Esau, Wives of: Midrash and Aggadah

by Tamar Kadari

Esau married his first two wives, who were from among the daughters of Heth, against his parents’ wishes. According to the Rabbis, these women spent all their days in adultery and idolatry. Adah adorned herself with jewelry for harlotry, from which her name Adah is derived, with the meaning of the wearing [adayat] of jewelry (Gen. Rabbati, Vayishlah, p. 160). Adah’s other name was Basemath (based on the exchange of names between Gen. 26:34 and 36:2). This name also attests to her deeds, for she would perfume herself (mevasemet) for harlotry. Esau’s second wife, Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, was an illegitimate child resulting from an adulterous union (Tanhuma, Vayeshev 1). Judith was also named Oholibamah, a name she was given because she built places for idolatry (bamot). She dwelled in Esau’s tent, but “performed her needs elsewhere” (that is, she engaged in extramarital relations). In taking two wives, Esau acted the same as the men of the Flood generation, who also took two spouses: one to provide them with offspring, and the other to provide them with sexual pleasure (see Adah, the wife of Lamech).

After Esau saw that his father Isaac had ordered Jacob not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan, he abandoned his evil ways and married Mahalath, the daughter of his uncle Ishmael. By merit of this marriage, the Holy One, blessed be He, forgave Esau all his sins (JT Bikkurim 3:3, 65c–d). Mahalath’s name indicates that God pardoned (mahal) Esau. However, according to another view, Esau did not mend his ways and Mahalath was as evil as his first two wives (A type of non-halakhic literary activitiy of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).Midrash Statements that are not Scripturally dependent and that pertain to ethics, traditions and actions of the Rabbis; the non-legal (non-halakhic) material of the Talmud.Aggadah, ed. Buber, Gen. 28:9). This later marriage was also the result of negative motives: Esau plotted together with Ishmael to kill Isaac and Jacob, to marry the daughter of Ishmael, and to inherit both families. Accordingly, his marriage to Mahalath was ke-mahalah (as an affliction) and only increased the pain his parents had suffered upon his first marriages (Gen. Rabbah 67:8, 13).

12 Comments

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This only make me realize that if you are treated badly and betrayed at a young age that somehow deep inside these thing will come out in an unpleasant way. Both Easu and Ishmeal were treated unfairly, and later in their lives their greviences turned to unethical conduct. Why were Jacob and Isach allowed to get away with these things and be Gods favored?

As one who believes Jesus is Mashiach, I find my lack of understanding of the OT / NT biblical narrative frustrating at times. For someone who has reached midlife, I am searching for sources that will help me become more familiar with ancient Hebrew customs, and as such, help me to more accurately interpret biblical passages in the Holy Scripture. My journey continues, but I plan to step off road, and venture on other paths that will connect me closer with the Holy One. Thanks for informative description of Esau and his wives!

Why was Esau allowed to have two wives?

Can you please clarify something? As I am studying Genesis 26 and Genesis 36, I see Basemath and Judith listed as Esau's wives. Then, I also see Adah (which you say is Basemath),Oholibamah(you say is Judith), and Basemath each bearing different children. This is very confusing. I understand that people can have more than one name, but Adah and Basemath are different people, right?

In reply to by Laura

I believe that Adah and Basemath are sisters (Hethites, Hittites), both daughters of Elon the Hittite. They have different children. Based on Genesis 26:34, Genesis 36:2-3
Basemath is not the daughter of Ishmael. Mahalath is the daughter of Ishmael. Based on Genesis 28:9. She is the sister of Ishmael's first son. Aholibamah or Oholibamah is not the same Judith. Oholibamah is the daughter of Anah, the Hivite. Judith is daughter of Beeri the Hittite. Based on Genesis 36:2 and Genesis 26:34. I believe that Esau had 5 wives. The Hittites and those connected with Seir when he moved away from Canaan. I may be wrong but this is what I think.

Explain adah jepethas daughter

Thank you for letting me know the meaning of Aggadah. I just learnt that it tells the meaning of the law. Men in my community have been bearing this name for several generations but we dont know the meaning. Thanks for letting me know the character of Adah and Oholibamah. As descendants of Adah and Oholibamah, we are very proud of them. We are Africans from the middle belt of Nigeria. We are Idumae(Idoma).

In reply to by Irene Elah

proud?? Hmmm....

In reply to by Dolf from Holland

Am I right in thinking Idumea was original Edom? i.e. stemming from Esau?

In reply to by Dolf from Holland

Read more about Judith, their seem to be reasons to be proud of her, God uses all people!

In reply to by Dolf from Holland

Dolf, you are being very rude!!! Of course, everyone SHOULD be blessed to be proud of their heritage, since there is merit to every human life that has ever occurred upon the tavla. We should not be speaking lashon hara about people whose ways may be different from our ways. How do we know that these Ladies were sprucing up their garden tables or looking after their lovely perfumed hair for ill purposes? We don't!!! H"ZL misspoke by trying to force their way into the genetic memories of a line that they do not spring from. That is how genetic memory works: you can see into your own line - you can be in receipt of visual clues about their lives, & to hear words they may have spoken...you can do this ~ & I think it's high time Irene Elah & family do for yourselves the meditation work ~ by shutting your eyes [covering the forehead & eyes for maximum viewage], & simply receiving information into your 3rd eyin, which is an actual optic fiber within the brain. Your DNA is one of the main things you can receive information from. Ask questions. I think it is important that each person try this for themselves. HZL misspoke to try to divulge the information of intimate details of the life of ESaV when they were. not. there. Try it Irene! Tell us something good! Tell us some stories of those Ladies back in the day...

In reply to by Dolf from Holland

They can be very proud they are descendants of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca. We all have some ancestors who acted less admirable, but we also have some amazing wonderful examples. Thank you for the information on this page. It’s very interesting.

How to cite this page

Kadari, Tamar. "Esau, Wives of: Midrash and Aggadah." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 31, 2020) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/esau-wives-of-midrash-and-aggadah>.

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