Thursday, January 25, 2007

Marriage and Divorce in Egypt

Seventeen years after his reunion with his son Joseph and migration to Egypt, Jacob realized that the end of his days were coming, so he summoned his son Joseph and his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to bless them before his death. However, as Jacob was about to bless Ephraim and Manasseh, he saw in a vision that evil kings from the Israelite Kingdom would descend from them, so the Holy Presence of G-d momentarily left him and he was unable to bless his grandsons. Instead, he asked Joseph, "Who are these?" as if to inquire from whom did such people descend[1]. Rabbi Dovid Pardo (1719-1792)[2] and Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik (1886-1959)[3] explain that Jacob was really asking Joseph whether their mother, Joseph's wife, properly converted to Judaism before she married Joseph and mothered these children. In answer to this question, Joseph showed Jacob a document of Kiddushin and a Kesubah document, which insured that he had legally married the "Egyptian" mother of Ephraim and Manasseh and their lineage, was not tainted, so they deserved a blessing. After this, Jacob was once again granted the Holy Presence of G-d to rest on him, and he was able to bless his two grandsons. This entire episode seems to imply that even before the Sinaitic Revelation, the Abrahamic family kept the laws pertaining to the sanctity of Jewish marriage because they had the status of Jews, not Noachides.

The Talmud[4] relates that Amram, the father of Moses, was the leader of the Israelite nation during the exile to Egypt. Rashi explains[5] that this means that the entire nation listened to everything that Amram told them, and that he was the head of the Sanhedrin in Egypt[6]. In detailing the history of the Torah's commandments before Sinai, Maimonides writes[7] that while still in Egypt, HaShem revealed certain commandments to Amram. Rabbi Baruch ben Dovid Frankel-Thumim (1760-1828) says[8] that once the Jews in Egypt received special commandments from HaShem through Amram, they left their status as Noachides and became halachikly Jewish. However, Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575) asks[9] what was Maimonides source in saying that Amram was commanded certain commandments. The Talmud says[10] that after Pharaoh decreed that all baby boys should be thrown into the river, Amram divorced his wife Jochebed. Since Amram was the leader of his generation, the entire nation followed suit and they all divorced their wives. Following this, Miriam, the daughter of Amram, admonished her father by telling him that Pharaoh only decreed the destruction of male Jewry, but he was destroying the entire nation. The Torah then says "And a man from the House of Levi went"[11], meaning that Amram followed the advice of his prophetess daughter and re-married her mother, Jochebed, "the daughter of Levi", whereupon all the men re-married their wives as well. The Talmud states that Amram specifically performed an "act of taking" meaning Kiddushin in returning his wife. Based on this, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chayos (1805-1855) explains[12] that when Maimonides wrote that extra commandments were given to Amram in Egypt, he was referring to the commandment of Kiddushin—a Torah-ordained manner of marriage. Had Amram not been given the commandments regarding Jewish marriage, he would merely have carnally taken Jochebed as a wife and that would have sufficed as Maimonides himself writes[13] that before the Torah, if a man met a woman in the marketplace and they agreed to wed, he merely had to lie with her in order for them to be considered married.

In a similar vein, Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (1724-1806) answers[14] that Maimonides wrote that Amram had extra commandments in Egypt because the Talmud says that Amram specifically divorced his wife, like the Torah says[15]. Had he not been commanded the Mitzvah of divorce, he could have merely separated from his wife and not divorced using the parameters of Jewish divorce (e.g. with a Get, etc…). Rabbi Meir Don Plotzky of Ostrova (a pre-World War One Rabbinic figure) writes[16] that just like the death of one's husband is not enough to consider a married Noachide woman unmarried anymore[17], so too a Noachide divorcee is also still considered married. He explains that the source of Noachide marriage is Genesis 2:24, which says that a man should "cling to his wife", which excludes a woman who is married to another man[18], and it says "they shall become one flesh", which implies that once man and wife join together in holy matrimony, they become inseparable, even after death and/or divorce. He writes that this explains why when the Torah said "Amram took his aunt, Jochebed, as a wife"[19], Onkelos[20] changes "aunt" to "father's sister." This is because one's father's sister is the only type of aunt that a Noachide male can ever marry (if maternal, see below), because one's father's brother's wife is still considered one's aunt even after one's father's brother's death because death does not break the bond of Noachidic marriage.

The Torah says that one is prohibited from marrying his "aunt"[21]. It is clear from the context that "aunt" there refers to one's father's brother's wife. Rashi and Onkelos specifically point out that Amram did not marry his "aunt" in that sense because she would always be prohibited to him because a Noachide's marriage is everlasting, rather that he married his "aunt", meaning his father's sister. The Talmud[22] says that Amram was allowed to marry Jochebed even though there is a Noahidic prohibition against marrying one's father's sister[23] because that prohibition is only one's father's maternal sister, but Jochebed was only Kohath's paternal sister. One Midrash says that Levi married a great-granddaughter of Eber named Adina[24], however another Midrash says based on Numbers 26:29 that Levi's wife was named Osah[25]. Based on this, the Tosafists concluded[26] that Levi had two wives; Adina was the mother of Kohath while Osah was the mother of Jochebed. Therefore, Amram, the son of Kohath, was only the paternal nephew of Jochebed. Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner (1749-1821) writes[27] that Amram knew that there were deep metaphysical Kabbalistic reasons for him to have had to marry Jochebed, even though it should have really been forbidden according to Torah Law. It was for this reason that the Torah was not given to Amram himself, but rather to his son, Moses.

Amram was allowed to divorce his wife because he had already fulfilled his commandment of procreation by fathering Aaron and Miriam[28]. In imitating their leader, all the Jewish men also divorced their wives. Rabbi Aharon Rotter[29] points out that only those men, who had already fulfilled the commandment of "being fruitful and multiplying", like Amram, divorced their wives, but the others did not. According to this, Rabbi Yonason ben Uziel writes[30] that Elzaphan, a son of Amram's brother Uziel, married Jochebed between the time that Amram divorced Jochebed and the time that he remarried her. However, this statement is difficult to understand because the Torah explicitly forbids[31] remarrying one's divorcee if she marries someone else in the interim lest one think that women are mere objects of lust which can be traded back and forth between husbands[32]. The son of the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Alter (1877-1942), explains[33] that Amram was only given the commandments of marriage and divorce, but had not yet received the prohibition of remarrying one's divorcee who married since the divorce. Others[34] explain that Jochebed only married Elzaphan after the death of Amram, and then birthed Eldad and Meidad. Still others explain that she was not even their mother, but Amram was their father; when the Torah says[35], "Crying according to their families" it means[36] crying after the Sinaitic Revelation they were about matters pertaining to family issues because they had to divorce their wives if they married newly-prohibited women. The Tosafists[37] write that this applies even Amram who had to divorce Jochebed after the acceptance of the Torah, and so he then married another woman and fathered Eldad and Meidad. However, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky asks[38] on this understanding that if Eldad and Meidad were born after the encampment at Mount Sinai, then they must have been only one year old when they prophesied in the camp[39].

Rabbi Baruch Frankel[40] understood based on the words of Maimonides that only once Amram received certain commandments did the Abrahamic family lose their status as Noachides and become Jews. According to the Chida, Maimonides learned this from the fact that Amram divorced his wife in a way which was halachik and only Jews have a halachik divorce, so they must have been Jewish from then on. However, if merely divorcing proves that the forefathers had a status of Jews instead of Noachides, then even Abraham must have not had the status of a Noachide already. This is because Rabbeinu Bachaya relates[41] in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel Ben Chushiel (990-1053) that when Abraham migrated to the Philistinian city of Gerrar, Abraham was afraid that his beautiful wife Sarah would be taken by another man and would be forced to commit adultery with him, so he divorced his wife. However, this divorce was carried out under duress and thus was not completely legally effective. Therefore, when the Philistine King Abimelech abducted Sarah, he was asked by HaShem to return the woman to her rightful husband[42]. Had Abraham been a Noachide, his divorcing Sarah would have amounted to nothing even it was not under undue pressure because there should be no such thing as a Noahidic divorce. Rather, one must say that according to Rabbi Frankel, the source of Maimonides' assertion that Amram accepted certain commandments in Egypt is implied in a passage quoted in the commentary of Nachmanides. When introducing Himself to Moses, HaShem says[43], "I am the G-d of your father, the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Issac, and the G-d of Jacob." Nachmanides writes[44] that some explain that "G-d of your father" refers to Amram. Based on this Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk (1843-1926) writes[45] that just as Abraham, Issac, and Jacob received commandments from Above, so did Amram and this is the source of Maimonides' assertion to that effect.

[1] See Rashi to Genesis 48:8 and Midrash Tanchuma to Genesis §6
[2] Maskil LeDavid to Rashi to Genesis 48:8
[3] Chiddushei HaGriz Al HaTorah (Stencil)
[4] Sotah 12a
[5] To Sotah 12a
[6] Exodus Rabbah 1:13
[7] Laws of Kings 9:1
[8] Imrei Baruch to Turei Even to Megillah 13a
[9] Kesef Mishnah Laws of Kings 9:1
[10] Sotah 12a
[11] Exodus 2:1
[12] Maharitz Chayos to Sotah 12a
[13] Laws of Marriage 1:1
[14] Responsa Chaim Shaol Volume 1, §95
[15] Deuteronomy 24:1-4
[16] Kli Chemdah, Va'era §2
[17] See Pnei Yehoshua to Kiddushin 13a
[18] See Maimonides, Laws of Kings 9:4
[19] Exodus 6:20
[20] Targum Onkelos to Exodus 6:20 and quoted by Rashi ibid.
[21] Leviticus 18:14
[22] Sanhedrin 58b, see also Yevamos 54-55 which discusses the halachik definition of an "aunt."
[23] Leviticus 18:12
[24] Seder HaDoros Year 2217
[25] Seder HaDoros Year 2364
[26] Da'as Zekanim to Numbers 26:29
[27] Nefesh HaChaim 1:21
[28] Like Bais Hillel, Yevamos 61b who says one fulfills the commandment by fathering a son and a daughter
[29] Sha'arei Aharon to Exodus 6:20
[30] Targum Yonasaon ben Uziel to Numbers 11:26
[31] Deuteronomy 24:4
[32] Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah #580
[33] In his glosses to Rabbi Yosef Patzanavsky's Pardes Yosef to Exodus 2:1
[34] Including Rashi and Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer as quoted in Seder HaDoros Year 2410
[35] Numbers 11:10
[36] Shabbos 130a and Yoma 75a
[37] Da'as Zekanim to Numbers 11:10
[38] Siach HaSadeh, Volume 1, B'Shaar HaMelech
[39] Numbers 11:26ff
[40] Cited above
[41] Rabbeinu Bachya to Genesis 20:2
[42] See Zahav MiShva from Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro (1918-2006) to Genesis 20:3
[43] Exodus 3:6
[44] Chiddushei HaRamban to Exodus 3:6
[45] Meshech Chochmah to Exodus 3:6

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