Non-Traditional Biblical Families

At the end of this lesson, participants will be able to recognize various types of family dynamics and structures that exist in the Tanakh, design a family tree that articulates various aspects of their family including various ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, etc, and identify ways that their families are similar to and different from those of their peers.

September 9, 2013

By Rabbi Rachel Ackerman

Non-Traditional Biblical Families

Author: Rachel Ackerman
Content Area: Families and Parenting, Jewish Values
Grades: 9th-12th grade


  • To give participants an opportunity to explore what makes their family unique.
  • To expose participants to the wide variety of family structures that exist.

Objectives: At the end of this lesson, participants will be able to…

  • recognize various types of family dynamics and structures that exist in the TaNaKH.
  • design a family tree that articulates various aspects of their family including various ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, etc.
  • identify ways that their families are similar to and different from those of their peers.


  • One copy of each of biblical text posted around the room (below)
  • Tape
  • 11×17 inch or larger sheets of paper
  • Pens/pencils
  • Markers
  • Journals

1.) Families in the Bible
15 minutes

The facilitator should tape the biblical texts of family situations, dynamics, and make-ups around the room. The facilitator should give the participants a few minutes to meander the room quietly to read the different family situations. The facilitator should then instruct the participants to sit down by one that surprised them the most and/or one with which they feel that they most closely identify.

The facilitator should ask the following questions, giving time between each for the groups to discuss:

  • Why did you choose this text?
  • Was there anything about this text that surprised you?
  • Was there anything about this text with which you find yourself identifying?
  • Do you think that this text has any application to contemporary life?

2) Me and My Family
Me and My Family
10 minutes

The facilitator should have everyone gather in a circle. The facilitator can stand in the middle of the circle or be a part of the circle and stand with everyone else. The facilitator explains that the following activity is a silent activity. The only actions or movements are a step inside the circle. The facilitator will read a statement and if anyone who is part of the circle agrees they step in the circle. After everyone gets a moment to look around and see who is standing inside the circle and who is standing outside the facilitator says, “Step back into the circle,” and then proceeds to the next statement.

A suggested list of statements is as follows:

  1. I have a family.
  2. I have an extended family.
  3. Sometimes my family drives me crazy.
  4. I have siblings.
  5. I have siblings that I always get along with.
  6. I have siblings who I fight with often.
  7. I love my family.
  8. Someone in my family is adopted.
  9. I have a family member who is not straight.
  10. I am familiar with the phrase LGBT.
  11. Someone in my family is gay.
  12. Someone in my family is a lesbian.
  13. Someone in my family is bisexual.
  14. Someone in my family is transgender (born one gender and identifies as another).
  15. Someone in my family is intersex (born with both male and female gender traits).
  16. Someone who I live with is gay, lesbian, transgender, or inter-sex.
  17. Not everyone in my immediate family is Jewish.
  18. Sometimes when talking about families I feel excluded.
  19. Not everyone in my family has the same ethnic background.
  20. Everyone in my family is from the same racial background.
  21. Someone close to me has died.
  22. One of my family members has died.
  23. Someone in my immediate family has died.
  24. I am part of a “nuclear” family.
  25. I am part of a “non-nuclear” family.
  26. Someone who is not in my immediate family lives with me.
  27. I live with someone who is not part of my immediate family.
  28. My parents are divorced.
  29. I have one or more step-parents.
  30. I have one or more step-siblings.
  31. I have one or more half-siblings.
  32. My mom is a lesbian.
  33. My dad is gay.
  34. I am surprised that some people did or did not step in during certain statements.
  35. There are people here with whom I have things in common that I didn’t know about before.
  36. I admitted something about myself during this activity that I have not expressed to this group before.
  37. I feel safe.
  38. I feel uncomfortable.
  39. I have a lot of questions.
  40. I feel comfortable.
  41. I feel like I can be honest in this group.

3) Journal Entry
10 minutes
Give participants ten minutes to spread out with their journals and respond to the following  prompt (below):

Was there anything about this activity that made you uncomfortable? What was it and why were you uncomfortable? Did you find yourself “admitting” something to the group that you have never expressed to people in this group before? How did that feel? Was there anything that you did not feel comfortable being honest about in this activity? Were you honest? Why or why not?

4) Family Trees
25 minutes

The facilitator should instruct the participants to design a family tree using a large piece of paper and markers, pens, or pencils. This family tree can be designed in any way the participants wish to design it. On their family tree, participants should include, to the best of their ability, age, gender, death, illness, marital status, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, professions, and any other distinct characteristics about the individuals on their family tree. The people on it may include biological and non-biological family, immediate and extended family, pets, and other important people. The family trees will be used in the next lesson.


Bible Text 1:

…[A]nd when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him.

-Genesis 4:8


The first act of murder in the bible is a brother killing his own brother.


Bible Text 2:

Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham, playing.
She said to Abraham, “Cast out that slave- woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
The matter distressed Abraham greatly, for it concerned a son of his.
But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed over the boy or your slave; whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you. As for the son of the slave- woman, I will make a nation of him, too, for he is your seed.”

-Genesis 21:9-13


 Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac was the son of his wife, Sarah, and Ishmael was the son of his wife’s maidservant, Hagar. God tells Abraham to listen to his wife and send Ishmael and Hagar away. Abraham does this.


Bible Text 3:

Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test. [God] said to him, “Abraham.” And he answered, “Here I am.”
And [God] said, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.”
So early next morning, Abraham saddled his donkey and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and he set out for the place of which God had told him.

-Genesis 22:1-3


God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Abraham listens. Along the way, Isaac asks Abraham where the sheep for the offering is. Abraham tells Isaac that God will provide it, choosing not to tell Isaac that Isaac himself is the intended sacrifice. In the end, and angel of God tells Abraham not to sacrifice his son. After this incident, Isaac and Abraham are never recorded as speaking to each other again.


Bible Text 4:

Isaac pleaded with Adonai on behalf of his wife [Rebecca], because she was barren; and Adonai responded to his plea, and his wife conceived.
But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, “If so, why do I exist?”
She went to inquire of Adonai and Adonai answered her, “Two nations are in your womb,
Two separate people shall issue from your body;
One people shall be mightier than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.”

-Genesis 25:21-23


The twins inside of Rebecca’s womb are Jacob and Esau. Their rivalry begins in the womb and continues throughout their lives. Jacob tricks Esau into selling him his birthright and later pretends to be Esau in order to receive Esau’s blessing from their father Isaac, who has gone blind. Rebecca instructs Jacob to run away for his own safety.


Bible Text 5:

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is fulfilled, that I may cohabit with her.”
And Laban gathered all the people of the place and made a feast. When evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to him; and he cohabited with her.
Laban had given his maidservant Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her maid.
When morning came, there was Leah!
So he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I was in your service for Rachel! Why did you deceive me?”
Laban said, “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older. Wait until the bridal week of this one is over and we will give you that one too, provided you serve me another seven years.”
Jacob did so; he waited out the bridal week of the one, and then he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife.
Laban had given his maidservant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid.
And Jacob cohabited with Rachel also; indeed, he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served him another seven years.

-Genesis 29:21-30


After Jacob runs away from home (to flee from Esau’s wrath) he meets Rachel, his uncle’s daughter, and falls in love with her. His uncle, Laban, promised Jacob he could marry Rachel if he worked for him for seven years. After the seven years, Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Rachel’s sister, Leah. Only after seven more years of servitude was he allowed to marry Rachel.


Bible Text 6:

A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him.
The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the Nile, while her maidens walked along the Nile. She spied the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it.
When she opened it, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying.
She took pity on it and said, “This must be a Hebrew child.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child for you?”
And Pharaoh’s daughter answered, “Yes.”
So the girl went and called the child’s mother.
And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will pay your wages.”
So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, who made him her son. She named him Moses, explaining, I drew him out of the water.”

-Exodus 2:1-10


For the first part of Moses’ life, he is raised Egyptian.


Bible Text 7: 

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters.
They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock; but shepherds came and drove them off. Moses rose to their defense, and he watered their flock.
When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?”
They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.”
He said to his daughters, “Where is he then? Why did you leave the man? Ask him in to break bread.”
Moses consented to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah as wife. She bore a son whom he named Gershom, for he said, “I have been a stranger in foreign land.”

-Exodus 2:16-22


Rather than marrying an Israelite, Moses married Zipporah, a Midianite.


Bible Text 8:

Jonathan, out of his love for David, adjured him again, for he loved him as himself.

-I Samuel 20:17


Some suggest that the love between Jonathan and David was not a love of friendship, but a romantic love.


Bible Text 9:


They broke into weeping again, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law farewell. But Ruth clung to her.
So she said, “See, your sister-in-law [Orpah] has returned to her people and her gods. Go follow your sister-in-law.”
But Ruth replied, “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus and more may Adonai do to me if anything but death parts me from you.”
When [Naomi] saw how determined she was to go with her, she ceased to argue with her; and the two went on until they reached Bethlehem.

-Ruth 1:14-18


Some say that Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in- law expressed through her statement “For wherever you go…” is the first example of a conversion. Others say that Ruth is not converting, but is willing to sacrifice much and follow the ways of her mother-in-law. Still others view the relationship as a romantic one.


Bible Text 10:

So Boaz married Ruth; she became his wife, and he cohabited with her. Adonai let her conceive, and she bore a son.
And the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be Adonai, who has not withheld a redeemer from you today! May his name be perpetuated in Israel! He will renew your life and sustain your old age; for he is born of your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons.” Naomi took the child and held it to her bosom. She became its foster mother, and the women neighbors gave him a name, saying, “A son is born to Naomi!”
They named him Obed; he was the father of Jesse, father of David.

-Ruth 4:13-17


The son of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth’s second husband) becomes Naomi’s foster child.


Bible Text 11:

In the fortress Shushan lived a Jew by the name of Mordechai, son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. [Kish] had been exiled from Jerusalem in the group that was carried into exile along with King Jeconiah of Judah which had been driven into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He was foster father to Hadassah—that is, Esther—his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The maiden was shapely and beautiful; and when her father and mother died, Mordechai adopted her as his own daughter.

-Esther 2:5-7


Mordechai takes his cousin, Esther, in as his daughter after her parents die.