How Could They?

In the process of working through my five Fs, I’ve been reading the Bible with a group of friends. One of the things I find disturbing is the genocide in the Torah. Can you help me with the concept of conquering a people and killing every man, woman, and child?

Also, being from a very conservative background and region, I found it interesting that the spies of Joshua wound up in a house of prostitution. Since you are a Rabbi, I won’t ask you to explain the trinity.

Thank you for your wonderful podcasts. I’m 63, and it would have been helpful if I could have listened to you when I was 23. It would have saved me from a lot of life’s lessons that I learned the hard way.

Dear Fred,

We appreciate your not asking us to explain points of Christian theology as it is an area about which we know little. That aside, you are asking two reasonable questions. In general, we try to limit Ask the Rabbi letters to one question at a time, so we are going to tackle the spies at the beginning of the book of Joshua first and leave genocide for another week – keep looking.

One of the many challenges in studying the Bible is that instead of looking to learn from God’s word, we tend to judge God’s word. Today’s culture encourages this leveling of moral and intellectual hills and valleys. Nobody is particularly virtuous or wise, only privileged. Likewise, nobody is evil or dumb, they are merely oppressed. This is counterproductive firstly because we prefer a more humble approach that does not assume that we are the height of wisdom, and also because it leads us to wrongly misread the Bible as an ancient history book rather than asking what contemporary message its contents might hold for us.

The minute we say the words ‘house of prostitution’ something from our knowledge of modern life enters our mind. It might be streetwalkers in Hollywood, or red-light districts in Amsterdam, or the horrific human trafficking that takes place in so-called modern society. We also impose morals that have become part of a Judeo-Christian value system that posits that sexual relationships belong in marriage.


None of this is relevant to Rahav and the spies. The goal of the spies’ visit was to get intelligence that would pave the way for a military victory. They wanted to know what the mood of the people was and how fortified the city was. There was not a choice of staying at the Ritz or the Hilton or the YMCA. Rahav, a prominent Jericho citizen, ran an inn where businessmen coming into and leaving the city of Jericho lodged. It was the best gathering place for tapping into a broad spectrum of the populace and assessing the border. That made it the best place to be.

If the inn offered extra inducements to guests in the form of women for hire, that would have been standard procedure in a Canaanite town. Leviticus 19:29 was a breakthrough idea, that of valuing girls and protecting daughters rather than using them to achieve power or prosperity. The idea that misusing sex could degrade a land and a people was revolutionary. Transforming the land of Canaan into the land of Israel would be the battleground for establishing a land, and eventually, many lands, based on Torah values.

That was the world that the Israelites and the spies that Joshua sent, were meeting head-to-head. They did not need to participate in the wrongs of that society, just as they didn’t have to participate in idol worship, but that is what would be around them as they entered Canaan.

Best wishes,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

This Ask the Rabbi is dedicated in memory of Ella Hamuy, age 26, who was fatally injured on October 7, 2023. She was scheduled to start training to be a nurse this year.

And with prayers for the safe release of all those kidnapped, now having been hostages for over 100 days, and among them Avraham Munder, age 78. His wife, daughter, and grandson were also taken captive and have been released. His son, Roi, was among the murdered on that day.


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