In Sefer Bereshit, we twice read of the Patriarchal concerns lest their children marry Canaanites. Thus, Avraham adjures his servant not to take a Canaanite wife for Yitzchak, but rather to travel to Charan to bring back a wife from there.1 Similarly, Rivka expresses concern lest Yaakov marry a local woman, and Yitzchak charges Yaakov to go to Padan Aram2 and marry one of Lavan's daughters.3
However, when Yaakov's sons reach marriageable age, there is neither a mention of returning to the family in Charan to find a wife, nor any warning against marrying Canaanite women. Does Yaakov not share the concerns of his parents? Or, in the language of Bavli Pesachim:
אפשר בא אברהם והזהיר את יצחק, בא יצחק והזהיר את יעקב, ויהודה אזיל ונסיב?
Is it possible that Avraham came and admonished Isaac, Isaac came
and admonished Jacob, and then Judah went and married [a Canaanite]?
Is it possible, despite the textual silence regarding this matter, that Yaakov's sons did, in fact, import wives from Mesopotamia? If not, whom did they marry?
The Cases of Yehuda and Shimon
The Torah shares details about the marriages of only two of the brothers, Yehuda and Shimon,4 and, surprisingly, the descriptions imply that each married a Canaanite woman! Bereshit 38 tells the reader how Yehuda took Bat Shua, the daughter of an "אִישׁ כְּנַעֲנִי":
(א) וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא וַיֵּרֶד יְהוּדָה מֵאֵת אֶחָיו וַיֵּט עַד אִישׁ עֲדֻלָּמִי וּשְׁמוֹ חִירָה. (ב) וַיַּרְא שָׁם יְהוּדָה בַּת אִישׁ כְּנַעֲנִי וּשְׁמוֹ שׁוּעַ וַיִּקָּחֶהָ וַיָּבֹא אֵלֶיהָ.
(1) It happened at that time, that Judah went down from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. (2) Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her, and went in to her.
In Divrei HaYamim, the same wife is herself described as "הַכְּנַעֲנִית". Similarly, Bereshit 46 alludes to Shimon's marriage, listing "שָׁאוּל בֶּן הַכְּנַעֲנִית" as one of his descendants. Why did Yehuda and Shimon not heed the advice of their grandparents? Moreover, if the Torah later prohibits intermarriage with Canaanites, referring to their actions as "abominations", how can it be that these founding tribes did not find this problematic? Finally, are we to assume that Yehuda and Shimon were the exception or the norm? Alternatively, is it possible that the term "כְּנַעֲנִי/ת" can refer to something other than an ethnic group?5
Several other issues are also noteworthy:
- Evaluation – No where does the Torah explicitly condemn either Yehuda or Shimon for their actions. Nonetheless, the first two sons born of Bat Shua are described as "רַע בְּעֵינֵי י"י" and die young. Is this an implied critique of the initial marriage, or a wholly coincidental occurrence?
- Future descendants – The future fates of the tribes of Yehuda and Shimon differ greatly. While Yehuda rises to kingship, Shimon almost sinks into oblivion. What do these differing destinies say, if anything, about their perhaps problematic origins? Is it possible that the Davidic line originated in a Canaanite marriage?6
- Avot and Mitzvot – The marriages raise an important question regarding the Patriarchal households' observance of the Torah's future commandments. Were they bound by any of the obligations later given explicitly in the Torah?7 Even if not, were these future standards the desired or expected mode of conduct?