah Rabu, a blog about Jewish politics, culture, and religious issues writes of the trichitza: “It’s an elegant idea that didn’t exist and then someone came up with it, and everyone said: ‘why didn’t I think of that before?’”

Hilchot Pluralism, Part III: Macroscopic prayer issues – Includes a discussion about trichitzahs

Simchat Bat

A Simchat bat (also, Brit Bat) is a naming ceremony for girls, welcoming them into the covenant. Some form of such ceremonies have been traditional since the early medieval era.

Simchat Bat Baby naming

In medieval German Jewish communities, a simple baby naming ceremony existed for both girls and boys, the Hollekreisch. In Sephardic Jewish communities this exists as the Zeved habat, which is somewhat more elaborate than the earlier German tradition. It is usually celebrated within the first month of the girl’s birth. Over the centuries there have been a variety of simple name-giving ceremonies for girls, but all were relatively informal.

In the last half-century, many in the non-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Jewish community have revived interest in ceremonies for welcoming baby girls; we have developed innovative ceremonies which place equal emphasis on welcoming both daughters and sons. A wide variety of liturgies have been written, mostly informal, but some gaining wide use, and a few being incorporated into the liturgical works of various rabbinic organizations.

Currently, only a small number of liturgical developments have received widespread approbation within the Orthodox Jewish community. On the other end of the spectrum, an uncountable number of personalized ceremonies are being written with the Reform & Reconstructionist communities, but few of which represent an official point of view. Between these groups there exists Conservative/Masorti Judaism, which has been accepting of liturgical innovations, and working to make Jewish ceremonies and educational opportunities egalitarian.

Working within their understanding of halakhah {Jewish law} the Rabbinical Assembly has brought together a range of options within their official Moreh Derekh: The Rabbi’s Manual of the Rabbinical Assembly. The liturgies include options such as (a) Lighting seven candles (symbolizing the seven days of creation) and holding the baby towards them, (b) wrapping the baby in the four corners of a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl), or (c) lifting the baby and touching her hands to a Torah scroll.

The Simchat Bat below is based on the tallit ceremony.

—————————————

Rabbi’s welcome

B’rukhah haba’ah b’shem Adonai.
B’rukhah at ba’ir, uv’rukhah at basadeh.
B’rukhah at b’voekha, uv’rukhah at b’tzetekh.

Welcome little one! Blessed may you be all your days, all your life;
Blessed may you be wherever you are, In all of your comings and in all of your goings.

Candle ceremony – p.A35
Parents read verses
Rabbi – p. A37

Tallit ceremony:

I will wrap {girl’s name} in my tallit.
Grandparents each hold a corner of the tallit, and wrap the baby.
Rabbi reads selections from pages A-42 to A-43

Kriat Shem – Naming the Baby

Eloheinu ve’elohei imoteinu ka’yem et ha’yalda ha’zot le’aviha u’leima, ve’yikarey shmah be’Yisrael {baby’s name}. Yis’mach ha’av be’yotze chalatzav vetagel emah bifri vitnah, ca’ka’tuv: El hana’ar hazeh hitpalalti vayitayn Adonai li et shiaylati asher sha’alti me’imo. Vikayem-lah, Adonai Eloheinu, mah shecatuv. Pihah patkha vi’khokhmah vi’torat khesed al li’shonah.

Hodu la’donai ki tov ki le’olam chasdo. Zot haktana {name} gdolah te’hiyeh. Yihi ratzon sheyizku horehah ligadlah li’Torah ul’chupah ul’ma’asim tovim, amen.

Our God and God of our ancestors, sustain this child. Let her be known among the people Israel as {her Hebrew name}. May her mother be blessed with renewed strength and may both parents find joy in their child, as it is written: “It was this child I prayed for, and the Lord has granted me what I sought.” [ I Samuel 1:27 ]
Fulfill for her, Lord our God, that which is written: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the Torah of loving-kindness is upon her tongue.” [ Proverbs 31:26 ]

Let us give thanks to the Lord for he is good; God’s loving-kindness is forever. May this child, {her name}, grow into greatness as a blessing to her family, to the Jewish people, and to all humanity. May her parents be privileged to raise their child to womanhood, and may {name} enjoy the blessings of Torah, chupah and ma’asim tovim. And let us say, Amen.

Rabbi: Sustain this child with her father and mother, and may her name be called among the daughters of Israel: {name} daughter of {parents}. May her parents rejoice with their child.

Bircat HaCohanim – Priestly blessings – A46

May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
May the Holy One bless you and keep you.
May the Holy One shine light upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Holy One turn towards you and give you peace.

Shehehe’yanu

Rabbi: K’shaym shenikhn’sah labrit, kayn tikanes l’Torah, ul’huppah, ul’ma’asim tovim.

Guests: As she has entered the covenant, so may she attain Torah study, the wedding huppah, and a life of deeds of loving-kindness.

Here parents sometimes choose to read verses connected with each letter of her Hebrew name (verses shown in the manual)

 

Rebecca and Isaac

D’var Torah by guest author Rebecca! Temple Beth Abraham Hebrew School, Kitah Dalet student

Today, everyone is a hero. Doctors, teachers, scientists, police officers, and firefighters no matter what gender. In the bible heroes are soldiers, kings, leaders, and prophets (people who speak to God.) They are mostly men. But in the story of Rebecca and Isaac, Rebecca – or Rivkah – is the hero and the prophet.

Eliezer and Rebekah at the Well by Gustave Doré

Eliezer and Rebekah at the Well by Gustave Doré

In the story, Abraham’s wife Sarah dies, he realizes he won’t be long after her. So he sends one of his most trusted servants to go to Nahor, his birth place, to find Isaac a wife. Once there the servant goes to a well where women are collecting water. He asks God for a sign that a woman will give him water, and that she will be Isaac’s wife. When Rivkah comes over, she gives him water after him asking, and offers to give the camels water too. That is when the servant knows that she is the one.

God is telling Rivkah to act kind. After Rivkah and Isaac are married, Rivkah comforts Isaac over his mother’s death. Rivkah’s name means to tie or to bind. Like healing someone.She is a shepherd, a loyal wife, and is very kind. Rivkah and all the other women prophets, Sarah,Leah, and Rachel, are all true bible heroes.

Though as they grew older they had two kids, Jacob and Esau. Rivkah loved Jacob, for when she heard his voice the more she loved him. He would stay at home with her all day long. But, Isaac loved Esau more for he provided viands – choice cuts of meat. Esau was stronger than his brother and hunted, while Jacob was more of a studier. (1)

Later as Isaac was dying, he told Esau to prepare him a venison dish and that then he would bless him afterwards . Rivkah overheard Isaac talking and because of her strong love for Jacob said. “ Go get some goat skin and I will prepare the dish.” Jacob did as he was told, and Rivkah put the goat skin on jacob’s arms so his would feel as his brothers hairy arms. Fooled, Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Esau. (2)

(1) The Book of Legends: Sefer Ha-Aggadah, Ed. Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yohoshua Hana Rivitzky, Trans William Braude, Schocken Books, NY, 1992, p.43

(2) The Illustrated Jewish Bible for Children, Hastings, Thomas and Burch, DK Publishing, 1994