Sunday, July 15, 2007

Moses' Black Wife

Moses' Black Wife

In a cryptic episode in the Torah, Miriam talked to Aaron about Moses "concerning the 'Cushite[1] wife' whom he married, for he married a 'Cushite wife'.[2]" Many Rabbinic commentaries follow the understanding of the Midrash that Moses' "Cushite wife" was Zipporah. However, this assumption is not easily justifiable because Zipporah was the daughter of Jethro, a Midianite[3], not a Cushite. In addition to understanding whom exactly Moses' "Cushite wife" was, one must also understand why this passage in the Torah is written immediately after the telling of the prophecies of Eldad and Meidad. Furthermore, the exact complaint, which Miriam presented to Moses concerning this "Cushite wife", also requires explanation. Moreover, the repetition of the phrase "Cushite wife" in Miriam's complaint necessitates explication, as well.


Rashbam asks[4], according to the explanations that hold that the Cushite was Zipporah, why Zipporah was called a Cushite if she was actually a Midianite. He explains that Cushites are a Hamatic nation descending from Ham the son of Noah[5], while Midianites are a Semitic nation descending from Abraham, who was a descendant of Shem, son of Noah[6]. Rabbi Dovid Pardo (1719-1792) adds[7] that even if one says that Jethro, Zipporah's father, was an Egyptian, for the Talmud says he was the Pharaoh's advisor[8], and thus was a Hamite; he was still not a Cushite. Because of this question, the Rashbam argues and understands that the Cushite woman referred to in the verse was not Zipporah; however, according to the explanations that learn that she was Zipporah, various methodologies of answering the question are given. Rabbi Elazar ben Yehuda Rokeach of Worms (1176-1238) explains[9] that although Zipporah's father, Jethro, was Midianite, her mother was a Cushite[10]. Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (1092-1167) and Rabbi Don Yitzchok Abarbanel (1437-1508) both explain[11] that even though genealogically Zipporah might not have been a Cushite, the Torah still considered her as such because in appearance the Midianites and Ishmaelites (Arabs) resemble Cushites. They explain that since Cushites, Midianites, and Ishmaelites all live in sunny areas, the power and heat of the sun cause their skin to darken[12]. They cite Habakkuk 3:7 as the source for this similarity between Cushites and Midianites.


Rashi[13], in assuming that the "Cushite wife" was Zipporah, offers three opposing rationalizations, based on the Midrash[14], to his stance. In his first rationalization, Rashi explains that Zipporah was called a "Cushite wife" because just as everyone agrees to the darkness in the skin color of a Cushite, everyone agreed to the fact that Zipporah was beautiful[15]. Thus, Rashi understands that the comparison between Zipporah and a "Cushite wife" is merely to say that just as the blackness of an African is an established fact[16], so was the beauty of Zipporah. In his second rationalization, Rashi understands that Cushite wife means "beautiful wife" and proves[17] this point by explaining[18] that the numerical value of the Hebrew for Cushite equals the numerical value for the Hebrew phrase "beautiful in appearance", Yefas Mareh[19]. According to this explanation, Rashi understands that the phrase "Cushite wife" refers to the beauty of Zipporah and that the phrase is repeated doubly to show that not only was Zipporah beautiful in her appearance, but she was beautiful in her actions as well. In his third rationalization, Rashi explains that Zipporah was called a "Cushite wife" because she was beautiful in appearance and just as one sarcastically calls his beautiful son "ugly" in order to ward off an Evil Eye, so too did Moses call Zipporah a "Cushite" in order to ward off the Evil Eye[20]. Accordingly, in his second explanation, Rashi assumes that "Cushite" is synonymous with beauty, while in his third explanation Rashi assumes that a Cushite is the antithesis to beauty and the phrase "Cushite" is used sarcastically[21].


In explaining what exactly, the complaint that Miriam lodged against Moses to her brother Aaron was Rashi offers two explanations; Rashi explains that either Moses separated from marital relations with his wife Zipporah, or that he divorced her[22]. The first explanation begs the question as to how Miriam knew that Moses abstained from relations with his wife, for it is not the nature of modest women to go about publicize such a matter[23]. Rashi quotes the Midrash that explains[24] that when Eldad and Meidad were prophesying, Zipporah said, "Woe unto their wives, for if they are bound to the prophecy, they will separate from their wives in the fashion that Moses has separated from me." Not only does this explain how Miriam knew that Moses separated from his wife, but it also explains the juxtaposition of the passages concerning Moses' separation from Zipporah with Miriam's ensuing objections and the prophecies of Eldad and Meidad. However, this Midrash begs the same question, because it is still unlikely that Zipporah would explicitly talk about matters of the bedroom with anyone else, even her own sister-in-law. A similar Midrash[25] tells that Zipporah stopped adorning herself with cosmetics and when questioned by Miriam about this behavior she replied that her husband Moses was not longer concerned with such matters as the physical appearance of his wife. From that reply, Miriam inferred that Moses had separated from Zipporah. Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (1817-1893) writes[26] that this occurred specifically after the revealing of the prophecies of Eldad and Meidad because only then did Miriam and Zipporah meet each other, for Miriam lived in the encampment of the Tribe of Judah, while Zipporah lived far away in the encampment of the Tribe of Levi. Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinmen writes[27] that according to these two ways of understanding how Miriam knew that Moses separated from Zipporah, Moses must have continued to live in the same tent as his wife, but he merely refrained from relations with her. This is because if he moved out of their joint tent, it would have been clearly apparent that they separated and Miriam did not need to hear so from Zipporah.


According to Rashi's first explanation, the complaint against Moses was that he separated from his wife, Zipporah. Rashi explains that Miriam was complaining that Moses separated from his wife because he was a prophet, but both she and Aaron were prophets and did not have to separate from their spouses. Why did Miriam specifically decide to complain at this point if Moses had already separated from his wife from the time of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai[28]? One can answer that according to the above, Miriam only knew about Moses' separation from his wife after the prophecies of Eldad and Meidad, but not before then, so she could not complain before then. Abarbanel answers[29] in the name of the Ran: from the time of the Sinaitic Revelation, Moses was busy judging and leading the nation, so he could have easily justified separating from his wife because of his duties as the sole leader of the Jewish Nation. However, after the prophecies of Eldad and Meidad, when seventy extra judges were added to the appellate, Moses was no longer the sole leader of the Jewish Nation, and should have been able to afford spending time with his wife. From the fact that even after the seventy judges were appointed Moses still did not live with his wife, Miriam understood that Moses had separated from her because he was a prophet. Based on this understanding, Miriam complained to Aaron that both she and Aaron were prophets and did not have to refrain from relations, so why did Moses. To this complaint, HaShem answered that Moses' prophecy was on a higher level than any other prophet's was so he required a higher level of purity.


Rabbi Chizkiyah ben Manoach explains[30] that Miriam assumed that Moses separated from Zipporah because she was a Cushite[31]; accordingly, Miriam complained why Moses decided to separate from her at that time, he should have not married her in the first place. Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1270-1340) understands[32] that Miriam complained that Moses separated from his wife because as a Cushite she was not beautiful. He further explains, that in reality, Moses was so humble and unassuming that a physical blemish such as a lack of beauty would not matter to him. Abarbanel writes[33] that one cannot say that Moses separated from Zipporah because he was, by character, a shy and unassuming person, so engaging in marital relations was something that he was embarrassed to do, because the nature of the world is for people to procreate. In fact, the prophet Isaiah said that the world was created for the purpose of population[34]. Instead, Abarbanel explains that Moses separated from marital relations because when he ascended Mount Sinai, his spiritual intellect separated from his physical body, and when he returned, he no longer desired the physical gratification which men desire.


Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid (1150-1217) explains[35] that Miriam complained about Moses that he should not have merely separated from Zipporah, rather he should have divorced her because she was a Cushite and was thus from tainted lineage. Similarly, Rabbi Elazar Rokeach also explains[36] that Miriam was complaining about the fact that Moses merely separated from his wife, but he did not divorce her. He explains that since Moses was the King of the Jewish Nation[37], he should have taken a wife from within the Jewish people, not from a foreign nation. Furthermore, in addition to the fact that Moses married Zipporah before the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, he remarried her after the Sinaitic Revelation, while instead he should have not remarried her[38]; this accounts for the double usage of the expression "the Cushite wife whom he married" and "for he married a Cushite wife". The Rokeach explains that Moses was justified in not divorcing Zipporah and merely separating from her because Moses owed a debt of gratitude to Jethro, who took Moses into his family and sustained him while Moses was poor after he fled Egypt. Because of this debt of gratitude to Jethro, Moses chose to remain married to his daughter, Zipporah. Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein proves[39] from these words of the Rokeach that showing appreciation is even more important that maintaining a pure lineage. Rabbeinu Efraim explains[40] that Moses was justified in not divorcing Zipporah because since Moses had the status of a king, his divorcee would have been prohibited from marrying anyone else anyways[41], so divorcing Zipporah would not have accomplished anything[42].


Rashi writes on the words "about the Cushite wife whom he married" that Miriam spoke "about her divorce". Later, Rashi writes on the words "for he married a Cushite wife" that Moses divorced her. The first passage in Rashi refers to the fact that Moses merely separated from Zipporah[43] but did not divorce her (like the Rokeach), while the second passage in Rashi is another explanation. In that second explanation, Rashi is saying that Moses did divorce Zipporah and that was precisely about what Miriam was complaining. Tosafos[44] write three explanations in explaining the Talmudic episode in which Moses decided to separate from his wife Zipporah. In the first explanation, Tosafos say that Moses pitched a tent for himself, which was separate from his wife's tent. This is consistent with the first explanation of Rashi that Moses separated from marital relations with his wife, but did not divorce her. In the second explanation, Tosafos say that Moses actually served Zipporah a get, a halachik divorce document. This explanation is consistent with the second understanding of Rashi that Moses actually divorced his wife. In the third explanation, Tosafos say that Zipporah realized on her own that she should refrain from marital relations with Moses, so she exiled herself from her own house. According to this explanation, Miriam must have not been complaining about Moses' estranged relationship with his wife Zipporah, but rather must have been referring to an entirely different episode.

As mentioned above, the Rashbam rejected the notion that the "Cushite wife" refers to Zipporah because Zipporah was actually a Midianite, not a Cushite. Additionally, Rabbi Chizkiyah ben Manoach points out[45] that if the Cushite wife refers to Zipporah, then the Torah need not have stated that Moses married Zipporah because that was a fact already established in the Book of Exodus which did not need to be repeated in this episode in the Book of Numbers. Furthermore, Rabbi Yosef Ibn Kaspi (1279-1340) rejects[46] Rashi's proofs that "Cushite" refers to the beauty of Zipporah because he explains that Cushite and beauty are as different as black and white[47]. Rather, Rabbi Yosef Kaspi explains that Moses married a Cushite wife in addition to his pre-existing wife, Zipporah. Miriam complained about this because she felt that it was natural for a man to have only one wife, not two and thus she felt that Moses was wrong in marrying a second wife. He explains that in reality, Moses had some reason, unbeknownst to us, for why he took a second wife[48]. The Tosafists, Rabbeinu Yitzchok ben Yehuda HaLevi[49] and Rabbeinu Yaakov of Vienna[50], explain differently that after the death of Zipporah (who is not mentioned in the Torah after Exodus 18:2), the widowered Moses married a Cushite wife. Immediately upon this marriage, Miriam began complaining that Moses should not have married her because, as a Cushite, she was subject to the Hamite curse[51] and should have been a slave[52], not the wife of the monarch of the Israelite Nation.

Rashbam[53], Targum Yonason ben Uziel[54], Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508-1593)[55], understand that Miriam's complaint was about an entirely different issue. They both quote a Midrash[56] from the Chronicles of Moses that Moses was king in Cush for forty years. According to this legend, after Balaam and his two sons fled Egypt, they tricked the Cushite king[57] into allowing them to take over his capital city while the king was away on a military campaign against the Kedemites (Easterners). When the Cushite king returned victorious to his city, he found himself and his army were not welcomed back home, as Balaam had instructed the inhabitants to betray their former ruler. Then the Cushite king besieged his capital city to recapture it from Balaam, but due to Balaam sly tactics, the king could not succeed. The besiegement lasted seven years until the Cushite king died, during this time, Moses, a refugee from Egypt, found his way to the military camp of the Cushite king. Moses joined the Cushite king in his struggle and soon rose amongst the ranks to become the Cushite king's second-in-command. Upon the death of the king, Moses was chosen to lead the army in their struggle to retake their old capital. Moses led the Cushite army to victory and after they chased away Balaam, they appointed him as the king of Cush, giving him the wife of the former king as his queen[58]. Moses reigned over the Cushite kingdom for forty years until his queen complained to the kingship's elders that throughout their forty-year marriage Moses did not even touch her. In deference to the honor of both their old king and their new king, the elders decided to force Moses to abdicate the throne and they banned him from their kingdom, while showering him with gifts. The Midrash explains that Moses did not treat the Cushite queen as his wife because he remembered the oaths which Abraham[59] and Issac[60] made their children swear not to marry any women from the family of Canaan who was cursed[61]. According to the Rashbam, Miriam had complained that Moses married the queen of Cush while he served as their king; for she did not know that Moses did not really live with her.

Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinmen asks[62] according to the explanation of the Rashbam why Miriam decided to lodge her complaint specifically then after the incident with Eldad and Meidad, if Moses had married the Cushite queen long before the exodus. Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz (1730-1805) explains[63] that when Moses divorced Zipporah, Miriam immediately knew that Zipporah must have been Moses' second wife, not his first. This is because the Talmud says[64] that tears fall from the altar when one divorces his first wife, so Miriam reasoned that Moses would not commit an act which cause tears to flow from the altar, rather in divorcing Zipporah, he must have been divorcing his second wife, not his first. Then Miriam reasoned that if Zipporah was his second wife, then his first wife must have been the queen of Cush whom he married while he was the king of Cush. Thus, Miriam's complaint against Moses was that he married the Cushite queen and she knew this from the fact that Moses divorced Zipporah. The reason why Miriam specifically lodged this complaint against Moses after the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad was that their prophecy foretold that Joshua would lead the Jewish people into the land of Israel, despite the fact that Moses' sons were capable of the job because those sons were not attributed to Moses because he had divorced his wife. This explains why the Torah refers to Gershom and Eliezer as "her [Zipporah's] sons"[65], not Moses' sons.

Rabbi Yaakov Reischer (1670-1733) offers a similar explanation[66]. He explains that Miriam reasoned that HaShem told Moses to separate from Zipporah as a punishment. This is because the Talmud says[67] that one who sets his eye on that which is not his even that which is rightfully his shall be taken away from him. Therefore, Miriam assumed that the reason why Moses was commanded to separate from Zipporah was that he committed adultery with the wife of the Cushitic king. However, in reality, Moses was not divinely commanded to separate from his wife, he did so of his own accord, and Moses did not even touch the queen of Cush during his forty-year reign.


[1] "Cush" is commonly translated as Ethiopia, and "Cushites" are commonly understood to have been Ethiopians. However, most scholars agree that the Biblical geographical area referred to as Cush/Ethiopia was not only in the location of present-day Ethiopia, rather it spanned Northwest of present-day Ethiopia, including parts of the areas of present-day Ethiopia, Egypt, Somalia, Nubia, Eritrea, and the Sudan. The Midrash says (Exodus Rabbah, §10) that the plague of the frogs settled a border dispute between Egypt and Cush because the frogs did not pass the border, which showed where exactly the boundaries of each country lied. Indeed, it will be evident later that Cush was near Egypt. Nonetheless, Rashi (to Yoma 81b) translates "Land of Hindu" as the land of Kush. From here one sees that the terms "Kush" used does not necessarily always mean Ethiopia. In the beginning of the book of Esther (1:1), Scripture establishes that Ahasuerus was king from Hodu to Kush. The Talmud records (Megillah 11a) that Rav and Shmuel disputed whether Hodu and Kush are close to each other (Shmuel) or far from each other (Rav). The accepted translation of Hodu is India. If one is to assume that Kush refers to Ethiopia, how then could Shmuel say that Kush was close in geographical proximity to India? Rabbi Yaakov Emden (1697-1776) answers (see Hagahos Ya'avetz to Megillah 11a) that there are two places known as Kush. One "Kush" is in Africa and was Ethiopia, while the other "Kush" is in Asia was close to India. The dispute between Rav and Shmuel was which "Kush" the Torah referring to in describing the boundaries of Ahasuerus' rule. Indeed, an Asiatic mountain range known as "Hindu Kush" runs along the Pakistani-Afghan border.

[2] Numbers 12:1

[3] See Exodus 2:16

[4] To Numbers 12:1

[5] See Genesis 10:6

[6] See Genesis 25:1-6

[7] Maskil LeDavid to Numbers 12:1

[8] See Sotah 11a

[9] Pirush Rokeach to Numbers 12:1

[10] Indeed we find in Halacha that the nationality of one's mother determines one's own nationality.

[11] In their respective commentaries to Numbers 12:1

[12] The Midrash says (Genesis Rabbah 36:7) that since Ham castrated his father Noah, and caused him not to be able to perform actions done in the dark (i.e. marital relations) he was cursed so that his skin became dark. Rashi explains that the descendants of Ham, such as Cush and Mitzrayim (the patriarchs of the Cushite and Egyptian peoples, respectively), were born dark-skinned. However, Rabbi Chanoch Zundel of Bialystock argues (see Anaf Yosef ad loc.) and says that the skin of Ham himself darkened, but not necessarily did that of Ham's descendants darken because of this curse. Rabbi Jacob Culi (1685-1732) writes (Me'Am Loez to Genesis 9:20) that there were five punishments which Ham received for his actions toward his naked father: First, since he looked at his naked father, "his eyes became red, always appearing bloodshot". Second, because he verbally told his brothers about their naked father, "his lips were made thick and gross like that of a Negro." Third, since he turned his head to see his father, "the hair of his head and beard became kinky." Fourth, because he did not cover his father, it was decreed that he always go naked. Fifth, his descendants would become slaves to the descendants of Shem and Ham because he eliminated the possibility of Noah fathering another child from whom the slaves of the world were destined to descend. Rabbeinu Bachaya explains (to Genesis 9:24) that although Noah seemingly pronounced the curse on Canaan, not Ham, the curse applied to all descendants of Ham, not merely Canaan. Rabbi Zev Wolf Einhorn writes (Maharzu to Genesis Rabbah §60:2) that curse was applied doubly to Canaan, meaning all descendants of Ham were cursed so that they should be slaves, but Canaan was cursed that his descendants should be slaves to slaves (i.e. the other families of Ham). According to all of this, the reasoning for the dark-colored skinned of blacks is because of the curse applied to Ham and his descendants, not because they lived in sunny areas. In present-times, we do not see the fulfillment of this curse in its entirety Africans anymore (although some parts of the curse are still true). Perhaps this is because the curse only applied to people whom purely descend from Ham, but once the blood of the other brothers was mixed into the families, the cursed ceased to be effective. If this is true one is left with only the reasoning of the Abarbanel and Ibn Ezra in explaining why there are dark skinned people nowadays.

It is largely believed that from the three sons of Noah, descended three types of humanoids, namely Negroids, Caucasoids, and Mongoloids (from Japheth), or Negroes, Caucasians, and Orientals. The Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (1720-1797) writes (Eliyahu Rabbah to Negaim 2:1) that Shem's family moved to the east (i.e. Mesopotamia), Ham's family moved to the west (e.g. Egypt, Africa), and Japheth's family moved to the north (i.e. Greece, Europe). He explains that the descendants of Ham lived in areas where the sun was very powerful so they had darker skin, while the descendants of Japheth lived in areas where the sun was less powerful, so they had much lighter skin pigmentation. With this, the Vilna Gaon explains the meaning of the term "German" when used in the context of the colors of a spot of tzara'as. He explains that the Japhetic family that lived the northernmost lived in Germany. (They were the ancestors of the Germanic tribes there, see Yoma 10a which says that Gomer, the son of Japheth was the forefather of the Germanic peoples. This is not a contradiction to Megillah 6b, which refers to the potential destruction that could be caused by an Edomite Germany, which implies descent from Esau, a Semite, not Japheth, because that passage is referring to a Romanized Europe afterwhich the Germanic princes were actually descendants of Romans, who descended from Esau. See Rashi to Genesis 36:43.) These people were so fair-skinned that their skin color was regarded by the Mishnah as a shade of white. According to the Vilna Gaon, skin color was not related to the curse of Noah's son, rather it was relative to one's geographical location and the power of the sun there.

[13] To Numbers 12:1

[14] Sifri to Numbers 12:1

[15] The Midrash and Talmud (Moed Katan 16b) continue to explain that when the Psalmist refers to the Kush the Benjaminite (Psalms 7:1), the reference is to King Saul. The Midrash explains that just as a Cushite is different from all other creations in terms of their skin color, so too was King Saul different from all other people in terms of his deeds. See Yoma 22b which says that at the time of his coronation, King Saul was like a one year old baby in terms of his lack of sin. The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah §37:4) refers to Esau as a Cushite, despite the fact he had red skin (see Genesis 25:25), not dark skin. Rabbi Chanoch Zundel of Bialystock explains that Esau was called a Cushite because he acted in the way of Nimrod, who was the son of Kush.

[16] This is similar to the explanation of the Targum Yerushalmi who explained that just as Cushites are different from all other peoples in terms of their pigmentation, so too Zipporah was different from all other women in terms of her beauty. See HaKoseiv to Ein Yaakov to Moed Katan 16b who writes that Zipporah was the most beautiful from all women.

[17] Although, Rabbi Yehuda Low (1525-1609) in Gur Aryeh to Numbers 12:1 understands that Rashi records the discussion about the numerical value as a proof to his first explanation. Rabbi Dovid HaLevi Segal (1586-1667) explains (Divrei Dovid to Numbers 12:1) the proof is that one might think to say that just as everyone agrees that a Cushite is black, so too everyone agrees that Zipporah was black. Therefore, Rashi had to explain that one cannot say such an analogy because it is a postulate that Zipporah was beautiful and therefore she could not have been black. [This understanding assumes that being black and being beautiful is an oxymoron.]

However, other commentaries (including Rashi himself at one point) seem to understand that "Cushite" means beautiful in this context. This is seen in the simple understanding of the Targum Onkelos (to Numbers 12:1) and Rabbi Saadiah Gaon (892-942) in his commentary (see Pirush Rasag printed in the Toras Chaim Chumash by Mossad HaRav Kook, Jerusalem) to Numbers 12:1. However, see below.

[18] This gematria is also found in the Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Tzav §13 (see also Ba'al HaTurim.).

[19] Rabbi Chanoch Zundel ben Yosef of Bialystock asks (Eitz Yosef to Midrash Tanchuma ad loc.) that the word Chushis is spelled without a vav in the context of Numbers 12:1 and thus its numerical value does not actually equal Yefas Mareh. Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky (1899-1985) writes (Birkas Peretz, Gematrias, Parshas Behaaloscha) that "Cushite wife" equals "This is the daughter of Jethro" in numerical value. According to this, one need not discuss anything about beauty, rather the phrase "Cushite wife" itself can directly refer to Zipporah.

[20] Targum Onkelos and Rabbi Saadiah Gaon translate "Cushite" as "beautiful". According to the simple understanding of their explanation, this means that "Cushite" means "beautiful", as mentioned above. However, Ibn Ezra (to Numbers 12:1) and Rabbeinu Bachaya (to Numbers 12:1) understand that Onkelos meant beautiful in a sarcastic way. He explains that just as Arabs call tar "white" (even though tar is black) and the Talmud (Pesachim 2a) calls blind people "full of light", so too the Targum translates Cushi as "beautiful" even though he maintains that a Cushite is the direct opposite of beauty. Ibn Ezra questions this understanding because he asks that if it were true that according to Onkelos the Torah was using a euphemism by calling Zipporah a Cushite even thought she was beautiful, then the Torah would have been degrading the honor of Zipporah by referring to her by something of which she is the complete opposite. Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1270-1340) makes the same assumption in the words of the Targum and asks the same question (see Pirush HaTur HaAruch to Numbers 12:1). To answer this question, one can say like Rashi that Moses nicknamed his wife Cushite in an effort to ward off the Evil Eye, even though she was actually the opposite of a Cushite, for she was beautiful. This explains why he called her a name that is the opposite from an accurate description of her. [This too assumes that Cushite and beauty are contradictory.]

[21] Rashi (to Genesis 12:11) quotes a Midrash (Genesis Rabbah §40:4) that explains that when Abraham traveled to Egypt, he was scared that the Egyptians might abduct his wife because she was beautiful and the Egyptians, being the brothers of the Cushites, were swarthy and ugly. In this third explanation of Rashi, Rashi seemingly accepts the view of this Midrash that the Cushites were dark and considered ugly. (Although, Rashi never equates the swarthiness and ugliness, he merely said that the Cushites possessed both attributes.) Ibn Ezra (to Genesis 12:11) writes that Sarah was so overly beautiful that no one in Egypt or any of the other southern lands (Africa?) matched her beauty because the air in those places changed the forms of the people to make the lands less conducive to producing beautiful people. (See Rashi to Numbers 13:18 who says that the type of land can have an effect on the population of the land.)

Nachmanides (Genesis 12:11) asks according to Rashi that Abraham hid Sarah from the Egyptians because she was beautiful and the Egyptians, being relatives of the Cushites, were black and ugly why did Abraham do so only on his sojourn to Egypt, but refrained from doing so (like his son Issac) on his visit to the Phillistinian city of Grar. In asking such a question, Nachmanides assumes that the Philistines (Plishtim) were also of a dark complexion just like the Egyptians. This assumption is based on the fact that, according to the genealogical tables established by the Torah (Genesis 10:13-14), the Phillistinian Nation descended from the Egyptians who in turn descended from Ham. Thus, since the dark-skinned trait is hereditary, the inhabitants of Philistia were dark just as the Egyptians were. However, one can reason (in order to explain the view of Rashi) that only the Egyptians were dark-skinned because they were in the geographical area of Africa, but the Philistines were not in that geographical region, and thus were not dark-skinned. This explanation assumes that the dark-skinned trait is not hereditary but rather is the product of one’s locale. According to this explanation, when Rashi points out that the Egyptians are “the brothers to the Cushites”, his intent is that they are the geographical “brothers” (i.e. neighbors) to the Cushites who made up the bulk of human settlement in Africa. Essentially, one can reduce this dispute between Rashi and Nachmanides to whether “being black” is dependent on one’s geographical location over the span of several generations or on one’s ancestral lineage (with the family of Ham possessing this characteristic).

[22] See Da'as Zekanim by the Tosafists to Exodus 18:2 who write that even after Moses sent away Zipporah (whether he divorced her or merely separated from her), she is still referred to as his wife.

[23] Gur Aryeh to Numbers 12:1

[24] Tanchuma Parshas Tzav §13

[25] Sifri to Numbers 12:1

[26] Emek HaNetziv to Sifri to Numbers 12:1

[27] Ayeles HaShachar to Numbers 12:1

[28] See Yevamos 62a

[29] See Abarbanel to Numbers 12:1

[30] Chizkuni to Numbers 12:1

[31] [It is unclear whether he learned that being a Cushite was a flaw in the beauty of Zipporah or it was a flaw in her lineage.]

[32] Pirush HaTur HaAruch to Numbers 12:1

[33] To Numbers 12:1

[34] See Isaiah 45:18

[35] Pirush Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid to Numbers 12:1

[36] Pirush Rokeach to Numbers 12:1 (This explanation is also found in Pirush Rabbeinu Yosef Bechor Shor.)

[37] See Zevachim 102a

[38] See Introduction to Shuv Shmaytsa that says that all Jews became converts at Mount Sinai, but even though usually a newly converted convert is like a newly born baby (Yevamos 22a) and loses all halachik familial relationships including marriage, since the Jews at Mount Sinai were forced to accept the Torah, they retained their familial relationships. According to this, Moses did not have to remarry his wife, for he remained married to her from before. However, see Pardes Yosef HaChadash to Numbers 12:1 who writes that Moses was not amongst the rest of the nation in being coerced to accept the Torah, see he actually lost his familial relationships, so he had to marry his wife again after the Sinaitic Revelation.

[39] Aleinu L'Shabaech to Numbers 12:1

[40] Pirush Rabbeinu Efrayim (based on the Cambridge manuscript) to Numbers 12:1

[41] See Maimonides, Laws of Kings

[42] In explaining the complaint that Miriam had against Moses, the Netziv (Emek HaNetziv to Sifri to Numbers 12:1) explains that she said that Moses should not have just separated from relations with Zipporah, he should have divorced her so that she could marry someone else. The Netziv then says that one cannot say that Moses had the status of a king and thus his divorcee could never remarry because Moses only had the title of King, but did not necessarily have the halachik rules, which apply to a king. However, Rabbeinu Efraim seems to say the exact opposite. Due to the controversy over whether Moses had the halachik rules of a King, the Chasam Sofer (as quoted in Pardes Yosef HaChadash) proposes that Miriam's protest was double-edged. If Moses had the status of a king, then he should have divorced Zipporah and married a Jewish woman of pure lineage, and if Moses did not have the status of a king, then there is no justification in Moses having separated from his wife, so he should have continued to live with her.

[43] Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky (Birkas Peretz to Numbers 12:1) points out that the numerical value of "Cushite whom he married" equals the numerical value of "married and [later] abstained from her".

[44] Yevamos 62a

[45] Chizkuni to Numbers 12:1

[46] See Pirush Rabbi Yosef Ibn Kaspi to Numbers 12:1

[47] [Presumably, he intended to make a pun.]

[48] Rabbi Yosef Kaspi himself offers three possible reasons: First, he says that perhaps Zipporah contracted some disease which caused Moses to have marry someone else. Second, he says that perhaps Zipporah "rebelled" against Moses' ruling authority. Third, he says that perhaps since Moses was so great, his Yetzer harah was more powerful than that of the average man (see Sukkah 22a) which necessitated him be wedding a second wife.

[49] Paneach Raza to Numbers 12:1

[50] R' Yaakov MiVayna to Numbers 12:1

[51] See Genesis 9:25-27

[52] Ibn Ezra (to Genesis 9:25) writes that some people use the curse on Canaan to justify using blacks as slaves, however, these people do not realize that the first king in the post-deluge world was Nimrod, the son of Cush. Indeed, we find the contrary, that not only were Cushites not slaves, but they themselves owned slaves, for the Midrash relates (Genesis Rabbah §60:2) that Eliezer specifically wanted to be a slave to Abraham, because he did not want to be a slave to the Cushites or Barbarians (whom the Maharzu explains were also Hamitic peoples).

[53] To Numbers 12:1

[54] To Numbers 12:1

[55] Toras Moshe to Numbers 12:1

[56] Yalkut Shimoni, Torah, §168

[57] According to the varying sources for this tale, the name of the Cushite king was Kikianus, Kikanos, or Nikanos. See the translation of Me'Am Loez (to Exodus 2:15) by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1934-1983), printed by Moznaim Publishing Company.

[58] According to Sefer HaYashar, her name was Adoniah. (Josephus records a corrupted version of this story (Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 10) in which Moses, serving as an Egyptian general, leads the Egyptian army to victory against the invading Cushites. After the battle, the daughter of the Cushite king, Tharbis, was so enamored over Moses' strength and abilities that she offered herself to Moses as a wife, whereupon Moses accepted the offer and consummated his marriage to the Cushite princess.)

[59] Genesis 24:3

[60] Genesis 28:1

[61] The Midrash assumes that the term "Canaan" used included all descendants of Ham.

[62] Ayeles HaShachar to Numbers 12:1

[63] Panim Yafos to Numbers 12:1

[64] Gittin 90b

[65] Exodus 18:3

[66] Iyun Yaakov to Ein Yaakov to Moed Katan 16b

[67] Sotah 9a

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how Cushite is the opposite of beautiful. I have seen many Ethiopian women, and they are very beautiful. The comments about Moses' wife at first seemed enlightened. After further reading, it is just pure bigotry. I pray that God change your thinking.

Anonymous said...

In all my 53 black years, I HAVE NEVER heard this story of Moses and his black wife from the black pulpit, especially the part where God turned Miriam white as snow with leprosy for "dissing" Moses' black Cushite or Ethopian wife. (Then she could not have been white to began with right?) Imagine, God's man-main Moses married a black woman!!!! Wouldn't I have felt proud if I'd heard this story as a young, nappy headed girl growing up in the Jim-Crow south. Peace.

Anonymous said...

Really. After everything jews have been through, they still find it in their hearts to insult someone because of their race. Sad people.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

Please explain how this essay is insulting to blacks.

Anonymous said...

You should get outside the Jewish books and possibly learn more about world history. How do you explain the black Jews of Ethiopia, the black African tribe Lemba whose dna has been proven to be more Jewish than most european jews, in fact one sect of Lemba have high priest dna. Everyone came from Afrika, and over time many who wandered further and further north lost their pigmentation to to genetic error. This is essentially proven. Personally as a 63 year old white man, and a buddhist, who was married to a black woman 25 years, I find that blacks in general are the most attractive peoples. Moses and 'jews' lived for centuries among essentially black Africans. If the 'jews' were not black when they came to Egypt (Kemet) they likely were quite so when they left due to intermingling over centuries that was a longer period than the USA has been around. Moses means prince, and he was a black prince of Kemet and a Jewish leader as well. All of the tribulations upon pharoah and the parting of the sea has been recently shown to be caused by natural events, a volcanic eruption on an island off Greece, a shift in the earth's plates at that location and a sunami. Was this God or serendipity?

yep73541 said...

To the Brother who did not know that Moses' second wife was Black, The good news is that Moses, his brother AAron, sister Miriam, Abraham, Pharaoh Rameses and ALL OF the people in the BIBLE were Black. Not a Caucasian in the bunch.

It's a BIG myth and deception that the Europeans and European American have purpretrated on the earth about "WHITE" Bible characters - NOT TRUE AT ALL.

It is Racism and Bigotry for any one to say otherwise.

The Khazarians started this bigotry in 740 AD when they converted to Judaism and enslaved the BLACK Jews who taught them Judaism in their country and killed the ones thay did not want to keep.

Also the Khazarian changed the Talmud to be a racist book against Black people. Read it for yourself.

This is the same thing they did when they took over Israel in the 1940s claiming to be the "chosen people'. Look at the real history and truth of how they did the dirt and is still doing it.

anoy5837. 6-21-08

Anonymous said...

I found the article interesting and do find it hard to believe in some of the statements. Being from where jewish people originated from. I would like to find out more about the Jewish history. I find the comment from yep73541 to be the most interesting and I will look into the history more closely.

Ha-historion said...

Hayafoch Kushi Oro?....

Pretty much proves that the issue was her blackness.

Zalman Kastel said...

Impressive gathering of the sources. I wanted to discuss this on my blog this week but you beat me to it. Interesting to consider Rashi and Bereshit Rabba's attitude to Blackness and Beauty or Ugliness in Genesis 12:11, then to think about how we ensure we effectively educate our young and oursleves against any racism alongside our respect for these sources.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

Thank you for your kind words. If you want, you can link to my article from your blog so that your readers can also read about this ענין. I personally also find this very interesting. I was asked to pen this essay by the late Yosef Yehuda Robinson (Chester Robinson) who was murdered last year in New York. He was a black Ger Tzedek originally from Jamaica.

Zalman Kastel said...

hi, I posted a link from my blog post on Behalotecha.
http://torahforsociallyawarehasid.blogspot.com/2011/06/tensions-and-trials-of-trail-blazers.html
I wrote about 2nd priority topic :) because there is very little not covered in yours about my priority 1. I read about Robinson, seemed like a special guy. Feel free to check out related articles on my blog about Blacks, Arabs etc. from a Torah perspective. If you like it you can link to it.

Yis said...

I will say that this article has shed light on many areas. This is not about mans ego and how we "feel" about black tan or white. No one is solid black or solid white but variations of skin tone. On a deeper level a separation was done by HaShem the one true God due to levels of respect. Clearly Hams son was cursed. I have always thought that it was due to sodomite ways. However here it states that castration was involved. Whatever the truth was something SERIOUSLY offended God.

This goes back to the beginning of time when when the Rephaim were on the earth and aimed to destroy the godly people. This issue goes back to a war between Gods angels vs the angels that opposed God and sought to control Gods kingdom infiltrating it with demonic ungodly beings which were there before the flood.

Basically its Gods people vs. the lineage that fights gods people which are of the "spirit" of the ungodly. Same war different time zone.

People get stuck in who is more beautiful not seeing the forest for the trees. Who is beautiful are those that listen to the will of the most high and walk in that way. Its an inner condition of the heart. This is not a black is beautiful campaign. Its a pure heart is beautiful campaign.

I can see more clearly that Moses was married to this Cushite woman. It appears to be a prize for winning a battle. If she was so beautiful in later years she was beautiful in the beginning. People gained wives as political "prizes" which I don't understand. Now this woman was just hanging around for 40 years waiting to be reunited with her husband. Not too many women would do that today.

Ziporrah also came from a background that did not adhere exactly to Torah. In light of both women and looking at Man Jewish women today it is not necessary to adhere to every single commandment (over 300) and that women are not required to become Torah scholars either. Women were to "populate" the earth. In traditional Judiasm it is a mitzva. So as long as you are having sex with your husband you are a blessing . The more sex the more children.

The argument is that God is closer to women and there is no need to study as men. This is rabbinical teaching (past Babylonia exile).

So who is black and beautiful and who is tan and beautiful and who is white and beautiful is a mute subject. It looks like men are not seeing the greater picture of who is more spiritual and Godly. Who follows Gods will. Who is in the divine plan.

In todays language a war is going on that has been since the beginning of time. Its a war over you and your soul. The antagonist
is on a spirit level. principalities and dark powers that govern various places of this world. Are you a child of light or in the darkness in your heart and soul.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

In a message dated 9/28/2012 10:33:34 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, rchaimqoton@gmail.com writes:
I am sorry, I didn't realize that you were directing those questions back to me. As I wrote, there are various views on the subject and I cited all the sources to the best of my knowledge. What is my personal opinion? I don't have a personal opinion, I merely record the traditions...

Reb Chaim HaQoton
http://rchaimqoton.blogspot.com

On Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 4:02 PM, wrote:
R' Chaim HaQoton,

What is your answer to:

Did Moses have two wives?
Did Moses separate or divorce his wife Zipporah?
Was Miriam complaining to Moses while siding with Zipporah or complaining about Zipporah?

Isaac



In a message dated 9/28/2012 9:36:47 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, rchaimqoton@gmail.com writes:
Thank you for taking the time to read my work. I greatly appreciate it.
If you want, you can post your comment on the actual article so that it can be shared with others.

Happy Holidays,

Reb Chaim HaQoton
http://rchaimqoton.blogspot.com

On Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 3:18 PM, wrote:
R' Chaim HaQoton,

I just read your piece "Moses' Black Wife." My first observation is the diversity of comments through the generations by the various rabbis allowed by the ambiguity of the pasuk. Second, the imagination of the commentaries.

Did Moses have two wives?
Did Moses separate or divorce his wife Zipporah?
Was Miriam complaining to Moses while siding with Zipporah or complaining about Zipporah?

Your sources come out on both sides of these questions.

My thoughts are that Cushite is a negative term here and that Miriam is negative on Zipporah calling her a disparaging term. This assumes that Zipporah is the Cushite. It makes no sense to me why Miriam would be complaining now about an earlier Cushite wife Moses may have taken as an Egyptian officer over 40 years prior. Did Moses now take a second wife who was a Cushite after Zipporah about whom Miriam was complaining?

Moses is a central figure in the Torah. Yet we know very little about him as the ambiguity of the pasuk
leaves so many questions.

Your Thoughts,
Isaac Zetooney
New Jersey, USA

Joels W. Davidi said...

Zipporah came from Midianite subtribe called "cushan". This has nothing to do with skin color but with some bias against Midianites (whom we are later commanded to utterly destroy. This is the verse that refers to the cushan midianites תַּחַת אָוֶן רָאִיתִי אָהֳלֵי כוּשָׁן יִרְגְּזוּן יְרִיעוֹת אֶרֶץ מִדְיָן:" (ספר חבקוק, ג, א-ז)

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

But then she should have been called a כושנית not a כושית.

SonoftheAncientofDays said...

I'll tell everyone something. As an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian clergyman who has been to Israel/Palestine for extended periods of time, and even stoned by blasphemous Israelis-haters of peace and love, those who do not read the Holy Scriptures and/or Holy Bible in the Spirit that it was written, will argue with Reb Chaim HaQoton's transcriptions of the commentaries. Traditional Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church commentary states that this 'Cushitic' woman was not the true wife/bride of the Prophet Moses, but as one of the commentaries stated (in R.C.H. post) that the Prophet was pure and holy, therefore he was 'betrothed' to the Cushitic woman, but wouldn't sleep with her. In the EOTC commentary it states, "how could the Prophet Moses, after ascending the Holy Mountain, obtaining the the Law of God and descending with the Reflection of the Almighty's glory, be compelled to have carnal relations?" Most readers cannot comprehend this because continence is far from their state of being and intellect. Also, the history of our Church speaks about many of the saints who were forced to marry, but wanted to remain celibate in the name of their Lord, refused and even made agreements with their wives to remain chaste according to the flesh and state of mind; not that marriage is defiled. Even, the saints, whether male or female would flee to the wilderness to live a life of prayer and contemplation. Inferring to Cushitic as 'ugly' has an allegorical meaning, not literal. But because most Africans, who have descended from slaves and who were under the oppression of European slave-masters who claimed to be Christian imposed their religion on the slaves with iconographic views that Blacks were destined to be slaves, with no honorable history, much less prominent characters in the Bible; but under the impression that all the holy people of the Bible were 'lily' white and that God is white, cannot tolerate any suggestion such as this...one of the Rabbi's comments suggested something similar to this. Nevertheless, all of the commentaries concerning Moses, his wife and the Cushitic sister should be reviewed and studied carefully, beyond nationalistic and/or racial pride.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

We have discussed at great length the idea of Moses' supposed celibacy, see here, here, and here

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