Patrilineal and Matrilineal Names
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Parsha Halacha/Parshat Shemot
When and Why We Use Our Father’s or Mother’s Names in Jewish Law and Custom
- Reuven alludes to the fact that G-d saw their pain and redeemed them. (Ra’a means “see”)
- Shimon refers to the fact that G-d heard their outcry and remembered his covenant to redeem them. (Shama means hear.)
- Levi alludes to the fact that G-d was connected to them during their pain, as we find that G-d appeared to Moshe in a burning bush to indicate that He, too, was suffering. (Levi means to accompany.)
- Yehudah alludes to the fact that the Jewish people praised G-d when He redeemed them. (Hoda’a means “praise.”)
- Yissachar alludes to the fact that G-d repaid them for their years of hard labor by giving them spoils in Egypt and spoils at the sea. (Sachar means “reward.”)
- Zevulun alludes to the fact that after the exodus, the Jewish people built the Mishkan, a dwelling place for G-d. (Zevul means “dwelling place.”)
- Binyamin because G-d used His right hand to smite our enemies. (Yamin means “right.”)
- Dan because G-d judged (and punished) the nation that oppressed us. (Dan means “to judge.”)
- Naftali because G-d gave us the Torah which is sweeter than honey. (Nofet means (“dripping honey.”)
- Gad because G-d gave us the Manna which resembled coriander seed. (Gad means “coriander.”)
- Asher because all the nations of the world will acknowledge the exodus of the Jewish people. (Asher means “acknowledge.”)
- Yosef because very soon G-d will once again redeem us from this exile just as He redeemed the Jewish people from Egypt. (Yosef means “to add.”)
- When calling someone to the Torah
- When signing a document. This has basis in the Talmud where it says that witnesses would write “Ish Ploni ben Ish Ploni – so and so, son of such a man” when signing a document.
- When mentioning family members at a Mi Shebeirach after an Aliyah, it is customary to use the father’s name as well.
- When writing a Ketubah (marriage) or Get (divorce) document, one uses the father’s name.  This applies to both the chattan and the kallah (bride and groom).
- When engraving a name on a tombstone.
- When praying for a refuah (recovery) of an ill person. In fact, the Talmud saysthat “regarding all matters of incantations, one should use the mother’s name.” Similarly, the Zohar points out that King David prayed to G-d while referring to himself as “the son of Your maidservant.”
- The same applies whenever praying for someone else (e.g. that they should find a Shidduch, have children etc).
- The identity of one’s mother is 100% verifiable unlike the identity of one’s father. When praying, one should always use language that is one hundred percent true.
- Some question this interpretation since it is disrespectful to suggest that one’s father is not their actual father.
- When praying for someone in this world there are always accusations against the person emanating from Divine judgment. It is therefor appropriate to mention the mothers’ name as women too are associated with Divine judgment. This will scare the accusers and they too will agree to the prayer being uttered.
- In the formation of every baby, it is the mother that provides nearly all the physical matter from which the child is formed while the father’s contribution gives form to the matter that develops. It is therefor appropriate that, when praying for a live person who is made of physical body mostly provided by his mother, one should pray using the mother’s name.
- It is better to mention the mother’s rather than the father’s name as mentioning the father’s name may cause Divine judgment to be rendered due to the father’s sins. It is likely that the mother has less sins then the father for the following reasons:
- Women are not commanded to keep time bound positive mitzvot and are therefor not liable for not observing them,
- Women are not commanded to study Torah. Since men are commanded to study Torah during every spare moment, it is likely that they have sinned (at least somewhat) in this respect.
- Men can have the sin of keri (wasted seed) whereas women cannot sin in this manner.
- Regarding matters of the next world we follow the Torah’s ruling which accepts the concept of rov (majority). Based on this principle, the identity of the father is considered to be absolutely true.
- In the next world there are less forces of evil and accusing angels (see above).
- Since the person has passed away we are no longer praying for the body which came (mostly) from the mother but, rather, for the soul. In addition, after the body decays, the one thing that remains is a small bone from which G-d will resurrect us. The Talmud says that the bones come from the father, so we mention his name.
- Calling by Name
- An Apostate Father (r”l)
- An Unknown Father
- Calling Up One’s Father for an Aliyah