The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Ooman/Wikimedia)

Who Are the Patriarchs and Matriarchs?

The forefathers and foremothers of the Jewish people.

The Patriarchs, or avot (אבות) in Hebrew, refers to three generations of foundational figures in the Book of Genesis and Jewish tradition: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The Matriarchs, or imahot (אמהות) in Hebrew, refers to the Torah’s four foundational women: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

Abraham and Sarah were the parents of Isaac, who, with Rebecca parented Jacob. With his two wives Rachel and Leah (and two handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah), Jacob fathered 12 sons and at least one daughter. Of his sons, Rachel gave birth to two: Joseph and Benjamin. The 12 sons would go on to form the 12 Tribes of Israel. Israel is the name Jacob is given after he wrestles with an angel.

The Patriarchs are traditionally invoked in the first blessing of the Amidah prayer; many prayer books also invoke the Matriarchs at this time.

The three Patriarchs, and all but one (Rachel) of the Matriarchs, are believed to be buried at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a city in the southern West Bank (a region also known as Judea). The site is also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs or Cave of Machpelah and — to Muslims — as the Sanctuary of Abraham. It is holy to Muslims, as well as to Jews, and a synagogue and mosque are both located there.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs has been a flashpoint for violence between Israelis and Palestinians at numerous times, most famously in 1994 when Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli Jew, opened fire on Muslim worshipers there, killing 29 people.


Discover More

The Amidah

Moving from praise to petition to thanksgiving, the Amidah inculcates a sense of connection to God.

The 12 Tribes

All of Jacob's sons.

Why Jews By Choice are Sons of Abraham and Daughters of Sarah

When called to the Torah, converts get a special lineage.