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Why is a sick individual’s mother’s name always mentioned in prayer?

by Mrs. Dinka Kumer

  

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When praying for a person who is ill, his or her Hebrew name is mentioned along with his/her mother’s name. For example, “Avraham ben (the son of) Sarah” or “Rachel bat (the daughter of) Sarah.”

The main reason for mentioning the mother and not the father of the ill person is the verse, "bring salvation to the son of Your maidservant,"1 which specifies the mother.

Another reason for specifying the mother is because we can be sure who the person’s mother is, whereas the father’s identity is never unquestionable. Obviously when praying for someone’s life, we do not want to confuse his/her identity through using mistaken lineage. Another related reason is that a Jew’s spiritual essence is inherited via his or her mother (whereas the father determines tribal association). When we pray for someone’s life, we want to emphasize their essential and eternal link to G-d, as derived from their mother’s side.

A Jew’s spiritual essence is inherited via his or her mother. When we pray for someone’s life, we want to emphasize their essential and eternal link to G-d, as derived from their mother’s side
According to Jewish teachings, the primary physical features of a child come from the mother, whereas the main spiritual traits are from the father. This also explains why when praying for physical well-being, we mention someone’s mother [and when praying for soul, as in the case of a departed person, we pray mentioning the father’s name.]

Another reason: Since we are beseeching Heaven for mercy, we want to bring as little critical attention to the sick person as possible. Since women have less Mitzvah obligations, thus lowering their likelihood to sin, it is usually less spiritually incriminating to mention a person’s mother.

In a case when the person’s mother’s name is entirely unknown, the ill person’s name should be appended with “…ben (or bat) Sarah,” referring to the matriarch Sarah, who is the mother of all Jewish people. If the mother’s non-Jewish name is known, however, it should be mentioned, as in “…ben (or bat) Elizabeth.”

May we only need pray for continued good health for us all!

Footnotes

  • 1. Psalms 116:6.

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COMMENTS

praying for a sick person

Posted by: Shelly Iltis on Jun 28, 2006

I am a little confused by the statement that one's spiritual essence is derived from the mother; and at the same time that the main spiritual traits are from the father. Other than this, the answer was superb! My sister and I thank you!

Editor's Comment

See "Does Judaism follow paterilineal or matrilineal descent?" (http://www.askmoses.com/article.html?h=174&o=2063982).

RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Prayer » Laws and Customs
Miscellaneous » Health Issues » Halachah for the Ill

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Sarah
First Jewess, first of the four Jewish Matriarchs, wife of Abraham--the first Jew. Lived in Mesopotamia, and then Canaan, in the 19th century BCE.
Rachel
Third of the four Jewish matriarchs. Daughter of Laban, favorite wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Died while giving birth to Benjamin in 1557 BCE.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.