Project Genesis

Jewish History

Biblical History

The Names of Yisro

Question: Why did Moses’ father-in-law have three names?

Answer: If “chosen” means “in-law”, and not specifically “father-in-law”, there’s no need to assume that one person had three different names. Reuel was priest of Midian when Moses arrived, and Moses married his daughter, but Yeser was head of the family when Moses asked his permission to return to Egypt. Yisro (a variant spelling of Yeser) brought Moses’ wife and children to him at Mount Sinai; by that time he was priest of Midian. Hovav, (another) son of Reuel, stayed for a while, and Moses asked him to guide the Jews in the desert, which he apparently declined to do. On the other hand, it’s perfectly possible that Reuel was also called Yeser/Yisro; we know of several people who had two names, including Sarah/Yiscah, Yaakov/Yisroel, Esau’s wives, and many of Jacob’s grandchildren.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Shreiber

1 Follow-up »

  1. What is the meaning of the word יִתְרוֹ (Jethro) as it appears in Torah? Is it the same as Yeser? and the meaning of Yisro? Where this last name came from? In Shemos it only appears Jethro. Maybe what’s important is not if he was or not only one person, but the meaning of the words.

    Yesser and Yisro both mean that which is added. He was called Yesser (in other places in the Torah) because G-d added a section of the Torah because of him. Yisro, because he added many good deeds (Perhaps Yisro is plural?).
    The Torah gives names to people in order to define their essence. It is possible that nobody actually ever called him Yesser or Reuel, etc. I’m sure everyone called Moshe by the name Moshe. He is called other names in the Midrash because those names defined part of his essence even though he probably wasn’t called those other names in real life.
    Rabbi Meir Goldberg

    Comment by ATR — April 10, 2006 @ 10:42 pm

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