Does the Bible Allow You to Marry Your Uncle?

The book of Leviticus, in its catalogue of forbidden unions, says nothing about marriage between uncles and nieces. The rabbis of the talmudic period allowed and even approved of such marriages, at least between a man and his sister’s daughter; they seem to have differed on the question of marriage between a man and his brother’s daughter, while agreeing that it was not forbidden by the Bible. Later, a small number of medieval rabbis moved to prohibit any uncle-niece marriage at all, and recent scholars have discovered ancient manuscript evidence that both Sadducees and the Qumran sect forbade such unions. Rudolph Klein explains:

[The 20th-century rabbi and academic scholar] Saul Lieberman argues that the talmudic rabbis classified marrying one’s niece as a positive deed specifically in order to counter the Sadducean view that marrying one’s niece is biblically forbidden. He notes it is the rabbis’ way to take things that are simply “allowed” by the Bible and encourage people to do them in order to undermine sectarian heretical views.

Interestingly, [the 14th-century rabbinic scholar] Ishtori ha-Parḥi notes that the Sadducees were not innovators in banning marriage to a niece; [he claims that] they adopted the prohibition from the Samaritans, who took the idea from the Arabs. Later, the Karaites also followed suit and outlawed uncle-niece marriage.

Read more at Seforim

More about: Halakhah, Karaites, Leviticus, Qumran, Religion & Holidays, Saul Lieberman, Talmud

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood