The Bible Says What? ‘We honour four matriarchs, but there should be six’
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here
Analysis

The Bible Says What? ‘We honour four matriarchs, but there should be six’

Rabbi Sandra Kviat takes a controversial topic from the Torah and applies a progressive response

 Only three are referred to as patriarchs; and only four are referred to as matriarchs. (Talmud)

Zilpah and Bilhah aren’t names that are familiar to most Jews, yet they gave birth to four of the 12 tribes of Israel. The passages of Torah in which this happens are deeply troubling and throw up many issues around consent and coercion.

The handmaidens (slaves) of Jacob’s wives Leah and Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah, are “given” to Jacob by them in order to bear him children, though rabbinic tradition tries to soften the stance by claiming they were the half-sisters of Leah and Rachel, or second wives.

After, we assume, being forced into/expected to sleep with Jacob, their children (Gad, Asher, Dan and Naphtali) are “adopted” by Rachel and Leah, and Zilpah and  Bilhah disappear from view again, their roles as surrogate mothers spent.

Despite playing such a key role in what became the Jewish people, the handmaidens are sidelined and ignored. They are seen as vessels without any status.

Even our own Progressive services and prayer books – which pride themselves on giving equal status to women and always list Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel alongside Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in
the Amidah – have been silent on Zilpah and Bilhah.

But things are starting to change. Modern Jewish feminists are reclaiming Bilhah and Zilpah as matriarchs, and Liberal Judaism is working on
a new Siddur that includes them.

It is vital Judaism shows its commitment to equality and recognising people whatever their background. We should start by talking about these two forgotten matriarchs.

 

  •   Rabbi Sandra Kviat serves Crouch End Chavurah
Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments