Talmud this Shabbat: God’s Curious Commands That a Prophet Marry and then Hire Prostitutes


In our Talmud class this coming Shabbat, we are going to start a multi-week series on what is called the trei asar–Aramaic for the number twelve. The trei asar refers to the twelve so-called minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadia, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zecharia, and Malachi. We will study highlights from each prophet.

Our first prophet is Hosea, who immediately confronts us with complexity and problematics that you would never dream would be in the Hebrew Bible—unless you read it. Attached are the texts from Hosea, the commentary from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic The Prophets, and Haftarot: JPS Bible Commentary edited by Michael Fishbane.

Not only does God command Hosea to marry a prostitute, and to have three children with her.

God seemingly commands Hosea to hire a second prostitute, too. Or is that just a retelling of the command to marry the first prostitute? It is unclear.

There are so many problems and questions with these episodes.

Why would God command anyone to marry anyone else to make a point?
That would seem to not respect the humanity of the prophet or the prostitute.

Why bring children into the world and saddle them with weird names? That does not seem to respect the humanity of the children.

Why not one, but two, prostitutes?

And here is the most rich question of all: Out of this hot mess, out of this morally very complicated and challenged material, come the beautiful verses we say every morning, that I personally say every morning too, that Shira said to me under our wedding canopy:

I will betroth you forever:
I will betroth you with righteousness and justice,
And with goodness and mercy.,
And I will betroth you with faithfulness,
Then you shall know the Lord.

How should we understand these crucial words of our daily faith and daily prayer life coming from this disturbing story of a prophet marrying a prostitute, and being followed almost immediately by a prophet hiring out a second prostitute?

Yuck. Or pashnisht, as they would say in Yiddish. Out of yuck and pashnisht, can you make a recipe for the holiest, most beautiful and sacred commitment of all?

See you virtually on Shabbat morning at 8:30. Gann Chapel Live Stream.

Moadim l’simcha,
Wes