Gathering Sources: Vayeitzei

Some thoughts on the Torah portion Vayeitzei — also spelled Vayetzei or Vayetze — Gen 28:10-32:3. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2009-10 series called “Opening the Book.” Vayeitzei is next read in the Diaspora, minchah on November 30 through December 7.

Something to Notice updated 2019: Bilhah and Zilpah and the Amidah

A Path to Follow: Rachel and Leah, competition or not

Great Source(s): Akedat Yitzchak

Language and Translation: Sulam [what the angels climb]

See also:
Seven Years or Seven Days

Legends of Luz

biblical tree

Jewish Women’s Archive. “Biblical Family Tree.” https://jwa.org/media/biblical-family-tree

Legends of Luz

This week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3), opens with Jacob, en route from his parents’ home to the land of his mother’s people. He stops for the night and dreams of a ladder, its top in heaven and its bottom on earth, with angels traveling up and down. In the dream, God is “standing over him” and speaking to him. Upon awakening, Jacob names the place “Beth-El [House of God].” The Torah adds: “but previously the name of the city had been Luz.”

Rabbinic and later Jewish tradition offer a variety of comments on the two place names and their connection to Jacob’s experience. This post and tomorrow’s briefly explore two of these name-threads:
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Seven Days or Seven Years: Why Don’t Reform Jews Know?

How long was Jacob married to Leah before he also married Rachel? [slightly updated 2019]

This question came up in discussion at Temple Micah some years ago. We were confused, since participants had been taught different basic facts: Some remembered clearly being taught as children that Laban demanded seven more years of work before Jacob was allowed, finally, to marry Rachel; others could quote easily, “just complete the bridal week of this one” and were sure Jacob married Rachel a week after marrying Leah. Why this discrepancy?

With a little research, we eventually learned more about the discrepancy and its textual base. What we did not learn was why recent Reform translations — and perhaps those used in religious schools of decades past — view Jacob’s marriage chronology differently than so many others.

Here are some current translations for Genesis/Breishit 29:27-28.
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Vayeitzei: Something to Notice

UPDATED: November 24, 2019

In this portion, Bilhah, maid to Rachel, bears Dan and Naphtali, while Zilpah, maid to Leah, bears Gad and Asher. As when Sarah arranged for Abraham to father a child with her maid Hagar (Genesis/Breishit 16:2), the product of such a union was considered a child of the master-woman/wife rather than of the maid who conceived, carried, bore and nursed the baby.

In recent decades, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah have been added, in a number of non-Orthodox prayerbooks, to the first blessing of the Amidah — the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy — after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Bilhah and Zilpah did not join the list of “Matriarchs,” however, in the official prayerooks of the Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist movements.

Jews continue to question the place of Bilhah and Zilpah in this list. Not including them gives “tacit approval to the idea that woman is property,” goes one argument. Recognizing these women as Matriachs, according to others, would do honor to the many couples — including gays and lesbians — for whom full-status marriage has not been an option. On the other hand, it is argued that it is inappropriate to include women who were not active partners with in the covenant and prophets in their own right in “the ancestors” blessing of the Amidah.

Here, for example, is question and response on this topic from the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) as the Union for Reform Judaism was preparing its 2007 Mishkan T’fillah prayerbook. Similar issues were discussed as the Reform movement in the United Kingdom prepared its 2008 Seder Ha-T’fillot prayerbook (link no longer available).

Mishkan T’fillah was eventually published without Bilhah and Zilpah; I believe this is also the case with Seder Ha-T’fillot, but I have not seen the latter myself. On the other hand, Siddur B’chol L’vav’cha, which arrived earlier [in 2009], does include these mothers (congregational and ordering information). Siddur Sha’ar Zahav also provides more alternatives for the Amidah “ancestors” blessing.

The Jewish Women’s Archive includes an article on the maids’ place in Jewish prayer.

2019 Additions:
See also Torat Bilhah: The Torah of a Disposable Woman by Wil Gafney, who argues for including Hagar as well.

The website “Evolve: Groundbreaking Jewish Conversations” includes thoughts from David Mosenkis on “Why I include Bilhah and Zilpah in the Imahot.” After reading earlier this year (2019), I added my own comment:

For several years, I included Bilhah and Zilpah as imahot for the reasons described above. Eventually, though, I worried that I was, in my attempt at inclusion, erasing them in the same way that decades of attempts at “color-blind” society effectively erased the differences in realities around color in this country. The attempt at equalizing Bilhah and Zilpah, by including them along with Sarah and Rachel and Leah in the Amidah, can have the effect of flattening out the women’s experiences, so that the subservience of the two is discounted. Now, in the individual Amidah, I pause and leave a space for acknowledging a wider, more varied group of ancestors, who contributed in some way to my standing before God at that moment. Have not really figured out how to succinctly express this when leading….Cantor Sue Roemer, z”l, used to hum a blank, so to speak, after listing the seven: “Elohei hmm-hmm, Elohei hmm-hmm.”

For more on “innovation” in recently published [as in 2007-2009ish] prayerbooks, see “When the Ground Breaks” and “Groundbreaking Part 2” here.

See Source Materials for full siddur citations.

The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Vayeitzei: Language and Translation

Jacob departed from Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He encountered the place and spent the night there because the sun had set; he took from the stones of the place which he arranged his head, and lay down in that place. And he dreamt and behold! A ladder [sulam (samech-lamed-mem)] was set earthward and its top reached heavenward; and behold! angels of God [malachei elohim] were ascending and descending on it. And behold! HASHEM was standing over him [alav]…

…and, look, a ramp [sulam] was set against the ground with its top reaching the heavens, and look, messengers of God [malachei elohim] were going up and coming down it. And, look, the LORD was poised over him [alav]….

…and YHVH was standing beside him [alav]…
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