At this point in our journey through Tractate Kiddushin, we’ve explored the many ways that a rabbinic betrothal can take effect, and the complications that can emerge when properly enacting a rabbinic betrothal.
Today’s daf shifts our discussion to explore the limits of kiddushin, and asks: If kiddushin refers to rabbinic betrothal, who can’t get rabbinically betrothed — ever?
To be clear about the terminology here, the rabbis are not discussing whether these kinds of relationships are morally right or wrong (though they certainly do that elsewhere), but only whether certain people can affect it at all.
The Talmud identifies certain unions which can never be legally recognized through kiddushin — unions between a Jewish person and a non-Jewish person, or between a free Jewish person and an enslaved person. Kiddushin within such a relationship simply doesn’t work, and no rabbinically recognized marriage takes effect. Someone whose kiddushin did not take effect is considered still single and can, in theory, go on and be halakhically betrothed to someone with whom they can perform kiddushin, even while in a (non-halakhic) marriage to someone else.
But it’s not enough for the rabbis to simply define the parameters of kiddushin, the project on today’s daf is to root those parameters within the Torah itself:
From where do we derive that betrothal with a gentile woman is ineffective? The verse states: “Neither shall you make marriages with them.” (Deuteronomy 7:3)
The rabbis read this verse not as prescriptive (you should not do this) but as descriptive (you legally can’t do this). But the verse in Deuteronomy 7 comes in the specific context of Moses’ speech to Israel about the seven Canaanite nations (and, as we mentioned yesterday, there were no Canaanites in the rabbinic period). So how then do the rabbis expand this idea to all non-Jews?
From where do we derive that betrothal does not take effect with the other nations? The verse states: “For he will turn away your son from following Me,” to include all those who might turn a child away.
The Talmud suggests that we extrapolate from the verse in Deuteronomy that kiddushin is ineffective with anyone who might turn their child away from Judaism and the Jewish worship of God.
This works out well according to Rabbi Shimon, who expounds the reason for the verse. But according to the opinion of the rabbis, what is the reason?
The rabbis, apart from Rabbi Shimon, apparently don’t connect the first and second halves of Deuteronomy 7:3 in this way. And yet, the Talmud assumes that the rabbis, too, would see kiddushin between a Jewish person and any non-Jewish person as ineffective. But why? The Talmud turns to the biblical discussion of the beautiful captive woman — a woman who is not from the seven Canaanite nations but is also not Jewish for evidence:
The verse states: “And after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.” (Deuteronomy 21:13) By inference that at the outset betrothal would not take effect with her.
The rabbis ultimately agree with Rabbi Shimon that rabbinic betrothal between a Jew and a non-Jew just doesn’t work. But in their different rationales, they open up two different sets of questions for modern readers:
If the evidence is based on the Torah’s discussion of a limited and troubling case of female captives during wartime, how should we think about relationships between equals in times of peace?
If the concern is one of raising Jewish children, how should we think about the growing body of evidence for continued Jewish identity in intermarried families?
Ultimately, the Talmud’s discussion makes clear that whatever the concern, such an act of kiddushin is ineffective. But in its halakhic back and forth, it challenges us to explore more fully both the purposes of kiddushin, and its limits.