After David's sin in taking Batsheva, Nathan the prophet had told him: "For so says God: behold I will raise up evil against you from your HOUSE" (I Samuel 12:11). Immediately afterwards and for the rest of his reign, David was afflicted with a succession of intrigues, scandals and rebellions from within the royal household itself. The rabbis said: "Harsher is the effect of bad upbringing of children in a man's house than even the war of Gog and Magog" (Talmud Berachos 7b). The rabbis learned this from king David's expression of pain in Psalm 3, "A song of David when he fled from Absalom his son", while there is no similar expression of pain in Psalm 2, which speaks of the war of Gog and Magog.

The rape of Absalom's sister Tamar, narrated in our present chapter, set off the chain of events that eventually led to Absalom's later rebellion against David, in which the latter came very near to losing the throne. After we heard in the previous chapter about the birth of Solomon, what we see in the ensuing episodes in David's life is how three of Solomon's older brothers excluded themselves one after the other from the succession. In raping and then rejecting Tamar, Amnon, who was David's first-born son from Achino'am the Jezreelitess (II Samuel 3:2), earned him Tamar's brother Absalom's implacable hatred, resulting in Amnon's death. It was David's rejection of Absalom in the aftermath of his killing of Amnon that led him to rebel and try to seize the throne. Later on, at the very end of David's life, his fourth son Adoniyahu tried to take the throne but was thwarted. Thus all other serious contenders to the throne were rejected from the succession in favor of Solomon, who was born out of the highly questionable union of David with Batsheva. Having tried to cover over his own private scandal, David now had to face a succession of public scandals.

According to Torah law, Amnon would have been permitted to marry Tamar, because according to rabbinic tradition, Tamar was born from David's first union with Ma'achah, daughter of Talmai king of Geshur (II Samuel 3:4). Ma'achah was a YEFAS TO'AR (the "beautiful captive woman", Deut. 21:11), with whom an Israelite warrior is allowed to have relations one time when he first captures her, but thereafter he must abstain from all further physical relations with her until he converts her and marries her as his full wife. Ma'achah had conceived Tamar from her first union with David (and thus Tamar was not "born in holiness" and was not an Israelite woman but had to convert), while Tamar's brother Absalom was Ma'achah's son from David AFTER Ma'achah's conversion and formal marriage, making Absalom a home-born Israelite.

Amnon, who was David's son from his first wife, Achino'am, was still permitted to marry Tamar despite the fact that they both had the same father, because Tamar's mother was in the category of a captive slave woman when she conceived Tamar, and "slaves have no YICHUS" (pedigree), i.e. even the closest incest prohibitions do not apply to freed slaves who convert even when biologically related with the exception of the prohibition of a son marrying his mother or her immediate blood relatives. The same technically applies to all gentile converts (Rambam, Laws of Forbidden Relationships 14:13). Thus even though it was known that David was Tamar's biological father, it still was halachically permitted for Amnon to marry her.

The rabbis taught: "In any case where love depends on something in particular, when that something is no longer present, the love also goes away, whereas when love is not conditional upon anything, it never goes away. What is an example of love that depended on something? The love of Amnon for Tamar, while the example of unconditional love is that of David and Jonathan" (Avos 5:16).

Despite the permissibility of Amnon's marrying Tamar, this was not what interested him. He was infatuated with her beauty - she was, after all, the daughter of a YEFAS TO'AR - and just as David had taken Batsheva by force, so Amnon contrived to take Tamar by force.

Rambam writes (Hilchos Yesodey HaTorah, "Foundations of the Torah" 5:9): "If someone has set his eyes on a woman and becomes so sick as a result that he is in mortal danger, even if the doctors say he will not be able to be cured until he has relations with her, he should die and she must not be allowed to have relations with him even if she is unmarried. One may not even permit him to speak with her from behind a barrier, and he should die rather than be permitted to speak to her in order that the Daughters of Israel should not be HEFKER ('free for anyone to grab') resulting in the breakdown of the incest prohibitions."

Thus it was very evil for David's nephew Yonadav to advise Amnon to contrive to get Tamar to prepare him BAGELS (boiled-fried doughnuts) as a cure for his sickness in order to be alone with her and rape her. Yonadav was "very wise" (v 3) - "to do evil" (Avos d'Rabbi Nathan 9:4).

Unfortunately cases of cruel rape have today become so common that they have ceased to cause shock and horror. However in earlier, more innocent times, the Biblical account of Amnon's rape and subsequent betrayal of Tamar was considered so shocking that in the days when the Bible was publicly studied in the Synagogues and a METURGEMAN ("translator") would explain the text to the assembled people in the Aramaic vernacular, he would refrain from publicly translating the story of Amnon and Tamar (Rambam, Laws of Prayer 12:12). The only time the story would be read publicly was in the Temple, when it was read to the SOTAH (a wife whose loyalty had been called into question) to show her that sexual impropriety can take place even among royalty in order to encourage her to confess (Rambam, Laws of Sotah 3:2).

The only one who comes out clean from this story is Tamar herself, who was a model of modesty. As an unmarried girl she would normally stay cloistered in the home and it was precisely because Amnon knew he would never catch her alone that he manipulated his father into ordering her to come to him to tend him in his illness.

The rabbis say that after having raped her, the reason why Amnon suddenly hated her more intensely than he had ever loved her was because during the act he caught his member on one of her hairs and it was partially severed, disqualifying him from entry to the Assembly (Deut. 23:2; Sanhedrin 21a).

Thus Tamar was ruined and Amnon was ruined, and "when king David heard all these things it made him very angry" (v 21). Our rabbis taught that at that very hour, king David and his BEIS DIN ("court") decreed the laws prohibiting YICHUD ("being alone together in private") between men and women even where both are unattached and not forbidden to one another through incest prohibitions (Sanhedrin 21a; Rambam, Issurey Bi'ah 22:3).

Thus we see how a Biblical passage - the story of Amnon and Tamar - throws light upon the reason for an institution that is one of the pillars of Torah sanctity and modesty. Although the prohibition against YICHUD is MI-DERABANAN ("instituted by the rabbis"), it is necessary to understand that the "rabbis" who instituted it were not some kind of dark-coated medieval clerics: they were none other than king David and his BEIS DIN!

Tamar's brother Absalom had good reason to feel aggrieved over the despicable treatment of his sister by Amnon, but instead of making a public complaint to the king over the matter, he hid his feelings and now contrived to take vengeance on his older half-brother. We learn in the next chapter (ch 14 v 25) of Absalom's perfect physical beauty - he too was the son of the same YEFAS TO'AR as Tamar - and through his endearing presence combined with his skill in manipulation, he succeeded in persuading David to send Amnon to take part in Absalom's forthcoming sheep-shearing celebrations (ch 13 v 27). It is interesting that Absalom ordered his servants to kill Amnon while the latter was drunk with wine, because Absalom himself was a Nazirite (ch 14 v 26) and was not allowed to drink wine himself.

The public assassination of the king's oldest son during a sheep-shearing celebration caused consternation among the other members of the royal household, who fled on their mules (see Bartenura on Mishneh Kil'ayim 8:1), while Absalom fled to his mother's native country of Geshur, where his grandfather was the king.


David longed for Absalom even more than a normal father longs for a son, because David was king of Israel , and while Solomon's wives later "led him astray", David surely hoped that his own fulfillment of the Biblical commandments, including that of marrying the YEFAS TO'AR, would lead to the glorification of God and bring righteous gentiles into the community. All the time that Absalom was back in his mother's native, idolatrous Geshur, it was an affront to the very kingship of heaven that David hoped to establish on earth.


Joab had already been in trouble with David over the very same kind of cycle of bloodshed and revenge that now afflicted the king, since Joab had killed Avner in revenge for his having killed Joab's brother Asa'el, thereby invoking David's curse for continuing the bloody war against the House of Saul.

Seeing that David was torn with longing for Absalom, Joab wanted to persuade the king to re-instate him but felt unable to approach him directly (it cannot have been easy to try to counsel a king David). Joab therefore turned to the mysterious Woman from Teko'a in order to take Nathan the Prophet's method of clothing reproof in allegory one step further. In Chapter 12 we saw how Nathan told David the story of the Rich Man who stole the Poor Man's only lamb in order to reprove him over his having taken Batsheva. Now Joab calls on a wise woman (rather differently from the way Abner had taken Saul to the woman who raised the ghost of Samuel) and Joab coaches her in pretending to be involved in a saga carefully calculated to touch David's compassionate heart. The appearance of this Wise Woman is reminiscent of certain other mysterious women who appear in the Bible having the good sense to take dramatic action in order to reverse serious cycles of violence in Israel . Another case is that of the woman who stopped the rampages of Avimelech son of Gideon by smashing his head with a millstone (Judges 9:53): that woman was specifically mentioned by Joab himself in II Samuel 11:21.

The town of Teko'a is in the territory of Judah south of Jerusalem a short distance east of Efrat/Bethlehem. Teko'a was noted for its wonderful olive trees, and because the locals habitually consumed the excellent olive oil, wisdom was found among them (Menachos 85b).

The main point of the claim of the woman of Teko'a to David was that even though one of her fictitious sons had killed the other, it was not legal for other members of the family - as GO'EL HA-DAM ("avenger of the blood") - to continue the bloody cycle by killing the killer, because as she pointed out, "there was no one to save between them" (v 7) i.e. there had been NO WITNESSES to the original killing (see RaDaK on v 6). She implied that the only reason why the other family members wanted to kill the killer was to eliminate all her late husband's direct heirs and thereby get their hands on his estate!

Having presented her parable in the form of the case of her two purported sons and manipulated David into swearing he would save the "killer" (v 11), the Wise Woman of Teko'a went on to use her artful eloquence to show David that Absalom should likewise be reinstated without being punished for the killing of Amnon, because there had been no witnesses to prove that he was responsible. "For we shall surely die, and like the waters that are drawn down towards the ground and cannot be gathered again, so God will not take bribes but He thinks up thoughts so that even one rejected will not be rejected by Him" (v 14). The Wise Woman of Teko'a was appealing to David to leave Absalom alone and let God decide whether he deserved punishment or not. Having sworn to her, David could not backtrack from his oath and agreed to allow Joab - whose hand he quickly recognized in all this - to recall Absalom to Jerusalem , although he would not admit him into his presence.

The return of the aggrieved Absalom laid the ground for his subsequent rebellion against David, for which he patiently and skillfully prepared by nagging Joab repeatedly for several years to give him admission to David. When Joab did not respond, Absalom showed his manipulative skills by telling his servants to burn Joab's barley crop (v 30), forcing him to go to David to plead for Absalom's reinstatement, to which David agreed.

In verse 27 of our present chapter we learn that Absalom had three sons, while in II Samuel 18:18 we are told that he had none. The rabbis reconciled this apparent contradiction through the tradition that Absalom's sons died as a punishment for his burning Joab's crops, because "anyone who burns his neighbor's crops does not leave a son to inherit him" (Sotah 11a).



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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