Believe it or not, I keep hearing from people who insist that according to Jewish Law, King David was not Jewish. They offer no proof of their statement, but they serve this up as «evidence» that Jewish Law has changed over the centuries.
I’ve already dealt with the second issue, and I have shown that Jewish Law has not changed, in my article, «Has Judaism Changed?«
I cannot imagine why people believe that King David would not be Jewish as defined by Jewish Law, as they have never offered me any logic to prove it. They simply make the statement and refuse to back it up with anything. For the most part, people simply tell me «Read the Bible, and you’ll see.» As if I’ve never studied the Bible before!
So it makes it a bit difficult for me to focus on any specific point. However, I will demonstrate that King David was indeed Jewish. If anyone has any questions involving a specific point in this subject matter, I would welcome it being sent to me so I can refute it as well and add it to this (or a new) article.
Before I begin, I want to point out that absolutely none of what I write here is my own opinion. Throughout this article I am citing the Talmud and the Rabbis of the Talmud. None of this is my own interpretation, and none of this did I think up on my own, unless I explicitly say so.
Okay, so let’s begin by defining the word «Jew,» as understood now, and as understood in ancient times. Jewish Law defines a Jew as one of three things:
- Someone who is matrilineally descended from Jacob (AKA Israel) and any of his wives,
- Someone who has properly converted
- Someone who is matrilineally descended from a proper convert.
Was this always true? Ever since the Torah was given to us, it has been true. (See my article, «Who is a Jew?» for my discussion of that subject, and the proof that this is from the Torah.)
What about before Hashem gave us the Torah? Was it different? Many Jewish Laws were not in effect before we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, so we cannot always draw conclusions from what happened during the time of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
Which brings up another question: Were the Patriarchs Jewish? And did the Matriarchs convert to Judaism before marrying the Patriarchs?
Let’s see what the Torah says about it. We find that when Hashem told Abram (before
Hashem changed his name to Abraham) to leave his birthplace Haran, the Torah tells us: «Abram took Sarai his wife, and his nephew Lot, all their belongings, and all the souls they had made in Haran; they left to go to the land Canaan, and they arrived at Canaan» (Genesis 12:5).
What are those «souls they had made in Haran?» Were they in the soul manufacturing
business? They had no children yet, so it can’t mean that. Three chapters later, in Genesis 15:3, Abraham says to Hashem, «You have given me no children yet….»
So who were those souls? It means, the Talmud tells us, the people they had converted to Judaism. Since Abraham and Sarah — the verse says the souls they had made in Haran — had brought them into Judaism, the Torah considers them to have «made» them.
Perhaps Judaism was not yet family based, but that was then, and didn’t include the future. Hashem had just promised Abraham that «I will make you into a great nation, and I will make your name great, and you will be a
blessing» (ibid., verse 2). And in Genesis 17:7, Hashem tells Abraham, «I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and your children afterwards, for all generations, an eternal covenant, to be your Power (G-d), and the Power of your descendants after you….» There are other examples of this, but this will do for now.
So, we see that Hashem promised Abraham that his descendants would be the Chosen People. The future certainly was to define Jews as either descendants of Abraham (plus converts that joined their descendants).
Why Abraham? «For I will bless you, and increase your descendants like the stars of the
sky… Because you obeyed Me» (Genesis 22:18). More importantly, «Abraham will be a great and mighty nation…For I know that he will command his children and his household after him to obey the Way of Hashem, that they will do charity and justice…» (ibid., 18:18-19).
So, Abraham made sure the religion was maintained, and that his children and all the
members of his household, the «souls they had made in Haran,» would keep the
Commandments that G-d had given him.
Which Commandments? Well, Hashem told Isaac, the son of Abraham, «And I will increase your descendants until they are as many as the stars of the sky, and I will give your descendants all these lands, and all the nations of the land will be blessed through your descendants. Because Abraham obeyed Me, and he kept My Decrees, My Commandments, My Regulations, and My Torahs» (ibid. 26:5-6). That’s quite a lot. It doesn’t seem to mean one or two little rules. In fact, the Talmud teaches us that Abraham fulfilled all of the Torah, including the Oral Torah, and even the decrees of the later Rabbis. This is alluded to by the fact that the Torah says that Abraham kept Hashem’s «Torahs,» in plural. This refers to both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma, 28b).
Abraham was quite obedient. He kept all of the Torah! And he commanded his children after him to do the same.
Which is not to say that Abraham and all our Patrairchs and Matriarchs were «Jewish» per se. His exact status, and the status of all his family and descendants until the Torah was given to us, is not too clear. (In fact, the Rabbis teach us that this question was hotly disputed between the twelve sons of Jacob.) One thing is certain: the Rabbis teach us that when we stood at Mount Sinai and accepted the Torah, we all became Jews, so to speak (though the term «Jew» did not come into use until at least six hundred or so years later). Our lineage is important, but that’s not all that makes us Jews. A gentile who fully and properly converts to Judaism is also called a descendant of Abraham and Sarah, and one of Israel, without question.
Some people have asked me, «How can it have been possible for Abraham to know what the Torah says before it was given?»
They forget that Abraham was a prophet also, and that Hashem spoke to him often. The Torah was not created by Moses, but by Hashem. The Talmud (Nedarim 39b) teaches us that Hashem created the Torah before creating the world. King Solomon, in Proverbs (8:22-27), tells us this, when he speaks of the Torah:
Hashem created me at the beginning of Creation, long before His other deeds. I ruled
from the earliest times, before the earliest things on earth. Before there were deep seas,
I was created…before the mountains were set, before the hills, I was created….Before
the earth was made…when the sky was prepared, I was already there…
Therefore, we see that the Torah existed in the time of Abraham as well, and that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob kept the Torah.
So, did the Matriarchs convert before the Patriarchs married them?
Since we know that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all kept Hashem’s Commandment, it seems rather unlikely that the Patriarchs married unconverted Gentile women. The Torah says that all their households kept the Way of Hashem. It seems more likely that all their wives also converted and observed whatever Commandments Hashem had given Abraham. At any rate, the Matriarchs were no more or less Jewish than the Patrairchs were.
Moreover, we find that Sarah was on a higher level than Abraham was. When Sarah said that Hagar and Ishmael were destroying Isaac, and should therefore be sent away, Abraham did not want to do it. However, Hashem told Abraham, «Whatever Sarah your wife tells you, obey her voice…» (Genesis 21:12) The Talmud teaches us that «her voice» (when it should have said «obey her» — see the Sifsei Chachamim on Rashi, Genesis 21:12, s.v. «Obey Her Voice») means the voice of Hashem that speaks through her (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 69b). This means, says the Midrash, that Sarah had a greater level of prophecy than Abraham did (Midrash Tanchumah Exodus 1:1).
Obviously, Sarah was fully «Jewish,» or whatever passed for that in those days. She was a very holy person, and was even a greater prophet than Abraham! (Prophecy does not come easy. Only people on a very high spiritual level can become prophets.)
So before the Torah was given, it doesn’t really matter, pragmatically speaking, whether being Jewish was passed along via the mother or the father. In all cases, the fathers and
mothers were as Jewish as anyone could be at the time, and they were fully obedient to
Hashem’s Torah. Being «Jewish» was passed down by both parents.
For we have to consider, what made Abraham Jewish? Even if you believe that Jewishnesswas passed along patrilineally, you would still have to ask «how did Abraham become Jewish in the first place?» Whatever that process was, it was the same for Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, the Matriarchs. However it was that Abraham became «Jewish,» that’s how Sarah became Jewish. Thus, Jewishness could just have easily passed down by matrilineal descent, even then. It is really a moot point, since we have seen that the Matriarchs were considered as Jewish as the Patriarchs, no more, no less.
Let’s get a little closer to King David himself. King David was a descendant of Judah, the son of Jacob, on his father’s side. (Otherwise, he could not have been the king that started the royal dynasty. King Saul was a temporary king, and not the head of the royal dynasty.) Was King David Jewish? After all, he had Gentile ancestors. King David was a descendant of Ruth, who was born a Gentile, and married a Jew.
Let’s review the history. As the beginning of the Book of Ruth tells us, A Jewish man named Elimelech took his wife Naomi and their two sons from the land of Israel to the land of Moab. There, in Moab, the two sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Before long, Elimelech and his two sons died.
Ruth and Naomi went to the Land of Israel. There, Ruth met Boaz, and they got married.
They had a son named Oved. Oved had a son named Jesse, and Jesse had a son named David. That David later became the King David. So, King David was also descended from Gentiles.
Was King David Jewish?
Some people argue that if Ruth was not Jewish, neither were her children, and therefore King David was not Jewish.
The first and obvious problem with that argument is that Ruth was not King David’s mother. She was his great-grandmother. Let’s assume for now that she did not convert to Judaism. If her son Oved married a Jewish woman, then his son Jesse was Jewish anyway. Even if Oved married a Gentile woman, if their son Jesse married a Jewish woman then their son David was still Jewish!
So even if Ruth did not convert, you still have to prove that King David’s mother was not
Jewish. So far, no one has furnished me with any proof of this at all. It does not matter at all whether Ruth converted, if King David’s mother was Jewish.
But let us consider: did Ruth convert? Well, first of all, it’s pretty logical to assume that she did, since the Torah explicitly forbids us to marry Gentiles who have not converted. In Deuteronomy 7:3 the Torah tells us, «Do not marry with them; your daughter you may not give to a Gentile’s son, and you may not take a Gentile’s daughter for your son.» Why? Because, says the Torah, «For he will take your son away from Me, and they will worship the gods of others…» (ibid., verse 4). (See my article, «Judaism: Race,
Religion, or Ethnicity?» for further explanation of this Commandment.)
Note, by the way, that the Torah’s prohibition against marrying a Gentile applies to both a Jewish man marrying a Gentile woman, and a Jewish woman marrying a Gentile man. Both are forbidden.
So we have no reason to assume that Ruth didn’t convert. Boaz, the leader of his generation, would not have married a Gentile woman who had not converted. Remember, Ruth went to Boaz because he was the next closest relative to her dead husband, and therefore it was his obligation to marry her to give her the children her dead husband never gave her (Ruth 2:20; 3:3; 3:12; and Chapter 4). But if she had not been Jewish, Boaz would not have had such an obligation at all!
However, since there are people who, for no clear reason, still insist that Ruth did not convert, I will demonstrate from the Book of Ruth itself that Ruth did convert.
In Ruth 4:11, it says:
And all the people at the gate as well as the Elders were witnesses, and they said, May Hashem let this woman who is joining your household be like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the House of Israel, and may you do great things in Efras, and be considered significant in Bethlehem. And may your home be like the home of Peretz son of Judah and Tamar, from the offspring that Hashem will give you from this young woman.
Note that the Elders of Israel were among the witnesses. They witnessed and approved of this marriage. Moreover, they obviously expected that Hashem will favor that marriage. Would they have felt that way if Ruth had not converted to Judaism? If Boaz was transgressing the Torah’s Commandment against marrying a Gentile woman, would they have blessed the marriage? Would they have blessed her to become as great as the Matriarchs Rachel and Leah? It seems rather clear that Ruth converted to Judaism. Therefore, any children she had were Jewish. This is my own observation and the logic is inescapable.
Some argue that «there was no conversion process back then.» I must wonder how they know this. They simply mean to say that they do not believe that the Laws of Judaism existed back then, and therefore it was okay to marry Gentile women. This entails ignoring the Torah’s Commandment not to marry Gentiles.
Not only that, but the great people of Jewish history certainly did not consider it permitted to marry unconverted Gentiles from any other nation.
Let’s take Moses, for example. Moses was married to an Ethiopian woman, Zipporah. Yet when the soldiers brought back Gentile women from Midian, Moses got angry at them (Numbers 31:14-15). What was the difference? The difference is that Zipporah converted to Judaism.
How do we know that Zipporah converted? Because we know that she kept the
Commandments. When Moses failed to circumcise his son because he was afraid that the traveling would kill him, what did Zipporah do? «Zipporah took a (sharp) rock and cut off the foreskin of her son…» (Exodus 4:25). Evidently, Zipporah was an observant Jew.
Intermarriage is also mentioned in 1 Kings, Chapter 11:
King Solomon loved many Gentile women, such as the daughter of Pharaoh, Moabite,
Amonite, Edomite, Sidonite, and Hittite women. They are Gentiles, about whom
Hashem told the Children of Israel «Do not intermarry with them and do not let them
intermarry with you, for they will surely influence you towards their religions.» Those
are the people that Solomon clung to in love. He had seven hundred queen-wives, and three hundred concubines, and these women influenced him.
When Solomon grew old, his wives influenced him towards their gods, and thus his
heart was not complete in his service of Hashem, as his father David’s was….
Hashem said to Solomon, Since this is the way you are, and you have not fully obeyed
My covenant and My Laws that I commanded you, I shall tear part of the kingdom
from you, and I will give it to one of your subjects. I shall not do this in your lifetime,
for the sake of your father David. I shall tear it away from your son.
We see here that the prophets considered what King Solomon did, in marrying Gentile
women, to be a sin. Had they fully and properly converted, they would not have influenced him away from Hashem. (Bear in mind that the Talmud says that King Solomon never actually worshipped any idols, but since he did not stop his wives from doing so when he could have, Hashem considered it as if it were King Solomon’s own sin.)
Even back then, evidently, there was a process of conversion. Thus we have
amply proven that Ruth was a convert, just like Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Bilha, and
Zilpah. And as I said above, in any case the nationality of Ruth would not have thrown into question the Jewishness of King David, who was her great-grandson.
I wish to reiterate that absolutely none of what I wrote here is my own opinion. Everything in this article I took from the Talmud and otheR Rabbinic Writings from over a thousand years ago. None of this is my own interpretation, and none of this did I think up on my own, unless I explicitly said so.