Revering Rebekah

Rebekah provides a model of a powerful Biblical woman who asserted her independence and her control over the future of the covenant.

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Provided by CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a multi-denominational think tank and resource center.

In Haye Sarah, we are introduced to perhaps the most powerful woman in Torah (or the Bible as a whole, for that matter), Rebekah. The model that Rebekah offers is a challenging one, well worth considering in an age when powerful women often imagine (and not without some reason) that Jewish tradition preserves few models for the kind of women they aspire to be.

The Torah makes it clear that Rebekah is exemplary of traditional values. First, we are told that in addition to being beautiful, she is (at the time we first meet her) "a virgin, neither had any man known her" (Genesis 24:16). She is modest as well; upon being introduced to Isaac, "she took her veil and covered herself" (24:65). She is even pious; when afflicted with two children struggling within her womb, "she went to inquire of the Lord" (25:22).

At the same time, Rebekah is a confident woman, willing to assert herself and use the power available to her. When asked whether she would accompany Eliezer to Canaan, she responds without hesitation: "I will go" (24:58). After God reveals to her which of her sons would rule the other (25:23), she does not hesitate to orchestrate affairs so that God's will would be done. Rebekah is the insightful partner, the protector of the covenant; Isaac is blind to it all (until the very end).

Thus, we may understand that there is no necessary conflict between the Torah's vision and a woman of power and insight. Whatever one wants to make of' "traditional womanly values," taking command of her own affairs and the affairs of her nation need not be thought to be in tension with such values.

Dr. David Kraemer

Dr. David Kraemer is Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is a Senior CLAL Associate at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.