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?