Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud

By Christine E. Hayes | Go to book overview

8
Gentiles and Genealogical Impurity:
Converts and Their Offspring in Rabbinic Texts

In chapter 2, I argued that Ezra and Nehemiah extended the priestly requirement of genealogical purity (in the sense of unmixed lineage) to lay Israelites, leading to a construction of Jewish identity that entailed bans on interethnic sexual unions and on the acquisition of Israelite status by foreigners (assimilation or conversion). In chapter 4, I traced the development of Ezra's holy seed ideology into a new conception of genealogical impurity in certain Second Temple sources. For Jubilees and 4QMMT, the mixing of distinct genealogical seeds is zenut and generates a moral pollution that defiles Israel genealogically (i.e., by descent). In chapter 7, I contrasted these attitudes toward interethnic unions with those found in rabbinic sources and argued that in rabbinic literature the moralreligious rationale for a ban on intermarriage takes center stage. This is not to say, however, that genealogical purity—an important and prominent part of biblical tradition advanced by Ezra and prominent in some Second Temple circles—plays no role in rabbinic thinking. A concern for geneaological purity is present but only in the weak sense of unmixed lineage and not in the strong sense of genealogically conditioned and transmitted moral impurity. 1 Moreover, its overall importance is greatly reduced, which is most easily seen in the rabbinic treatment of converts. In this chapter, I consider rabbinic laws of the marriageability (and thus assimilability) of converts and their offspring. I show that the rabbinic approach to converts and conversion, like the rabbinic approach to interethnic unions generally, stands in sharp contrast to the approach found in Ezra and related sources. In addition, I point to chronological and geographical distinctions within the rabbinic sources, which enable us to trace the historical development of the marriage laws concerning converts and their offspring. I suggest that differences between early and late Palestinian and Babylonian sources may be indicative of larger cultural trends within the diverse communities that produced these sources.


Restrictions on Genealogical Purity in Rabbinic Texts

The rabbis break with Ezra, Jubilees, and sectarian sources that democratize the priestly requirement of genealogical purity. Rabbinic discussions of genealogical purity are not

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