Friday, July 31, 2015

Mezuzah Revisited. Parshat Vaetchanan.

Mezuzah Revisited. Parshat Vaetchanan.
By Chaim Sunitsky.

Rashi on this Parsha (Devarim 6:9) says that since the word Mezuzot is written without the Vav[1], only one Mezuzah is necessary. It’s generally assumed that Rashi can’t argue with a clear Talmudic statement that every door of the house needs a Mezuzah[2] and therefore he can’t be understood at face value. However the custom in many places in Medieval Europe had always been to only affix one Mezuzah per house[3]. We will now try to examine if indeed there ever was a tradition that supported this minhag.

The Rema makes a unique statement in Yoreh Deah (287:2): “The commonly spread minhag in these countries is to attach only one Mezuzah per house and they have nothing to rely on”. This statement is very unusual. Rema is known for supporting Jewish minhagim and it’s very common for him to use the expression “common minhag” often followed by a statement that this minhag should not be changed, or at least that this minhag can be relied on. Here however the Rema is saying just the opposite: the minhag has nothing to rely on and a “yere Shamaim” person should affix the Mezuzot on every entrance.

It’s hard to understand how this incorrect “minhag” could have possibly become wide spread. R. Yissachar Dov Eilenburg[4] (the author of Beer Sheva on the Talmud) suggested that this mistake became widespread due to incorrect understanding of our Rashi. However I find it strange if the previous minhag was to affix a Mezuzah on every doorpost, how would it change in many countries simply because they misunderstood the Rashi’s Torah commentary[5]. As for the correct understanding of Rashi, two possibilities were offered: either Rashi is saying that we don’t have to affix two Mezuzot on each doorframe[6], or that Rashi is following the opinion of R. Meir that if an entrance has only one doorpost on the right, there is a need to affix Mezuzah (despite the lack of second doorpost[7]). As for Rashi’s actual drasha[8] we don’t see it in any known source in Hazal[9].

In general there was[10] some attempt to explain the custom of affixing only one Mezuzah based on the fact that many of the inside rooms in their houses were not clean enough, but this does not explain what people relied on when the house itself had more than one entrance[11]. However Rashi[12] on our Gemorah brings an interpretation according to which if a house has exactly two entrances, it needs only one Mezuzah on the more commonly used entrance, since the other entrance is batela (is unimportant) compared to the first one. Only if the house has more than two entrances then we don’t say that two entrances are batelim to the one commonly used entrance. Maybe then Rashi on the Chumash is following his shita and saying that a house (or room) with two entrances requires only one Mezuzah. Interestingly, in Yerushalmi[13] there is even a stronger statement that seems to imply that only one entrance per house requires a Mezuzah:

בית שיש לו שני פתחים נותן ברגיל היו שניהן רגילין נותן בחזית היו שניהן חזית נותן על איזה מהן שירצה

The simple meaning of Yerushlami seems to contradict the Talmud Bavli and imply that only the entrance that’s used more often needs the Mezuzah. If he uses both entrances equally, then the Mezuzah is affixed to the “stronger” entrance and is they are equally strong, one can affix the Mezuzah on either entrance.

To conclude we seem to have found a possible explanation of Rashi according to the simple meaning of his words[14] and a possible justification for the old minhag in Europe[15]. Needless to say our words are only theoretical and Baruch Hashem that minhag has disappeared a long time ago and every Orthodox Jew today affixes a Mezuzah on every entrance.

[1] Apparently Rashi implies that Mezuzot is written without the second Vav and can be read as Mezuzat. Our scrolls written according the Mesorah, Rambam (Sefer Torah 2:6), Semag (Asin 22) and Minhat Shai have the first Vav between two Zain’s missing, but Leningrad scroll (used on Bar Ilan disk) in fact has the second Vav missing. It’s also possible that Rashi meant that as long as some Vav is missing we can “transfer” the missing Vav to the last position and thus read the word as Mezuzat. See also Minhat Shai, Shemot 12:7. Interestingly the famous statement of the GR”A that there are 64 different Tefilins one would need to put on to fulfil all opinions does not consider the various opinions about how to write various words like “mezuzot”, “totafot”, which would bring the numbers of different Tefillins to hundreds.
[2] See for instance Menachot 34a.
[3] In this article we only discuss if there is any justification for the custom of affixing one Mezuzah on one’s home. See however Semag (Asin 3) that there were some people in Spain who did not affix Mezuzot at all, and see there in Asin 23 some weird “justification” they used for their “minhag”.
[4] In his super-commentary on Rashi called Tzeda Lederch and his “Beer Maim Chaim” usually printed in the end of Beer Sheva.
[5]  To say nothing about the fact that Halacha is rarely learned from a Torah commentary as Rashi does not “pasken” there.
[6] In Yalkut Shimoni on Mishley (remez 943) indeed there is an opinion that each of the doorposts requires two Mezuzot, but our Gemorah (Menachot 34a) does not hold like this opinion and does not even mention it (see also Shu”t Minchat Yitzchak 1:9).
[7] Obviously the Biblical word Mezuzah means not the parchment but the pole itself, so one Mezuzah in Rashi means one doorframe.
[8] Which Rabeinu Bahya quotes as words of Razal.
[9] See however Mordachai (962) who brings in the name of Rif that R. Meir and Rabonan who argue about the above law apparently learn from the spelling of Mezuzot. It may be according to this girsa, not found in our Rif, R. Meir had no Vav and Rabonan had a Vav in the word “Mezuzot” in Devarim 6:9. The Talmud mentions that R. Meir was a scribe and it’s possible he had some especially accurate scrolls that were different from the more commonly used ones (his “Torah scroll” is mentioned in Midrashim, see for instance Bereshit Rabbah 94:9). Our Gemora however only mentions the learning from “Mezuzot” with the Vav to support the shita of Rabonan (see also the first Tosafot on 34a).
[10] See Maharil, Minhagim, Laws of Mezuzah, 1 and Tshuvot 94 . In practice the Maharil and Rema did not accept these explanations.
[11] See also Shu”t Divrey Yatziv Yore Deah 191 who proposes that maybe only the Mezuzah on the outside doorpost is a Biblical command, but the question of a house with two entrances still remains.
[12] Menachot 33a starting with words Holech Achar Haragil and 34a starting with words Af Al Gav Deragil Beechad.
[13] The end of Megila, 34a (see however second perek of Tractate Mezuzah, in Vilna Shas it’s printed at the end of the volume with Avoda Zara). Even if our interpretation off the Yerushalmi is correct, if the house has many rooms, it would seem to need a Mezuzah for each one even according to Yerushalmi.
[14] In Sefer Zechor Leavraham on Rashi in Likutim in the back the author also interprets Rashi to mean only one Mezuza is needed. He proposes that Rashi quotes a lost Midrash similar to the one preserved in Yalkut Shimoni I quoted above. According to the author the dispute there is not whether the Mezuzah is placed on both sides of one entrance but whether there is a need for a Mezuzah on every entrance of the house.
[15] It’s known that many European communities started in Italy, where Yerushalmi was often followed to a greater extent than Bavli and therefore it’s possible that the earliest settlers in France and Germany were told only to affix one Mezuzah on the main entrance leading to the street. Regarding inside rooms, maybe they did not have any since simple houses had only one room in those times or maybe they relied on some of the weak reasons mentioned in Maharil (who rejects them) but regarding the outside doors if there are only two they may have followed Rashi and if some of their houses had more than two entrances they may have followed Yerushalmi or some other lost opinion (partially preserved in the Yalkut Shimoni).   

The Seven Nations of Canaan

                                     THE SEVEN NATIONS OF CANAAN[1]

By Reuven Kimelman
This study deals with the war and the seven Canaanite nations.[2] It complements my previous post on Amalek of March 13, 2014, “The Ethics of the Case of Amalek: An Alternative Reading of the Biblical Data and the Jewish Tradition. “The popular conception in both cases is that the Bible demands their extermination thereby providing a precedent for genocide.[3] The popular reading of the Canaanites filters it through the prism of Deuteronomy. The popular reading of Amalek filters the Torah material through the prism of Saul’s battle against Amalek in the Book of Samuel. In actuality, the biblical data is much more ambiguous making the most destructive comments the exception not the rule as will be evident from a systematic analysis of the Canaanite material in the Bible as was previously done with Amalek.  

            This post will deal with the following seven questions with regard to the nations of Canaan:

a). What are the different biblical approaches to the native nations of Canaan?
b). According to the Bible, what actually happened to them?
c). What is the evidence that the Bible is sensitive to the moral issues involved?
d). How has the Jewish tradition removed the category of the seven nations from its ethical agenda?
e). What is the role of the doctrine of repentance?
f). What is the relevance of the “Sennacherib principle”?
g). How relevant is the category “holy war”?

            With regard to the extermination of the seven nations of Canaan,[4] sometimes called Canaanites sometimes Amorites, the biblical record is also not of one cloth. The clarification of their status in the Bible requires a systematic treatment of all the data book by book. 

Genesis (12:6, 15:16) is aware that the Canaanites were in the land when Abraham arrived and would remain for generations.  From Genesis 38 and the end of The Book of Ruth we learn that from the progeny of Abraham’s great grandson Judah and the Canaanite Tamar will issue King David. Also  Simeon’s son is identified as “Saul the son of a Cannanite women” (Genesis 46:10, Exodus 6:15) without comment.

Exodus (23)’s position on the elimination of the Canaanites (v. 23) is a gradual dispossession by God, not by the Israelites:[5]

27 I will send forth My terror before you, and I will throw into panic all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn tail before you. 28 I will send a plague ahead of you, and it shall drive out before you the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites.[6] 29 I will not drive them out before you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply to your hurt. 30 I will drive them out before you little by little, until you have increased and possess the land.

Leviticus (18) refers to God casting out of the nations:

24 Do not defile yourselves in any of those ways, for it is by such that the nations that I am casting out before you defiled themselves. 25 Thus the land became defiled; and I called it to account for its iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants.

Here there is a coordination between God and land.  The land spews out its inhabitants for defiling it and God expels them.  

Numbers (33) refers to the Israelites deporting the local inhabitants:

51 Speak to the Israelite people and say to them:
When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52 you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy all their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places. 53 And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land to you to possess.

It is clear that the issue here is not ethnic but religio-cultural. The fear is that Israel will be ensnared, especially through intermarriage, by the local moral and cultic practices . 

Exodus 34 emphasizes the religious factor:

12b Beware of making a covenant with the inhabitants of the land against which you are advancing, lest they be a snare in your midst. 13 Rather you must tear down their altars, smash their pillars,and cut down their sacred posts; 14 for you must not worship any other God, because the Lord, whose name is Impassioned, is an impassioned God. 15 You must not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for they will lust after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and invite you, and you will eat of their sacrifices. 16 And when you take wives from among their daughters for your sons, their daughters will lust after their gods and will cause your sons to lust after their gods.[7]

Leviticus 18 emphasizes the moral factor:

26 But you must keep My laws and My rules, and you must not do any of those abhorrent things, neither the citizen nor the stranger who resides among you; 27 for all those abhorrent things were done by the people who were in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 So let not the land spew you out for defiling it as it spewed out the nation that came before you. 29 All who do any of those abhorrent things—such persons shall be cut off from their people. 30 You shall keep My charge not to engage in any of the abhorrent practices that were carried on before you, and you shall not defile yourselves through them: I the Lord am your God.

Numbers 33 warns Israel against assimilating Canaanite norms lest they share their fate of expulsion. “55 But if you do not dispossess the inhabitants of the land, those whom you allow to remain shall be stings in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land in which you live; 56 so that I will do to you what I planned to do to them.”

            The exception is Deuteronomy 7 which demands total destruction:

1 When the Lord your God brings you to the land that you are about to enter and possess, and He dislodges many nations before you— the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations much larger than you—2and the Lord your God delivers them to you and you defeat them, you must doom them to destruction: grant them no terms and give them no quarter.

Even according to Deuteronomy the fear is not of their DNA but moral assimilation, for it goes on to say:  “Lest they lead you into doing all the abhorrent things that they have done for their gods and you stand guilty before the Lord your God” (20:18). For Deuteronomy (12:31; 18:9-12), the abhorrent things include child sacrifice.

Strangely, Deuteronomy continues with a provision against intermarriage:

3 You shall not intermarry with them: do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. 4 For they will turn your children away from Me to worship other gods, and the Lord’s anger will blaze forth against you and He will promptly wipe you out. 5 Instead, this is what you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, smash their pillars, cut down their sacred posts, and consign their images to the fire.

Apprehension about intermarriage or coming to terms with an eradicated people is strange unless Deuteronomy is aware that its demand to doom them will not be (or was not) implemented. And, in fact, as we shall see the evidence from Judges 3 is that they did intermarry.

 Alternatively, ḥerem does not entail the elimination of the Canaanites only their isolation, that is, they are to be quarantined. This understanding follows its Semitic cognates where it means to separate, to set aside.[8] The goal is to exclude any intercourse with them. Thus verse 5 only refers to the elimination of their objects of worship not their persons. This opens the possibility that “What we have is a retention of the ... traditional language of ḥerem, but a shift in the direction of its acquiring significance as a metaphor ... for religious fidelity.”[9]

 Even stranger is the description of the confrontation with Sihon king of the Amorites. Within the context of Deuteronomy, one would expect an outright attack when God says to Moses: “See, I give into your power Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin the occupation: engage him in battle” (2:24). Instead, what does Moses do:

26 Then I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to King Sihon of Heshbon with an offer of peace, as follows, 27 “Let me pass through your country. I will keep strictly to the highway, turning off neither to the right nor to the left. 28 What food I eat you will supply for money, and what water I drink you will furnish for money; just let me pass through.”

Sihon rejects the offer and attacks Israel. They are destroyed only in the counterattack.

If there is no evidence for the expulsion of the Canaanites, whence the position of Deuteronomy 7:1-2? It has been speculated that Deuteronomy took “both the expulsion law of Exodus 23:20-33, directed against the inhabitants of Canaan, and the ḥerem (total destruction) law of Exodus 22:19 (“Whoever sacrifices to a God other than the Lord shall be proscribed), directed against the individual Israelite, and fused them into a new law that applies ḥerem to all idolaters, Israelites and non-Israelites alike.”[10] In other words, the ḥerem is not against Canaanites as Canaanites, but idolaters as idolaters. Thus Deuteronomy (13:13-19) imposes the very punishment on Israelite idolaters. The choice of the word ḥerem also promotes a sense of quid pro quod, for, according to Numbers 14:45, the Canaanites and the Amalekites pummeled Israel to Hormah a word which could simply designate a place or also serve as a toponym since ad haḥormah could be rendered “to utter destruction.”[11] The point of the paronomasia is that the Canaanites and the Amalekites got as they gave.

In any case, except for some sources in Joshua (6:21 and chapters 10-11) the later biblical sources follow the earlier biblical books from Exodus to Numbers rather than Deuteronomy. Even the Joshua material raises some questions. According to Joshua 10:33, Joshua totally destroyed the people of Gezer. Yet Joshua 16:10 (like Judges 1:29) states: “They failed to dispossess the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer; so the Canaanites remained in the midst of Ephraim, as is still the case. But they had to perform forced labor.” In actuality, they stayed there until the reign of Solomon only to be killed off by Pharaoh as noted in I Kings 9:16. Apparently, once the people were defanged by having its army destroyed, they were given quarter.[12] As a subject nation they apparently present no religious threat. In fact, save for the peculiar case of Judges 3:5, the surrounding nations, not the Canaanites, are blamed for Israelite apostasy.[13] In fact, according to Joshua 8:29 and 10:27, the bodies of Canaanite kings hung by Joshua were buried by nightfall just as Deuteronomy 21:23 enjoins. Apparently, Human dignity is inalienable even for Canaanite kings.

The triumphal picture of Joshua is undermined by the facts on the ground. For example, Joshua 11:12 gives the impression that Joshua wiped out all the cities in the area of Hazor and burned them to the ground. Yet the next verse says: “However, all those towns that are still standing on their mounds were not burned down by Israel; it was Hazor alone that Joshua burned down.” In fact, only two other cities were burned -- Jericho and Ai.

Similarly, Joshua 11:23 claims: “Thus Joshua conquered the whole country, just as the Lord had promised Moses,” whereas 13:1 concedes “and very much of the land still remains to be taken possession of.” Even where Israel spread out much of the native population was allowed to remain in their midst, as it says later in the same chapter: “the Israelites failed to dispossess the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and Geshur and Maacath remain among Israel to this day” (13:13). The sparing of the Canaanite population was common. With regard to southern Israel, Joshua 15:63 says: “But the Judites could not dispossess the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so the Judites dwell with the Jebusites in Jerusalem to this day.” With regard to central Israel, Joshua 16:10 says: “However, they failed to dispossess the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer; so the Canaanites remained in the midst of Ephraim, as is still the case. But they had to perform forced labor.” And with regard to northern Israel, Joshua 17:12-13 says: “The Manassites could not dispossess [the inhabitants of] these towns, and the Canaanites stubbornly remained in this region. When the Israelites became stronger, they imposed tribute on the Canaanites; but they did not dispossess them.”

Judges 1:27-36 follows suit. It begins:

27 Manasseh did not dispossess [the inhabitants of] Beth-shean and its dependencies, or [of] Taanach and its dependencies, or the inhabitants of Dor and its dependencies, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its dependencies, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its dependencies. The Canaanites persisted in dwelling in this region. 28 And when Israel gained the upper hand, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor; but they did not dispossess them. 29Nor did Ephraim dispossess the Canaanites who inhabited Gezer; so the Canaanites dwelt in their midst at Gezer...

All these sources mention the failure to dispossess the Canaanites, despite the Israelites’ power to do so. No mention is made of any extermination.[14] Joshua 24:13 does mention the expulsion of two kings but without resorting to the sword and bow, a point reiterated in Psalm 44:5. Most remarkable is the story in Judges 4. There it is told that God punished the Israelites by handing them over to Yabin the king of Canaan and Sisera his general. In the divinely commanded revolt against them, God promised to deliver them into the hands of the Israelites not to wipe them out.

Joshua concedes in his farewell address the failure of his policy. The most he can hope is that “The Lord your God Himself will thrust them out on your account and drive them out to make way for you” (Joshua 23:5). In the meantime, they are exhorted to be resolute not “to intermingle with these nations that are left among you. Do not utter the names of their gods or swear by them” (23:7). He them mentions the apprehension of Deuteronomy of intermarriage: “For should you turn away and attach yourselves to the remnant of those nations -- to those that are left among you--and intermarry with the you joining them and they joining you, know for certain that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out before you; they shall become a snare and a trap for you” (23:12-13).

In fact, Judges 3 states that they did intermarry: “The Israelites settled among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites; they took their daughters to wife and gave their own daughters to their sons, and they worshiped their gods” (5-6). Intermarriage was likely a factor in the absence of biblical or extra biblical evidence for Israel’s expulsion of the Canaanites. 

The archaeological record confirms that Israel primarily settled in previously unoccupied territory in the central highlands rather than rebuilt towns on destroyed Canaanite cites. In Judges 2, they are threatened with the consequences of not dispossessing them:

1 An angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim and said, “I brought you up from Egypt and I took you into the land which I had promised on oath to your fathers. And I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. 2 And you, for your part, must make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you must tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me—look what you have done! 3 Therefore, I have resolved not to drive them out before you; they shall become your oppressors, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
The Israelites not only did not drive out the inhabitants, they concluded treaties with them. Their expulsion by God was contingent upon Israel’s refusal to conclude a treaty with them. Neither took place.

Even at the height of ancient Israelite power under the reign of Solomon there was no move to do away with them only to subject them to forced labor, as I Kings 9 (= 2 Chronicles 8:7-8) states:

20All the people that were left of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites who were not of the Israelite stock—21those of their descendants who remained in the land and whom the Israelites were not able to annihilate—of these Solomon made a slave force, as is still the case.[15]

Nonetheless, Uriah the Hittite not only marries Bathsheba but also serves as a trusted officer in David’s army.

            Psalm 106 laments the total failure of the policy. According to it, everything that Joshua warned against, they did and more. Following Deuteronomy 12:31, it also provides the moral basis by documenting the abhorrent behavior of the Canaanites to their own children:

34 They did not destroy the nations as the Lord had commanded them, 35 but mingled with the nations and learned their ways. 36 They worshiped their idols, which became a snare for them. 37 Their own sons and daughters they sacrificed to demons. 38 They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; so the land was polluted with bloodguilt. 39 Thus they became defiled by their acts, debauched through their deeds.[16]

Verses 34-35 attest to the non implementation of the policy of Deuteronomy 20:17-18.

            Remarkably, the Rabbis explain the non implementation through the conversion of the nations: 

R. Samuel bar Nahman began his discourse with the verse: “But if you will not drive out the inhabitants of the Land before you, then shall those that remain of them be as thorns in your eyes and as pricks in your sides” (Numbers 33:55). The Holy One reminded Israel: I said to you, “You shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite” (Deuteronomy 20:17). But you did not do so; for “Rahab the harlot, and her father’s household, and all that she had, did Joshua save alive” (Joshua 6:25). Behold, Jeremiah will spring from the children’s children of Rahab the harlot and will thrust such words into you as will be thorns in your eyes and pricks in your sides.[17]

Irony of ironies, the thorny and prickly issue is no longer the continuity of pagan practices but the pointed prophetic barbs from the progeny of converts.

The tendency to blunt the impact of the seven-nations policy of Deuteronomy is also furthered by two other comments in rabbinic literature. The first contends that Joshua sent three missives before embarking on the conquest of the Land of Israel. The first said: “whoever wants to leave -- may leave;” the second: “whoever wants to make peace -- make peace;” and the third: “whoever wants to make war -- make war.”[18] War was only conducted against those who opted for war.[19]

That war was not waged against those who did not opt for war may be supported by the following verse in Joshua:

When all the kings of the Amorites on the western side of the Jordan, and all the kings of the Canaanites near the Sea, heard how the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the sake of the Israelites until they crossed over, they lost heart, and no spirit was left in them because of the Israelites (5:1).

No war no killing. Similarly, Joshua 9 mentions that all six nations of Cannaan mobilized for war against Israel as opposed to the Gibeonites who made peace with them. Even though the peace was made under false pretenses, Joshua in chapter 10 honored his “treaty to guarantee their lives” (9:15) by rescuing them from the attack of the five Amorite kings. The treaty here entails security arrangements in exchange for submission.  Also in the beginning of chapter 11 Joshua defeats those nations that had mobilized for war against him. None of these accounts attribute their destruction to their religious depravity, only to their initiation of attack on Israel.[20]

The other rabbinic comment rules that by transplanting and mingling the populations he conquered, the Assyrian king Sennacherib dissolved the national identity of the Canaanite nations in ancient times.[21] Accordingly, Maimonides ruled that all trace of them has vanished.[22] Harav Abraham Kook, former chief rabbi, attained the same goal by limiting the commandment to expel the Canaanites to the generation of Joshua. He writes:

If it were an absolute duty for every Jewish king to conquer all the seven nations, how would David have refrained from doing so? Therefore, in my humble opinion, the original duty rested only on Joshua and his generation. Afterwards, it was only a commandment to realize the inheritance of the land promised to the patriarchs.[23]

Moreover, non-Canaanites captured along with a majority of Canaanites were to be spared just as Canaanites caught with a majority of non-Canaanites were to be spared[24] reducing possibilities of any wholesale slaughter. In fact one commentator contends that the destruction of a city is predicated upon the unanimous opposition to submission to the Israelites for “we cannot impose a death penalty on them (women and children) because of the sin of their fathers and the guilt of their husbands.”[25] Finally, the Maimonidean ruling that all war must be preceded by an overture of peace and that only the nations of Canaan that maintained their abhorrent ways are to be doomed reduced the possibility of any war of total destruction.[26] His position is rooted in the repeated classical rabbinic comment to the verse “Lest they lead you into doing all the abhorrent things that they have done for their gods and you stand guilty before the Lord your God” (20:18) -- “This teaches that if they repent they are not killed.”[27] The assumption is that the Canaanites got special attention not only because of their geography, but also because “they were enmeshed in idolatry more than all the nations of the world.”[28]

Similarly, The Wisdom of Solomon notes that the Israelites did not wipe out the Canaanites “at once, but judging them gradually You gave them space for repentance” (12:10).

The best biblical example of judging Canaanites by their behavior and not by their genes is the case of Rahab of Jericho. Since she acknowledged the God of Israel as “the God of heaven and earth” (Joshua 2:12) and threw her lot in with Israel, she and her household were not only spared but were welcomed “into the midst of Israel” (Joshua 6:25). Rabbinic tradition extended this welcome to marrying Joshua and becoming the progenitor of priests and prophets.[29] Moreover, based on the fact that “The young men . . . went in and brought out Rahab . . . and her brethren . . . all her kindred also” (Joshua 6:23), it was understood that her immediate relatives, and also their relatives totaling many hundreds were also spared.[30] The other salutary example is the Canaanite Tamar who not only trumped Judah morally (see Genesis 38:26), but, according to the genealogy at the end of the Book of Ruth, became the progenitress of King David. The other progenitress was Ruth the Moabite who is linked to Tamar in Ruth 4:12. That behavior or life-style trumps genes explains the permissibility of marrying the captured woman in Deuteronomy 21:10. Having left her previous ways she no longer presents a temptation of apostasy. Rabbinic tradition following suit specifically included a Canaanite as long as she had shed her idolatrous ways.[31]

In the same vein, rabbinic tradition held that the descendants of the Canaanite general Sisera became Torah teachers in Jerusalem,[32] and that Abraham’s servant Eliezer was removed from the category of Canaanite due to his loyalty to Abraham,[33] indeed, deemed his peer in piety,[34] worthy of entering Paradise alive.[35]

In the light of the biblical doctrine of repentance (“For it is not My desire that anyone shall die—declares the Lord God. Repent, therefore, and live!” -- Ezekiel 18:32), it is hard to contemplate an alternative. Such a doctrine does not sit well with the possibility of irredeemable evil. A lesson that Jonah had a hard time learning. According to The Book of Jonah, even Nineveh, the capital of the empire that brought ruin on the lost tribes of Israel and annihilated everything in its path (see Isaiah 37:11), could avert destruction by engaging in repentance. Finally, the evidence that the issue was all along ethical and not ethnic lies in the fact that Abraham was prevented from taking possession of the land in his day “because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16), whereas his descendants were allowed to take possession because of the “wickedness of these nations” (Deuteronomy 9:4-5).

The midrashic tradition followed the biblical categorization of groups through a combination of ethics and ethnicity. With regard to repentance, the Midrash pointed out that the Torah was given in the third month whose Zodiac symbol is twins to make the point that were Jacob’s twin Esau to repent and convert and study Torah God would accept him.[36] In fact, God looks forward “to  the nations of the world repenting so that He might bring them nigh beneath His wings.”[37] Kindness is also a criterion for inclusion; its absence a criterion for exclusion. The Cannanite Rahab is allowed in for her act of her kindness.[38] Even Egyptians, according to Deuteronomy 23:8b-9, are accepted after three generations apparently for having initially extended kindness to Israel.[39] The case of the Moabite Ruth is exemplary. According to Deuteronomy 23:4-5, Moabites are not allowed into the Congregation of the Lord because of their lack of human decency and hospitality to Israel after the Exodus. In contrast, Ruth is accepted because of her decency and kindness to her Jewish mother-in-law.[40] Her example led to the wholesale exemption of women from the Deuteronomic prohibition.[41]

She in fact is a latter day Tamar. Both Tamar and Ruth are erstwhile barren foreign widows of Israelite men who insinuate themselves into the messianic line through linking up with prominent progenitors of David through a combination of feminine wiles and moral rectitude.

In the same vein, Eliezer’s criterion, according to Genesis 24:14, for incorporating a woman into Abraham’s family was precisely kindness and hospitality to strangers. In fact, the midrash lists ten biblical women of Egyptian, Midianite, Cannanite, Moabite, and Kenite origin whose kindness accounts for their acceptance as converts.[42] As noted, kindness qualifies one for inclusion as its absence qualifies one for exclusion, as the Talmud says, “Anyone who has mercy on people, is presumed to be of our father Abraham’s seed; and anyone who does not have mercy on people, is presumed not to be of our father Abraham’s seed.”[43]  Maimonides follows suit by defining charitableness as “the sign of the righteous person, the seed of Abraham our Father. Indeed if someone is cruel and does not show mercy, there are grounds to suspect his or her lineage.”[44] Obviously, Abrahamic lineage has also an ethical DNA marker. 

            In sum, there are basically four strategies for removing the seven-nations ruling from the post-biblical ethical agenda and vitiating it as a precedent for contemporary practice:

1. The recognition that the mandate for their extermination was a minority position in the Bible, significantly limited to Deuteronomy 7:1-2, and was only thought to be partially implemented in parts of the Book of Joshua.
2. The realization that since the threat was posed by their religion and ethics a change in them brings about a change in their status.
3. The limitation of the jurisdiction of the ruling to the conditions of ancient Canaan at the time of Joshua.
4. The application of the “Sennacherib principle” that holds that under the Assyrian empire conquered peoples lost their national identity.

 These four stratagems of the biblical and post-biblical exegetical tradition mitigate if not undermind the ruling regarding the destruction of the Canaanites. In both cases, ethics end up trumping genealogy. This understanding helps account for the absence of any drive to exterminate or dispossess the seven nations even when Israel was at the height of its power under the reigns of David and Solomon. 

According to John Yoder’s When War Is Unjust, holy wars differ from just wars in the following five respects:

1. holy wars are validated by a transcendent cause;
2. the cause is known by revelation;
3. the adversary has no rights;   
4. the criterion of last resort need not apply;
5. it need not be “winnable.”[45]

This study illustrates how the antidotes to 3-5 were woven into the ethical fabric of the biblical wars of destruction. In most cases the resort to war even against the Canaanites was only pursuant to overtures of peace or in counterattack, and even the chances of success against Midian were weighed by the Urim and Tumim. It is therefore not surprising that the expression “holy war” is absent not only from the Bible but also from the subsequent Jewish ethical and military lexicon.[46]

[1] For a survey of alternative ways of dealing with the history of the problem outside of Jewish exegesis, see Ed Noort, “War in the Book of Joshua: History or Theology,” Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature Yearbook: Visions of Peace and Tales of War (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010), pp. 69-86, at 72-76. For an assemblage of material on ḥerem, see P. D. Stern, The Biblical Herem: A Window on Israel’s Religious Experience, Brown Judaic Studies 211; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991.
[2] For the whole subject of  war in the Bible, see Charles Trimm, “Recent Research on Warfare in the Old Testament,” Currents in Biblical Research 10 (2012), pp. 171-216.
[3] On the practice of genocide in antiquity, see Louis Feldman, “Remember Amalek!”: Vengeance, Zealotry, and Group Destruction in the Bible according to Philo, Pseudo-Philo, and Josephus, (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2004), pp. 2-6.
[4] Sources differ on the number. For seven, see Deuteronomy 7:1, Joshua 3:10, 24:11. For six, see Exodus 3:8, 17; 23:23, 33:2, etc. For five, see Exodus 13:5, 1 Kings 9:20, 2 Chronicles 8:7. For three, see Exodus 23:28. The most comprehensive list is Genesis 15:19-20 with ten.
[5] The Septuagint and Pseudo-Jonathan have, in Exodus 33:2, the angel expelling them.
[6] This is apparently behind the historical recollection of Psalm 4:2.
[7] See 23:32, 33:2.
[8] See Baruch Levine, Numbers 1-20 (AB 4a) (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 446f.,with Leviticus 27:28, and Ezekiel 44:29.
[9]  R. W. L. Moberly, “Toward an Interpretation of the Shema,” ed. Christopher Seitz and Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Theological Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Brevard S. Childs (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999), pp. 124-144, at 136. For an expansion of this metaphor thesis, see Nathan MacDonald, Deuteronomy and the Meaning of “Monotheism”, (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), pp. 108-123.
[10] Jacob Milgrom, Numbers, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990), p. 429; see idem, Leviticus (AB 3) ( New York: Doubleday, 1991-2001) 3:2419. Alternatively, see Ziony Zevit, “The Search for Violence in Israelite Culture and in the Bible,”
eds. David Bernat and Jonathen Klawans, Religion and Violence: The Biblical Heritage (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007), pp. 16-37, at 25, and 31.
[11] Baruch Levine, Numbers 1-20 (AB 4a) (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 372; see Targum Jonathan, ad loc. Similarly, the last word of Numbers 21:3 can be rendered as Hormah or “Destruction;” see Milgrom, ibid., Numbers, pp.172, 456-48. According to Judges1:17, Hormah was destroyed later; see Tigay, Deuteronomy, p. 348, n. 121.
[12] See Yehezkel Kaufmann, Sefer Yehoshua (Jerusalem: Kiryat Sefer,1959), pp. 146-47.
[13] See Yehezkel Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel: From Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile (New York: Schocken,1960), p. 248. With regard to Judges 3:5-6, see ibid., n. 4.
14] Judges 11:23, Psalm 44:3, 80:8b, 2 Chronicles 20:7, Fourth Ezra 1:21, and The Testament of Moses 12:8 mention only dispossession.
[15] For the presence of Canaanites in King David’s administration, see the chapter “King David’s Scribe and High Officialdom of the United Monarchy of Israel,” in Benjamin Mazar, The Early Biblical Period: Historical Studies, eds. Shmuel Aḥituv and Baruch A. Levine, Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1986.
[16] The prophetic harangue against Canaanite practices focused on their abhorrent behavior to their children; see Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah  2:23; 3:24; 7:31-32; 19:5-6, 11; 32:35; Ezekiel 16:20-21; 20:25-26, 30-31; 23:36-39. According to Deuteronomy (12:31; 18:9-12) such practices include child sacrifice. The Wisdom of Solomon (12:5-6) extends this to slaughtering children and feasting on human flesh and blood.
[17] Pesiqta de-Rav Kahana 13.5, ed. Mandelbaum, 1:228f.
[18] Leviticus Rabbah 17.6; see Deuteronomy Rabbah 5.13-14; P. T. Sheviit 6.1, 36c; and Maimonides, “Laws of Kings and Their Wars,” 6.5. According to the midrash, the Girgashites took up Joshua’s offer and settled in Africa. Accordingly, there is no mention of their defeat in the conquest narratives of Joshua 6-12, albeit they are listed in Joshua 24:11 among the seven nations handed over to Joshua.
[19] See Sifrei Deuteronomy 200, ed. Finkelstein, p. 237, l. 10. This refers to the thirty-one kings of Canaan whose defeat is narrated in Joshua 12
[20] See Lawson Stone, “Ethical and Apologetic Tendencies in the Redaction of the Book of Joshua,” CBQ 53 (1991), pp. 25-36.
[21] See M. Yadayim 4:4, T. Yadayim 2:17 (ed. Zuckermandel, p. 683), T. Qiddushin 5:4 B. T. Berakhot 28a, B. T. Yoma 54a, with Oṣar Ha-Posqim, Even Ha-Ezer 4.
[22] Mishneh Torah, “Laws of Kings and Their Wars,” 5.4; “Laws of Prohibited Relations,” 12.25. See idem, The Book of Commandments #187: “They [Amalek(?) and the seven nations] were finished off and destroyed in the days of David. Those that survived were dispersed and assimilated into the nations so that no root of them remained.”
[23] Abraham Kook, Tov Ro’i (Jerusalem 5760), p. 22.
[24] See Sifrei Deuteronomy 200, ed. Finkelstein, p. 237, with n. 10; and Joseph Babad, Minḥat Ḥinukh to Sefer Ha-Ḥinukh, mitzvah #527,
[25] Yaakov Zvi Mecklenburg, Ha-Ktav Ve-Ha-Kabbalah (New York: Om Publishing Co., 1946), p. 52a, to Deuteronomy 20:16.
[26] “Laws of Kings and Their Wars,” 6.1,4; see Leḥem Mishnah ad loc.; and Shlomoh Goren, Meishiv Milḥamah, 3 vols. (Jerusalem: Ha-idrah Rabbah, 1986), 3:361-366.
[27] Sifrei Deuteronomy 202, T. Sotah  8:7, B. T. Sotah 35b with Tosafot, s.v., lerabot
[28] See Sifrei Deuteronomy 60, ed. Finkelstein, p. 125, lines 11-12, with n. 12.
[29]See Sifrei Numbers 78, ed. Horovitz, p. 74; Sifrei Zutta, ed. Horovitz, p. 263; Midrash Ruth Rabbah 2.1; Pesikta De-Rav Kahana 13. 5, 12, ed. Mandelbaum, 1:228, 237; and Yalqut Shimoni, Joshua 9, Nevi’im Rishonim, ed. Heyman-Shiloni (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1999), p. 16f., n. 4f.,  along with Michael Fishbane, The JPS Bible Commentary Haftarot (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2002), p. 232, n. 11; p. 482, n. 11.
[30] See Ruth Rabbah 2:1 and parallels.
[31] Sifrei Deuteronomy 211; see B. T. Sotah 35b and Tosafot, s.v. lerabot.
[32] B. T. Gittin 57b, B. T. Sanhedrin 96b, Midrash Psalms 1.18.  Sennacherib got a similar comeuppance (ibid.), while the Moabite king Balak became the progenitor of Ruth; see B. T. Sotah 47a with parallels.
[33] See Genesis Rabbah 60.7, p. 647; and Leviticus Rabbah 17.5, p. 383.
[34] Beit Ha-Midrash, ed. Jellinek, 6:79.
[35] Derekh Erets Zutta 1.18, ed. Sperber, p. 20.
[36] Pesikta De-Rav Kahana 12.20, ed. Mandelbaum, 1:218.
[37] Song Rabbah 5.16.5, and Numbers Rabbah 1.10 (middle).
[38] See Joshua 2:2 with Pesikta De-Rav Kahana 13.4, ed. Mandelbaum, 1:227.
[39] See Rashi ad loc., and Philo, On the Virtues, 106-108.
[40] See Ruth 2:11-12, 3:10. R. Zeira (Ruth Rabbah 2:14) attributes the composition of The Book of Ruth to its acts of kindness.
[41] B. T. Yevamot 77a; See M. Yevamot 9:3; Sifrei Deuteronomy 249, ed. Finkelstein, p. 277, and parallels.
[42] See Yalqut Shimoni, Joshua 9, Nevi’im Rishonim, ed. Heyman-Shiloni (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1999), p. 17, line 15.
[43] B. T. Beṣah 32b.
[44] Mishneh Torah, “Gifts to the Needy,” 10:1-2.
[45] John Howard Yoder, When War Is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-war thinking (Minneapolis: Ausburg Pub. House, 1984), p. 26f.
[46] This point is even conceded by Reuven Firestone in the Preface to his book titled Holy War in Judaism, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. The biblical “wars of God” (Numbers 21:14; I Samuel 17:47, 18:17, 25:28) are simply battles fought by the people of God. Although Maimonides (“Laws of Kings and Their Wars,” 4:10) does take them as wars fought for God in the sense that they are fought to promote God’s unity or to sanctify the Name, he does not categorize them as commanded wars; see Gerald Blidstein, “Holy War in Maimonidean Law,” in Perspectives on Maimonides: Philosophical and Historical Issues, ed. Joel Kraemer (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1991), pp. 209-220, esp. 220, n. 33. Nonetheless, there is no case in the Bible of a war for spreading the Israelite religion to foreigners or compelling then to accept it nor is there an example of wars of conquest being dubbed holy even when booty is dedicated to God. For the insinuation of “holy war” into Protestant, primarily German, biblical scholarship based on the model of the Islamic Jihad, see Ben Ollenburger’s Introduction to Gerhard von Rad, Holy War in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1991), pp. 1-33; and John Wood, Perspectives on War in the Bible (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1998), p. 16 with note. 

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