Lo Titchaten - The Issur of Intermarriage

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

            In parashat Va-etchanan the Torah enumerates some of the precautionary measures that need to be taken upon entry into the land of Israel.  Lacking a fully developed culture and national identity, the young Jewish nation had a degree of susceptibility to the negative influence of the resident population.  One of the prohibitions listed bans any intermarriage with the local residents - lo titchaten bam.  This article will explore some of the issues surrounding this issur.


            The most revealing machloket regarding this prohibition is in connection with the scope of this issur.  The gemara in Avoda Zara (36b) first suggests that the issur only applies to members of the "seven umot" - the seven nations living in Kana'an during the Jewish conquest.  Other nationalities are not included within the biblical prohibition but are banned as part of a rabbinic decree.  This position very much reflects the literary context of the pasuk.  The issur is located in the section of Va-etchanan which elaborates specific safeguards against being attracted to the world of idolatry which so controlled the contemporary society.  The seventh perek of Devarim forecasts our conquer of Eretz Yisrael but warns against the ultimate assimilation.  Benei yisrael must destroy their places of worship, can not sign any treaties, cannot offer any favors (lo techaneim); and must not form family bonds through marriage.  As such, the issur of lo titchaten - limited to the seven nations - would be considered a 'hedge' against avoda zara.


            Subsequently, however, the gemara cites the position of R. Shimon that the prohibition indeed includes all nations.  This extension connotes that the issur has a very different essence; in other words, we are not merely dealing with a hedge against avoda zara.  There are many marriages and sexual relationships which are forbidden due to the desire to preserve our inherent 'kedushat Yisrael' (our national holiness).  For example, a Jew is forbidden to marry a mamzer or an Edomi, not because of any avoda zara concerns but simply as a formal 'issur bi'a' intended to preserve kedushat Yisrael as a means of preserving a Jew's inherent holiness.  According to R. Shimon, we view lo titchaten in this light - the prohibition extends to all nations in order to preserve 'kedushat Yisrael.'.




            We have established two different ways to understand the nature of the issur of lo titchaten.  On the one hand, it distances us from the world of avoda zara and hence might be limited to the seven nations.  This, indeed, is how the Tur (Even Ha-ezer 16) rules.  Alternatively, it is considered a formal 'issur bi'a' which could, then, extend to all Gentiles.  This is how the Rambam (Issurei Bi'a perek 12) rules.  Interestingly, the Rambam cites the prohibition of lo techaneim (not awarding favors) within the section "Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim," while he inserts the issur of lo titchaten within "Hilkhot Issurei Bi'a."


            The Ramban in Ketubot (29a) raises an additional limitation.  Most prohibitions which exclude nations or individuals from intermarrying remain in application for several generations.  In some cases they apply forever (Amoni, mamzer).  The issur of lo titchaten bam, however, applied only to that first generation of residents and not to their children.  The Ramban, apparently, bases the issur upon the danger of avoda zara, limits it to the seven nations and only to the first generation which posed the greatest cultural challenge to the nascent Jewish nation.


            The fundamental debate as to the nature of this issur influences a second question of 'scope.'  The gemara in Yevamot (76a) attempts to prove that a patzua daka (a sterile man ?) does not have the same level of kedushat Yisrael since he is allowed to marry a  convert from the seven nations.  This seemingly proves that he has less kedushat Yisrael.  The gemara subsequently retorts:


            "Is the issur of lo titchaten based upon kedushat       Yisrael?  Instead, it stems from the concern that a child             will be born to the intermarried couple and will be      raised to worship avoda zara!!  Hence, this concern does    not apply to a man who is incapable of bearing a child."


            Thus, the gemara debates the basis for the issur of lo titchaten and why it might not apply to a patzua daka.


            The foundation of the issur influences another question as well.  The same gemara in Yevamot (76a) cites two positions regarding the application of the issur "be-geiyutan" - while they are still Gentiles, or "be-geirutan" - after they have already converted.  Assuming it is an issur to protect us against the influence of avoda zara it is hard to imagine that it applies after they have already converted and committed themselves to worshipping the Ribono Shel Olam!!  If it indeed entails an avoda zara concern it should only apply before they convert!  (Unless their association with avoda zara was so intense that even after their conversion we fear a return to their old affiliations - see the Ramban in Yevamot.)  If, however, lo titchaten is prohibited as a formal issur bi'a we could very well imagine the issur applying after conversion.  (In fact the gemara rules that according to one position the issur ONLY applies after conversion because only in that case can halakhically valid "CHATNUT" occur and only then can the issur of LO TITCHATEN be violated.)


            [A further question pertains to the type of relationship which is forbidden.  The Rambam in Hilkhot Issurei Bi'a, perek 12 rules that only one who engages in "bi'a derekh ishut" (sexual contact similar to or in the context of marriage) has violated the issur.  One who engages a woman "derekh zenut" - in a manner of prostitution, does not violate the issur.  Again, if the issur were aimed at preventing the influence of avoda zara we might only impose it if a relationship between the two parties was formed (stemming from the word TITCHATEN - forming bonds).  If, however, sexual contact did not establish long-term affinities, the biblical prohibition might not apply.  On the other hand, if it was a standard 'issur bi'a' we MIGHT rule that any bi'a is forbidden (see Tosafot in Avoda Zara 36b s.v. Dikhtiv; Avnei Milu'im 16:2 for catalog of different opinions, also see Afterword for elaboration of the Rambam's position).]


            What about a Gentile who does not threaten to draw us toward avoda zara?  Two cases provide us with nafka minot to our initial question.  The Minchat Chinukh (427) introduces an interesting case along these lines.  Does lo titchaten apply to a Gentile who was sold as an eved Kna'ani to a Jew.  On the one hand, an eved Kna'ani performs mitzvot (at least in a limited capacity) and certainly does not pose a threat to draw us toward avoda zara.  Nevertheless, an eved Kna'ani is not considered a full-fledged Jew, and therefore does not have full kedushat Yisrael, so the issur might still apply.


            Second, what about a Jew who draws us toward avoda zara?  he Rashba in one of his responsa (Teshuvot Ha-meyuchasot La-Ramban) presents a case of a Jew who unfortunately poses the same 'avoda zara' danger as a Gentile.  He deliberates as to whether the issur of lo titchaten applies to a Jew who has turned his back on the Jewish community (a mumar).  Clearly, he still retains his status as a Jew, but he also now worships avoda zara and might be included within this issur.





            After suggesting two different models to understanding the GENERAL NATURE of the issur of lo titchaten we witnessed how these position might be reflected in the PARTICULA‎‎R QUESTIONS such as WHO is assur, HOW, and in WHAT context.





1) Sometimes a thorough reading of the context of the pasuk which serves as the biblical source of the mitzva/issur can yield a basic understanding of the mitzva.  The context of parashat Va-etchanan encourages us to view lo titchaten as an issur avoda zara.


2) If we want to prove whether the halakha is based upon the Gentile's formal status or his affiliation with avoda zara, we must attempt to locate a case where a Gentile doesn't possess that affiliation (eved Kna'ani) or a Jew maintains the same affiliation of avoda zara (mumar).





            The Rambam's position requires greater attention, as many of the general outlines suggested in the article cannot be harmonized with his remarks.  On the one hand, he extends the prohibition to all nations and lists the prohibition in Hilkhot Issurei Bi'a.  Yet, he also limits the issur only to sexual acts performed within the context of marriage (derekh ishut).  The directions stated above merely highlighted the issues which might revolve around the fundamental question of the essence of lo titchaten.  Clearly, in the context of the Rambam (as well as other positions) these question must be given greater scrutiny.