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Genesis 24:59

So they sent away Rebecca their sister and her nurse and Abraham's servant and his men.

וַיְשַׁלְּח֛וּ אֶת־רִבְקָ֥ה אֲחֹתָ֖ם וְאֶת־מֵֽנִקְתָּ֑הּ וְאֶת־עֶ֥בֶד אַבְרָהָ֖ם וְאֶת־אֲנָשָֽׁיו:‏

In what way is the nurse in this passage a nurse of Rebecca? Was this nurse a nurse who nursed (or was nursing) Rebecca? Was Rebecca in this passage still being weaned or nursed? Was this nurse to help Rebecca with Rebecca's future children? Was this nurse a shiphcha, just as the Torah refers to Hagar, Bilhah and Zilpah as such? What do the pre-rabbinic and/or rabbinic authorities say?

  • Cf. Bereishis 35:8 where she’s named as Devorah (in the context of her death). – DonielF Aug 9 at 23:15
  • Who qualifies as pre-rabbinic sources to satisfy your inquiry? – user6591 Aug 10 at 1:58
  • @user6591 any pre-rabbinic sources, like before 2,000 years ago. – ninamag Aug 10 at 7:32
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We later find out that this nurse was called Devorah as we learn about her death in Bereishis 35:38. The pasuk over there expressly calls her the nurse of Rivka.

It would make sense to assume that she was sent at the time to care for Rivka, owing to the fact that Rivka got married at such a young age. Indeed the Targum Yonasan translates the word 'מֵֽנִקְתָּ֑הּ' - 'nurse' as פַּדְגְוָותָהּ stemming from the word 'pedagogy', meaning to say that her role was that of an educator. Moreover, this relationship was one of care and not of servitude like that of a 'shifcha' - maidservant like you ask. The Shadal writes on the pasuk 24:59:

מנקתה: בימים הקדמונים (ראב"ע), ונראה שהיו המיניקות נשארות בבתי העשירים אצל יונקותיהן (גם אחר שגדלו) באהבה ורעות, ולא שלחו המינקת לשמשה כשפחה, כי כבר שלחו עמה גם נערותיה (פסוק ס"א).

Her nurse: In the early days, it appears that nurses remained in the houses of the wealthy by their infants (even after they grew up) with love and friendship. And they didn't send the nurses to serve like maidservants because they had already sent with her her lads.

So it would seem from this explanation that she definitely was not serving in a 'shifcha' capacity but rather maintained an ongoing relationship with Rivka by virtue of being hired by a wealthy home.

This loyalty continued to the end of her life. If we return to the pasuk that I started with in which the Torah quotes her death. Rashi tells us:

ותמת דבורה. מָה עִנְיַן דְּבוֹרָה בְּבֵית יַעֲקֹב? אֶלָּא לְפִי שֶׁאָמְרָה רִבְקָה לְיַעֲקֹב וְשָׁלַחְתִּי וּלְקַחְתִּיךָ מִשָּׁם, שָׁלְחָה דְבוֹרָה אֶצְלוֹ לְפַדַּן אֲרָם לָצֵאת מִשָּׁם, וּמֵתָה בַדֶּרֶךְ; מִדִּבְרֵי רַבִּי מֹשֶׁה הַדַּרְשָׁן לְמַדְתִּיהָ:

AND DEBORAH DIED — How came Deborah to be in Jacob’s house? But the explanation is: because Rebékah had promised Jacob (Gen. 27:45) “then I will send and fetch thee from thence”, she sent Deborah to him to Padan-aram to tell him to leave that place, and she died on the return journey I learnt this from a comment of R. Moses Ha-darshan. (sefaria translation)

So Rivka after sending Yaakov away from home to flee an enraged Eisav, is now fulfilling her promise to notify Yaakov that the time was now right for him to return home (Also refer to the Chizkuni). Hence, the ever dutiful Devorah right to the end, is in the service of Rivka as she and the household of Yaakov make their return to her mistress Rivka.

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  • +1 for your answer. A related follow-up, which I could make as a new question, is: were the "maidens" of Rebekah schifchot or pileg'shim to Isaac (regardless whether he consummated with them or not)? Rebekah's maidens are found in Bereishit 24:61 chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8219/showrashi/true – ninamag Aug 10 at 7:38
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To complement Dov's answer, this page quotes two divrei Torah on the subject, the first from R' Yissocher Frand and the second from R' Azarya Berzon (although I have a vague memory of reading, in one of Rav Frand's books, something akin to that second one).

Key points from the first one:

Yaakov was most reluctant to leave the house of Yitzchak and Rivka... Rivka promised "I will take you back and I will restore to you what you lost spiritually in the years you were away."

To accomplish such a mission, one cannot send a young kid. On such a mission, one must send a "great grandmother." To restore the idea of what the House of Yitzchak was like in Yaakov's mind, it was necessary to send someone from the older generation. The person who grew up in yesteryear presents an untarnished image. They come from the "old home." Unlike the "younger generation," they represent "the way it is supposed to be."

and from the second:

Apparently, there was an underground movement in Charan which preached Avraham's morality and circulated his teachings. Rivka belonged to that movement... But who was the leader? Who was the teacher?

The leader was Devorah...

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  • which authority did R' Frand and R' Berzon source their response? – ninamag Aug 10 at 17:26
  • @ninamag The first one is quoted in the name of R' Dov Weinberger (I'm guessing this one, although I have no idea). The second one doesn't cite a source. – Meir Aug 10 at 18:39

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