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In the book of Kings 1, chapter 3, verses 16-28, as well as in the Haftara of Parashat Miketz, Solomon's Judappears. And apparently the sentence is puzzling, why would the woman who is not the baby's mother agree to kill him? Is she so wicked that she is willing to kill an innocent baby? Would Yehudia agree to such a thing? And moreover, in light of this, it is clear to the two women that King Shlomo would not kill an innocent baby. If so how did this alleged threat make a woman who is not the mother agree? And finally, the people applauded Solomon's wisdom in this sentence. Is this proof of Solomon's righteous judgment? Is this thing that one of the women accidentally confessed due to her wickedness a proof of Shlomo's righteousness? Were there not other sentences that showed his wisdom more than this case?

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    The other woman wasn't evil, just uncaring. She was so caught up in having a kid, she was ok with having half a kid- so long as she wasn't shown to be wrong. The mother, on the other hand, cares about her baby and would rather it go to a foreign woman than die. This understanding of psyches shows Shlomo's ability to pass correct (and therefore righteous) judgement. This is basically Shlomo beating the prisoners dilemma
    – Lo ani
    Dec 16, 2023 at 18:20
  • The Malbim explains this very well. sefaria.org/I_Kings.3.16?lang=bi&with=Malbim&lang2=en and onward. See his words: Solomon knew which one was lying all along. The trick was drawing out of her the desire that even she did not realize.
    – MichoelR
    Dec 17, 2023 at 5:10

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The Meiri (Yevamos 17b) gives a fascinating explanation of the case and of Shlomo's insight:

והוא הענין שנאמר בהגדה על אותן שתים נשים זונות שבאו לדין לפני שלמה שהרי כשצוה שלמה לגזור את הילד החי והשיבה האחת תנו לה את הילוד החי והמת אל תמיתוהו היה ראוי לאחרת להשיב את שלי היא נותנת לי וכשאמרה גם לי גם לך גו' סכלות היה ופתיות שלה ומה היה מכיר שלמה בדבר זה ומה תועלת היה רואה לה בדבריה אלא ששתי נשים אלו כלה וחמותה היו ומתו בעליהן בלא בנים אחרים אלא אלו השנים ומת ילד זה של הכלה וכל שמת תוך שלשים נדון כנפל והרי היא זקוקה ליבום וכשמצאה עצמה צריכה להמתין לאותו ולד של חמותה ותתעגן י"ג שנים החליפה חי במת כדי לומר שבנה הוא ותפטר משני צדדין שהרי תאמר שיש לה בן ואין לה יבם וכשאמר שלמה גזרו את הילד החי שמחה מפני שנוח היה לה בכך כדי לינשא בהיתר והרגיש שלמה בענין זה והשאירו לחמותה

[Previously he's explained the point that yibbum applies only if the deceased's brother was born before (even a moment before) his older brother's death.]

This explains what is told about the two zonos women who came to Shlomo for judgment. When Shlomo ordered the live child to be cut in two, and one said "Give her the living one, but don't kill him," shouldn't the other one have answered, "[Of course,] she's just giving me mine"? When she said "Neither mine nor yours," wasn't that foolish and stupid of her? What was Shlomo's insight here, and what benefit did he perceive her to be [trying to] get with her words?

Rather, these two women were a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law, both of whose husbands had died, leaving no other children besides these two. The daughter-in-law's son died; having died within thirty days [of birth], he is considered a stillbirth, and so she [the DIL] would require yibbum. Finding herself having to wait on her MIL's baby, where she would be in limbo for 13 years [until said baby would be old enough to perform yibbum], she exchanged the live baby with the dead one, to claim that it's her son and that thus she should be doubly exempt [from yibbum], saying that she has a son and no brother-in-law. When Shlomo ordered the live baby cut in half, she was happy, since that would make it easier for her to be allowed to remarry. Shlomo realized this, and assigned the baby to her MIL.

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  • Thanks for your answer. Is there any clue in the story itself that supports the Malbim explanations? Since the only words that gives a background about the women is "Zonot". Did King Solomon, know all about their background before the sentence?
    – Avi
    Dec 18, 2023 at 6:30
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    @Avi The Midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:10 and Koheles Rabbah 10:16) cites an opinion that "they were yevamos" (sisters-in-law). Presumably Meiri understands it somewhat differently, that they were both involved in an issue of yibbum.
    – Meir
    Dec 18, 2023 at 15:25
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I have a "fan theory" about this. The story of the two women is used as the example of Solomon's wisdom because it represents his ascent to power and his undoing.

Shlomo becomes king, but feels shaky on his throne so initiates a dynastic marriage with Egypt. God reassures him and tells that he will be with Shlomo is Shlomo follows his ways. Shlomo accepts and God grants him wisdom.

"Then come two women, prostitutes, to the king". Or is it "Then come two women, prostitutes to the king"? These women have slept with the Shlomo and the child is actually his. Shlomo reasons that the true mother would never split the baby.

The child is Jerobam, whose mother was a cleaning woman, and widow, in the palace. Both his presumed parents have names that have a meaning relating to seeds because Jerobam is planted and lays dormant until he comes out into the story. He is described as an Efrathaite, which has a double meaning: Ephraimite or someone from the King David family. Note: Jerobam is anointed by a real prophet. Yet the scepter must not pass from David. He thus must be a son of David.

Then Shlomo marries a bunch of other women, who worship idols an get him worshiping idols. One of these women is Naamah the Ammonite. The principal god of Ammon is Molech. And Shlomo worships Molech and builds an alter to him. Molech is the worst god to worship: there is a standalone mitzva about it.

God then decides to take away Shlomo's gift of wisdom and security. Naamah's son is Rehobam, who behaves in colossally stupid way, resulting in the kingdom being split. God is the owner of the Jewish people and he decreed it be split. The reasoning of the initial judgment is thus proven wrong. The gift of wisdom and the integrity of the kingdom are given and removed with the same instrument: Jerobam.

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  • נָשִׁ֥ים זֹנ֖וֹת אֶל־הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ the cantillation makes it clear: the women were zonot, and they came to the king.
    – Shalom
    Dec 18, 2023 at 5:33

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