REBEKAH


REBEKAH (Heb. רִבְקָה), wife of *Isaac, daughter of Bethuel, and granddaughter of Nahor, a brother of *Abraham (Gen. 22:23; 24:15, 24, 47). Rebekah is also described as "the sister of *Laban" (24:29, 50; 25:20). When Abraham sought a wife for his son he sent his servant to his homeland, Aram-Naharaim, for he wanted to avoid marriage with the Canaanites. The episode is described in detail in Genesis 24, which makes clear the providential nature of the union of Isaac with Rebekah (verses 7, 14, 27, 48, 50).

The text provides an insight into Rebekah's character by stressing her hospitality to strangers and her kindness to animals (verses 14, 18, 20), as well as her beauty and chastity (24:16; 26:7).That she is willing to expend considerable energy on watering camels is a testament to her virtue. The same feature may reflect an eighth century B.C.E. date for the origin of this element of the tradition. On one occasion Isaac felt that his life was in danger because of Rebekah's great beauty and he felt constrained to claim that she was his sister (26:6–11). Isaac's age at the time of the marriage is given as 40 (25:20); Rebekah's is not recorded. She is said to have remained childless for 20 years until, in divine response to her husband's prayers, she gave birth to twins: Esau and Jacob. During a difficult pregnancy, she received an oracle about the future relationships between, and destinies of, her unborn children (25:21–26). On the biblical account she displayed favoritism toward Jacob (25:28).

When Isaac in his old age expressed his intention of bestowing his farewell blessing on Esau, Rebekah skillfully induced Jacob to supplant his brother so as to obtain it for himself. When Esau, in his bitter disappointment, threatened to kill Jacob, Rebekah arranged Jacob's flight to the house of Laban in Haran (Gen. 27), using as a pretext her bitterness and disgust over Esau's marriage to local women and her determination that Jacob marry within the family (26:34–35; 27:46; 28:1).

The death of Rebekah is not recorded in the Bible, but only the fact that she was buried in the cave of Machpelah together with the Patriarchs and *Sarah and *Leah (49:31).

[Nahum M. Sarna]

In the Aggadah

The description of Rebekah as the "daughter of Bethuel the Aramean, of Padan-Aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean" (Gen. 25:20) is taken to indicate her righteousness. Despite the fact that her father and brother were scoundrels and she came from a land where deceit was rife, she succeeded in being pious (a play on the Hebrew arammi which by a transposition of letters is read as ramai, "scoundrel" or "cheat"; Gen. R. 63:4). Eliezer immediately perceived her greatness since the water of the well rose to greet her when she came to draw water (Gen. R. 60:5). The blessings of her mother and brother when she left with Eliezer were not sincere, and they were considered the "blessings of the impious which are curses." This caused Rebekah to remain barren for years (60:13). Rebekah was either three or fourteen years old at the time of her marriage (Tos. to Yev. 61b). When she entered Sarah's tent, the divine cloud that had overhung it during Sarah's lifetime immediately reappeared (Gen. R. 60:16). Nevertheless, their marriage was not entirely happy, as a result of Rebekah's barrenness. Together they prayed for children. Finally, God acceded to the prayers of Isaac since the prayer of a pious man who is the son of a pious man is far more efficacious than the prayer of one who descends from a godless father (Yev. 64a). While pregnant, Rebekah suffered agonizing pains because her twin sons had already begun their lifelong quarrel in her womb. If she walked near a synagogue, Jacob tried to break forth from her womb, while Esau attempted to get out when she passed an idolatrous temple (Gen. R. 63:6). Finally she went to consult in the bet midrash of Shem and Eber where she was informed that two opposing nations were in her womb (63:6, 7).

The children Esau and Jacob seemed alike, yet Rebekah already perceived Jacob's greatness. The more often she heard his voice (engaged in study), the deeper grew her affection for him (63:10). Rebekah was not present when Isaac requested Esau to bring him savory food so that he would bless him; Isaac's charge was revealed to her through the holy spirit since she was a prophetess (67:9). She thereupon insisted that Jacob receive Isaac's blessing. She was not only actuated by love for Jacob, but also by the wish to keep Isaac from committing a detestable act by blessing the wicked Esau (65:6). She agreed to bear the possible imprecation of Isaac just as the curse of Adam fell upon "his mother," the earth (65:15). Rebekah died a short time after the death of her nurse Deborah. Her death was not mentioned explicitly in the Scripture, but is implied by the words allon bakhut (Allon-Bacuth; Gen. 35:8) which the Midrash renders "weeping for another," allon being connected with the Greek ἁλλον "another" (Gen. R. 81:5). There was no public mourning for Rebekah. Since Abraham was dead, Isaac blind, and Jacob away from home, only Esau remained to represent the family in public. It was feared that onlookers might say, "Cursed be the breasts that sustained thee." To avoid this, Rebekah was buried at night (PdRK 23; PR 12:48b).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Noth, Personennamen. 10; H. Bauer, in: ZDMG, 67 (1913), 344; idem, in: ZAW, 48 (1930), 78; See Commentaries on *Genesis. IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, index.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.