עודכן: 1 בדצמ׳ 2021
Newsletter by Yisca Harani, November 30, 2021.
Translation from the Hebrew: Adi Ginzburg-Hirsch
Right: The medal of Rachel - Israel Coins and Medals Corp.
On the Occasion of the first Sunday of Advent, The Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land traveled with his entourage from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, stopping at and then driving past Rachel's tomb.
On Christmas Day it will be the Patriarch and his entourage who will travel past the place of Rachel’s labor pains, Benjamin’s birth and Rachel’s untimely death.
I found myself wondering how do the Custos and the Patriarch see this tragic and revered heroine, and whether they contemplate the resemblance between her and the mother of Jesus.
The Franciscan Custodian, Most Reverend Father Francesco Patton and his entourage stopping near Mar Elias, close to Rachel's Tomb . Ⓒ Gianfranco Pinto Ostuni/CTS
How many women are mentioned in the two opening chapters of the New Testament?
The New Testament begins with a long – some might even say tiresome – list of Jesus’s progenitors, starting with Abraham the Patriarch and concluding with Jesus himself.
Unlike Biblical genealogical lists, surprisingly enough this list contains women’s names, highly irregular in a patriarchal society! And the women chosen for this honor are just as surprising – to put it mildly.
Asked who should be included in the Messiah’s genealogy, most of us would probably name the four Matriarchs – Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, just as we bless our daughters:
יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלֹהִים כְּשָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה.
"May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.”
Surprise, surprise: as though 44 male names aren’t enough to read through to find the five women, when found they pose another challenge – the rather colorful past of four of them… The five women named are Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, Bath Sheba and finally – Mary.
Each, in her own way, is exceptional, or rather, problematic – no one would even think of blessing their daughter:
יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלֹהִים כְּתָמָר, רוּת, רָחָב וְבַּת שֶׁבַע (??...)
May God make you like Tamar, Ruth, Rahab and Bathsheba ??...
Two explanations are suggested for the names selected:
1. These are all foreign women, outside of Abraham’s nuclear family, and in fact, not a part of the people of Israel. Gentile women: Bathsheba was married to Uriah the Hittite, Rahab of Jericho was a Canaanite, Ruth was a Moabite, and do check up the origins of Tamar.
2. These women became pregnant in highly unusual, non-traditional circumstances (I’ll spare you the details) and nevertheless became a part of an illustrious family tree that culminated with the Messiah.
The Sixth woman – Rachel the Matriarch
I, for one, am interested mainly in a sixth woman... mentioned in chapter 2 of the Gospel of Matthew (the first book of the New Testament). Although not part of the Jesus genealogy, the text does refer to her, the only one of the four Matriarchs mentioned here:
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.
What is the context? The preceding verse says:
“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under (Matthew 2:16).
Then ensued the horrific slaughter of babies in the entire region (the Holy Family flew to Egypt to escape the massacre, known as 'The Massacre of the Innocents'). Matthew the evangelist, who tended to quote biblical verses to explain the events in the New Testament, presumed this is what the prophecy of Jeremiah, quoted above, alluded to:
כֹּה אָמַר ה' קוֹל בְּרָמָה נִשְׁמָע נְהִי בְּכִי תַמְרוּרִים
רָחֵל מְבַכָּה עַל בָּנֶיהָ; מֵאֲנָה לְהִנָּחֵם עַל בָּנֶיהָ כִּי אֵינֶנּוּ. (ירמיהו לא יד)
“This is what the Lord says:
A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
The Biblical quote, included here as proof of a New Testament event, is a fine example of the deep chasm separating Jewish and Christian interpretation:
Jewish interpretation regards Rachel as a personification of the nation (or the homeland), and her sons are the exiled tribes who shall return to their native land:
כֹּה אָמַר ה', מִנְעִי קוֹלֵךְ מִבֶּכִי וְעֵינַיִךְ מִדִּמְעָה: כִּי יֵשׁ שָׂכָר לִפְעֻלָּתֵךְ נְאֻם ה', וְשָׁבוּ מֵאֶרֶץ אוֹיֵב. וְיֵשׁ תִּקְוָה לְאַחֲרִיתֵךְ נְאֻם ה'; וְשָׁבוּ בָנִים לִגְבוּלָם. (ירמיהו לא טו - טז)
“Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your descendants,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.
Rather than expanding on this, I’ll only mention the (seemingly simple) fact that the existence, as early as the 1st century CE, of a tradition identifying Rachel’s burial site on the road to Bethlehem is confirmed by the New Testament!
Much has been written on the issue of the tomb’s exact location:
on the boundary of the inheritance of the tribe of Judah-
"So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath"
that is, Bethlehem.
"Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb". (Genesis 35:19-20)
Or the boundary of the inheritance of Benjamin
“When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel’s tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin.” (1 Samuel 10:2).
The New Testament rendering was probably created due to the geographical proximity between the tradition regarding the Tomb of Rachel and the location where, according to Christian tradition, Mary gave birth to Jesus. It is as though the text actually says 'The cries of weeping mothers and screams of the slaughtered babes is heard by the mother who had barely born two sons, and died giving birth to Benjamin.'
Thus, her place of burial is, simultaneously, the son’s birthplace. And so we find here a pattern shared by Rachel and the Massacre of the Innocents: a place shared by unjust death and a barren woman (finally granted a son).
Delivered (of her barrenness)
Do the two women, Rachel and Mary, share any common traits, beyond the geographic proximity of one’s tomb and the place where the other gave birth?
Yes – both women gave birth in unusual, difficult circumstances, after a unique pregnancy – the result of divine intervention. A gift from God.
Centuries before God came to Mary in Nazareth he had delivered Rachel of her barrenness:
וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת-רָחֵל; וַיִּשְׁמַע אֵלֶיהָ אֱלֹהִים וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת-רַחְמָהּ. כג וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן
“Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son” (Genesis 30:22-23)
Notably, in the Biblical text, barrenness was usually proof that the ensuing child is the result of divine intervention, fated to perform a unique task entrusted to him by God.
Thus, most mothers of leaders were barren women who conceived due to divine intervention.
Why, then, is it Rachel who is chosen to be included in the opening chapters of the New Testament?
The answer is complex, and even if the gospel writer had no intention of starting a debate with Jewry, sadly the figure of Rachel was placed at the heart of the conflict between Judaism and Christianity.
The Advantage of the Younger Son
Again and again the Bible gives the younger brother precedence over his older sibling (Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau). The same is true of the two sisters, Rachel and her older sister Leah.
וּלְלָבָן שְׁתֵּי בָנוֹת שֵׁם הַגְּדֹלָה לֵאָה וְשֵׁם הַקְּטַנָּה רָחֵל. יז וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה רַכּוֹת וְרָחֵל הָיְתָה יְפַת תֹּאַר וִיפַת מַרְאֶה (בראשית כט).
“Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful”
The church, conscious of being historically younger that mature Judaism, happily adopted the Biblical model, and in particular the story of Jacob and Esau: during her pregnancy Rebecca heard the prophecy regarding her sons: "and the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23), and even colluded with Jacob, the younger of the two, against his unworthy older brother.
Christian theologian Cyprianus (Cyprian) wrote about it, in the 3rd century CE:
It was foretold about two nations, a large and a small one. That is the ancient Jewish people, and the new nation, which will become of us. We read in Genesis,
“The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb…
and the older will serve the younger.”
Cyprianus explains, quite plainly, that as Judaism is inferior, it such should be submissive to its younger sister – Christianity.
A hundred years earlier, a Christian, Justin Martyr, refers (in the 2nd century CE, in a dialogue with a certain 'Tryphon the Jew') to the superiority of the church, this time personified by the younger Rachel:
“Leah is indeed your nation and synagogue,
whereas Rachel is our church. Leah’s eyes were weak,
just as the eyes of your spirit are very weak”.
The equation is quite clear –
Isaac = Jacob = Rachel = Christianity/Mary and Jesus
The Adoration of Rachel as a Response to the Adoration of Mary
Although the figure of Rachel is indeed an apt simile for Mary, the Jews, presumably, were not happy with the analogy, or, to put it differently, Rachel’s “hijacking” and recruitment to promote Christianity. During the Roman-Byzantine period, as Christianity grew and rose in power, the appellation “Esau” was transferred from pagan Rome to Christian Rome.
“Sons of Esau” became a nickname for gentiles.
As the cult of Mary and her adoration in Christianity increased and spread, Judaism tried to cultivate the equation of the people of Israel as Jacob and Rachel, The figure of Rachel (although mentioned relatively briefly in the Biblical text) was extolled, and assigned contexts and qualities not found in her Biblical descriptions. The Midrash and Jewish liturgical poem literature began to be filled with praises of Rachel and statements of her importance. Thus, the following Midrash describes how she was the one chosen to eventually be the ancestress of prophet Elijah (who foretold the advent of the Messiah):
"Once our rabbis disagreed (about the progenitors of Elijah), some said from (the tribe of) Gad while others said from Benjamin. Came and stood before them, he said to them: Rabbis, why do you disagree about me? I am one of the sons of Rachel." (Beresheet Rabbah 71:12)
The evolvement of the figure of Rachel in Judaism, in response to the figure of Mary in Christianity and to claims of Christian superiority is a fascinating field of research.
"This year, all should cling to Mother!" - a poster publicizing the sale of "Mezuzah of mercy and tears of Rachel"
Recently, more and more has been written about the reciprocal influences between Judaism and Christianity, worldwide and in the Land of Israel context. Even in regards to the stories of the powerful message of Life –
Rachel will die yet Benjamin shall live. The innocents shall die yet Jesus shall live.
I have read with interest the highly informative MA thesis of Dr. Hannah Rosby Shacham, supervised by my brilliant friend Prof. Ephraim Shoham (to whom I owe sincere thanks) , whence I present the following quote:
“The similarities between Rachel and Mary confirm Rachel as a successful alternative to Mary’s increasing presence in the land of Israel during the Byzantine period. The emphasis places on Rachel’s motherhood, together with her sons’ Messianic role, is counterpoised with the present figure of Mary mother of Jesus. Rachel’s strength, her ability to pray for her sons, can counterpoise Mary’s role as an advocate for the faithful, her sons, before her divine Son.”
And thus we have here the evolving figure of Rachel the Matriarch, to whom one can pray on any matter (mainly matters of marriage and conception) as a near-twin to Miriam/Mary. The faithful flock nearly daily to Rachel’s Tomb on the road to Bethlehem and to the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem itself. Hands reverently touch the stone, tears wet the floor, lips utter vows, pockets empty, and many return to give thanks for answered prayers.
80,000 visitors to Rachel's tomb on her feast day. photos: the Ministry of Religious affair
Left and above in Hebrew: "Only Mother can understand our pain and grief" Right: A woman praying to Mary in the Milk Grotto
Right: A Jewish leaflet describing the “divinely granted” pregnancies of women who had visited the Tomb of Rachel and conceived. Left: Photos sent by Christian couples who had visited the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem and conceived.
Mary is perceived as the very embodiment of The Mother, mother of all, not only Jesus, and is both mother and Madonna (Our Lady).
Because of this similitude, and in this spirit, perhaps we may call Rachel Our Mother, Notre-Dame, the Jewish Madonna .
Two invitations to my Hebrew speaking students:
1. Link to last years' Hanukkah event of lectures and candles lighting (with Jews and Christian congregations): https://www.yiscaharani.com/hanukkah2021
2. Across Damascus Gate-
A Shabbat seminar on Religions and Geopolitics.
With: Yisca Harani, and guest scholars: Dr. Eran Tzidkiyahu, geopolitical expert & Jonathan Zwi, Jurist.
Location: Paulus-House (across Damascus Gate)
Dates: December 31st 2021- January 1st 2022
Details & Registration: https://www.yiscaharani.com/paulus2022
photo: Dan Arnon