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).

7 Comments

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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!

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 May 21, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/esau-wives-of-midrash-and-aggadah>.

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