Parsha Halacha

Parshat Ki Teitzei

Ma’acha and Avshalom

David HaMelech’s Eshet Yefat To’ar and Ben Sorer UMoreh

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In the first and third sections of the Torah portion of Ki Teitzei, we find the Eshet Yefat To’ar and the Ben Sorer UMoreh discussed respectively.[1] The Eshet Yefat To’ar is a non-Jewish woman who is desired by a Jewish soldier during a war with a foreign nation. The Torah allows the soldier to take her as long as he follows a very specific protocol. He must bring her into his house (after the battle) and allow her to mourn over her parents while she shaves her hair and grows her nails long. If after one month he still desires her, he may take her as a wife.

The Ben Sorer UMoreh is a wayward and rebellious son who steals from his parents and eats and drinks in a gluttonous manner together with his friends. If he does not cease this behavior after being warned and receiving lashes, he is put to death.

According to the Talmud and Midrash, King David married an Eshet Yefat To’ar and had a son who behaved in a manner similar to that of a wayward, rebellious son. This article will delve into the details of this story.


King David’s oldest son was Amnon whose mother was Achino’am of Yizra’el.[2]Amnon became infatuated with his beautiful half-sister Tamar, whose mother was Ma’acha.[3] In order to have the opportunity to take advantage of Tamar, Amnon feigned illness and asked for Tamar to cook for him and serve him. When they were alone, he propositioned her. She refused his advances, saying, “Don’t, brother. Don’t force me. Such things are not done in Israel! Don’t do such a vile thing! Where will I carry my shame? And you, you will be like any of the scoundrels in Israel! Please, speak to the king; he will not refuse me to you.” Unfortunately, he didn’t listen to her, and he took her by force, causing Tamar much pain, distress, and humiliation.

Avshalom, who was Tamar’s full brother, avenged his sister’s defilement by assassinating Amnon at a party that he arranged for this very purpose.[4] Avshalom went on to later engineer a full-scale rebellion against his father in which he committed morally repugnant acts before he was killed by King David’s general, Yoav.[5]


According to our sages,[6] Ma’acha, the mother of Tamar and Avshalom, who was the daughter of King Talmai of Geshur,[7] was an Eshet Yefat To’ar whom David took on the battlefield. This is why Tamar told Amnon that if he would ask their father David for her hand in marriage, “He will not refuse me to you,” i.e., he would allow such a marriage to take place. If they had been regular half siblings, this marriage would of course be forbidden.[8] But in fact, Tamar was conceived when King David took Ma’acha while on the battlefield, before she went through the conversion process. As such she had the status of a convert and was not halachically related to King David’s children from his other wives.[9]

Some say that Ma’acha was pregnant from her previous husband when King David took her, which would mean she was not related to Amnon at all. When the verse refers to Tamar as the daughter of a king,[10] it is a manner of speech since she was adopted by King David and brought up as if she were his daughter.[11]

Others say[12] that Tamar was conceived by Ma’acha and King David after Ma’acha was brought to Israel, but that because her conversion was forced, she was not considered (fully) Jewish, and Tamar was therefore considered a convert. Later, Ma’acha went through another, voluntary conversion and her subsequent children were considered to be born Jewish.

Marrying a Woman Who Is Pregnant from Another Man

As mentioned above, some say that Ma’acha was pregnant from another man (presumably her first husband) when Kind David took her as an Eshet Yefat To’ar. This is difficult to understand since, by Rabbinic law, one may not marry a woman who is pregnant from another man. The reason for this is that the new husband may not be mindful of the unborn child and unwittingly cause its death. Similarly, a man may not marry a mother who is nursing her baby (from another man) until her baby is two years old.[13]

Some suggested that the reason King David was allowed to marry Ma’acha despite her being pregnant was because the father of the baby was not Jewish. Based on this, the argument was made that a single woman who got pregnant from a non-Jew would be allowed to marry a Jewish man while still pregnant or while nursing that baby.[14]

Rabbi Akiva Eiger disagreed with this opinion and instead offered the following explanations for King David’s behavior.

1)     Special Permission

Although such a marriage is normally forbidden, it was permitted in the context of the battlefield just as the prohibition of taking a married non-Jewish woman is suspended in this case. The reason for this is that the Torah recognized that the soldier’s desire may be too great to withstand and permitted him to do this deed in the least harmful way.[15]

2)     Before the Decree

The law against marrying a pregnant woman or nursing mother was made by a later Rabbinic court and was not in effect at the time of King David.

3)     A Singular Opinion

The opinion that King David married Ma’acha when she was already pregnant from another man follows the view (which is not the final halacha[16]) that it is only forbidden to marry a pregnant or nursing woman who was widowed but that it is permissible to marry a pregnant or nursing woman who was divorced.[17] The reason for this is that a widowed woman is obligated to nurse her baby, and marrying someone else may prevent this whereas a divorced woman may demand that the father of the baby hire a wetnurse to nurse the baby. This opinion would also permit a single pregnant or nursing woman to get married which is why King David was allowed to marry Ma’acha.

4)     The Baby Was Not Jewish

In the case of King David, Ma’achah’s baby (which she was carrying from before their relationship) was not Jewish at the time of their first relationship. As such, this law did not apply. It is possible that after Ma’acha converted and the baby became Jewish, King David refrained from having relations with her until the baby was weaned. On the other hand, in the case of a Jewish woman who became pregnant from a non-Jewish man, the baby would be Jewish and, as such, the law that it is forbidden to marry her would apply.

The Kingdom of Geshur

As mentioned, Ma’acha was the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur. The land of Geshur is mentioned several times in the Chumash and Prophets. It seems to be an area in the northern part of Israel which was not conquered by Yehoshua, son of Nun, but was later conquered by King David. Here are some of the verses where it is mentioned:

We see that it was in the northeast of the country since it was on the boundary of Menashe’s section on the east bank of the Jordan river, as it says, [18] “Yair, son of Manasseh, received the whole Argov district, that is, Bashan as far as the boundary of the Geshurites and the Ma’acathites…”

It was not conquered by Yehoshua, as it says,[19] “But the Israelites failed to dispossess the Geshurites and the Ma’achatites, and Geshur and Ma’acat remain among Israel to this day.”

King David conquered this territory as the verse says,[20] “David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Gizrites, and the Amalekites.” This battle took place before David was the ruling king as King Saul was still alive. Avshalom, son of Ma’acha, was born several years later, when King David was living in Chevron.[21] It seems that it was in this battle that David took Ma’acha as an Eshet Yefat To’ar.

Geshur remained a semi-independent kingdom that was subordinate to the kingdom of David. We see this from the fact that Avshalom ran there to escape punishment for assassinating his brother, remaining there under his grandfather’s protection for three years before returning to Yerushalayim.[22]

Avshalom – a Ben Sorer UMoreh

The Talmud says[23] that when King David was fleeing from Jerusalem during the rebellion, his friend and teacher, Chushai Ha’Arki, explained to him that the rebelliousness of Avshalom stemmed from the fact that he was a child of Ma’acha who was a Eshet Yefat To’ar as explained above. This is alluded to in the verse where the section about a wayward son is placed soon after the section about an Eshet Yefat To’ar.[24]

Why Did King David take an Eshet Yefat To’ar?

According to the Kabbalists,[25] King David sensed that Ma’acha had a holy soul which is why he took her as an Eshet Yefat To’ar. This holy soul was the soul of Nachash, the king of Amon, who had been a good friend of King David.[26]Unfortunately, despite having a holy soul, Ma’acha also had undesirable traits which she passed on to Avshalom that affected him negatively.[27]

Ma’acha, the Second

Avshalom named one of his daughters Ma’acha, presumably out of respect for his mother. This Ma’acha married her first cousin Rechavam, son of King Solomon. At first, she led a lewd and deviant lifestyle, but eventually she changed her ways and did teshuvah. Her grandson was Assa, one of the righteous kings of Yehudah who was, in turn the ancestor of all of the subsequent, righteous kings of the House of David.[28]Thus, it seems, that the holy soul of King David’s wife Ma’acha became a root for many tzadikim (righteous members) of the Jewish people.

May we merit to do Teshuvah in this month of Ellul!

[1] Deut. 21:10-21

[2] II Samuel 3:2

[3] Ibid 13:2

[4] Ibid 13:28-29

[5] Ibid chapters 15 – 18

[6] Sanhedrin 21a

[7] II Samuel. 3:3

[8] See Levit. 18:9 “The nakedness of your sister, your father’s daughter or your mother’s… do not uncover…”

[9] See Yevamot 22a

[10] II Samuel 13:18 “She was wearing an ornamented tunic, for maiden princesses were customarily dressed in such garments…”

[11] Tosfot on Sanhedrin 21a D.H. De’ee Salka

[12] Tosfot HaRosh on ibid, D.H. Ve’ee Salka

[13] Yevamot 36b and Even Ha’Ezer 13:11

[14] This was the opinion of the questioner in Responsa 95 in vol. 1 of Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s responsa.

[15] See Kiddusin 21b

[16] Even Ha’Ezer 13:11

[17] Tosfot D.H. Stam on Yevamot 42a

[18] Deut. 3:14

[19] Joshua 13:13

[20] I Shmuel 27:8

[21] II Samuel 3:2

[22] See II Samuel 13:37-38 and chapter 14

[23] Sanhedrin 107a

[24] See Ba’al HaTurim on Deut. 21:18 who says that this is alluded to by the fact that the gematriyah (numerical value) of סורר (wayward) is the same as זה אבשלום בן דויד (this is Avshalom, son of David). [In the book of Chronicles, King David’s name is spelled as דויד, with a yud.]

[25] Rabbi Menachem Azaryah of Pano, Gilgulei Neshamot, entry alef.

[26] Although, generally, male souls go to male bodies, there are exceptions. See Ohr HaChaim on Deut. 21:11 that the soul of Rabbi Chaninah ben Tradyon was transferred from Shechem to Dinah.

Alternately, Ma’acha did not posses the soul of Nachash. Rather her soul had the potential to pass on the soul of Nachash to her son Avshalom. See Meshivat Nefesh by Rabbi Avraham Glick, an explanation on Rabbi Menachem Azaryah’s Gilgulei Neshamot.

This matter needs further investigation as Nachash did not pass away until after King David moved to Jerusalem (II Samuel 10:1 and I Chronicles 19:1). Whereas Avshalom, son of Ma’acha was born while David still lived in Chevron (II Samuel 3:3). It is possible that Avshalom received the soul of Nachash (in addition to his own soul) after Nachash passed away but that he already had a connection to this soul through his mother whose soul possessed hidden holiness related to that soul. See the previous note.

[27] See Meshivat Nefesh ibid.

[28] See I Kings 15:2, II Chronicles 15:2 as explained in Avodah Zarah 44a, and II Chronicles 13:2 as explained in the Targum

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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