Forty Year Old Man Marries Three Year Old Girl

Rashi provides a chronology (Gen 25:22), tracking the lives of Avraham and his family, which concludes that Rivka must have been aged three when she married Yitzhak (the events in Parshat Chayei Sarah). Why three? Rashi says this was because Yitzhak waited for Rivka until she was "ready for sexual relations".

Each year I find this comment by Rashi deeply troubling.

Here's some of the defensive positions I have heard:

1. Justification 2000 BCE: In Abraham's time adults marrying three year old infants was normative.

Problem: even if that's historically true (where the evidence??), so apparently was sacrificing children. The akeida, for example, is important ethically because it contests the assumptions of Abraham's times. Since when do we say the Avot were simply adopting the ethics of the pagans of 4000 years ago?

2. Justification 1100 CE: Rashi is bringing a chronological calculation, which concludes that Rivka was three. He then brings a mishna that states that intercourse doesn't defile a girl's virginity until the age of three, and at three she is now fit for sex. Rashi is doing this as a biblical scholar, not making a moral statement.

Problem: Rashi was not primarily an academic 'scholar' - he was the Master Teacher. Adults marrying infant/baby brides was NOT acceptable behaviour for Jews (nor the surrounding Christian society) in Rashi's 11th Century France. Why didn't Rashi bring another medrash, pshat or gemorah with an educational message for his time? Where is his ethical compass?

3. Justification - Other Opinions: Yes, Rashi says she was three, but other commentators (Chizkuni, Radak et al) say she was significantly older.

Problem: Who's teaching Chizkuni to school kids, or to adults, for that matter?! The standard version of these events is through the commentary of Rashi.

4. Justification 2014: When this Rashi is taught in schools today, everyone knows we're not talking practical halacha. Anyone who thinks they can marry or have sexual relations with a toddler today al pi halacha, is nuts.

Problem: In 2014, we know the damage/trauma caused to children by sex abuse. We also know that is child sexual abuse is unfortunately a common phenomena in our society - including in orthodox communities. Pedophiles in the orthodox community use biblical and halachik concepts to groom orthodox children for abuse, to ensure the victim doesn't tell anyone, and to explain the crimes away afterwards.

Even more concerning, teaching this Rashi to kids at face value gives a damaging & even dangerous message educationally to our children, that very righteous adults can have sex with children.

So, how ARE we supposed to deal with this?

My suggestion is that every parent should boldly raise this topic at our shabbat table.

This troubling comment by Rashi presents our families with a fantastic learning opportunity.

I suggest parents use this Rashi as a springboard to discuss with your younger children:

*  good-touch/bad-touch,
*  good and bad secrets,
* If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, Tell a trusted adult (parents, teacher).

With older children, this discussion can usefully raise issues of appropriate boundaries, defining abuse, loshen hora vs safety, negiah, yichud, positive sexuality, etc..etc..


  1. Simpler solution- start demanding that schools teach the many meforshim who reject age 3 marriage and assume it happened post puberty. Yeshiva's routinely omit other important textual material, why cant they either omit this Rashi or at least counterpose it with the alternatives.

  2. Why don't we teach the Radak's version where she's a teenager?

  3. Yitzchak was rescuing Rivkah from a society where young girls were routinely violated at age 3, and where Rivkah was about to be the victim of paternal incest (as indicated by the name Besuel). Hence the rush to get her to leave with Eliezer immediately, rather than wait a year . .. and her own willingness to go.

  4. Marrying a three year old has nothing to do with sex abuse. She was not being used and discarded for someone's jollies. She was becoming someone's wife, someone's life partner. Do we have any statistics on the long-term effects of such a relationship? Of course not. Because it does not exist nowadays. Equating sex with abuse is like equating eating with choking. Yes, both happen around the same general area of the body. That is it.

  5. This alleged three-year-old physically, manually and all on her own drew enough water from an old-fashioned well to quench 10 camels? As I was taught in cheder - the three year old of then is not the three year old of today, not physically, not mentally, not emotionally. It does not matter if historically the three-year-old of then in reality was the same as the three-year-old of today. What matters is that this "three-year-old" was the not same.


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