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A Not-So-Modest Proposal: Add Another Matriarch to the Mix

"Moses and Jochebed" by Pedro Américo, 1884.

“Moses and Jochebed” by Pedro Américo, 1884.

We honor four biblical “matriarchs”: Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel. And they’re important, even if we recognize them mainly, if not solely, for the sons they birthed.

But they weren’t always admirable. Take Sarah’s treatment of Hagar and Ishmael. Or Rebecca’s devious plan to trick her husband into giving their son Esau’s birthright to their other son, Jacob. True, Jacob got his comeuppance when Leah, disguised as the sister he wanted to wed, married him in Rachel’s place. As for Rachel, it’s hard to know what actions she might have taken, had she survived Benjamin’s birth. We do know that she was susceptible to jealousy.

For these reasons—plus others I’ll list shortly—I propose that we add a fifth matriarch: Jochebed.

I’m not unbiased. “Jochebed” is my Hebrew name (after my mother’s maternal grandmother). As a child, I learned that we (my great-grandmother and I) shared this name with a biblical foremother. But all I knew about the original Jochebed, gleaned from Bible Stories for Jewish Children, was that 1) she was the mother of Moses and his also-impressive siblings, Aaron and Miriam, and 2) she saved Moses’s life by setting him afloat for Pharaoh’s daughter to discover and adopt.