Yisrael, Yaaqov and Beis Yaaqov
Someone asked on soc.culture.jewish:
Today in my Women In Hebrew Bible class we talked about how Yaakov (Jacob) was renamed Yisrael (Israel). This was a way of redeeming him of all his past trickery. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Yaakov. He is, after all, my favorite Patriarch. But he was quite a sneaky fellow in his young life….
She then repeats the argument that it was therefore appropriate that the institution was called “Beis Yaakov” rather than “Beis Yisrael”, since they had to trick the guys into letting them have an education. First, I can’t help but note the sad state of education this represents. I hope it is not typical of what goes on as non-Orthodox adult education. But to get to the point…
Here’s my reply, from the same forum. Others already quoted the pasuq “ko somar leveis Yaaqov vesagid livnei Yisrael — so you shall say to the House of Jacob, and instruct the Children of Israel”, which our Sages (as quoted by Rashi) interpret as gently telling (tomar) the women (Beis Yaaqov) and using “words as tough as sinews (gidin)” (tagid) to the men (Benei Yisrael). So I began simply by summarizing the point.
The sages understood the term “vesomeir leveis Yaaqov” as a commandment to Moses to teach something to the women of his generation. Seems like a pretty solid argument.
Then, in reply to the last sentence quoted in particular:
In much the same way Abraham had to go through the Aqeida (the Binding of Isaac). Jacob’s natural inclination was to be honest, a deep pursuit of truth. As the prophet begs, “Give truth to Jacob, lovingkindness to Abraham, as You promised in days of old.” Look how Isaac’s fatherly blindness kept him from seeing Esau’s faults. In comparison to Javob, who identified the strength and uniqueness of each of his sons, and blessed (or cautioned) each accordingly. Might be why Jacob produced 12 keepers of the covenant, whereas Abraham and Isaac each failed with one of their sons. (But did Abraham fail? Ishmael, in the end, repented. But only after mis-raising his own children.)
Israel is the name of the Image of Man carved on the Divine Throne (as described in Ezekiel). After their all-night battle the angel calls Jacob “Israel”, meaning the one on the course spiritually upward, on the road toward that idealization. (And the human ideal is a road, not a final state…)
The renaming is not the redemption of a trickster, but G-d acknowledging that Jacob broke through that level, passed the test, and was ready to establish the Kingdom of Priests.
If anything, calling a girl’s school “Beis Yaakov” would imply that they are teaching a group of potential Images of G-d, who are still the custom there. works in progress. Pretty much true for any school.