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THE LOST MATRIARCH

Book Group Discussion Guide



    The Lost Matriarch: Finding Leah in the Bible and Midrash presents the life of the Matriarch Leah as recounted in the Bible. But because the Bible offers only a few hints about Leah, The Lost Matriarch calls upon the expansive insights of two thousand years of inventive rabbinic commentary and contemporary literary analysis of her story. The book integrates the biblical text with many disparate views and opinions, inviting individual readers to participate in the continuing process of discovering this heroic but generally overlooked character.

     I hope that many of you will want to further enhance your personal understandings of Leah and her family by exchanging insights with other readers, either informally with a few friends or in a book club session. The following questions cover a sample of the major episodes in Leah’s life and some of the interpretive issues raised by those episodes. It’s certainly not necessary to try to cover all of these issues in your conversations, but I hope that you might find some of the questions helpful for your discussions of The Lost Matriarch.

     If your group comes up with additional questions that stimulate a good session, please let me know, and I’ll share those questions in future editions of this book group discussion guide.

Jerry Rabow

email: JerryRabow@ JerryRabow.com



Questions for Your Discussion


1. In the Bible, the first significant event of Jacob’s arrival at Haran is his meeting the beautiful and shapely Rachel, when he kisses her and weeps. In contrast, the Bible introduces Leah later as the older sister with tender [or weak] eyes, but the text doesn’t mention how Jacob meets her. The commentaries are inconsistent about Leah’s eyes, the sisters’ relative beauty, and the nature of Jacob’s kissing Rachel. How would you describe Leah’s eyes, the sisters’ beauty, and Jacob’s kiss?

2. The commentators provide many specific interpretations of what really happened at Leah’s wedding, including what occurred in the privacy of the wedding tent that night. What do you think happened at Leah’s wedding?

3. Many commentators weigh in on the issue of what the Bible means when it twice refers to Leah being “hated” [s’nuah] by Jacob soon after their marriage (Gen. 29:31, 33). What do you believe was Jacob’s attitude towards Leah at this point in their story, and how did Leah feel about this?

4. The biblical text describing Jacob and his family meeting Esau (Gen. 32:2-33:17) features several instances of the overall theme in Jacob’s life of pairing, twinning, dividing, and doubling. What are some of the principal expressions of this theme in this episode (and in Genesis generally), and how do they advance the narrative?

5. While the Bible’s descriptions in Chapter 34 of the relations between Dinah and Shechem seem unusually specific and detailed, the commentators are not in agreement on the central issue of whether the text describes rape, seduction, infatuation, or (at least eventually) mutual love. What do you believe was the physical and emotional relationship between Dinah and Shechem?

6. The story in Chapter 34 begins with the disaster that befalls Dinah, but it ends with the disaster that befalls the Shechemites. What is your view of the morality of the actions and inactions of the various characters in the Dinah story (Dinah, Shechem, Hamor, Jacob, Leah, Shimon and Levy, the other brothers, and God)?  

7. Leah's life is traditionally read as if its major feature is the continuing sibling rivalry with Rachel. Looking at that rivalry, which sister ends up the winner?

8. The derash method of interpreting the Bible calls for searching the words of the text to discover their deeper theological or moral meanings, often revealed through connections to other words or events in the Bible. The peshat method of reading the Bible calls for the simple, literal reading of the words in their context. Do you think that the level of authority of derash reading is:

a. Equivalent to the authority of the peshat method of reading the biblical text;

b. Inferior to the authority of the peshat reading the biblical text, but derash reading may still be helpful in interpreting the intention of the text; or

c. When not logically required by the biblical text, the derash method lacks interpretive authority and should be considered only as extra-biblical literary invention.

9. The author makes several references to the principle of rabbinic interpretation that history unfolds measure for measure. Do you think this principle is still helpful today in reading the Bible? Is the principle helpful today in understanding how life works?

10. The author’s Conclusion (p. 187) begins with the statement: The Bible made Leah a Matriarch, but it took midrash to make her a heroine. Do you agree with this statement?