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QUESTION: I recently attended a lecture where the speaker discussed great Jewish women in history. He specifically singled out the biblical heroine Rahab who, he said, married the great leader and prophet Joshua.
I had previously heard that Rahab was a woman of ill repute, a harlot, who surely was not suitable for a righteous person like Joshua. Also, when Rahab is mentioned (Joshua ch. 2), there is no indication that she married Joshua. How do we know it?
Sandy Hart
(Via e-mail)
ANSWER: Last week we noted that Targum Yonatan, Rashi and Radak all mention that Rahab’s description as isha zona might refer to one who feeds people, an inkeeper.We also quoted Tractate Megilla (14b), where R. Nahman concludes from the juxtaposition of two sets of verses (in Joshua and in II Kings) that the prophetess Hulda was descended from both Joshua and Rahab.

We concluded with a question. Rahab was a member of one of the Seven Canaanite nations whom we were commanded to destroy. How was Joshua allowed to let her live, let alone marry her?

* * *


The prohibition against marrying someone from one of the seven Canaanite nations is found in Parashat VaEt’chanan (Deuteronomy 7:3): “Velo tit’chaten bam, bit’cha lo titen li[b]eno u[b]ito lo tikach li[b]necha – You shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son, nor shall you take his daughter for your son.” That is what Moshe commanded the Children of Israel regarding the seven nations.

We find in the Gemara (Yevamot 76a) a discussion of the Mishna’s ruling that a petzua dakka (one with crushed testicles) or cherut shofcha (a severed member) may marry a convert or an emancipated slavewoman, and they are only prohibited from marrying within the congregation. R. Sheshet was asked: May a Kohen who is a petzua dakka marry a convert or an emancipated slavewoman (women whom a priest is forbidden to marry)? The issue is whether he retains his status of kehuna and therefore he may not marry them, or do we say that due to his condition he has lost that level of sanctity and may marry them?

R. Sheshet answered: It was taught in a baraita that an Israelite who is a petzua dakka may marry a netinah (a descendant of the Gibeonites – as Rashi s.v. netinah explains). If the petzua dakka retains his state of sanctity (as an Israelite), shouldn’t the prohibition of “lo tit’chaten bam” apply? Thus, this serves also as evidence that the Kohen does not retain his priestly sanctity.

Rava disagrees and says that we may not marry them, and if one does marry them he violates a commandment because of the possibility that he might beget a son who will worship idols. That would apply in situations of idol worshipping societies. This assumes that when they convert, they are biblically permitted to marry, but the Sages still decreed against marrying them even after they convert.

However, the Sages’ decree applied only to those who were able to beget children. Since the petzua dakka could not beget children, the Sages did not issue the decree against them.

The Gemara counters that if this is so, then a mamzer who is able to beget children should be prohibited from marrying a netinah as well. But didn’t we learn in a Mishna (Kiddushin 69a) that mamzerim and netinim are allowed to marry each other? Rava explains that the Sages’ decree applies only to Jews who are fit (kesherim), but to Jews who are unfit – such as mamzerim – the decree is not applicable.

This is the initial understanding of Rava, but the Gemara concludes that Rava later admitted that he was incorrect in stating that they can intermarry with us when they convert. Before they convert the marriage is invalid anyway. It is clear that a level of sanctity (whether of a Kohen or an Israelite) is lost with such a marriage, and therefore it is prohibited.

Rambam (Hilchot Isurei Biah 12:22-23), based on the Gemara’s (Yevamot 79a-b) conclusion, rules that “he or she who has converted from among the seven nations is not biblically forbidden to enter the congregation [through marriage]. It is well known that the only ones among them who converted were the Gibeonites, and Joshua decreed that the Gibeonites, both male and female, were forbidden from entering the congregation [through marriage].” Joshua had issued this decree because of their deception, having presented themselves as “foreigners” when they were in fact from the seven nations. Joshua and the elders had already made a covenant with them to let them live (Joshua ch. 9), and thus he had no alternative.

Rambam continues, “However, he only decreed so for the time that the Temple existed, as the verse states (Joshua 9:23), ‘Ve’ata arurim atem velo yikaret mikem eved vechotvei etzim vesho’avei mayim le[b]eit elokai – Now you are cursed, and there shall never cease from among you woodchoppers and waterdrawers for the House of my G-d.’ Thus he [Joshua] set the conditions of their being distanced [from the congregation] during the [existence of the] Temple.”

These people are called “netinim” because they were “given” over to the labor of the Temple.  However, David later decreed that they shall never enter the congregation for all generations, even when the Temple does not exist. We read in Ezra (8:20), “Umin hanetinim shenatan david vehasarim le’avodat halevi’im…. – And of the netinim, whom David and the officers gave over to the service of the Levites….” Thus we see that he did not make their exclusion from the congregation dependent on the existence of the Temple.

The Maggid Mishneh (Rambam loc. cit.) explains that Rambam follows the Gemara’s conclusion, which he sees as disputing Rava’s opinion. Thus, upon conversion there is no biblical prohibition, except for the decrees of Joshua and David. The Maggid Mishneh notes, however, the view of Ramban and Rashba, who concur with Rava’s ruling that they are biblically forbidden even upon their conversion.

R. Yechezkel Landau (Noda BiYehuda, Even HaEzer, Mahadura Kamma, Responsum 6) concurs with Rambam and explains that the Torah gives a reason for the prohibition (Deuteronomy 7:4), “Ki yasit et bincha me’acharai, ve’avdu elohim acherim. . . – For he [she] will cause your child to turn away from Me, and they will serve other gods.” Thus the prohibition would appear to apply to a society of idolaters who, when they convert, are no longer biblically prohibited; at that point the decrees of David and Joshua became the only prohibitions.

We are thus faced with two problems: your original question of how Joshua could marry a harlot, and how he could marry someone from the seven nations whom he was forbidden to marry according to his own decree.

(To be continued)


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at