Question: I am a psychology professor at McGill University who is doing an MA in Jewish studies. My thesis topic is the history of interpretation of the story of Rachav Hazona. In the course of my research I was trying to understand how the Midrash derived that Rahab converted.
I am aware of the derivation in Megilla 14b but you also mentioned in a column you wrote in 2004 in The Jewish Press that some derived her conversion from the word “hecheya” (kept alive) in the text of the book of Joshua. As far as I understand, the Tosafot that you quoted deals with the legal issue of how Joshua could have married one of the forbidden nations, not the word “hecheya.” I’m wondering if you have another source for the interpretation of “hecheya” as the source for Rahab’s conversion. Thank you for your time.
Answer: You are correct that my response contained an error, which, as you will see, was due to simple carelessness on my part. Our sages (Ketubot 19b) tell us that one is not allowed to possess a sefer that contains errors and one who does so is in violation of Job 11:14, “v’al tashken b’ohalecha avlah – and let not sin dwell in your tent.” Thus, it is imperative that my error be corrected in print. Additionally, since this question is an interesting one and was last dealt with many years ago, we will address once again, prefacing it with the original question as it appeared in print in 2004:
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?
Answer: In order to answer your interesting question, let us review the relevant verse, Joshua 2:1: “Vayishlach yehoshua bin nun min hashittim shenayim anashim meraglim cheresh lemor, re’u et ha’aretz ve’et yericho, vayelchu vayavo’u beit isha zonah u’shemah rachav vayishkevu shamah – Joshua b. Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, ‘Go view the land and Jericho.’ They went and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab and lodged there.” These were the spies Joshua sent before the conquest of Canaan to enable him to get a clearer idea of the land and its fortifications.
The word “zonah” is normally translated as “harlot” and, indeed, the Radak translates the word this way, but he offers another translation – “innkeeper” – based on the fact that the word is related to mazon, or food. Targum Yonatan and Rashi also translate the word “zonah” in this context as innkeeper. Interestingly, the Radak explains that “pundeka’it – innkeeper” means harlot as well.
The Talmud (Zevachim 116a-b) states that Rahab was a harlot, which explains how she could tell Joshua’s messengers (Joshua 2:10-11): “Ki shamanu et asher hovish Hashem et mei yam suf mipneichem betzeit’chem mimitzrayim, va’asher asitem li’shenei malchei ha’emori asher be’ever hayarden le’sichon u’le’og asher hecheramtem otam. Vanishma vayimmas levavenu ve’lo kama od ruach be’ish mipneichem – For we heard how G-d dried up the waters of the Sea of Reeds before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you have done to the Emorite kings on the far side of the Jordan, Sichon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And we heard and our hearts melted; neither did there remain any spirit in any man, because of you.”