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Rabbi Elchanan LewisSivan 29, 5769
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Question
Shalom, I have a question that has been on my mind for a long time. Let me briefly explain. I have grown up with the non-Orthodox view that a child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother can still be consider Jewish. However, with an open mind I have sought to understand the traditional Orthodox view of matrilineal descent because, frankly, I find there is oftentimes a lack of serious Biblical scholarship in the Reform community--let alone in other specific communities. I am aware that the Orthodox circle views the Oral Law as having been given at Sinai, and only compiled and redacted during the last two millenia. My question I am concerned about is how do we know that the interpretation of matrilineal descent (as explained in Kiddushin 66b) was truly put into place at Sinai--and not merely put into place out of necessity at the time of Ezra or anytime afterwards before the redaction of the Mishna? Please bear with me as I delve into how this topic has brought me a little consternation. Assuming this interpretation (Kiddushin 66b) was since Sinai, and in full effect at the time of Solomon for example, all the children Solomon had with his hundreds of pagan wives--including Canaanite wives and others specifically forbidden in Deut 7:1--would have been called out as gentile. The country would have known about it. However, we’re told that one of those children, Rehoboam, whose mother was a forbidden Ammonite gentile (1 Kings 14:21) was chosen to be the successor of Solomon. Why would the whole country--if the oral law teaching of Kiddushin 66b was alive and well at the time--support that?! Why would the wise elders who had advised his father Solomon support Rehoboam to be king of Israel knowing he was gentile (1 Kings 12:6+7)? And can we really suggest with any realistic seriousness that Rehoboam’s pagan Ammonite gentile mother converted, considering that Solomon spent his old age worshipping the pagan false gods of his wives and specifically engaging in the worship of the AMMONITE false god "milcom" (1 Kings 11:5). Rehoboam would have been considered nothing but a gentile according to the Oral Law if this Oral Law (as laid out in Kiddushin 66b) was existant at the time. On the contrary, the prophet of G-d called Rehoboam a member of Israel and a brother of Israel (not a gentile) 1 Kings 12:22-24: " But the word of G-d came to Shemaiah the man of G-d, saying, speak to Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, king of Judah...saying, ’Thus says the L-RD, "You shall not go up, nor fight against your BRETHREN the children of Israel..."’" I appreciate your response to my question. Sincerely, Erin Maxfield
Answer
The rabbis cannot change a halacha that was given by G-d to Moshe on mount Sinai as written or oral law. If it were the truth that a Jew is defined by his paternal side the rabbis can't change it later on in time. It therefore must be that the halacha the way we know it today and the way written in the Talmud is the same halacha form Sinai. As for your question, if you assume king Solomon followed the halacha [and that is a reasonable assumption I agree too] how is it he marries no-Jews wives? That is a clear violation of the Torah [Deuteronomy 7:3 Babylonian Talmud Avoda Zara 36b]. It only makes sense King Solomon had converted his non-Jewish wives, some of which may have not done it full-hearted, some of which may have returned to their old practices at old age [see Ralbag on Kings 1 14:21] but Halachacly are clearly Jewish and so are their children. This is not only a reasonable assumption but that is what our sages explicitly teach us In the Talmud and more. [see Bava Kama 38b, Yevamot 76a, Maimonides Isurei Biah 13:14] As for your claim king Solomon sinned see Shabbat 56b, where our sages put these verses in proportion teaching us king Solomon had sinned but not worshiping idols as one may think.
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