Friday, October 22, 2010

A great post no one will read (though it was fun to write)


As long time readers of this blog know, I'm on something of a crusade for the unlucky midrashim, by which I mean the old interpretations no one studies or remembers. As a corollary, I'd also like people to stop thinking that the lucky midrashim are the sole Torah Truth when other, equally valid, midrashim take other positions, or when Rishonim object outright to the lucky midrash.

One very famous lucky midrash tells us Rivka was 3 on her wedding day. Its a terrible teaching for all sorts of reasons -- Why should we think of the Patriarch as a pedophile? -- and one I'd like to see defeated, instead of glorified.

As this post will explain, there are good, Torah grounds to retire "Rivka was 3" (1). It  is contradicted by another, unlucky midrash, and at least one rishon objects to it on logical grounds. Also, as you will see, the text of the lucky midrash itself is questionable.

See more after the jump

Rivka=3 is based on Yitzchak=37

Yitzchak, as any school child knows, was 37 years old when his father strapped him to the alter on Mount Moriah and menaced him with the cleaver. The basis, which neither school child or his teacher are likely to know, is a midrash in Berashis Raba, where Yitzchak's age is mentioned as an aside, something taken for granted (2). In his commentary, Rashi explains the midrash's conclusion:
  • Sarah was 90 when Yitzchok was born. (Source: Explicit verse)
  • Sarah died at 127 (Source: Explicit verse)
  • This is assumed to have occurred immediately after the Akeidah (Source: The smichus haparshiyos, or juxtaposition of verses. We're told about her death right after the Akeida. This is drash, and some challenge it, noting for instance that the verse says Abraham went back to Be'er Sheva following the Akeida, while Sarah died in Kiryas Arba. This seems like good textual evidence that Sarah's death and the Akeida didn't happen at the same time.)
  • 127-90= 37,  so Yitzchok was 37 at the Akeidah.
If Yitzchak = 37 at the Akeida, it seems that Rivka = 3 at their wedding, as follows:
  • Rivka was born right after the Akeida, when, per the above, Yitzchak was 37 (Source: The smichus haparshiyos, or juxtaposition of verses. Her birth is announced right after the Akeida. This also works thematically. At the end of the Akeida Abraham is promised children. Right away, we're given a genealogy of Aberham's brother, that narrows to one child and one grandchild. We're told "Bethuel became the father of Rebekah" but nothing about Rebekah's siblings, or about Bethuel's nieces and nephews, though his own brothers, and half brothers are mentioned.)
  • Yitzchak was 40 when he married Rivka.
  • If he was 37 when she was born, she was three when they married. (3)
So what's the problem? Depends who you ask:

TOSFOT objects on two grounds. First, Rivka is called a naarah and a 3-year old is never referred to with that term. Second, there's another midrash (Sifri Devarim 34:36) which says Rivka was 133 when she died. Sorry, but to explain this point, more math is needed:
  • Yaakov received his blessing at age 63 (Source: Rashi, and yes more math. I'll spare you)
  • He then studied 14 years with Ever (Source: Previous Rashi, an interpretation of a verse, and an assumption.)
  • After which he worked 20 years for Uncle Lavan  (Source: Explicit posuk)
  • Then he trraveled for two years, after which he received word of his mother's death (Source: Rashi based on a Midrahs that says that announcement of Devorah's death was code for Rivka's death)
If Rivka was 3 at her marriage, and 23 when Yaakov was born, the above calculations make her only 122, and not 133, years old at her death.

Tosfot's solution is quite wise and mature, writing that the midrash in Sifrei and the midrash in Berashis Raba simply can't be harmonized. In their view, these are two different interpretations, from two different sources, based on two different sets of assumptions.

After paying lip service to the mesorah ("If it's mesorah that Yitzchah was 37, we'll accept it") IBN EZRA protests on the basis of logic, asking why the Akeida is remembered as a great triumph for Abraham and Abraham only if his 37 year old son cooperated with no struggle. He says some think Yitzchak was 5, but his own opinion is that Yitrzchak was 13.

OTHER POINTS: The Berashis Raba midrash has two versions. As you can see below (1) Yitzchak's age is given as 37, and in the parenthesis, alternatively as 26!

If he was 26, Rivka was 13/14 at her marriage, and 33/34 when her sons were born, which fits the Sifrei!

Now, I don't know the origins of this alternative version of the midrash. It might be a late addition, not reflected in manuscripts, or it could be very old, indeed. If the former is true, and this version of the text is reflected in old manuscripts, Yitzchak =37 and its corollary Rivka=3 are both on very shaky grounds.


(1) By "retire" I don't mean expunge it from the canon. I simply think we should stop teaching school children that Yitzchak married a little girl.

(2)This is BR 56:11
דבר אחר:
אמר רבי יצחק:
בשעה שבקש אברהם לעקוד יצחק בנו אמר לו:
אבא! בחור אני, וחוששני שמא יזדעזע גופי מפחדה של סכין ואצערך, ושמא תפסל השחיטה ולא תעלה לך לקרבן אלא, כפתני יפה יפה! מיד, ויעקד את יצחק.

כלום יכול אדם לכפות בן שלושים ושבע? [נ"א בן עשרים ושש שנה] אלא לדעתו?!

(3) This solves a "problem."According to halacha, as developed thousands of years later, a man must divorce his wife after ten childless years and Yitzchak stayed with Rivka for twenty childless years. (Explicit verse: Yitzchak married at 40 and had his first child at 60) However, if Rivka married at 3, the clock didn't start ticking until she reached puberty, presumably ten years later.

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1 comment:

jofisbakandstilhasntlernttospel said...

I actually read it and loved it. U sir are a gentleman and a scholar altho 26 / 13 while better than 37/3 is still highly suspect by today's standards.