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Was King David guilty of murder and adultery?

by Rabbis Mendy Gutnick, Avrohom Wineberg

  

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[Ed. note: With any study there are two approaches: the easy way, and the academic way. The easy way is to take a quick glance, automatically factor in your personal life experiences and preconceived notions, and draw quick conclusions based on how you would relate to that situation. The academic way is to examine and reexamine the subject matter. To do that is it necessary to take yourself, and your own biases, out of the picture. You must view the subject matter through the life experiences of the subjects involved, and open your mind to new ideas.

This is all the more true when it comes to understanding concepts in the Torah, a Divine book intentionally written enigmatically and euphemistically. Following is a deeper academic look into this Biblical personality and story. Pause, clear your mind, and take it from the top.]

David 

Known as the "Melech Hamoshiach" (anointed king), David not only lead his generation in G-d's ways, but he also merited to be divinely inspired and compose the Psalms, a book which we recite in our prayers (and many other occasions), until this very day! Amongst the Jewish greats of all times he is listed in the "Big 7", a group that in many contexts is known as the pillars of Judaism. For example, the traditional "Mi Sheberach" prayer on behalf of ill people begins with the following words: "May He who blessed our fathers, Abraham Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon, bless the sick person..."

If David desired this woman and was willing to go to any length to fulfill his "fantasy," why did he first send messengers to inquire regarding Bathsheba?
Is it conceivable that we would invoke the name of a murderer and adulterer in an attempt to elicit divine mercy?! Is there a shortage of Jewish greats? The authors of this prayer were well aware of the Bible and all its stories, including the story of David and Bathsheba, yet they did not hesitate to include David in this prayer, where he shares such illustrious company!

Holiness and impurity do not go hand-in-hand! Maimonides tells us that one can only become a prophet if he has the ability to completely overcome his temptations. Among the prophets listed1 is King David. It is, therefore difficult to assume that he simply succumbed to his temptations. Indeed, the righteous David had no worldly desires, as he testifies in the Psalms2 that "My heart [i.e. my passions and desires] has died within me."

Bathsheba

There is a dispute in the Talmud3 whether or not Bathsheba was technically a married woman at the time. The Talmud rules that she was not. The law was that before a man went out to war he was required to divorce his wife. This was a necessary precaution taken to protect the wife. In case the husband would die in battle and no one could testify to the fact, the wife would not be an "Agunah" (chained to her possibly deceased husband) and would be free to remarry. If, however, the husband did return from the battlefield safe and sound – the couple was free to remarry. Uriah, too, issued this divorce to his wife and thus, according to Jewish law, King David had relations with a divorced woman.

Please note, that before King David summoned Bathsheba he "sent and inquired about the woman."4 If David, the absolute monarch, desired this woman and was willing to go to any length to fulfill his "fantasy," why did he first send messengers to inquire regarding Bathsheba? He should have sent messengers to "summon" the woman. It is evident that before David summoned her he wished to determine her marital status. Only after ascertaining that she was, in fact, the (divorced) wife of Uriah, did he make his advance.

Furthermore, the verse testifies that David only had relations with Bathsheba after "she had been cleansed [i.e. immersed in the Mikvah] from her [menstrual] impurity." Would an adulterer be concerned about such details?

Footnotes

  • 1. Rashi on Talmud Megillah 14a
  • 2. 109:22
  • 3. Shabbat 56a
  • 4. Samuel II 11:3

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COMMENTS

Davids sin

Posted by: Fred Wright, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada on Mar 02, 2006

2nd Book of Samuel ch.11 verse 4 states that Bathsheba purified herself AFTER laying with David, not before.

If there was no sin in this event, why did Nathan confront David over it ch.12(verse 1-8) and why was David so remorseful that he admitted it in ch. 12, verse 13.

Please explain verse 9 of this chapter.

Psalm 51 is the result of this sin is it not? regards.

Editor's Comment

1. Your inference from verse 4 must come from a faulty translation. 2. The article explains what David's "sin" was. 3. Nothing in verse 9 seems to contradict anything stated in this article. 4. Correct.

are you serious?

Posted by: Anonymous on Mar 16, 2006

The TNK is very clear what happened and this justification is silly and with out support. If we have to constantly say that the text doesn't mean what it says then we have a problem, either the text is wrong or we are wrong, Ockams razor, the simplest solution is probably the true one. Honesty or fairy tales, the choice is yours.

Editor's Comment

The text means what it says, but the text doesn't say that David committed adultery or murder. That is simply one understanding of the text, and because it has been the understanding (of many who never studied the Talmud) for so long, it begins to feel like the text itself. But take a close look, and you will see that it is not. The Talmud clearly offers a closer examination of the story and the texts, which results in a different interpretation than that reached through a quick read.

Context

Posted by: Rabbi Mendy Gutnick, Parkland, FL on Oct 04, 2006

When Bilaam was trying to curse the Jewish people in the desert, his last ditch effort was "Efes Kotzehu Tireh" Just look for a few or a small number and curse them.

This idea of taking one part of Judaism or history out of context and finding fault in it is still an easy and convenient way for those who wish to discredit great Tzaddikim.

One must always look at the entire picture and not work backwards from one incident - taken out of context.

For the past 2000 years we have been praying with and praising G-d using King David's Psalms. The prophets all describe King David as the greatest King of Israel and the antecedent of the future Moshiach redeemer of the Jewish people. We sing "David Melech Yisrael..."

The question must be asked if King David was indeed such a sinner whay is his legacy not indicative of such.

We are not discussing the deeds of an ordinary man and our "open-shut case" mentality when looking at David Hamelech, doing so is out of context and ignorant.


Did king David sinned

Posted by: Anonymous, Round Rock, Tx, 78681 on Dec 05, 2006

Why change something that is so obvious. 2Samuel 12:9 clearly states David's sins: adultery and murder.

"Wherefore hast thou despised the word of the LORD, to do that which is evil in My sight? Uriah the Hittite thou hast smitten with the sword, and his wife thou hast taken to be thy wife, and him thou hast slain with the sword of the children of Ammon."

David was not a perfect person. He sinned, but he repented and was justified. The commentaries do not make any sense when the text is so clear. Just be honest and accept what is written in the Torah.

Editor's Comment

This verse says three things 1) David (somehow) despised the word of the L-rd 2) David caused Uriah's death 3) David married Uriah's wife. It is clear from this verse that G-d was upset at David, and that the cause of the dismay had to do with the David's marriage to Batsheba and his role in the death of Uriah. However, the verse does NOT say 1) David despised the word of G-d by committing "adultery" and/or "murder" 2) That the problem with marrying the woman who was (once) the wife of Uriah was a matter of adultery.) 3) That there was a violation of any law regarding who a king may send to war to die by the sword of an enemy (Ammon). The exact dynamics of David's sin are thus not forthcoming in the verse. The above article is the classic scholarly understanding of the verse based on Talmudic analysis and Jewish tradition.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Moshiach
The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Maimonides
Moses son of Maimon, born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
Mikvah
A ritual bath where one immerses to become spiritually pure. After her menstrual cycle, a woman must immerse in the Mikvah before resuming marital relations.
Zohar
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Sanhedrin
The Jewish Supreme Court. The court would convene in a designated chamber in the Holy Temple, and was comprised of 71 of the greatest scholars of the time. Continued after the destruction of the Temples, but was dissolved in the 5th century when due to Roman persecution the seat of Torah scholarship relocated from Israel to Babylon.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Hashem
"The Name." Out of respect, we do not explicitly mention G-d's name, unless in the course of prayer. Instead, "Hashem" is substituted.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Aaron
Brother of Moses. First High Priest of Israel and progenitor of all Kohanim (priests) until this very day. Died in the year 1272 b.c.e.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Samuel
1. A prophet and judge who appointed Saul as the first king of Israel in the 9th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, named after the abovementioned Samuel, one of the main characters of the book.
David
King of Israel who succeeded Saul, becoming king of Israel in 876 BCE. Originally a shepherd, he became popular after he killed the Philistine strongman, Goliath. He is the progenitor of the Davidic royal dynasty -- which will return to the throne with the arrival of King Messiah.
Solomon
Son of King David, and succeeded him on the throne of Israel in the year 836 BCE. he was the wisest man to ever live. He built the first Holy Temple and authored several books of the Bible.
Psalms
The Book of Psalms. One of the 24 books of the Bible. Compiled by King David; mostly comprised of poetic praise for G-d. A large part of our prayers are culled from this book.
Tzadik
(fem. Tzidkanit; pl. Tzadikim). A saint, or righteous person.
Agunah
A woman who cannot remarry because 1) her husband is missing, but his death has not been established, or 2) her husband refuses to issue her a "get" (halachic divorce).
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.