views updated May 14 2018


RACHEL (Heb. רָחֵל), matriarch of Israel, wife of *Jacob and the mother of *Joseph and Benjamin. Her name means "ewe," while that of her sister *Leah means "cow." She was the younger daughter of *Laban, brother of Rebekkah.

Rachel first appears as a shepherdess who happened to come in sight just when Jacob had arrived at a well near Haran in his flight from his brother Esau. The two seem to have fallen in love at once, and Jacob made an agreement with his uncle to work for him for seven years in return for receiving Rachel in marriage. However, when the time of the nuptials arrived, Laban cheated Jacob and gave him Leah, his older daughter, instead. Laban, however, agreed to deliver Rachel in advance if Jacob undertook to serve him for another seven years as the bride-price for Rachel (Gen. 29:4–30).

Rachel is described as "shapely and beautiful" (29:17) and was more beloved of Jacob than Leah (29:30). She was, however, barren and became very jealous of her sister's fecundity. In her desperation, she resorted to the device of concubinage, used earlier by Sarah under similar circumstances (16:2–4; see *Patriarchs). She gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob and looked upon the offspring of the union, Dan and Naphtali, as her own children (30:1–8). On one occasion, she yielded her conjugal rights to Leah in return for some mandrakes that Reuben had collected (30:14–16), apparently sharing the widespread belief that this "love apple" could cure barrenness in women. It was only after Leah had borne seven children that Rachel finally gave birth, naming her son Joseph, noting with satisfaction that God had taken away (ʾasaf) her disgrace and expressing the wish that the Lord might give her an additional (yosef) son (30:22–24).

Jacob consulted with Rachel and her sister about his plan to return to his homeland and he received their consent. Before the family's precipitate flight, Rachel stole her father's household idols, unbeknown to her husband. The exact significance of this act is uncertain (see *Teraphim). Three days later, Laban caught up with Jacob and searched his effects. Rachel, however, managed to outwit her father and to conceal the idols (31:4–35).

When Jacob prepared for the encounter with Esau on his return home, he took care to place Rachel and Joseph last in the receiving line (33:1–7), apparently to ensure that they would have a chance to escape should the meeting prove to be hostile.

Rachel died in childbirth on the way from Beth-El to Ephrath. As she lay dying she named her son Ben-Oni, "son of my suffering," although her husband called him Benjamin. Jacob did not bury her in the ancestral, patriarchal vault at Machpelah, but interred her at the place of her death and set up a monument over the grave (35:16–21; cf. 48:7). These traditions of burial in Bethlehem are in conflict with i Samuel 10:2 and Jeremiah 31:14 (15), which locate the tomb in Benjamin (see below).

Rachel appears again only twice in biblical literature. She is mentioned, together with Leah, as a matriarch of Israel, in the marriage blessing of Ruth (Ruth 4:11), and Jeremiah poetically visualizes her weeping in Ramah for her children (the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh descended from Joseph), who are in exile (Jer. 31:15).

The traditions about Rachel in Genesis are generally regarded as reflections of Israelite tribal history–though there is no unanimity as to the period involved. It is assumed that at some stage in the development of the 12-tribe league, the tribes associated with Rachel (Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh) and Bilhah (Dan and Naphtali) constituted a distinct confederation. The territory of Benjamin is, as a matter of fact, contiguous with that of Ephraim. The attribution of two tribes to the concubine Bilhah probably reflects their inferior status within the smaller confederation, while the birth of Benjamin in Canaan would imply a late association of that tribe with the others in the group. The very name can be interpreted as "son of the south," which correctly describes the location of Benjamin's territory in Israel in relation to that of the other members of the groups.

[Nahum M. Sarna]

In the Aggadah

Rachel warned Jacob that her cunning father would try dishonestly to wed her elder sister, Leah, to him. Jacob and Rachel therefore agreed upon a sign by which he would recognize her on the nuptial night. Nevertheless, when Laban actually sent Leah into the bridal chamber, Rachel revealed the sign to her sister lest she be put to shame. As a reward for this act, Rachel was vouchsafed to be the ancestress of King *Saul (Meg. 13b).

Rachel began to envy her sister after Leah had borne Jacob four sons because she attributed this good fortune to her sister's piety (Gen. R. 71:6). After she implored Jacob to pray for the termination of her barrenness, he hinted that Sarah was only blessed with Isaac because "she brought her rival [Hagar] into her home." Rachel thereupon gave her maidservant, Bilhah, to Jacob (Gen. R. 71:7). When she finally bore a son, she was doubly thankful because she had feared that Laban would permit only Leah to accompany Jacob to Ereẓ Israel, and would detain the childless wife (Gen. R. 73:3). She was a prophetess and thus knew that Jacob was destined to have only 12 sons. Since Joseph was the 11th, she prayed for only one more son (Tanḥ. Va-Yeẓe, 20). One opinion is that she stole her father's teraphim in order to conceal the knowledge of Jacob's flight (pdre 36); another is that the purpose was to turn her father away from idolatry (Gen. R. 74:5). Jacob's unintentional curse against her on that occasion caused Rachel's premature death. The curse would have taken effect at once were it not that she was destined to bear Jacob his youngest son (Gen. R. 74:9; pdre 36).

She was not vouchsafed burial next to her husband in the cave of Machpelah because of her indelicate request to Leah in the mandrake incident (Gen. R. 72:3). Jacob buried her at Ephrath because he foresaw that the exiles would pass this place when they were exiled to Babylon. As they passed, Rachel would entreat God's mercy for them (Gen. R. 82:10). Indeed, it was only Rachel who was able to obtain God's promise that Israel would ultimately be restored after she pleaded with Him to recall her kindness to Leah on the night that should have been her own nuptial celebration (Lam. R., Proem 24).

[Aaron Rothkoff]

Tomb of Rachel

According to Genesis (35:19–20), Rachel was buried "on the road to Ephrath, which is Beth-Lehem"; according to i Samuel (10:–2) the tomb of Rachel was situated "within the border of Benjamin, in Zelzah." The words of the prophet Jeremiah (31:15) allude to the tomb of Rachel as being in the portion of Benjamin. The rabbis who sought to correct this contradiction saw an error in the order of the words in the construction of the verse in the Book of Samuel. Among others, they suggested the following correction: "When thou goest from me today to the border of Benjamin, to Zelzah, thou shalt find two men by the tomb of Rachel" (Gen. R. 82:10; Tosef., Sot. 11:11; Sif. Deut. 352). Some modern scholars read: "When thou goest from me today, thou shalt find two men within the border of Benjamin, in Zelzah, and they shall say to thee: the she-asses which thou went to seek by the tomb of Rachel have been found."

The tombstone near Beth-Lehem is mentioned by the first Christians, e.g., Eusebius; the most ancient Jewish source on the tomb of Rachel is the Guide to Jerusalem of the tenth century, which was found in the Cairo *Genizah. According to the descriptions of Jewish travelers, from R. Benjamin of Tudela (c. 1170) until the 18th century, the tombstone consisted of 11 stones which were laid by the 11 sons of Jacob on the grave; a large stone was placed over them, that of Jacob. The tomb was roofed over with a dome which was supported by four pillars. At the end of the 18th century the tomb was surrounded by a closed structure. In 1841 this structure was renovated with funds which were supplied by Sir Moses Montefiore. This is attested by an inscription engraved on a marble tablet inside the structure.

The tomb is especially visited on the new moons, during the whole of the month of Elul, and on the 14th of Marheshvan, the traditional anniversary of the death of "Our Mother Rachel." Jews donated oil, sacred curtains, and charity for the tomb structure. They were also accustomed to inscribing their names on the tombstone and measuring it with red woolen threads, which were tied onto children and the sick as a remedy for good health and healing. During the Jordanian occupation, the area around the tomb was converted into a Muslim cemetery. After the Six-Day War, the structure was renovated by the Israel Ministry of Religions and adapted to mass pilgrimage. A picture of the Tomb of Rachel was commonly used as a decoration in Jewish homes throughout the world.

[Joseph Braslavi (Braslavski)]

In the Arts

Of the four matriarchs Rachel has inspired the most original work in literature and art. In many instances she figures largely as the wife of Jacob, but in others she appears as the central character, often in connection with the theme of Jeremiah 31:15 – "A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; She refuseth to be comforted for her children, Because they are not." The account of Rachel's marriage to Jacob forms the basis of three early literary works, the German dramatist Christian Weise'sJacobs doppelte Heyrath (1683), the Swiss German Johann Jacob Bodmer's epic Jacob und Rachel (1752), and an anonymous Spanish allegorical play, La mas hermosa Rachel pastora de las almas (c. 1780). Probably the outstanding 19th-century treatment of the subordinate theme was Rachel ("Rachel's Lament," 1851), a verse allegory of the fate of his homeland by the Hungarian nationalist poet János Arany. Among works on the subject written in the 20th century are Plach Rakhili ("Rachel's Lament," c. 1923), by the Russian writer Nikolai Alexandrovich Krasheninnikov; "Rahel," a lyrical ballad by the German poet Max Barthel, who later became sympathetic to the Nazis; and Jacob's Ladder, one of Laurence Housman's Old Testament Plays (1950), in which Rachel and Leah unendearingly squabble over their claims to Jacob's affection. A Jewish treatment was that by the Hebrew poet *Raḥel, whose Shirat Raḥel ("Song of Rachel," 1935) includes the phrase "Her voice sings in mine…" In medieval Christian iconography, the two wives of Jacob, Leah and Rachel, were associated with the New Testament figures of Martha and Mary (representing the active and the contemplative life), since Rachel was preferred by Jacob as Mary was preferred by Jesus. However, Rachel was not a popular subject among artists of the Middle Ages. Interest revived in the 15th century, when the meeting of Jacob and Rachel (Gen. 29:10ff.) was the subject of a pen-and-wash drawing by the Flemish painter Hugo van der Goes (Christ Church, Oxford). During the Renaissance, Palma Vecchio painted Jacob kissing Rachel (Gen. 29:11), and there is a study of Jacob and Rachel by Raphael in the Loggia of the Vatican. A painting by Hendrik Terbrugghen (National Gallery, London) shows Jacob asking Laban for Rachel's hand (Gen. 29:18). Claude Lorrain painted an idyllic landscape with Jacob and Rachel (Hermitage, Leningrad). The robust nude by *Rembrandt, known as Danaë (Hermitage, Leningrad), may have been intended to represent Jacob's unintended marriage to Rachel's sister, Leah. Jacob's appropriation of Laban's household idols, which were taken and hidden by Rachel (Gen. 31:30–35), is depicted in the seventh-century Ashburnham Pentateuch (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris). This subject later appeared in the Vatican Loggia frescoes by Raphael and in a tapestry by Barend van Orley, one of a series recounting the story of Jacob. It was also a popular subject in the 17th century. There are examples by the French painter Sébastien Bourdon (Louvre), by the Spanish master Murillo (Duke of Westminster Collection, London), by the Dutch genre painter Jan Steen, and by Rembrandt's teacher Pieter Lastman. Among works of the 18th century is a painting by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin in the Louvre; and the subject was included by Tiepolo in his wall paintings for the archbishop's palace at Udine, Italy.

In Music

Rachel has attracted rather less attention in music, although she and Jacob have together inspired some compositions, notably a 16th-century motet by Joachim à Burck (1599), some 17th-century Spanish songs, and a comic opera by Johann Philipp Krieger (1649–1725). The oratorio Rachel was composed by Jean François Lesueur (1760–1837), and in the 20th century Lazare *Saminsky wrote a ballet on the theme. Raḥel Mevakkah al Baneha (Jer. 31:15–17) has been a favorite subject for composers of cantorial music, and settings have been recorded by several leading ḥazzanim, including Josef (Yossele) *Rosenblatt; there are also modern interpretations by singers such as Jan Peerce and Richard Tucker. David Roitman's extended version of Raḥel Mevakkah al Baneha (Jer. 31:15; Jer. 25:30; Isa. 20:12; Lam. 1:16; and Isa. 33:7) was arranged for voice and piano by A.W. Binder (1930).

See also: *Jacob in the Arts.

[Bathja Bayer]


B. Stade, in: zaw, 1 (1881), 112–4; B. Luther, ibid., 21 (1901), 37ff.; ch Gordon, in: rb, 44 (1935), 35, 36; J. Bright, Early Israel in Recent History Writing (1956), 115ff.; for further bibliography see *Genesis, *Patriarchs. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index. tomb of rachel: Eshtori ha-Parḥi, Kaftor va-Feraḥ, ed. by A.M. Luncz (1897), 221, 229, 299; J. Schwarz, Tevu'ot ha-Areẓ, ed. by A.M. Luncz (1900), 131–5; A. Yaari, Masot Ereẓ Yisrael (1946), index; A. Schlesinger, in: Sefer Neiger (1959), 19–26; Z. Vilnay, Maẓẓevot Kodesh be-Ereẓ Yisrael (19632), 98–107; J. Braslavi, in: Eretz-Israel, 7 (1964), 76. add. bibliography: W. Holladay, Jeremiah 2 (1989), 186–89; M. Dijkstra, in: ddd, 683–84; T. Lewis, in: ibid., 844–50.


views updated May 29 2018


RACHEL , the stage name of Eliza Rachel Felix (1821–1858), French actress and one of the world's greatest tragediennes. Born in Switzerland, Rachel was the daughter of a peddler, Jacob Felix, who took his large family to Paris. She was singing with her sisters in the streets when she was heard by the singing master, Etienne Choron, who undertook to give her free instruction. Under his sponsorship, she attended drama classes and the conservatoire, and at the age of 17 played at the Théâtre Gymnase. The leading Paris critic, Jules Janin of the Journal de Débats, was the only one to perceive her quality, and saw his enthusiasm vindicated when, in 1838, she entered the Comédie-Française and achieved success in Corneille's Horace. Thereafter her career was one of fame and notoriety. Rachel was slight of build and by some considered plain; but on the stage she had beauty, charm, and power. Though she had little formal education, her supreme dramatic achievement was in the French classics, especially Corneille and Racine, in which she replaced the declamatory style of the period with vitality and passion. She appeared in some contemporary plays, including Adrienne Lecouvreur, written for her by Legouvé and Scribe. Her greatest performance was in Racine's Phèdre; it was described as "an apocalypse of human agony."

The notoriety attending Rachel's name arose from her private life. She never married, but she had two children, one by Count Colonna-Walewski, an illegitimate son of Napoleon. She was also the mistress at different times of the poet Alfred de Musset, the Prince de Joinville, and a nephew of Napoleon, Prince Jerome. She first appeared in London in 1841 and subsequently toured the Continental capitals, including St. Petersburg. Her tour of the United States in 1855 proved to be the end of her career, for the tubercular condition from which she suffered became worse, and she never acted again. At her funeral, the chief rabbi of the Consistory of Paris delivered an oration in Hebrew.

Rachel's brother raphael (1825–1872), and her sisters sarah (1819–1877), lia (1828–1908), rebecca (1829–1854), and dinah (1836–1909) all had theatrical careers of varying success.


J.E. Agate, Rachel (Eng., 1928); B. Falk, Rachel the Immortal (1936); J. Richardson, Rachel (Eng., 1956).

[Ravelle Brickman]


views updated May 14 2018


RACHEL (first century c.e.), wife of R. *Akiva. The daughter of *Kalba Savua, one of the three richest men of Jerusalem, Rachel secretly married Akiva, who was ignorant and her father's shepherd, because she saw in him a man of modest and noble character. When her father found out about the secret betrothal, he took a vow against her deriving any benefit from his estate. Akiva and Rachel lived in straitened circumstances, but Akiva promised her a gift of a golden ornament with an engraving of Jerusalem on it. According to legend, the prophet *Elijah once came to them disguised as a poor man and begged them for some straw for a bed for his wife who had just given birth, in order to make them realize that there were people worse off than they (Ned. 50a). Akiva later decided to study Torah. Encouraged by Rachel he stayed away for 24 years (Finkelstein assumes that this absence did not last more than three years). He returned home with 24,000 disciples to whom he said, "mine and yours are hers," i.e., the credit for all our achievements is hers. When Akiva was able to fulfill his promise and give Rachel the "Jerusalem of Gold," Rabban *Gamaliel's wife envied her and told her husband of Akiva's generosity. He replied, "Did you do what she did, selling her hair in order that he might study?" (tj, Sot. 9:16,24c). Akiva's love for Rachel is reflected in his saying, "who is wealthy?… He who has a wife comely in deeds" (Shab. 25b).

When Akiva's daughter became secretly betrothed to *Simeon ben Azzai, the Talmud concluded that this was indeed an illustration of the proverb "Ewe (Heb. raḥel) follows ewe; a daughter acts like her mother" (Ket. 63a). Two major traditions are preserved in the Talmud about Rachel. One is that it was she who encouraged Akiva to study (Ket. 62b, 63a; see also Ned. 50a, which is a more legendary source), while the other presents the stimulus as coming from himself and his gift to his wife as a compensation for her suffering during his absence (arn1 6, 29).


L. Finkelstein, Akiba; Scholar, Saint, and Martyr (1936), 22ff., 79ff.


views updated May 11 2018

Rachel in the Bible, the younger daughter of Laban, loved by Jacob, who serves his uncle Laban for seven years for the right to marry her. Tricked into marrying her elder sister Leah, Jacob served another seven years for Rachel, who afterwards became the mother of Joseph and Benjamin.

According to tradition, Rachel's tomb was in Rama, and in connection with this she is a figure of the mother mourning for Israel.


views updated May 29 2018

Rachel. Wife of Jacob and one of the matriarchs of Israel. Her tomb is a place of pilgrimage, especially for barren women, since Rachel was barren for many years.