In Joshua 2:12-13(Mechon Mamre translation) the Torah reads:

12 Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that ye also will deal kindly with my father's house (Beit Av)--and give me a true token-- 13 and save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.'

And verse 18 reads:

Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by; and thou shalt gather unto thee into the house thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father's household (Beit Av).

Joshua 6:23 and 25

23 And the young men the spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had, all her kindred (Mishpachah) also they brought out; and they set them without the camp of Israel. 25 But Rahab the harlot, and her father's household, and all that she had, did Joshua save alive.

From these verses it seems that Mishpachah is part of Beit Av, while from Joshua 7:14-18 it seems that Mishpachah is part of a Shevet and a Beit Av is part of a Mishpachah:

14 In the morning therefore ye shall draw near by your tribes; and it shall be, that the tribe which the LORD taketh shall come near by families; and the family which the LORD shall take shall come near by households; and the household which the LORD shall take shall come near man by man. 15 And it shall be that he that is taken with the devoted thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath; because he hath transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he hath wrought a wanton deed in Israel.' 16 So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel near by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 And he brought near the family of Judah; and he took the family of the Zerahites. And he brought near the family of the Zerahites man by man; and Zabdi was taken. 18 And he brought near his household man by man; and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.

Can anyone explain me which makes part of what?

  • In light of my answer, below, you may want to clarify something in what you're seeking. Rachav was not Jewish at the time of the request (cited in the first verse). I gather from your question that you are seeking a general explanation of the terms as it applies only to Jewish tribes. The usage by Rachav may mean something very different. Specify please which angle you seek.
    – DanF
    Jul 6, 2017 at 15:42
  • You may be right, but may I point out to you that Rachav and the spies utter the same kind of words (Joshua 2), and only from a story telling point the word Mishpachah is added (Joshua 6). So I don't know if the usage by Rachav is really that different. But your right that in different cultures and languages and context words can have a different meaning.
    – Levi
    Jul 6, 2017 at 16:51
  • Simple explanation is mishpacha can be used both broadly and narrowly. So sometimes it is immediate family, and sometimes it is a large extended family.
    – N.T.
    Sep 1, 2020 at 21:39

1 Answer 1


You can glean a sense of the purpose and hence inherent meaning of the 3 terms that you mentioned, from the Bemidbar 1:2 - I've linked to the Rash"I commentary page as I will focus on his and the accompanying Siftei Cachamim commentary.

G-d tells Moses to count all the people למשפחותם לבית אבותם. Both terms are used.

משפחה is what identifies your tribe. In other words, when we see, later (like in the more detailed listing in parshat Pinchas (See Bemidbar 26:5 - 50,) they list the tribes and then the families of each tribe. E.g. - Reuven has the Chanoch family, the Chetzron family, etc. So, the tribe consists of families.

Now, what happens, if the mother is from, say, the Peretz family who is one of the Yehuda families, and the father is from the Palu family from Re'uven? Which tribe do the children belong to? That's the purpose of לבית אבותם - the father's household. In other words, the children are identified by the father's family, in this case, the children are considered Paluites and, thus, they are from the tribe of Reueven.

So in short - the shevet includes multiple mishpachot. Bet Av is used to identify the mishpacha, and hence the shevet of the children that result from a marriage that has two different shevatim.

Perhaps a better sense of these different terms can be gleaned from the end of the book of Bemidbar. See Bemidbar 36:1. You see, here both terms - ראשי אבות - "heads of the fathers" and משפחת - "the family of".

The verse says that the heads of the fathers from the family of Machir son of Gil'ad son of Menashe from among the families of the sons of Yoseph.

The heads of the fathers that approached Moshe and Elazar and the heads of the tribes are discussing what happens to the portion of the land that was assigned to the daughters of Tzlafchad (Tzlafchad was Gilad's brother.)

Now, why specifically did the "Heads of the fathers" approach and ask this question? Because, as explained above, the identity of the tribe follows that of the father. Now, what they asked was, "Wait a second! You Moses said, previously that since Tzelafchad had no sons, nonetheless, the daughters inherit the land. Seems to be an exception to the "father's inheritance" rule. OK. But, if Tzlefchad's daughters marry someone from another tribe, and they have children, the land inheritance goes according to the bet avot, meaning the father. So that would mean that the daughters of Tzlefchad would lose their previous land inheritance. There seems to be a contradiction."

So, from this story, we can also learn the same hierarchy and usage of the terms, as I mentioned, above.

  • B"N, I will look a bit more carefully at the context of the first verse from Joshua that you cited. I don't think what Rachav said is inconsistent with my explanation. However, it seems that she is requesting that only her father's side of the family should be saved and not her mother's. However, considering that at this point, Rachav was not Jewish, (Midrash says that she converted) there's most likely a different meaning of the term, here.
    – DanF
    Jul 6, 2017 at 15:40
  • Could it be that Joshua 6:23 should read: And the young men the spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had. All her kindred (Mishpachah) they brought out. In this way it's more consistent with what you wrote.
    – Levi
    Jul 6, 2017 at 16:17
  • Yehoshua 6:23 shows כָּל מִשְׁפְּחוֹתֶיהָ which is translated as all her families Note the plural there as it apparently means what we might call extended family nowadays. Jul 6, 2017 at 16:45
  • Targum translates מִשְׁפְּחוֹתֶיהָ as zarayataha which, I think, means "children".
    – DanF
    Jul 6, 2017 at 18:04
  • @sabbahillel would you say 'all her families' contain different beit avadim?, or is it that a beit av contains different mishpachot? Or do you agree with what DanF wrote in his answer.
    – Levi
    Jul 7, 2017 at 5:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .