Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How many children did Michal have? Explanation of a Talmudic passage in light of the writings of Josephus Flavius

How many children did Michal have? Explanation of a Talmudic passage in light of the writings of Josephus Flavius[1]
 By Chaim Sunitsky

The following Talmudic passage appears in Sanhedrin 19b (we are using mostly Soncino translation):

R. Yossi was asked by his disciples: How could David marry two sisters while they were both living? He answered: He married Michal after the death of Meirav. R. Yehoshua ben Korha said: His marriage to Meirav was contracted in error, as it is said, Deliver me my wife Michal whom I betrothed unto me for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines. How does this prove it? — R. Papa answered: Because he said, My wife Michal but not ‘my wife Meirav’. Now, what was the error in his marriage [with Meirav]? [It was this:] It is written, And it shall be that the man who kills [Goliath], the king will enrich him with great riches and will give him his daughter. Now he [David] went and slew him, whereupon Shaul said to him: I owe you a debt, and if one betroths a woman by a debt, she is not betrothed. Accordingly he gave her to Adriel, as it is written, But it came to pass at the time when Meirav, Shaul's daughter should have been given to David, that she was given to Adriel the Meholatite to wife. Then Shaul said to David, ‘If you still wish me to give you Michal to wife, go and bring me hundred foreskins of the Philistines.’ He went and brought them to him. Then he said: ‘You now have two claims on me, [the repayment of] a loan and a perutah’. Now, Shaul held that when a loan and a perutah are offered [as kidushin], he [the would-be husband] thinks mainly of the loan; but in David's view, when there is a loan and a perutah, the mind is set on the perutah. Or if you like, I will say, all agree that where a loan and a perutah [are offered], the mind is set on the perutah. Shaul, however, thought that [the hundred foreskins] had no value, while David held that they had value at least as food for dogs and cats. How does R. Yossi interpret the verse, Deliver me my wife Michal? He explains it by another view of his. For it has been taught: R. Yossi used to interpret the following confused passage thus: It is written, But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Ayah whom she bore to Shaul, Armoni and Mephiboshet, and the five sons of Michal, the daughter of Shaul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai, the Meholatite etc. But was Michal really given to Adriel; was she not given to Palti the son of Layish, as it is written, Now Shaul had given Michal, David's wife, to Palti the son of Layish . . .? But Scripture compares the marriage of Meirav to Adriel to that of Michal to Palti, to teach that just as the marriage of Michal to Palti was unlawful, so was that of Meirav to Adriel. Now as to R. Yehoshua ben Korha, surely it is written, And the five sons of Michal the daughter of Shaul whom she bore to Adriel. R. Yehoshua [b. Korha] answers thee: Was it then Michal who bore them? Surely it was rather Meirav who bore them! But Meirav bore and Michal brought them up, therefore they were called by her name. This teaches you that whoever brings up an orphan in his home, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had begotten him.

The accepted understanding of this passage is that according to Rabbi Yossi David married Michal only after her sister had five children from Adriel and died. Michal later brought up the five children as her own. The commentators[2] ask how Meirav could possibly have five children within just two and a half years of Shaul’s reign and answer that she was pregnant with twins twice, and once with the fifth child.  However, according to the calculation of all the events that had to occur before David married Michal and after he ran away from Shaul, there is not enough time left for three pregnancies of Meirav[3]. We need to look for a simpler understanding of the Talmud.

The difficulty of the Gemara is with the following verse from the end of David’s life (Shmuel 2:21:8): “And the king [David] took two sons of Rizpah daughter of Ayah whom she bore to Shaul, Armoni and Mephiboshet, and the five sons of Michal, the daughter of Shaul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai, the Meholatite …” Five children of Michal and Adriel are mentioned in this verse. All the commentators follow the explanation of our Gemara that the children were born to Meirav and Michal only raised them. But a careful reading seems to reveal that R. Yossi is not the one who holds that the five children were Meirav’s. This explanation is provided by the Gemara later according to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha. If so, R. Yossi must hold that indeed Michal was the one to have the five children. Since David only took her back seven years after he became king, there was plenty of time for her to give birth to five children. But Michal was never married to Adriel, she was “married” to Palti. It’s important to understand what Rabbi Yossi is implying by his words “confused passage” (מקראות מעורבין literally mixed up verses). Apparently he means that while Michal married Palti, the verse is using the expression “married to Adriel” to teach us that the marriage of Michal to Palti was just as sinful as the marriage of Meirav to Adriel. Both marriages were based on an incorrect decision of Shaul and his Bet Din. David's Kidushin with Meirav was declared invalid and his later Kidushin with Michal was declared invalid again[4]. Indeed Josephus Flavius (Antiquities 7:4:3) says that Michal had five children from Palti.

Now we can offer a simple understanding of the entire Talmudic passage. The students asked R. Yossi, how could David marry two sisters? They are obviously assuming that some form of Kidushin was involved when Shaul offered his (presumably older[5]) daughter to the one who kills Goliath[6]. If David was technically married to Meirav he could not marry Michal even if Meirav was incorrectly given to a different man. R. Yossi answered that Meirav died before David married Michal. R. Yehoshua ben Karcha however holds that there was no kosher Kidushin between David and Meirav. He learns it from the words in a verse: “my wife Michal”, meaning only Michal is my wife, Meirav is not. The Gemara goes into the technical explanation of why Michal’s Kidushin was valid and not Meirav’s according to R. Yehoshua ben Karcha. R. Yossi however only learns from this verse that Michal was David’s wife meaning her Kidushin was valid just as Meirav’s, and giving her to Palti was incorrect. He learns that the verse (Shmuel 2:21:8) describing David’s giving five children of Michal and Adriel to Givonim[7] were really Michal’s children from Palti and is using the expression “mixed up verses” to teach us that Michal’s Kidushin with David was valid just like Meirav’s was.[8] R. Yehoshua ben Karcha however says the verse in Shmuel 2:21:8 is not talking about Michal’s children but about Meirav’s children whom Michal raised. The Gemara goes on to give other examples where children raised by someone are considered like one’s own children.

[1] Note that this article does not claim to research the words of Tanach but only the Chazal’s explanation of it. In particular we are trying to offer a novel explanation of R. Yossi’s shita in the Gemara. We will use a novel idea supported by Yosef ben Matityahu. While he was a controversial person at best, he had excellent Jewish education and his traditions are largely reliable and generally represent the opinions of Tanaim of his time. He is quoted numerous times in Daat Sofrim and other traditional commentaries.
[2] Yad Ramah, Tosafot Harosh.
[3] See Margoilyot Hayam. He therefore concludes that we must accept the shitah of Rabeinu Yeshaya on Shmuel (1:13:1) that the two and a half years that Shaul had ruled are only considered until the time David was anointed. However this shitah is in contradiction with Seder Olam which is a product of Rabbi Yossi himself. In the commentary of Gaonim on Sanhedrin another possibility is offered that Shaul himself did not realize that Meirav had been married to Adriel when he offered her to David. Incidentally modern scholarship supposes that Shaul ruled over Israel for more than two years and possibly the word “thirty” is missing in Masoretic text before the word “two” in Shmuel 1:13:1: “[thirty] two years he ruled in over Israel.” Abarbanel has a different explanation of our text according to which Shaul also ruled longer.
[4] It is also possible (though this is not R. Yossi’s shita) that Palti was the same person as Adriel and Shaul first gave Meirav to Adriel and later when she died soon after this marriage and David was running away from Shaul and was considered a rebel, Meirav’s sister Michal was given to Adriel who was now called Palti.
[5] See Tosafot Kidushin 52b.
[6] As to the nature of this Kidushin, we do find some cases where “work” performed is counted as Kidushin as well as saving from danger (see Kidushin 8b, in particular “saving from a dog” in 30:11). Apparently both R. Yossi and his students don’t question that some kind of Kidushin happened here, and if Meirav was no longer minor it must be that she either agreed on Shaul’s proposal or made Shaul her shliach to accept such a Kidushin as saving from a “dog” (incidentally Goliath is in fact compared to a dog, see Sota 42b).
[7] Note that according to David these children were mamzerim.
[8] As mentioned previously neither R. Yossi nor his students had any doubt that Meirav’s Kidushin was valid. Therefore the verse used that Kidushin to compare to Kidushin of Michal and emphasize that giving Michal to Palti was just as sinful as giving Meirav to Adriel. The verse therefore means: “And the king took two sons of Rizpah daughter of Ayah whom she bore to Shaul, Armoni and Mephiboshet, and the five sons of Michal, the daughter of Shaul, whom she bore to [Palti to whom she was given incorrectly just like Meirav was given to] Adriel the son of Barzillai, the Meholatite”. This may be similar to Chazal’s explanation of Zecharia 12:11: “On that day the mourning will be as great in Yerushalaim as the mourning of Hadadrimon in the valley of Megiddo”. There is no known tragic incident in our history that is related to Hadadrimon and the valley of Megiddo. The Talmud (Megilah 3a) quotes the Targum adding a number of words and relating this verse to two different events: “On that day the mourning will be as great in Yerushalaim as the mourning of [Ahab who was killed by] Hadadrimon [and the mourning of Yeshayahu who was killed] in the valley of Megiddo.

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