Deuteronomy 23:3 says that a bastard is not part of the assembly unto the 10th generation. How can that be when half of Jacob’s sons were born to his concubines and became the heads of tribes?
If you are not a lawyer you may not know the difference between manslaughter, 1st degree murder and 2nd degree murder. If you aren’t a gourmet chef you may not distinguish between Hungarian paprika and Spanish paprika. Yet, in the courtroom or a five-star kitchen a great deal may hinge on those distinctions.
The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 23:3 is mamzer. It is generally mistranslated as ‘bastard’. This is not what the term means. Mamzer is a technical term that refers to the very rare case of a child of a man and a woman who are not allowed to marry, such as siblings or a married woman and someone other than her husband. So, for example, while the Torah much prefers children to be created within marriage rather than outside of that holy covenant, the child of an unmarried couple who are legally able to get married but did not do so, is not a mamzer.
In the Bible, there is no ritual stigma attached to innocent children of a couple who failed to formally marry.
In Biblical days, there was a category of spouse that gets translated as concubine. This was a formal relationship where the woman was on a slightly lower level than a wife. However, the man was just as financially and emotionally responsible for her and her children as he would be for a wife and society fully acknowledged that relationship. While that type of semi-marriage is no longer officially practiced, it was an honorable option and the ensuing children had full legal status. Four of Jacob’s sons were in this category.
Hope this helps,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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You can’t fight what you don’t understand.