In Ivanhoe, Rebecca and Rowena are intentionally set up as foils. Rowena is a Saxon Christian and Rowena is Jewish; Rowena is a noblewoman while Rowena is the daughter of a merchant; Rowena is fair-haired while Rebecca's hair is dark. These differences are ironically further highlighted by the similarities the two women share. Both are loyal to the people they love and both are considered very beautiful, inspiring passionate feelings in the men around them. Most significantly, both are in love with Ivanhoe, though in the end it is Rowena who obtains his hand in marriage.
Historically, readers' affections have tended to gravitate towards Rebecca as opposed to Rowena. The ultimate contrast between the two women comes in Rebecca's greater dimension as a character. Being a Jewish woman in a hostile Christian society, she is already an underdog compared to the aristocratic Rowena. She also gets more opportunities to show strength of character. She stays firm in the face of religious persecution, refusing to give up her Judaism even when threatened with burning at the stake, and she handles her hopeless love for Ivanhoe with restraint and maturity. While Rowena is allowed a moment of inner strength in resisting an unwanted arranged marriage, Rebecca simply receives more development and emerges as a heroic figure in her own right as opposed to the more passive Rowena.