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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: 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?

We also examined to whom the prohibition against marrying those of the seven Canaanite nations applies. We were left with two questions: yours, and another regarding the legality of marrying a convert from the seven nations that inhabited the land, a procedure which Joshua himself had forbidden.


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We have a further difficulty about Joshua marrying Rahab based on the following Gemara (Berachot 8b): “Rava said to his children [that they should follow with particular care], When you cut meat, do not cut it upon your hand. Some say it is on account of danger [that one will seriously injure or cut one’s hand off – see Rashi ad loc.]; others say it is because he may ruin the meal [even a small cut will cause blood to ooze on the food, which will repulse those dining” (Rashi ad loc.)].

He further added, “Do not sit on the bed of an Aramean woman, and do not pass behind a synagogue when the congregation is praying.” The Gemara explains Rava’s instruction. “Do not sit on the bed of an Aramean woman, some say this means, Do not go to bed before first reciting the Keriat Shema.” Rashi (ad loc.) states that a bed where one did not recite the Keriat Shema is likened to the bed of an Aramean woman.

Another explanation given is that Rava meant that they should not marry a proselyte. The Gemara offers no explanation for this instruction. Some suggest that Rava was a Kohen, according to a statement found in Rosh Hashana 18a and Yevamot 105a. But Tosafot [s.v. “Rabbah VeAbaye” (Rosh Hashana 18a) and s.v. “Rava VeAbaye” (Yevamot 105a)] dismiss this theory and explain that the Gemara refers to Rabbah, who was a Kohen. But if, in fact, Rava was a Kohen as well, one may wonder why he would instruct his sons not to marry a convert when converts are already biblically forbidden to a Kohen.

To explain this we cite another Gemara (Bava Batra 110a), which illustrates Rava’s actual intention. Rava meant that one who marries a woman must investigate her brothers, as the verse states (Exodus 6:23), “Vayikach aharon et elisheva bat aminadav achot nachshon lo le’isha [vateled lo et nadav ve’et avihu ve’et elazar ve’et itamar] – Aaron took Elisheva, the daughter of Aminadav, the sister of Nachshon, for a wife [and she bore him Nadav and Avihu and Eleazar and Itamar].”

The Gemara asks: Since it states “the daughter of Aminadav,” isn’t it obvious that she is the sister of Nachshon? What do these extra words in the verse teach us? From this we learn that one who takes a wife must investigate her brothers, for we learned in a baraita (Masechet Sofrim 15:10) that most children resemble the mother’s brothers.

We find similar instructions to those of Rava in another Gemara (Pesachim 112b), but there the Gemara identifies the instructions as being those of R. Yehuda HaNasi to his sons. Thus, this is still another reason for Joshua not to have married Rahab.

In Joshua (ch. 6) we find that when the Israelites entered Jericho, they destroyed and plundered the city, but then it states (Joshua 6:25), “Ve’et rachav hazona ve’et beit aviha ve’et kol asher lah hecheya yehoshua, vateshev bekerev yisrael ad hayom hazeh ki hechbia et hamal’achim asher shalach yehoshua leraggel et yericho – Yehoshua kept alive Rahab the harlot and her father’s house and all that belonged to her and she [and her family] dwelled in the midst of Israel until this very day, because she hid the messengers that Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.”

Radak (ad loc.) explains that the words “kept alive” mean that Joshua issued a command to keep the oath that was made to Rahab by the messengers (Caleb and Pinehas) to keep her and her family alive (Joshua 2:14).

Others explain that the term “kept alive” means that Joshua arranged for them food, money, and inheritance (land) in order that they may live, as evidenced by the verse’s continuation, “[A]nd she dwelled in the midst of Israel until this very day.”

The word hecheya, kept alive, is also explained to refer to Joshua marrying Rahab, for when Bnei Yisrael saw that Joshua took Rahab for a wife, they all cleaved to her father’s house (see Tosafot, Megilla 14b s.v. “de’igga’yera”). To answer the obvious question regarding the prohibition of not intermarrying with the seven nations, it is explained that Rahab and her father’s house were not indigenous to Canaan but had recently come there, and therefore were not considered as belonging to the seven nations.

Radak then offers an alternate explanation postulating that Rahab and her family were indeed of the seven nations, but when Joshua’s messengers arrived in Jericho, she [and presumably her family, as well] converted. As the Children of Israel had not yet entered the land, the instructions against leaving any of the inhabitants alive and not marrying them were not yet applicable. This interpretation follows the opinion that the seven nations are only forbidden in marriage in their gentile state, but not if they had converted.