Thursday, June 18, 2009

Was Rachav an innkeeper or a harlot?

It is unclear. The pasuk calls her a "zonah." And if we look at the gemara in Zevachim 116b, we see a discussion of her as a harlot from the age of 10.

Yet popular perception is that she was no zonah but was an inkeeper. What is the basis of this?


Well, in Yehoshua 2:1, she is called a zonah, but Targum translates it as pundekita, which means inkeeperess. It would seem that zonah is being taken as related to the word mazon. Rashi cites this Targum and on its basis says "one who sells times of provisions." And so too Metzudat Tzion.

However, Radak dissents. After citing this popular explanation, based on Targum, he argues that this is the Targum's general translation of zonah, but in all these cases Targum means harlot. {I would suggest: Perhaps it is uses clean speech. Or perhaps such a woman usually plies her trade in an inn, so she would dwell there.}

He notes the famous case of Solomonic wisdom, where the two litigants were shetayim nashim zonot. He also notes that in a few places (e.g. the Targum to Devarim 23:19) the Targum translates zonah as nafkas bara (one who has gone out {of usual conduct}), but this does not mean that where he translates otherwise, he means something else. And his intent is that the harlot is like an inn, that she makes herself hefker to everyone.

As we see there, in the case of the two litigants, in I Melachim 3:16, Targum translates that as tartein neshin pundekan. Would we indeed say, as a matter of peshat, that these two are co-inkeepers?!

On the other hand, see Ralbag on that pasuk in Melachim. He tries the same trick. He writes "I think that they were inkeepers and sold mazon, in the same intent as Rachav the "zonah." And it is possible that they made themselves hefker {to zenut}. Though it is quite possible, indeed probable, that Ralbag began all this based on that Targum in Yehoshua.

The instances of zonah in Tanach are:
דברים פרק כג
  • פסוק יט: לֹא-תָבִיא אֶתְנַן זוֹנָה וּמְחִיר כֶּלֶב, בֵּית יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ--לְכָל-נֶדֶר: כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, גַּם-שְׁנֵיהֶם. {ס}
יהושוע פרק ב
  • פסוק א: וַיִּשְׁלַח יְהוֹשֻׁעַ-בִּן-נוּן מִן-הַשִּׁטִּים שְׁנַיִם-אֲנָשִׁים מְרַגְּלִים, חֶרֶשׁ לֵאמֹר, לְכוּ רְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְאֶת-יְרִיחוֹ; וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיָּבֹאוּ בֵּית-אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה, וּשְׁמָהּ רָחָב--וַיִּשְׁכְּבוּ-שָׁמָּה.
שופטים פרק יא
  • פסוק א: וְיִפְתָּח הַגִּלְעָדִי, הָיָה גִּבּוֹר חַיִל, וְהוּא, בֶּן-אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד גִּלְעָד, אֶת-יִפְתָּח.
שופטים פרק טז
  • פסוק א: וַיֵּלֶךְ שִׁמְשׁוֹן, עַזָּתָה; וַיַּרְא-שָׁם אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה, וַיָּבֹא אֵלֶיהָ.
ישעיהו פרק כג
  • פסוק טז: קְחִי כִנּוֹר סֹבִּי עִיר, זוֹנָה נִשְׁכָּחָה; הֵיטִיבִי נַגֵּן הַרְבִּי-שִׁיר, לְמַעַן תִּזָּכֵרִי.
ירמיהו פרק ג
  • פסוק ג: וַיִּמָּנְעוּ רְבִבִים, וּמַלְקוֹשׁ לוֹא הָיָה; וּמֵצַח אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה הָיָה לָךְ, מֵאַנְתְּ הִכָּלֵם.
ירמיהו פרק ה
  • פסוק ז: אֵי לָזֹאת, אסלוח- (אֶסְלַח-) לָךְ--בָּנַיִךְ עֲזָבוּנִי, וַיִּשָּׁבְעוּ בְּלֹא אֱלֹהִים; וָאַשְׂבִּעַ אוֹתָם וַיִּנְאָפוּ, וּבֵית זוֹנָה יִתְגּוֹדָדוּ.
יחזקאל פרק טז
  • פסוק ל: מָה אֲמֻלָה לִבָּתֵךְ, נְאֻם אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה--בַּעֲשׂוֹתֵךְ, אֶת-כָּל-אֵלֶּה, מַעֲשֵׂה אִשָּׁה-זוֹנָה, שַׁלָּטֶת.
  • פסוק לד: וַיְהִי-בָךְ הֵפֶךְ מִן-הַנָּשִׁים בְּתַזְנוּתַיִךְ, וְאַחֲרַיִךְ לֹא זוּנָּה; וּבְתִתֵּךְ אֶתְנָן, וְאֶתְנַן לֹא נִתַּן-לָךְ--וַתְּהִי לְהֶפֶךְ.
  • פסוק לה: לָכֵן זוֹנָה, שִׁמְעִי דְּבַר-יְהוָה. {פ}

  • יחזקאל פרק כג
    • פסוק מד: וַיָּבוֹא אֵלֶיהָ, כְּבוֹא אֶל-אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה; כֵּן בָּאוּ, אֶל-אָהֳלָה וְאֶל-אָהֳלִיבָה--אִשֹּׁת, הַזִּמָּה.

    מיכה פרק א
    • פסוק ז: וְכָל-פְּסִילֶיהָ יֻכַּתּוּ, וְכָל-אֶתְנַנֶּיהָ יִשָּׂרְפוּ בָאֵשׁ, וְכָל-עֲצַבֶּיהָ, אָשִׂים שְׁמָמָה: כִּי מֵאֶתְנַן זוֹנָה, קִבָּצָה, וְעַד-אֶתְנַן זוֹנָה, יָשׁוּבוּ.

    נחום פרק ג

    • פסוק ד: מֵרֹב זְנוּנֵי זוֹנָה, טוֹבַת חֵן בַּעֲלַת כְּשָׁפִים; הַמֹּכֶרֶת גּוֹיִם בִּזְנוּנֶיהָ, וּמִשְׁפָּחוֹת בִּכְשָׁפֶיהָ.

    תהילים פרק עג
    • פסוק כז: כִּי-הִנֵּה רְחֵקֶיךָ יֹאבֵדוּ; הִצְמַתָּה, כָּל-זוֹנֶה מִמֶּךָּ.

    משלי פרק ו
    • פסוק כו: כִּי בְעַד-אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה, עַד-כִּכַּר-לָחֶם:וְאֵשֶׁת אִישׁ-- נֶפֶשׁ יְקָרָה תָצוּד.
    משלי פרק ז
    • פסוק י: וְהִנֵּה אִשָּׁה, לִקְרָאתוֹ; שִׁית זוֹנָה, וּנְצֻרַת לֵב.
    משלי פרק כג
    • פסוק כז: כִּי-שׁוּחָה עֲמֻקָּה זוֹנָה; וּבְאֵר צָרָה, נָכְרִיָּה.

I did not look through other forms, such as zonot, just zonah, so perhaps there are other examples which can be helpful. And it seems that there are three different options when it comes to translating the word zonah.


There is pundekisa: Yehoshua 2:1 ; I Melachim 3:16 , as above; and Yechezkel 23:44 ; and Shofetim 16:1

There is zanyasa/zanyesa: Michah 1:7 ; Mishlei 6:26 ; Mishlei 7:10 ; Mishlei 23:27.

We considered two of the four instances of pundekisa above. We should consider the remaining two and see if zonah as innkeeperess / seller of food is plausible.

One is in Shofetim 16:1. Shimshon goes to Gaza and sees there an "isha zonah" and comes unto her.
א וַיֵּלֶךְ שִׁמְשׁוֹן, עַזָּתָה; וַיַּרְא-שָׁם אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה, וַיָּבֹא אֵלֶיהָ.1 And Samson went to Gaza, and saw there a harlot, and went in unto her.
Now, given Shimshon's history of going after women he should not; and given that it mentions the woman he saw, rather than an inn, which would be more appropriate; and given that the word vayovo eileha should rightly connote intercourse, we should expect it to mean prostitute. But as you can see, Targum renders it "pundekisa."

Radak notes this Targum and says "we have already explained the intent of the Targumist in the matter of Rachav the zonah." Thus, he refers to his commentary elsewhere, which we already discussed, where he maintains that the Targumist really means a harlot.

We see Ralbag also consistent in his position, in saying that Shimshon saw an "isha pundekisa," an inkeeper woman, and went to her house to stay overnight there. Thus he understands vayavo eileha to not mean intercourse.

The last example of the few I found (there might be others in other forms of zonah) is Yechezkel 23:44:

מג וָאֹמַר, לַבָּלָה נִאוּפִים; עת (עַתָּה) יזנה (יִזְנוּ) תַזְנוּתֶהָ, וָהִיא.43 Then said I of her that was worn out by adulteries: Still they commit harlotries with her, even her.
מד וַיָּבוֹא אֵלֶיהָ, כְּבוֹא אֶל-אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה; כֵּן בָּאוּ, אֶל-אָהֳלָה וְאֶל-אָהֳלִיבָה--אִשֹּׁת, הַזִּמָּה.44 For every one went in unto her, as men go in unto a harlot; so went they in unto Oholah and unto Oholibah, the lewd women.
מה וַאֲנָשִׁים צַדִּיקִם, הֵמָּה יִשְׁפְּטוּ אוֹתְהֶם--מִשְׁפַּט נֹאֲפוֹת, וּמִשְׁפַּט שֹׁפְכוֹת דָּם: כִּי נֹאֲפֹת הֵנָּה, וְדָם בִּידֵיהֶן. {ס}45 But righteous men, they shall judge them as adulteresses are judged, and as women that shed blood are judged; because they are adulteresses, and blood is in their hands.
The context is clearly intercourse, and the end of the pasuk is clearly to ishot hazimah, the lewd women.


Yet Targum insists on translating it as isha pundekita. No one takes note of this. Radak doesn't. Rashi, though he made use of Targum by Rachav, does not here, and seems to understand it kifshuto that it means a harlot. And they take vayavo aileha to refer to intercourse. I don't see any Ralbag on it, and don't know if he did write a perush on Yechezkel. However, if I may put forth an explanation to Targum, which might be what Ralbag would say as well, "they come to her just like people check into an inn, or visit an inkeeperess." It is dochak, but that does not mean that he would not say it.

Because the question I am addressing here is not what the correct interpretation of the pasuk is. It is what the correct interpretation of Targum is. And while Radak is plausible, it is also quite possible that the Targum's intent in each of these four examples is indeed to say innkeeper.

All this calls to mind a story about Yeshu, with a similar confusion involving an innkeeper.

[R. Yehoshua Ben Perachiah] left and arrived at a particular inn and they showed him great respect. He said: How beautiful is this inn [Achsania, which also means innkeeper].

[Yeshu] said: Rabbi, she has narrow eyes.

[R. Yehoshua Ben Perachiah] said to him: Wicked one, this is how you engage yourself?

[R. Yehoshua Ben Perachiah] sent out four hundred trumpets and excommunicated him.

Now, I think that as a matter of peshat, it is quite plausible in sefer Yehoshua that the zonah is a harlot. After all, when you are trying to keep a low profile, you might associate with the lower classes of society, especially those who do not have a special affinity to the police, government or law. Now it does not trouble me that it states that they slept there:

א וַיִּשְׁלַח יְהוֹשֻׁעַ-בִּן-נוּן מִן-הַשִּׁטִּים שְׁנַיִם-אֲנָשִׁים מְרַגְּלִים, חֶרֶשׁ לֵאמֹר, לְכוּ רְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְאֶת-יְרִיחוֹ; וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיָּבֹאוּ בֵּית-אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה, וּשְׁמָהּ רָחָב--וַיִּשְׁכְּבוּ-שָׁמָּה.1 And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two spies secretly, saying: 'Go view the land, and Jericho.' And they went, and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lay there.
There might be a double-entendre there, but there is no reason to think that they both had intercourse with her. Rather, they literally slept there. They stayed there overnight, or went to sleep. We see this explicitly a bit later:
ח וְהֵמָּה, טֶרֶם יִשְׁכָּבוּן; וְהִיא עָלְתָה עֲלֵיהֶם, עַל-הַגָּג.8 And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof;
ט וַתֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאֲנָשִׁים--יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-נָתַן ה' לָכֶם אֶת-הָאָרֶץ; וְכִי-נָפְלָה אֵימַתְכֶם עָלֵינוּ, וְכִי נָמֹגוּ כָּל-יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ מִפְּנֵיכֶם.9 and she said unto the men: 'I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.
that שכב is being used for sleep.

Note: See also the stunning conclusion. I missed one source where zonah is translated pundekisa. There an addendum to the Targum makes it almost explicit that the word pundekisa is used in general to mean prostitute.

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