If Moshe led us out of Egypt, into Israel, and is a great man why isn't he considered a forefather?

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    The underlying question here is why we maintain as significant a "forefather" category. – Isaac Moses Apr 7 '11 at 1:16
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    Along with Moshe, is Aaron, David, and Yosef. – avi Jul 8 '11 at 15:50
  • ...and Solomon, Joshua, Gideon, Elazar... – Double AA Oct 26 '12 at 15:51
  • Just a guess here, but weren't the people of Moses' generation already referring to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as forefathers already, especially in their formulaic references to "G-d of my fathers" or "G-d of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob/Israel"? Another thing that comes to mind is the tribe of Dan's "son of Moses/Menassah"(the "suspended Nun" indicator) priestly line, which might possibly make Moses the forefather of an illegitimate priesthood that the Tanach writers didn't want to keep reminding the people of.... – Gary Jan 3 '16 at 4:03

The forefathers are the great grandparents of every single Jew, however Moshe is not the great grandfather of every single Jew.

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    I agree, but assuming that the avos are our forefathers, how would this apply to the imahos Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah? – Tzvi Apr 7 '11 at 0:32
  • Interesting enough there are places in Tanach where Rachel is referred to as the mother of all Yisrael and Leah as well. – Yahu Apr 7 '11 at 1:31
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    Since Bilha and Zilpa were the maidservants their children were considered the children of Rochel and Leah – Gershon Gold Apr 7 '11 at 1:49
  • @Yahu - Where are some places of these mentionings? – Adam Mosheh Jun 10 '12 at 22:59

The Talmud in Berachot 16b discusses the classification of "avot" and who is included and why others are not included:

ת"ר אין קורין אבות אלא לשלשה ואין קורין אמהות אלא לארבע אבות מאי טעמא אילימא משום דלא ידעינן אי מראובן קא אתינן אי משמעון קא אתינן אי הכי אמהות נמי לא ידעינן אי מרחל קא אתינן אי מלאה קא אתינן אלא עד הכא חשיבי טפי לא חשיבי

Our Rabbis taught: The term ‘patriarchs’ is applied only to three, and the term ‘matriarchs’ only to four. What is the reason? Shall we say because we do not know if we are descended from Reuben or from Simeon? But neither do we know in the case of the matriarchs whether we are descended from Rachel or from Leah! — [Rather the reason is] because up to this point they were particularly esteemed, from this point they were not so particularly esteemed. (Soncino translation)

Contrary to the other answers and comments, it would appear from the Talmud that the distinction between avot and non-avot is not genetic, but instead based on greatness.

Interestingly, there is a different text which does refer to Moshe (along with several others) as avot.

Derech Eretz Zuta 1:16

שבעה אבות כרותי ברית ואילו הן אברהם יצחק ויעקב משה ואהרן ופנחס ודוד המלך באברהם כתיב ביום ההוא כרת ה' את אברם ברית לאמר ביצחק כתיב ואת בריתי אקים את יצחק ביעקב כתיב וזכרתי את בריתי יעקב במשה כתיב כי על פי הדברים האלה כרתי אתך ברית באהרן כתיב ברית מלח עולם היא בפנחס כתיב ברית כהנת עולם בדוד כתיב כרתי ברית לבחירי נשבעתי לדוד עבדי

This would seem to be in contradiction to the Talmud.

R. Joshua Falk Lisser addressed this contradiction by noting a variant of the Talmudic text in the Minor Tractate Semachot 1:14.

אין קורין לאבות אבינו אלא לשלשה האבות ולא לאימהות אמנו אלא לארבע האמהות

He explains that the Talmud means merely that no one besides for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob get the title "avinu" (our father) after their name, but they can still be categorized as "avot" (fathers).

וקשה דבמסכת דרך ארץ זוטא סוף פ"א איתא ז' אבות וקחשיב בהדייהו משה אהרן פינחס דוד ויש לומר דהכא מדייק תיבת אבינו

However, Nachalat Yaakov states that the text in Semachot should be emended to conform to that of Berachot (thus rejecting the answer to the contradiction).

הלשון בהלכה זאת אינו מדוקדק אבל בגמרא דברכות שם גרסינן הכי אין קורין אבות אלא לשלשה דהיינו אברהם יצחק ויעקב ואין קורין אמהות אלא לארבע שרה רבקה רחל ולאה עכ"ל וכן ראויה להיות הכא

If it is indeed true, that the category of "avot" (or "avinu" according to the above reconciliation) is limited to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob due to their unmatched greatness, one could still ask why Moses did not make the cut. After all, it is generally accepted that Moses was Judaism's greatest individual ever, even surpassing the Patriarchs.

This question is in fact asked by R. Joseph Hayim of Baghdad in his commentary to the passage in Berachot. He states that the Torah records that Moses was the greatest prophet; he received the Torah from God; and according to R. Isaac Luria he had a greater soul than the patriarchs. Why then is he not called "avinu" like the Patriarchs?

R. Joseph Hayim answers that Moses is not actually excluded from the title of "avinu". Of course he was great enough to merit that title. However, he has an even greater title, that of "rabbeinu" (our teacher), so it would actually be selling his greatness short by calling him "avinu". That "rabbeinu" is a greater title than "avinu" is evident from Bava Metzia 33a where the law is that the lost object of one's teacher takes precedence over the lost object of one's father.

טפי לא חשיבי. י"ל והא איכא מרע"ה דכתיב ביה ולא קם נביא כמשה דאפילו האבות לא השיגו מדריגת נבואתו וזכה לעלות למרום וקבל תורה מהקב"ה וגם נשמתו היתה גדולה מן האבות כמ"ש רבינו האר"י בשער הגלגולים שהאבות זכו לרוח דאצילות אברהם מן חסד יצחק מן גבורה יעקב מן תפארת אבל מרע"ה זכה לבחינת נשמה דאצילות מן הבינה גם כתב שזכה לכל ששת אלפין דרגין דנשמתין כנז' בשער הפסוקים וגם במדרש וזאת הברכה דריש ואת עלית על כולנה על מרע"ה שיאמר לאברהם אני גדול ממך וכן ליצחק וכן ליעקב ואיך יתכן לומר דלא חשיב כאבות וא"כ למה לא נקרא אבינו כמו האבות זיע"א ונ"ל בס"ד דאה"ן מרע"ה חשיב טפי אך אין לו צורך בתואר אבינו כי הוא קים ליה בדרבא מיניה שקורין אותו רבינו ותואר רב עדיף מתואר אב דקי"ל אביו ורבו רבו קודם

  • Another answer one might suggest is that the avos and imahos were always recognized as such by everyone in the nation, while the other great leaders, even Moshe, had detractors, such as Korach. – Dov F Apr 27 '18 at 15:29
  • @DovF Interesting thought. – Alex Apr 27 '18 at 16:54

See Ohr Hatorah by the Tzemach Tzedek

There are only three fathers because they embodied three characteristics that all Jews have (as an inheritance from them, because they are the source of all Jewish souls). But we do not have the characteristics other Tzaddikim (even like Reuvain, Shimon, etc. from whom we descend)

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    But how does this square with the idea that Moshe is the "shepherd of faith" (רעיא מהימנא) for all Jews, and that every Jew's faculty of daas is connected to his (see Tanya, ch. 42)? – Alex Jul 6 '11 at 18:22

As Gershon stated, the forefathers are our physical ancestors as well as our spiritual founders. We could just say we have one forefather, Ya'akov, or we could say we have 12, his sons. Or we could trace back to his father, Yitzhak, who taught him his tradition. Or we could trace back to his father, Avraham, who established the tradition. It's better to go to the source.

In addition, sometimes "Avoth" is used in reference to everyone in the wilderness after the Exodus.

But I assume the question is why "Avoth" generally is referring to Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya'akov.

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