If one were to believe the jokes, Jewish mothers enjoy nothing more than nagging their children to eat, encouraging grown children to get married and bragging about the children’s professions. Are Jewish mothers more protective of their children than other parents? Probably not. But, the reputation for the tight bond between Jewish mothers and their children might stem from the Bible’s emphasis on what a blessing it is to be a mother.

Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel, three of the four matriarchs, had difficulty conceiving a child. Both Sarah and Rebecca conceived only once (Sarah bore Isaac, Rebecca bore twins Esau and Jacob). Rachel waited many years before the birth of Joseph and then another eight years until Benjamin was born. On the other hand, Leah, the fourth matriarch, had four children one after another, and then another two. Indeed, the Midrash explains that Pharaoh’s fear of the Jewish people was due to the fact that they had greatly increased in numbers over a few generations.

Another famous stereotype of the Jewish mother is that she is ever-sacrificing. “No, no, honey, you take the last piece, I’ll just starve.” Of course, this is an exaggeration, but it too has its sources in the Torah. Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, was barren for many years. When she finally had a son, she raised him for three years and then brought him to the High Priest Eli to spend his life in the service of God. This fulfilled the promise that she made to God when she prayed to conceive.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day today, let us rejoice in the many ways that Jewish mothers in our lives both fulfill and challenge those old stereotypes.

Now, would you like something to eat?

This Treat was originally posted May 6, 2011.

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