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Marrying Rachav

Parsha Halacha - Parshat Shlach – Shabbat Mevorchim Tammuz

Marrying Rachav

 Yehoshua’s Marriage to a Woman with a Background

Sponsored by Raul and Janet Mitrani

Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner and Dr. Morton Berg in loving memory of Stephen's father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella's parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.


Click here for a print version of this article 


In the Haftorah of Shlach, we read how the spies that Yehoshua sent to spy out Yericho were assisted and saved by Rachav HaZonah. (See the next paragraph as to how to translate this word.) As a result of this, they promised her that she and her family would be saved at the time of the city’s destruction.[1] Indeed, when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, while the rest of the inhabitants were put to the sword, the spies went to Rachav’s house and ensured that they were spared. 

What Was Rachav’s Profession?

While the standard translation of zonah is a woman of ill repute, some say[2] that it can also be translated to mean innkeeper. This is based on the fact that an innkeeper provides food (and lodging), and the word “zonah” is related to the word mezonot – food. The Talmud, however, understands the word in its simple sense[3] and describes Rachav as being extraordinarily beautiful.[4]

The Malbim writes that the spies specifically went to Rachav’s house to avoid suspicion since it was known that the Jewish people were scrupulous to stay away from lechery. In addition, they believed that Rachav would be the one to ask about the secrets of the kings since she was frequented by the important leaders of that time.

Abarbenel says[5] that, in this context, the word has both meanings and that Rachav used her inn to make money in two ways.

Converted and Did Teshuvah

According to the Talmud,[6] Rachav converted and said to G-d, “In the merit of the rope, window, and flax which I used to save the spies,[7] please forgive me for the sins I committed with those same objects.”[8]

Married Yehoshua

The Talmud says[9] that after Rachav converted, Yehoshua married her. This is alluded to in the verse which says,[10] “Only Rachav Hazonah and her family were spared by Yehoshua, along with all that belonged to her, and she dwelt among the Israelites—as is still the case. For she had hidden the messengers that Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.” The Hebrew words וְֽאֶת רָחָב הַזּוֹנָה ... הֶחֱיָה יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (“And Rachav HaZonah was … given life by Yehoshua”) can refer to marriage, as the term הֶחֱיָה (“given life”) is used elsewhere to refer to marriage.[11]

Holy Descendants

Our sages have a tradition[12] that eight prophets who were also kohanim descended from Rachav and Yehoshua. They were Neiriyah,[13] Baruch,[14] Serayah,[15]Machseyah,[16] Yirmiyahu, Chilkiyahu,[17] and Chanamel.[18] Some add the prophetess Chuldah who was related to Yirmiyahu HaNavi.[19] Although Yehoshua had no sons, he had daughters who married into the families of Kohanim.

The Prohibition of Marrying a Canaanite Woman

The Torah says,[20] “When your G-d brings you to the land that you are about to enter and possess, and He dislodges many nations before you… You shall not intermarry with them: Do not… take their daughters for your sons.” As such, it is difficult to understand how Yehoshua was allowed to marry Rachav who was, presumably, a Canaanite woman?

Here are three answers to this question that are brought by Rabbi Shimon Krasner (Nachalat Shimon, Yehoshua vol. 1, Siman 7 and 25).

1)     Not Canaanite

Some say[21] that Rachav was not a Canaanite but an immigrant from another country. Therefore, this prohibition did not apply to her.

2)     Converted 

Some say[22] that the prohibition to marry the nations of the land of Canaan did not apply to those who converted. This explains why it was necessary for Yehoshua and (later) King David to decree that it is forbidden to marry the Gibeonites. If not for this it would be permissible, since they had converted. As such, since Rachav had converted, Yehoshua was allowed to marry her.

3)     Converted on Time

Others say that the prohibition to marry the daughters of Canaan applied even after they converted.[23] The exception was for those who converted before the Jewish people conquered the landFor this reason, they explain that Yehoshua was allowed to marry Rachav because she converted before the land of Canaan was conquered and before the Jewish people crossed the Jordan river.[24]

 Marrying a Convert

The Talmud says[25] that Rava advised his sons not to sit on an Aramean bed which, according to one opinion, means that they should not marry a convert. The commentaries explain that it takes several generations for a convert to completely remove their connections from the gentile world.[26] In addition, since children often resemble the mother’s brothers, the child of a convert might have similarities to her (gentile) brothers.[27]

Elsewhere the Talmud says,[28] “Everyone runs to marry a convert.” Some say[29] that Rava’s advice only applied to his family as they were from a family of Kohanim.[30]

Rabbi Yaakov Emden explains[31] that the advice of Rava does not apply to all cases as there are converts of exceptional quality whom one should certainly seek to marry. We see this from the fact that Yehoshua married Rachav, Boaz married Ruth, and Rabbi Akiva married the widow of Turnus Rufus.[32]

Reincarnations of Yosef and the Wife of Potiphar

The Kabbalists teach[33] that Yehoshua (who was from the tribe of Ephraim, son of Yosef) was a reincarnation of Yosef while Rachav was a reincarnation of the wife of Potiphar. This explains why Yosef saw in the astrological signs that they were suited for each other, as this would eventuate in their next reincarnation. By marrying Rachav, Yehoshua was thus completing what Yosef was unable to do at that time. According to the Sefer HaYashar, the name of the wife of Potiphar was זליכא (Zelika) which is the same gematriyah as זונה (zonah) which is 68.

Tziporah and Rachav

The Maharal of Prague explains[34] why Moshe married a convert (Tziporah) rather than a woman who was born Jewish. Moshe was considered equivalent to all of the 600,000 Jews of his generation.[35] As such, if he would marry a “regular” Jewish woman, they would not be on a comparable level at all. Since Tziporah converted from another nation, she represented that entire nation and was therefore a more appropriate match for Moshe.

Similarly, Yehoshua was considered equal to all of the Jewish community[36] and therefore married a convert – Rachav – rather than a woman who was born Jewish.


Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!


[1] Yehoshua chapter 2

[2] Rashi on ibid 2:1 quoting Targum Yonatan. But see Radak that the word used by Targum Yonatan פונדקיתא might also be a nice way to refer to a woman of ill repute. 

[3] See Zevachim 116b that she was visited by every prince and ruler.

[4] Megillah 15a says that she was one of the four most beautiful women ever to live.

[5] Abarbanel

[6] Zevachim 116b and Rashi there

[7] Rachav lowered the spies out of the window using a rope and earlier she hid them under flax on her roof.

[8] Her visitors would climb up a rope into her window and she would hide them (if necessary) under the flax.

The Ben Ish Chai (quoted in the Yalkut Biurim of the Metivta Shas) explains that, although Rachav was not married at that time, her behavior was still considered sinful as the nations of the world had accepted upon themselves to refrain from such behavior after the flood (see Rashi on Gen. 34:7).

[9] Megillah 14b

[10] Yehoshua 6:25

[11] See Numbers 31:18 as explained by Yevamot 60b (Ta’ama Dekra by Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, quoted in Nachalat Shimon, Yehoshua, Vol. 1, Siman 24).

[12] Megillah ibid

[13] He was the son of Machseyah and the father of Baruch and Serayah. See Yirmiyahu 32:12

[14] He was the main student and scribe of Yirmiyahu HaNavi. See Yirminyahu 32:6-22 about the sale of Yirmiyahu’s field.

[15] He was an advisor of King Tzidkiyahu. See ibid 51:59

[16] He was the father of Neriyah, see ibid

[17] He was the father of Yirmiyahu and was the Kohen Gadol who found the Torah scroll in the days of King Yoshiyahu. See II Kings 22:8 and Radak on Yirmiyahu 1:1

[18] He was the uncle (or cousin) of Yirmiyahu. See Yirmiyahu 32:8

[19] See Megillah 14b

[20] Deut. 7:1-3

[21] Tosfot D.H. De’igayrei, on Megillah ibid

[22] Rashi D.H. Netinah on Ketubot 29a as understood by Tosfot there. This seems to follow the original opinion of Rava in Yevamot 76a. This is also the Rambam’s ruling (Isurei Bi’ah 12:22).

[23] Final opinion of Rava in Yevamot ibid and Tosfot on Ketubot, ibid. See Tosfot on Megillah ibid who disputes the idea that the prohibition doesn’t if they converted before the Jewish people conquered the land. But see Keren Orah on Megillah, ibid.

[24] The Radak on Yehoshua 6:25 writes that the spies converted Rachav before the Jewish people crossed the Jordan river. This follows the opinion that, by Biblical law, conversion can be done by one judge (see Mordechai on Yevamot 45b, Siman 36, quoting Rabbi Yehudah ben Rabbi Yom Tov).

[25] Brachot 8b and Pesachim 112b. In the latter source, it was said by Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi

[26] Rashbam on Pesachim ibid

[27] Ya’avetz on Horayot 13a based on Bava Batra 110a

[28] Horayot 13a

[29] Iyun Yakov on Brachot ibid.

[30] See Rashi on Chullin 133a. See Tosfot there. Elsewhere (Rosh Hashana 18a) Rashi suggests that Rava’s mother was the daughter of a Kohen. In addition, Rava’s second wife was the daughter of Rav Chisdah who was a Kohen. See Bava Batra 12b, Yevamot 34b and Brachot 44a

[31] In his notes on Horayot ibid.

[32] See Rashi on Nedarim 50b D.H Ishto shel Turnus Rufus

[33] See Chomat Anach by the Chida on Yehoshua, ibid, in the name of Rav Chaim Vital in the Sefer Hagilgulim

[34] Gevurot Hashem, chapter 19

[35] See Mechilta on Exodus 15:13

[36] Be’er Moshe by Ozhrover Rebbe on Yehoshuah 1:5

Tue, May 21 2024 13 Iyyar 5784