There are many examples of 'Jewish' characters in Tanach (even post Matan Torah) who marry non-Jews (who are not described in Tanakh as converts), and their actions appear to be accepted. This makes me wonder: Was intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews permitted according to the halacha in the era of the Tanach?

Examples: Moshe (Ex 2), מַחְלוֹן וְכִלְיוֹן (Ruth 1), Shimshon (Judges 14), David (1 Samuel 3), Shlomo (1 Kings 11), Ahab (1 Kings 16), Esther...

Midrashim and answers from "tradition" will only be accepted if it can be demonstrated that they originate in that era. This is because explanations which are based on later halacha may not accurately reflect the circumstances present in the Tanach, and may instead be back-reading or inserting anachronistic concepts. This question assumes halacha changes over time. Answers which can prove this to be incorrect are acceptable.

Related: Is it permissible for a Jewish woman to marry a Muslim man and vice versa?

Related: Anyone who says these people sinned is mistaken. For real?

There are two general approaches I've seen with questions like these: 1. They didn't actually violate halacha, because < insert extenuating circumstance or extra-textual explanation here. > 2. They did violate halacha, and that's that, and we simply shouldn't do what they did. This question is asking about the assumption underlying both approaches, namely, that the halacha as we know it is the same as it was then. Maybe they didn't violate it, without any extratextual explanations, because it was different back then?

This question is looking for evidence demonstrating that the halacha was either the same or was different in that era.

  • see: Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Biah 13:16
    – Menachem
    Jun 12, 2014 at 2:01
  • @Menachem - Contrary to Rambam, the verses don't say anything about conversion. 1 Kings Chapter 11
    – Shmuel
    Jun 12, 2014 at 2:14
  • If Halacha changed over time then we can have no way of ever proving prior circumstances. That's a problem for this question, but not necessarily for the position.
    – Double AA
    Jun 12, 2014 at 4:50
  • @Shmuel Right. So if they don't say anything, how could you know if it happened or not?
    – Double AA
    Jun 12, 2014 at 4:51
  • 1
    Joseph has been removed. || Clarification Re Rambam: I accept the Rambam as evidence that such an opinion exists. I'm questioning the validity of that opinion, especially given that the Rambam doesn't cite any sources, and since he lived 1500 years after the era in question, he doesn't count as a primary source.
    – Shmuel
    Jun 13, 2014 at 5:57

2 Answers 2


Deut 7:3:

וְלֹא תִתְחַתֵּן, בָּם: בִּתְּךָ לֹא-תִתֵּן לִבְנוֹ, וּבִתּוֹ לֹא-תִקַּח לִבְנֶךָ.

neither shalt thou make marriages with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.

Also Ex 23:32-33, implicitly:

לֹא-תִכְרֹת לָהֶם וְלֵאלֹהֵיהֶם, בְּרִית. לֹא יֵשְׁבוּ בְּאַרְצְךָ, פֶּן-יַחֲטִיאוּ אֹתְךָ לִי: כִּי תַעֲבֹד אֶת-אֱלֹהֵיהֶם, כִּי-יִהְיֶה לְךָ לְמוֹקֵשׁ.

Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in thy land--lest they make thee sin against Me, for thou wilt serve their gods--for they will be a snare unto thee.

Both of the above quotations are, based on context, referencing the Seven Nations of Canaan specifically, However,

  • The Book of Ezra, starting from 9:12 and continued in 10:2, shows an abhorrence of intermarriage, which is highly unlikely to be just with the Seven Nations, as the exiles are returning from Babylon.
  • The Talmud on Kiddushin 68b, (and probably elsewhere), applies the verse in Deuteronomy to non-jews in general.
  • Hecataeus of Abdera, on the origins of the Jews in Aegyptiaca, describes the Jews as establishing "a way of life which was somewhat unsocial and hostile to foreigners", upon there 'expulsion' from Egypt (the Egyptian version of the Exodus).
  • Manetho, as quoted by Josephus says that Osarseph, (said to be Moses later in the excerpt), a leader of impure people expelled by the king of Egypt, "made it a law... and that they should have intercourse with none save those of their own confederacy.". (Note that their is some debate as to whether this is a latter interpolation, and thus pseudo-Manetho, or not).
  • Diodorus Siculus describes the Jews as establishing laws "not to break bread with any other people", as they occupied the land surrounding Jerusalem, after leaving Egypt.
  • Pompeius Trogus, describes a resolution by Jews "to have no communication with strangers", after leaving Egypt.

It is possible that the Book of Ezra, the Talmud, and all of these historians, the earliest of whom wrote roughly 200 years after the building of the Second Temple, drew this theme of separatism from the contemporary post-Babylon Judaism, and not from pre-Babylon practice, (even though the Historians attribute this tradition to original, post-Egypt Judaism), but there seems to be a common theme throughout these works of maintaining distance from all foreign nations, and not just the Canaanite peoples.

Perhaps based on these sources we may surmise that the verses in Deuteronomy and Exodus are stated in-context, (that is, against indigenous peoples of the land of Canaan that will be conquered and settled by Israel, whom they are most likely to fraternize with), but represent an overall prohibition against intermarriage.

My sources for Hecetaeus through Pompeius are based translations found in chapter 1 of Peter Schäfer's Judeophobia: Attitudes toward the Jews in the Ancient World. Quite a read!


The people you list did not marry non-Jews. Joseph and Moshe married before the giving of the Torah and the wives converted to the religion of their husbands according to the standards and practices of those times.

Rus was a convert and the prophet Samuel wrote Megillas Rus in order to show that she had converted legally from the beginning. I show in What would have happened if Orpah came with? and How to understand the use of גֹאֵל in Rus that Rus was a valid convert. Had she not been, then King David would never have been allowed to be the king because he would not have been a member of the tribe of Yehudah.

Yael was not jewish. She was a descendant of Yisro from those who had not converted. She also did not "marry" Sisra. She seduced him so that she could kill him. This is the idea of "mitzva haba beaveira" (a commandment that is done via a sin).

Shimshon married women from the Pelishtim, but converted them first. Also we know how that turned out. (See the commentators in that section of Shoftim).

Shlomo also converted the women first and is castigated for not keeping enough control over them to prevent them from reverting to paganism. This is from memory as I do not have the meforshim. However, I notice that the term used is אהב and not לקח which implies it was not "really" a marriage. Ralbag on sentence 3 says that he married the 700 royal women with Chupah and Kiddushin. Malbim says that he became lax in minor matters. In his old age he overlooked their backsliding. Malbim says that the source of the gemoro is that he is compared to his father. He was not as strict as King David who would not have let them get away with it at all. Rabbi Yechezkel Levinstein Z'tzl mashgiach of Ponovezh and later Mir said that the sins were based on his high level and not what we would recognize. Rabbi Chaim Rabinowitz in Da'as Sofrim also says that he converted them and was calm and patient with them to wean them from pagan practices. See also Rashi in Sanhedrin 91b.

Esther was kidnapped and raped by the king. She had no choice in the matter and it was not called a "marriage" (according to Jewish law).

  • Re Shlomo: Where does it say he converted them? 1 Kings 11
    – Shmuel
    Jun 12, 2014 at 2:21
  • 1
    @Shmuel It doesn't, as you know. What are you trying to get at with this question of yours? The text doesn't say it, but tradition does. You know this already. Is your question what Halakha was at that time or what would we know about history if we consider only the verses of Tanakh?
    – Double AA
    Jun 12, 2014 at 2:24
  • 1
    What Halakha was at that time, as stated in the question (and tags).
    – Shmuel
    Jun 12, 2014 at 2:36
  • @Shmuel Your telling me different things in different comment threads...
    – Double AA
    Jun 12, 2014 at 2:36
  • 4
    @Shmuel Welcome to Judaism.
    – Double AA
    Jun 12, 2014 at 2:39

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