The image of God as a father is a common one in Judaism, found in such well-known prayers as the ancient Avinu Malkeynu (“Our Father, Our King”)—and even more common in Christianity. Yet in the Hebrew Bible, and in later Jewish texts, the Almighty is also likened to a mother. Malka Simkovich observes:
This image of God as mother extends through biblical tradition as a way to highlight the mystery of God’s attachment to Israel. Later, images of motherhood are applied to Zion and to Jerusalem, though in a very different way. And later still, the rabbis ascribed to themselves the status of motherhood by way of their work as Torah teachers. They believed that such teaching was a life-giving act which guaranteed the survival of the Jewish people. In other words, from ancient times to the early Common Era, the experience of motherhood was central to the understanding of what it meant to be a Jew.
Some biblical authors home in on the image of God specifically as a nursing mother. The author of Isaiah 49, for example, has God say to the Judeans, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (49:15). The writer of this verse understood that a nursing mother and her child are bonded by the mother’s unconditional love and by the child’s utter dependence. God’s unconditional love, the prophet asserts, goes even beyond that of a nursing mother. Because God has promised to maintain this bond and protect the people, Israel can call upon God to help in times of crisis. As mother, God is accountable, compassionate, protective, powerful, and bound to her children through love.