It specifically says several times in Yehoshua chapter 2 and chapter 6 that Rachav was a Harlot " וְאֶת רָחָב הַזּוֹנָה". Why is it that it is accepted that she wasn't a harlot but an innkeeper and someone who sold mezonot (wheat). Some opinions that I read say because she made herself available to everyone as she sold many provisions and because she was an innkeeper (" הַזּוֹנָה").

I just want to know why we cannot take this literally? It says it quite a few times. Why couldn't the Torah just say that she was a provisioner or an innkeeper?

And I know not everything is made to be taken literally in the Torah, like 'an eye for an eye'.

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    I would not say this is the definitively accepted interpretation. Some opinions do in fact say she was a prostitute (e.g. Radak on Y'hoshua' 2:1; also, related question: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/25753). As far as opinions that consider her merely an innkeeper, they would probably consider "innkeeper" to merely be a secondary literal definition of זונה. – Fred Jan 29 '15 at 3:38
  • It serves the purpose of the plot -- whether innkeeper or harlot, it explains why this lady has a big building with random men visiting. – Shalom Jan 29 '15 at 10:52
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    related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/11379/… – jake Jan 29 '15 at 17:21
  • If you like an answer, consider marking it correct. – mevaqesh Aug 19 '16 at 4:44
  • Targum Yonassan followed by Rashi (2:1) explain that she was an inkeeper (that "zona" in this context relates to the word "mazon" for bread).
  • Radak explains that she was actually a prostitute and that even Targum agrees, and that sometimes Targum uses the term for innkeeper to mean harlot.
  • Abarbanel writes that the two explanation arent mutually exclusive and that the secondary role of an innkeeper was usually being a prostitute
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    Why does Yonassan have two "s's"? If it's a soft thau then even in Ashki-speak it should be one s – Aaron Jun 2 '18 at 22:35

The Talmud Bavli (Zevachim 116b, top) states quite plainly that she was a harlot:

דאמר מר: אין לך כל שר ונגיד שלא בא על רחב הזונה. אמרו: בת י' שנים היתה כשיצאו ישראל ממצרים, וזנתה [כל] מ' שנה שהיו ישראל במדבר, אחר נ' שנה נתגיירה, אמרה: יהא מחול לי בשכר חבל חלון ופשתים.

[A]s a master said, There was no prince or ruler who had not possessed Rahab the harlot. It was said: She was ten years old when the Israelites departed from Egypt, and she played the harlot the whole of the forty years spent by the Israelites in the wilderness. At the age of fifty she became a proselyte. Said she: May I be forgiven as a reward for the cord, window, and flax. (For hiding them in flax, and then letting them down by a cord through a window (ibid. 6, 15).)

(Soncino translation)

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  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya, afuna, and thanks for the sourced answer. Hope to see you around. :) – Scimonster Jan 29 '15 at 20:10
  • Great answer, +1 :) ....I hope you don't mind that I edited your answer to add a link, and a translation. If you don't like what I did, you can always edit the post yourself. I hope to see you around! :) – MTL Jan 29 '15 at 20:12
  • Tosafos also seems to imply that this is the meaning behind R' Yitzchak's statement in Ta'anis (5b, s.v. ביודעה ומכירה קאמינא). – Fred Jan 29 '15 at 21:11

There is a basic idea that whenever we have an opportunity to say good about a good person, we will. Likewise whenever there is the opportunity to say bad about a bed person we will. Rachav was a nice lady, professed a deep belief in and fear of God. She endangered herself to save the Jewish spies. As such she qualifies for chazzal and our mipharshim to find a way to explain the things said about her as meaning something nice.

As an aside it is not universally accepted that she was dealing with mezonos, but it is widely mentioned.

EDIT: Here's a third explenation for the word zona in this type of context. Rabbeinu Bichaya in Parshas Masei 36:8 says it means a women who had no brothers who married out of her tribe. By doing so her father's inheritance is lost from the tribe, and she would be called zona, as we find Yiphtach bring called the son of a zona, Shophtim 11:1.

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  • "..whenever there is the opportunity to say bad about a bad person we will."?!? I'm far, far, far from a halacha expert, but doesn't that part of the "basic idea" go against some Lashon Hara rules/guidelines? – Gary Jan 29 '15 at 15:18
  • @Gary lashon hara rules don't apply to personalities in tanach. See also the pirushim on the mishna to judge all people favorably, a bad person who does a seemingly good act is still assumed to have done it with bad intentions for a bad purpose. What I said is a common theme in agadata. – user6591 Jan 29 '15 at 15:27
  • thanks for clearing that up...like I wrote, I don't know too much about the official stuff..I guess there's differently defined levels of "bad person"..it just sounded wrong, because saying bad things about a bad person-- who might be thinking about teshuva and "turning a new leaf" -- wouldn't help inspire him to do the right thing "aaah, they say I'm an evil bast-d anyway, might as well keep on keeping on..." – Gary Jan 29 '15 at 15:34
  • This is the only answer that actually address the question! – user4736 Nov 26 '17 at 23:52

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