י״א באייר ה׳תשע״ו (May 19, 2016)

Kiddushin 69a-b: Purifying a Mamzer

The previous Mishna (66b) taught that a – a child born as the result of an incestuous or adulterous relationship – is not allowed to marry into the normative Jewish community, and that furthermore, any child born to a mamzer will also have that same status. This leads Rabbi Tarfon in the Mishna on our daf to teach that there is a way for a mamzer to arrange that his children will not be mamzerim. Rabbi Tarfon suggests that a mamzer can purchase a shifhah kena’anit – a non-Jewish maidservant – and marry her. In such a case, the children will get her status and will be considered avadim kena’anim – non-Jewish slaves. At that point he can release them to freedom and they will become full-fledged members of the Jewish community without the stigma (and concomitant personal halakhic problems) of being a mamzer.

According to the conclusion of the Gemara, this arrangement works not only ex-post facto, but it is recommended as a valid plan for someone who finds that he is a mamzer. This leads rishonim to question how Rabbi Tarfon can permit a mamzer to marry a shifhah kena’anit – after all, despite his difficult marital situation, a mamzer is considered by Jewish law to be obligated in all the commandments. How can we permit him to marry a non-Jewish slave girl?

Tosafot Ri”d suggests that we must distinguish between the prohibition against marrying a non-Jewish woman, whose source ve-lo tit’haten bam ( 7:3) is a general prohibition for all Jews, and the source forbidding marriage to a shifhah kena’anit – ve-lo yehiyeh kadesh be-venei yisra’el ( 23:18) – which is understood to forbid sexual promiscuity among the Jewish people. This may not apply to someone who was, himself, the product of a promiscuous, forbidden relationship.

Some suggest that according to those opinions (e.g. the Rambam) who view marriage with a shifhah kena’anit as being forbidden only on a Rabbinic level, permitted the mamzer to disregard that law in order to save his children from being mamzerim. That position is disputed, however, by Rashi, Tosafot and other rishonim.