Talmud pages

Yevamot 76

Is intermarriage possible?

Today’s daf explores a question relevant to many people today: Can a Jew marry a non-Jew? To be clear, the question here isn’t whether a Jewish person and a non-Jewish person can fall in love, or live together in a committed relationship, or have a relationship that is legally recognized by the state. It isn’t whether a Jewish person and a non-Jewish person should marry. The question the Gemara is interested in exploring is whether this kind of union has the legal and ritual force of rabbinic marriage, kiddushin and nissuin

According to Rava, the short answer is no:

When they are gentiles there can be no marriage with them.

But Rav Yosef challenges Rava’s position with a biblical example: “And Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” (I Kings 3:1) It certainly sounds like Solomon married a non-Jewish woman, and that the Bible recognized it as a marriage!

The Gemara suggests that perhaps Solomon converted his bride to Judaism before the wedding — which means that she wasn’t a non-Jew at all. But then the Gemara challenges this solution:

But isn’t it so that they did not accept converts in the days of David nor in the days of Solomon?

According to rabbinic tradition, during the earliest generations of the Israelite monarchy, when Israel was at its peak glory and ascendency, conversion to Judaism was forbidden, on the assumption that potential converts were merely opportunistic and not sincerely committed to Judaism. 

But if that is the reason David and Solomon forbade conversion, the Gemara suggests, then Pharaoh’s daughter would surely be exempt from those concerns. After all, she already had plenty of power and wealth, so her conversion could take place with no doubt about its sincerity. 

So Pharaoh’s daughter could indeed convert to Judaism, but does that mean she could marry Solomon? The rabbis read Deuteronomy 23:8–9 as stating that Egyptian converts and their children cannot marry into the congregation of Israel. And Solomon was not just a member of the congregation of Israel but its king! 

Rav Papa then reinterprets a verse in 1 Kings 11

Solomon did not marry anyone, as it is written in his regard: Of the nations concerning which the Lord said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not go among them, neither shall they come among you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon cleaved to these in love. (I Kings 11:2

Radically, Rav Papa insists that Solomon didn’t marry any of the foreign women whom he loved (instead he “cleaved” to them) as an attempt to stay away from their idolatrous worship. He loved them but could not contract legal marriage to them. 

Of course, Rav Papa’s interpretation is particularly radical given that the original verse under consideration today literally states, And Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. The Gemara then explains how Rav Papa could state that they were not married if the Torah seems to state that they were:

Due to the extraordinary love that he had for her, the verse relates to him as if he had married her.

Where does that leave us? The Gemara concludes Solomon could not have married the daughter of Pharaoh — whether or not she converted — because marriages to Egyptians are legally invalid. They could live together as if they were married, they could love each other (or at the very least, he loved her, according to the biblical verse), but enacting a rabbinic marriage was an impossibility.

And what about everyone else? We’ll explore this question in future tractates, but the short answer is the rabbis of the Talmud accept Rava’s view: According to them, a Jew can’t contract a Jewish marriage (kiddushin and nissuin) with a non-Jew because that is a halakhic ritual which only works between two Jews. 

Read all of Yevamot 76 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 22nd, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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