Chaim Ingram

ACUTE ANGLES What About Our Matriarchs?

Dear Rabbi.  Let me make it clear that I am not a Reform Jewess! However, I happened to notice that the reform prayer book inserts the words “G-d of Sarah, G-d of Rebekah, G-d of Rachel and G-d of Leah” in the first blessing of their Amida. What would be so wrong, Rabbi, with us adding those words?  After all is He not the G-d of our mothers as well as our fathers?   Respectfully,  Abie

Dear Abie,

You ask a very good question. The simple answer is that the phrase “the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac and the G-d of Jacob” is directly extracted from our sacred Torah (Exodus 3:15) – as indeed is the subsequent phrase “the great, mighty and awesome G-D (Deut. 10:17). Our Sages, in formulating our prayers, inserted sacred Scriptural phrases wherever possible.

Additionally, unlike our Matriarchs, our three Patriarchs form a tripartite, unbroken generational (father-to-son) chain.  Kohelet 4:12 declares that “a threefold cord is not easily broken”..  An outstandingly righteous founder of a nation (Abraham) siring a similarly upright child (Isaac) and grandchild (Jacob) is the securest foundation for a nation that one could hope for.

You could have asked another equally good question, Why, after referring to “the G-d of Abraham, G-d of Isaac and G-d of Jacob”, does the first Amida blessing end simply “Blessed are You, G-D, Shield of Abraham”? What happened to Isaac and Jacob?

The fact is that the Anshei Knesset HaGedola, the ancient body of elders led by Ezra (4th century BCE) were Divinely inspired in their precise and exacting formulation of the text for the berachot of the Amida.. I say it is a fact because I don’t know anyone who would recite the same Shakespeare soliloquy or Byron poem or Beatles lyric three times every day of their life and not get bored out of their minds!  Yet hundreds of thousands of Jews recite an identical text thrice daily and still find themselves able to inject passion and soul into the words they are uttering. (Incidentally, while there are some very minor differences in text between Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Chasidim, this is not the case in the first three blessings which are splendidly uniform in all traditions.).

Our sages wish us to connect, specifically with Abraham, as we base our ‘right’ to petition before G-D on the supreme sacrifice – the Akeda  – that Abraham was prepared to make for the sake of G-D. We in essence gain G-D’s attention, as it were, by declaring” “We have no merits of our own,  but look what Abraham was prepared to do for you – to give up his only son! In that merit, succour us, his descendants!”

Moreover, the concluding phrase of the blessing  Magen Avraham, “shield of Abraham” is based upon yet another Scriptural verse, Genesis 15:1 where G-D declares to Abraham “fear not, I am a shield for you!”

Strength, might, awesomeness, shielding armour: these are all essentially masculine attributes and concepts.   Consequently, the referencing of our Patriarchs and not our Matriarchs  in this context is entirely apt..

However, have no fear: our founding mothers are singled out when prayers soliciting G-D’s compassion (a predominantly feminine trait) are uttered. Thus the classical mi shebeirakh formula recited at Torah readings for healing from sickness or even a simple blessing for family members will appeal to “the G-D of our Matriarchs  Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah”.

I hope I have said enough to convince you that you should not fret at the omission of our Matriarchs in the context of the first Amida blessing. Finally, consider this: whenever you are reciting these time-hallowed words as they are, without embellishment or change, you are connecting not only with your fellow-worshippers in your shul and around the world, but with generations upon generations of your forebears going back two millennia who would have intoned these very same words. G-D, who is beyond time, is connecting your prayer with the very same prayers uttered by Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir, not to mention their wives Rachel and Beruria,  nineteen centuries ago! How powerful a thought is that!

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation. He can be reached at