Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

Why Joseph’s no patriarch

As the book of Genesis begins to wind down with the ever fascinating Joseph saga, a question lingers: Why does Joseph end up as an also-ran in the Patriarch’s Hall of Fame?  He is not buried with the family in Hebron.  He is excluded from daily mention in the liturgy.  God may be “with him,” but we have no evidence of direct revelation.  Given all that he goes through and all that he does to ensure the survival of the Jewish people, not to mention the importance of the Joseph tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh) in later Israelite history, why doesn’t Joseph make it into the front row along with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and their respective wives)?

Here are my Top Ten Reasons for the Snub of Joseph 

1)     (Psychologist’s approach) Jacob’s favoritism was a big turn-off.  God didn’t want to encourage lousy parenting by promoting the already swelled-headed Joseph to the head of the patriarchal class.

2)     (Zionist approach) Joseph was the first “Yored” (emigrant from Israel), who made a bundle in the diaspora (admirable), married out (tolerable) and never returned (how could you!?)  

3)    (Bubbe’s) He never visited the dead relatives in Hebron.  Nor did he even think of calling the live ones. 

4)    (Congregant’s) Isn’t the Amida long enough already, what with all those names at the beginning…and now the matriarchs want in too!  Sorry Joe, we gotta draw the line somewhere!  

5)    (Feminist-Endogamist’s) And if we added Joseph’s name to the Amida, what would we do with his non-Jewish wife?

6)    (Chief rabbinate’s) The entire tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh are hereby declared off-limits to Jews for marriage until they undergo proper conversions. 

7)     (Baker’s Union) We give the little jailbird a year’s supply of pita and this is the thanks we get!? 

8)     (Anti-fascist) Hero, shmer-o.  He was just following orders (everything was orchestrated from on high)!

9)     (Insomniac’s) This guy gets more accomplished in his sleep than I do when I’m awake – and I’m losing sleep over that! 

10)  (My approach) Unlike his bronzed forbears, Joseph is Everyperson, caught up in the swarming tides of destiny, surmounting them simply by refusing to drown.  He overcomes his flaws and undoes his errors: Joe R’ Us at our best. His struggle to get into the “front row” parallels our own.  He should be there – but only when we can join him.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously." His Substack column, One One Foot: A Rabbi's Journal, can be found at Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2019, he received first-prize from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Cobie, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: (203) 322-6901 x 307
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