Portuguese sketch. The English name used is either Issachar or Yissachar. The open book in the center of the image depicts the tribe's devotion to Torah study.

Issachar/Yissachar (Hebrew: יִשָּׂשכָר, Modern Yissakhar, Tiberian Yiśśāḵār; "reward; recompense") was, according to the Book of Exodus, a son of Jacob and Leah (the fifth son of Leah, and ninth son of Jacob), and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Issachar; however some Biblical scholars view this as postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation.[1]

The text of the Torah gives two different etymologies for the name of Issachar, which some textual scholars attribute to different sources - one to the Yahwist and the other to the Elohist;[2] the first being that it derives from ish sakar, meaning man of hire, in reference to Leah's hire of Jacob's sexual favours for the price of some mandrakes;[3] the second being that it derives from yesh sakar, meaning there is a reward, in reference to Leah's opinion that the birth of Issachar was a divine reward for giving her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob as a concubine.[4] Scholars suspect the former explanation to be the more likely name for a tribe, though some scholars have proposed a third etymology - that it derives from ish Sokar, meaning man of Sokar, in reference to the tribe originally worshipping Sokar, an Egyptian deity.[5]

The second consonant of Yissachar was originally the shin of ish, creating the pronunciation Yish-sakar. The third consonant is the sin of sakar or sakir. The shin has merged into the sin, creating the pronunciation Yissachar. Some customs pronounce both the second and third consonants as sin and read the name as Yissas’char, either on all or some occasions.[6]

In the Biblical account, Leah's status as the first wife of Jacob is regarded by biblical scholars as indicating that the authors saw the tribe of Issachar as being one of the original Israelite groups;[5] however, this may have been the result of a typographic error, as the names of Issachar and Naphtali appear to have changed places elsewhere in the text,[7] and the birth narrative of Issachar and Naphtali is regarded by textual scholars as having been spliced together from its sources in a manner which has highly corrupted the narrative.[2][1] A number of scholars think that the tribe of Issachar actually originated as the Shekelesh group of Sea Peoples[8][9] - the name Shekelesh can be decomposed as men of the Shekel in Hebrew, a meaning synonymous with man of hire (ish sakar);[9] scholars believe that the memory of such non-Israelite origin would have led to the Torah's authors having given Issachar a handmaiden as a matriarch.[1]

In classical rabbinical literature, it is stated that Issachar was born on the fourth of Av, and lived 122 years.[5] According to the midrashic Book of Jasher, Issachar married Aridah, the younger daughter of Jobab, a son of Joktan; the Torah states that Issachar had four sons, who were born in Canaan and migrated with him to Egypt,[10] with their descendants remaining there until the Exodus.[11] The midrashic Book of Jasher portrays Issachar as somewhat pragmatic, due to his strong effort in being more learned, less involved with other matters which led him to such actions like taking a feeble part in military campaigns involving his brothers, and generally residing in strongly fortified cities and, depending on his brother Zebulun's financial support in return for a share in the spiritual reward he gains.[5]

The Talmud argues that Issachar's description in the Blessing of Jacob - Issachar is a strong ass lying down between two burdens: and he saw that settled life was good, and the land was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute[12] - is a reference to the religious scholarship of the tribe of Issachar, though scholars feel that it may more simply be a literal interpretation of Issachar's name.[7]

In popular culture

There's a minor Jewish character in Voltaire's Candide who goes by the name "Don Issachar".

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Peake's commentary on the Bible
  2. 1 2 Richard Elliott Friedman, Who wrote the bible?
  3. Genesis 30:16
  4. Genesis 30:18
  5. 1 2 3 4 Jewish Encyclopedia
  6. Jewish Bible Quarterly: Rewarding a mitzvah - The etymology of Issachar
  7. 1 2 Jewish Encyclopedia, Tribe of Issachar
  8. Yigael Yadin And Dan, Why Did He Remain in Ships
  9. 1 2 Sandars, N.K. The Sea Peoples. Warriors of the ancient Mediterranean, 1250-1150 BC. Thames & Hudson,1978
  10. Genesis 46:13
  11. book of Exodus
  12. Genesis 49:14-15

External links

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