Mother’s Day in the United States is celebrated on Sunday, May 9, 2021. While the holiday isn’t religious per se, Judaism has a strong tradition of honoring our mothers and the other strong women who raise us, take care of us, guide us, and make us the people we are today.
Within the Tanakh (also known as the Hebrew Bible), there are dozens of women mentioned. In honor of Mother’s Day, we have compiled this list of 7 strong mothers from the Tanakh who inspire us, even today in 2021, due to their strength, courage, and resiliency.
Rebecca (known as Rivkah in Hebrew) is one of Judaism’s four matriarchs, alongside Leah, Rachel, and Sarah, so of course we had to include her. With her husband Isaac, Rebecca had two sons: Esau and Jacob. While Rebecca ultimately deceives her husband so that he will bless Jacob, her favored son, over Esau, some rabbis interpret this deception to be an act of faith in God, since she had received a prophecy while pregnant that the twins would fight their entire lives, and that only one would prevail. In some midrash, rabbis also write in addition to being a woman of persisting faith, she had a motherly understanding of her sons and their true characters that Isaac simply did not.
Tzipporah was Moses’ wife and the mother of his two sons, Eliezer and Gershom. She is mentioned in Exodus and was known for her beauty. While she was not an Israelite, Tzipporah played an important role in saving Moses from death twice, including by circumcising their newborn son. Gershom was born during their rigorous journey and so Moses had postponed the circumcision. When an angel from God appears to kill Moses, Tzipporah realizes that it’s because their son has not entered the covenant and courageously circumcises Gershom herself. Her selflessness and quick-thinking, both as a wife and a mother, played an important role in the story of the Jewish people.
Rachel is the mother of two important Biblical figures, Joseph and Benjamin. We don’t get to learn much about Rachel as a mother, as she dies while giving birth to Benjamin. However, her legacy lived on through her children, who later became major leaders and figures in Jewish history. Due to her loyalty to Jacob and her dedication to bearing his children, Rachel is also remembered in her own regard as an important intercessor for the Jewish people.
Yocheved, sometimes written in English as Jochebed, is the mother of Moses, Miriam, and Aaron. She is best known for putting three-month-old Moses, her youngest son, in a woven basket and down the Nile River to save his life. This selfless act allowed Judaism’s most important prophet to grow up, lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and bring the Jewish people closer to the Promised Land. Her two elder children played a crucial role in Jewish history as well – surely thanks to the strong women who raised them, even in the unimaginable circumstances of slavery.
Most commonly known for being one of King David’s wives, Abigail was also known for her beauty, intelligence, and dedication to her family and faith. She became a mother when she birthed one of King David’s sons, Chileab. While the Tanakh doesn’t go into great detail about her motherly ways, Abigail is frequently mentioned throughout various midrashes as being a prophetess, a strong woman, and a role model for Jewish moms everywhere when it comes to dealing with tough situations.
Ruth’s story of joining the Jewish people is well-known and is remembered each Shavout, when synagogues read her story aloud. After going forward with Naomi, Ruth marries Boaz and they have a son together, Obed, who later becomes King David’s grandfather. Known for her kindness and loyalty, Ruth’s important role in bringing King David to life serves as a reminder that our grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and other matriarchal figures around us can also play a major role in our lives and trajectory!
One of the most famous women of the Bible, Sarah – then in old age – is often remembered for laughing when a visitor suggested that she would become pregnant within a year. Sarah did indeed become pregnant and give birth to Isaac, who would later become one of Judaism’s patriarchs (alongside his father, Abraham). Throughout the Torah, Sarah’s devotion to Isaac shines through the Bible, even beyond her death as he becomes a strong leader. Even today, Sarah is often called Sarah Imenu, or “Sarah our Mother,” because she is seen as the first matriarch of the Jewish people.