Friday, December 22, 2006

Who did Yosef marry?

Per the Torah, Yoseph Hatzadik married Aseneth, the daughter of Putiphare, priest of Heliopolis. And who was she?

Well, the plain meaning tells us: She was the daughter of Putiphare, priest of Heliopolis. Seems simple enough, right? Maybe not. There is a tradition (concoted, perhaps, by people uncomfortable with the thought of the Tzadik being married to a gentile) that Asneth was actually Dina's daughter, the product of Schem's assault on her. According to the story, Yaakov put a note around her neck describing her status, and tossed her out. Later, Putipare found her under a bush, that is a sneh, from whence came her name.

Though this solution, which doesn't sound concocted at all, saves Yosef from the proto-sin of marrying a gentile, it doesn't save Yaakov from the sin of abandoning his granddaughter. The tradition absolves the son, but indicts the father. If the goal of the tradition's author is to rescue the reputation of the forefathers, it is not clear how his maneuver succeeds.

For those of you who, like me, believe that the text should never depart from its plain meaning, there is help. You will be pleased to know that there is rabininc approbation, and of a very fine pedigree, for the idea that Asneth was a gentile. As Rav Nechamia tells it, all 12 brothers married Canaanite women, the very same sort of Canaanite women who gave their grandfather Abraham night terrors and cold sweats.


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