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Moshe and Zipporah's Marriage
The Bavli Sanhedrin recounts how when Moshe instructed the judges to execute the Israelites who had cohabited with the Midianite women and worshipped Ba'al Peor, Zimri accused Moshe of hypocrisy, as Moshe himself had married Zipporah the Midianite. The Talmud never completely rebuts Zimri's claim, and the Bavli Bava Batra even suggests that because Moshe married the daughter of an idolater he had a descendant who was an idolatrous priest.1 As a result, commentators struggle with what to make of Zipporah's Religious Identity and her marriage to Moshe. Their perspectives can be divided into two basic categories:
- Zipporah Believed in God
See Zipporah's Religious Identity for sources which present Zipporah as a monotheist. One of the motivations for this approach is to justify her marriage to Moshe.
- Zipporah came from a monotheistic family – R. Saadia. See Zipporah – Overview for sources which link Zipporah and Reuel to Abrahamic lineage, and see Yitro's Religious Identity for other sources which describe Yitro's religious transformation before Moshe's arrival.
- Zipporah was already a monotheist or became one despite coming from a family of idolaters2 – R. Mubashir HaLevi. See also Divrei HaYamim LeMoshe Rabbeinu and Yalkut Shimoni which describe how Zipporah followed in Hashem's ways and reached the level of the Matriarchs.3
- Zipporah Was a Heathen
See Zipporah's Religious Identity for those who think Zipporah continued to adhere to idolatrous practices. This approach subdivides in how to understand or justify Moshe's actions:
- Before Sinai there was no prohibition of intermarriage4 – Rashi explains that before the revelation at Sinai, everyone had the status of Noachides, and Zipporah converted with the entire nation at Mt. Sinai.5 The Ramah's "grandfather clause" exception goes even a step further, maintaining that Zipporah continued to be permitted to Moshe despite remaining non-Jewish because he had married her before Sinai.
- Moshe had no other options – Ibn Ezra defends Moshe by claiming that there was nobody else to marry in Midyan. Alternatively, R. Dan cited by R. Bachya explains that Moshe needed to marry the daughter of a priest, as only the priestly estates could afford him political asylum and protection from Paroh.6
- Moshe made a mistake – See the Talmud Bavli Bava Batra cited above that the union resulted in an idolatrous descendant.7 See also the possibility raised in אחר שלוחיה that Moshe divorced Zipporah when he became the leader of the Children of Israel.
- Moshe had only limited religious affiliation at the time he married Zipporah – See Moshe's Early Life.
Did Moshe Divorce Zipporah?
- Moshe divorced Zipporah – R. Yehoshua in Mekhilta DeRabbi Yishmael and R. Elazar HaModai in Mekhilta DeRashbi. See אחר שלוחיה for elaboration.
- Moshe divorced Zipporah, but later remarried her – See אחר שלוחיה for R. D"Z Hoffmann's interpretation of the Midrash.
- Moshe never divorced Zipporah – most commentators.
Why Were They Not Chosen as Priests?
- Due to their maternal lineage – Abarbanel, Minchah Belulah8
- Due to their paternal lineage – R. Yehuda HeChasid. According to this interpretation, Moshe himself was a חלל and invalidated for the priesthood, as he was the son of a divorced woman.9