Contact Us

Isn’t Intermarriage Only With Canaanites?

Isn’t Intermarriage Only With Canaanites?

 Email

Dear Rabbi,

I have a question regarding the verses in Deuteronomy, Chapter 7, which are referenced as a source for forbidding intermarriage. These verses clearly name only the seven nations of Canaan. How did the prohibition of intermarriage with the seven nations become a prohibition of intermarriage with anyone not Jewish?

Answer:

You are right that the sages of the Talmud sometimes point to these verses as the source for the general prohibition of intermarriage.1 This seems strange since, as you point out, the verses apparently refer only to the seven Canaanite nations. However, as we shall see, the Bible itself is actually proof of the accuracy of the interpretation that it refers to all non-Jews.2

Let us first examine the relevant passages in Deuteronomy (7:1-4):

When the L‑rd, your G‑d, brings you into the land to which you are coming to possess it, He will cast away many nations from before you: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful that you. And the L‑rd, your G‑d, will deliver them to you, and you shall smite them. You shall utterly destroy them; neither shall you make a covenant with them, nor be gracious to them. You shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son. For he will turn away your son from following Me, and they will worship the gods of others, and the wrath of the L‑rd will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you.3

From here it would indeed seem like the prohibition of intermarriage is only about marrying someone from the seven nations, as you noted. However, we actually find that elsewhere the Bible demonstrates that these very verses are referring to all nations of the world.

The book of Kings, in discussing the many foreign wives that King Solomon took for himself, states (Kings I 11:1-2):

King Solomon loved many foreign women [see Did Solomon Marry Out?] and the daughter of Pharaoh; Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites. Of the nations about which the L‑rd had said to the Children of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them; neither shall they with you, for certainly they will sway your heart after their deities.” To these did Solomon cleave to love [them].

When we examine this list against the list of the seven nations in Deuteronomy you will see that most of the nations on the list (besides the Zidonians and Hittites) are actually not from those mentioned in Deuteronomy; and yet the Bible tells us about all of them, “Of the nations about which the L‑rd had said to the Children of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them.’” We must therefore conclude that even though the verses in Deuteronomy only explicitly mentioned the seven nations, the Jewish people had a tradition and always understood that they referred to intermarriage with all non-Jews.4

Additionally, we find the prohibition of intermarrying referring to all nations in other places in the Bible.

For example, in Nehemiah the verses state (Nehemiah 13:3, 23, 25, 27):

And it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the alien mixture… Also in those days, I saw the Jews who had married Ashdodite, Ammonite, and Moabite women… And I quarreled with them, and I cursed them, and I struck some of them, and I plucked out their hair, and I adjured them by G‑d, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters either for your sons or for yourselves… Shall we then hearken to you to do all this great evil to betray our G‑d to marry foreign women?”

From all the above, our sages taught that it is clear that the prohibition of intermarriage does not apply exclusively to the seven nations.

For more on intermarriage, see Is It Racist to Want a Jewish Husband? and Why Do Jews Exclude Other People?

Footnotes
1.

Talmud, Yevamot 23a and Kiddushin 68b.

2.

These verses are actually an illustration of the fact that the Oral Torah is needed to shed light on and explain not only commandments like tefillin, circumcision, and the Four Species of the Sukkot holiday, but also the seemingly clear commandments of the written Torah. See at length Rabbi David Nieto, Mateh Dan (known also as Kuzari Sheni) 1:18, see further, Why Do Jews Start Counting the Omer Early?

3.

Incidentally, this is also the source for the Talmudic explanation (ibid.) that the offspring of a union between a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman is not Jewish, but the offspring of a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man is considered Jewish. See Why Is Jewishness Matrilineal?

4.

Although there is a separate prohibition that prohibits Ammonites and Moabites from ever entering into the congregation of G‑d, it is only with regards to the men, not the women (see Jerusalem Talmud, Yevomot 8:3). This is attested to in the book of Ruth, in which Ruth, a Moabite, marries Boaz. If the prohibition extended to the women, then this union would have been forbidden even after Ruth converted, as is the case with male Moabites.

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
7 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Yehuda Shurpin (Author) June 23, 2016

Re: Moses' marriage / different interpretations You are of course you are right that Moses married a Midianite. However, the simple answer as to why he didn't marry "jewish" is because there were no "jews" yet at that time, this concept and prohibition only started with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. For more on this see Was Jewishness Always Matrilineal? and Was Abraham Jewish--On the identity of the pre-Sinai Hebrews. Reply

Steve Schwartz NY June 17, 2016

Moses' marriage / different interpretations I cannot read all of the Bible literally because I feel that forces decisions which hurt people. I would rather err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion, and hope that love prevails doctrine. The Bible shows that our hero, Moses, married Zipporah, a Midianite, and had children with her. Moses couldn't find a Jewish girl? The moral lesson I draw from that example: you can fall in love with someone who is not Jewish, but you should follow a Jewish tradition, else be frowned upon in the religious community. After all, if everyone marries out and no one converts the religion is at risk of obsolescence. No one wants that. On the other hand, if every monotheistic religion were to follow their texts strictly without room for interpretation and adaptation to social changes, I dont think the end result brings us closer to God because it creates an "us" versus "them". We're all children of one god. We all must learn to respect our differences even if that means marrying out Reply

Greg Magarshak New York September 15, 2014

You may want to take a look at Deuteronomy 23:3 which does in fact mention Ammonites and Moabitea in addition to the seven nations. This now covers ALL the nations mentioned except Edomites and Ashdodites.

So no longer does your characterization of most hold. In fact most in your verses have been specifically mentioned in Torah.
"No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the L-rd, not even in the tenth generation"
About Edomites it is said that the third generation may in fact enter into the congregation!

Ashdod was a city of Philistines with whom Israel had been at war for quite some time. It is likely that marrying Philistine women was frowned upon but Samson was able to do such a ceremony as well.

In addition, the Torah speaks about rules regarding marrying gentile women captured in battle. I think it's a big stretch to assume that they all converted to Judaism via voluntary rabbinical Giur.

And anyway, Torah regulates extramarital sex also. Reply

Anonymous Anonymous August 5, 2014

If the offspring of a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman is not Jewish, how can the children of Judah with his Canaanite daughter in law Tamar (Perez and Zerah) be Jewish? Also, Judah married a Canaanite woman, so his three sons were also not Jewish. How does Judaism explain that their entire line came from Canaanite women and Joseph's line from an Egyptian woman? How do they consider theirselves Shemites when the women they married are apparently from the offspring of Ham? It appears the Shemetic line was spoiled from the very beginning. Reply

Vicki Cain Quinlan, TX/USA January 31, 2012

Intermarriage The Word of G-d is very plain concerning intermarriage. He didn't want idol worshippers anywhere near his people. However, He knows how weak our flesh is and he knew the temptation to sin would be there.
All G-d wanted was for his people to love, praise and worship him above all. I know it must have hurt his heart, (yes, G-d hurts too).
There were very few kings or priests that heeded G-ds' commands.

In closing I want to add a question for thought: What about Ruth? Reply

Anonymous NY, NY January 25, 2012

differences and similarities I was born Roman Catholic Italian. In Brooklyn, I attended Catholic school for 11 years. I was taught the Old Testament stories with love and the goal was to attach yourself to God, The New Testament seemed thin simple, improbable and yet the characters were teaching to live a good life by following God. I chose to follow the path of goodness my entire life. I became a better teacher for it. I married a Jewish man and had a son. For the past 7 years I have read among others, the Zohar, the Sefer Yetsirah, The Bahir, The Path of the Righteous etc. I can see now how the early church used the simple jesus and mary figures to teach simple people the abstract Seforit. The Rabbis of the Zohar were walking the desert discussing Torah.The destruction of the second temple led the Sages to help pagans elevate themselves without becoming Jews, (enter christianity). Thank God for the Jews, without them the world would be a darker place. But we all have a role in this world, make it a godly one. Reply

izzy January 23, 2012

thanks! Short and sweet! I always wondered about this. Keep up the great work! Reply

Related Topics