Shabbat Talmud Study: The Canaanite Prostitute Who Saved the Jews and What It Means for Us Today–Three Different Readings of Rahab

The best literature, the most evocative stories, generate multiple and conflicting interpretations, each of which is true. Can we hold them all in unrelieved tension? That is the case with Joshua, chapter 2, our Haftarah for tomorrow, the story of Rahab the prostitute.

Background: Their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness are now over. The Israelites are coming to Israel. This time they mean business. The Torah has commanded them, multiple times, and quite ignobly from our modern point of view, to slaughter the Canaanites. Genocide. No other word for it.

Rahab is a Canaanite prostitute. She knows and fears that the Israelites are about to invade, conquer, and slaughter her people.

Collusion is at the heart of the story. Explicit collusion. The whole Haftarah is a smoking gun on collusion. She makes a deal with the Israelite spies. I lied to my King. I betrayed my people. I protected you. When the Israelites comes to kill all the Canaanites, please save my family and me. The spies say yes.

How do we see this?

Tomorrow we will see three very different reads of Rahab, each of which will leave us with a different and lingering question for our own time.

Shabbat shalom,

P.S. I want to thank everybody who came to our Talmud class this year.
I love learning from you. Our class is always a highlight of my week.