Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In studying bereishis I have come up with questions about Joseph and his brothers that have long bothered me. One question is in parsha vayeshev, where we read how Joseph was sold by his brothers to the "Ishmaelites". I have always taken that to be the descendants of Ishmael. Isaac and Ishmael were half brothers. Which means that Isaac’s sons, Jacob and Esau were first cousins to Ishmael’s sons, which in turn means that Jacobs twelve sons were second cousins to Ishmael’s grandchildren. Didn’t the Ishmaelites know they were buying their second cousin? I would certainly know if my second cousins tried to sell me another second cousin as a slave! What have the rabbis said about this?

share|improve this question
Dennis, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for this intriguing question! I hope you look around and find more to your taste, perhaps starting with parashat-vayeishev. – Isaac Moses Dec 31 '12 at 16:24
Dennis, welcome to Mi Yodeya. It's possible that they wouldn't know of the relationship; I know that I have second cousins I've never met and there's not even any family drama involved, just a large, scattered family. – Monica Cellio Dec 31 '12 at 16:25

An idea that was sparked by a similar line of reasoning in this post from the Parsha Blog:

Yosef was sold 182 years after Yishmael was born. (That's 14 until Yitzchak is born, 60 more until Yaakov is born, and Yaakov is 130 when he stands before Par'oh after 22 years of Yosef being away = 182 years.) Just because Yitzchak and Yaakov waited a long time to have kids doesn't mean Yishmael or his decendants did. If Yishmael and all his descendants each had 5 kids by the age of 30, that means Yishmael had at least 5^6 = 15625 great-great-great-great-grandchildren running around at the time Yosef was sold. So it shouldn't be too surprising that they didn't know (or care much about) their long-lost 2nd half-cousin thrice removed.

share|improve this answer
Anyone want to double check my math? – Double AA Jan 1 '13 at 4:25
+1, great answer. – Shraga Jan 1 '13 at 9:53
Interesting point! I should have done the math! – Dennis Jan 1 '13 at 17:52

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.