In our people’s matrilineal genealogy, we are all descendants of Ḥavah the ancestor of all human beings. Sarah is the great-grandmother of bnei Yisrael, the partner of Avraham and the mother of Yitsḥaq. Rivqah is the grandmother, the partner of Yitsḥaq and the mother of Yaaqov. Leah, partner to Yaaqov, was the mother of Yehudah, Issakhar, Zevulun, Reuven, Shimon and Dinah. Zilpah her handmaid, was mother to Gad and Asher. Raḥel, partner to Yaaqov, was the mother of Yosef and Binyamin. Bilhah, her handmaiden, was the mother of Naftali and Dan. Mindful of all of the mothers of the Twelve Tribes of Bnei Yisrael, we should also consider adding As’nat, the Egyptian partner of Yosef (and so, Raḥel’s daughter-in-law), the mother of Efraim and Menashe. (As’nat does not appear in the rabbinic sources compiled below).
Four, not six imahot, are commonly referenced traditionally, and yet the sources arranged below attest to an alternate tradition that embraced these six. I think it’s an important question in every generation to ask why and under what contexts have our ancestors been drawn to limit its matriarchs to those (besides Sarah) who modeled endogamous relationships and omit those mothers attesting to exogamous relationships. If in our own generation, we choose to embrace the six (or, for the first time, seven including As’nat) then I believe we will have made a beautiful expression of inclusion for all of those bound to our people by means of all the complex ways through which we as human beings are drawn to one another in building caring and supportive families, mutually concerned for each other’s welfare, the wellbeing of our societies, and of all those creatures with whom which we share this planet, our home.
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|Source (Hebrew and Aramaic)||Translation (English)|
Targum Jonathan on Exodus 14:21
And Mosheh stretched out his hand over the sea,
with the great and glorious rod which was created at the beginning,
and on which were engraven and set forth the Great and Glorious Name,
and the ten signs which had smitten the Mitsra’i
and the three fathers of the world, In the context of the world (alma in Aramaic), we can’t help but wonder whether the idea of the avot here might also follow an alternative tradition. For example, we might consider “Adam, Noaḥ, and Avraham” rather than “Avraham, Yitsḥaq, and Yaaqov.” However, as there is no other source referring to the avot as Adam, Noaḥ, and Avraham, it is unlikely that Targum Yonatan intended his interpretation to be understood this way.
and the six mothers, Likewise, in the context of the world, without them being explicitly named, we might also consider “Ḥavah, Naamah, Sarah, Rivqah, Raḥel, and Leah.” Find note above.
and the twelve tribes of Yaaqov:
and straightway Hashem brought a vehement east wind upon the sea all night,
and made the sea dry;
and divided the waters into twelve divisions
according to the twelve tribes of Yaaqov.
Bemidbar Rabbah 12:17
“And they brought their offering before Hashem,
six covered wagons” (Numbers 7:3). On this verse, find the similar midrash found in Shir haShirim Rabbah 6:4.2.
Six corresponding to the six days of Creation.
Six corresponding to the six orders of the Mishnah.
Six corresponding to the mothers, namely:
Sarah and Rivqah, Raḥel and Leah, Bilhah, Zilpah.
Esther Rabbah 1.12
“On his royal throne” (Esther 5:1) —
Rabbi Hoshaya the Great said:
[Solomon’s Throne] was made according to the specifications of the Chariot
[the chariot] of the One who spoke and the world came into existence, the blessed Holy One.
And so it says: “There were six steps to the throne” (I Kings 10:19; II Chronicles 9:18) –
six [steps] corresponding to six heavens.
But aren’t there seven [heavens]?
Rabbi Avun said:
That where the King resides is separate.
Six [steps] corresponding to six [terms for] ‘land’:
1) earth/land (erets), 2) fertile-earth/soil (adamah), 3) terra (arqa),
4) valley (gayê), 5) desert (tsiyah), 6) desolation (neshiyah),
[in sum,] the World, and it is written:
“He will judge the World with righteousness” (Psalms 9:9).
Six corresponding to the six orders of the Mishnah:
1) Zera’im (seeds); 2) Mo’ed (appointed times); 3) Nashim (women);
4) Neziqin (damages); 5) Qodashim (consecrations); 6) Teharot (purities).
Six, corresponding to the six days of Creation.
Six corresponding to the six mothers:
Sarah, Rivqah, Leah, Raḥel, Bilhah, Zilpah….
|1||Moshe Reiss and David Zucker write, “Bilhah and Zilpah [are] presumably two local Aramean women…. According to the midrashic tradition, Bilhah and Zilpah are Laban’s own daughters through a concubine. This would make these women half-sisters of Leah and Rachel. (Genesis Rabbah 74.13-14; cf. Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 36)” in “Co-opting the secondary matriarchs: Bilhah, Zilpah, Tamar, and Aseneth,” Biblical Interpretation: A Journal of Contemporary Approaches, vol. 22 (May 2014) pp. 307-324.|
|2||In the context of the world (alma in Aramaic), we can’t help but wonder whether the idea of the avot here might also follow an alternative tradition. For example, we might consider “Adam, Noaḥ, and Avraham” rather than “Avraham, Yitsḥaq, and Yaaqov.” However, as there is no other source referring to the avot as Adam, Noaḥ, and Avraham, it is unlikely that Targum Yonatan intended his interpretation to be understood this way.|
|3||Likewise, in the context of the world, without them being explicitly named, we might also consider “Ḥavah, Naamah, Sarah, Rivqah, Raḥel, and Leah.” Find note above.|
|4||On this verse, find the similar midrash found in Shir haShirim Rabbah 6:4.2.|
“שֵׁשׁ אִמָּהוֹת | Shesh Imahot (Six Matriarchs) — Sarah, Rivqah, Raḥel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah, as found in rabbinic sources” is shared by the living contributor(s) with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International copyleft license.
Works of related interest:
תפילה למעמד המשותף | أغنية الحياة والسلام | Prayer of Mothers for Life and Peace, by Sheikha Ibtisam Maḥameed & Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum
Andachtsübung einer Mutter | Devotional exercise of a mother, a teḥinah by Yehoshua Heshil Miro (1829)