Yevamot 72 - 78
King David’s Halachic Status
Rava said, “Amasa spoke up and said that he had heard from the Beit Din of Shmuel HaNavi that a Moavite woman is permitted to join the Jewish People (after conversion). He strongly added that, ‘Anyone who does not accept this as halacha will be killed by the sword!’”
In honor of the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, we will address an issue taught in our gemara that played a key role in determining King David’s status based on his ancestry as taught in the Megillah of Rut (4:17).
King David’s great-grandmother was Rut, who was of Moavite origin and converted to Judaism. Based on this ancestry, King David’s halachic status was called into question. What was the basis for this critical halachic decision?
The Torah states, “An Amoni or Moavi may not enter the assembly of Hashem — even the tenth generation may not enter the assembly of Hashem.” This teaches that it is forbidden for a Jewish person to marry a Moavi person even after conversion (Devarim 23:4 and Rashi). The Torah gives the reason for this particular intermarriage ban as being the result of the Moavites not offering bread and water to the Jewish People during their travels in the desert (Devarim 23:5).
The traditional perspective is that it was the responsibility of the men to welcome the tired strangers, so the prohibition was limited to them. Doeg argued that the men should have welcomed the men and the women should have welcomed the women – an assertion that was rejected by Shmu’el and his court.
Since Rut came from the Moavi nation, there was strong contention that her descendants — in particular, her great-grandson David — were of tainted halachic status. Based on the proper rules of analyzing the Torah, the Beit Din convincingly reasoned that the Torah forbade both the men and the women converts from the Moavi people to be halachically acceptable marriage partners. This was their punishment for not even minimally aiding the Jewish People with basic needs in the desert. In a modest fashion, the men from this nation should have offered provisions for the Jewish men, and the women should have come with sustenance for the Jewish women. Since neither men nor women offered food and drink, the Torah decreed that they were all forbidden to marry. Based on this, the Beit Din was ready to announce that David was not part of the Jewish People and of course not even be considered for the monarchy.
This was significant not only for David, but held enormous ramifications for the entire Jewish nation. A man named Doeg was King Shaul’s counselor and led the led the “movement” for the Beit Din to have David declared unfit to become king since his great-grandmother was originally a Moavi woman before her conversion to Judaism. King Shaul and his men took virtually every possible step to be rid of David, the person destined to replace King Shaul as monarch.
However, before there was a final decision on David’s status, there was a critical turning point, as the Sage Rava teaches in our sugya: “Amasa spoke up and said that he had heard from the Beit Din of Shmuel HaNavi that a Moavite woman is permitted to join the Jewish People (after conversion). He strongly added that, ‘Anyone who does not accept this as halacha will be killed by the sword!’”
This teaching became the accepted halacha, and David’s Jewish status was upheld without further debate. The commentaries explain that Amasa’s statement was based on Shmuel HaNavi teaching him that only the Moavi male converts were forbidden — but not the women. This teaching was what is known as a “halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai” — a halacha that Hashem told Moshe at the time of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. This halacha had been faithfully transmitted from generation to generation and could not be disputed by any normal analytical method and was not up for debate. Shmuel HaNavi was someone of very great Torah wisdom and of the highest integrity, as was required of any true prophet.
Commentaries offer an explanation for the seemingly unusual and brutal threat made by Amasa to kill any dissident with his sword. It was the way of kings to eliminate traitors and rebels with the death penalty of being killed with the sword. Now that that David’s untainted status had been clearly established, and the pathway for his becoming the next King of Israel, anyone objector was seen as one revolting against King David, and was deserving of this particular punishment.
“David, Melech Yisrael, Chai v’Kayam.” King David’s was born on Shavuot and passed from this world on Shavuot. His life was truly governed by the Torah, its mitzvahs and the halacha. And, though his monarchy appears to presently be in a “fallen” state, we are promised that the Mashiach will a descendant of his, who will help protect the Jewish People from all enemies and unite the nation in the knowledge of Hashem and His Torah.
- Yevamot 77a