The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

Features thousands of biographic and thematic essays on Jewish women around the world. Learn more

Merab, daughter of Saul: Midrash and Aggadah

by Tamar Kadari

In Brief

Merab, daughter of Saul, was meant to marry David, but ended up being given in matrimony to Adriel the Metholathite.  Rabbis in the Midrash and Aggadah discuss two different versions of events: one in which Merab marries David, and one where she marries Adriel.


Merab was Saul’s eldest daughter. According to the Bible, she was meant to marry David, but she was given in matrimony to Adriel the Meholathite, while David married Merab’s younger sister Michal. Despite the Biblical account, some Rabbis believe that Saul’s original plan was brought to fruition and that David married both sisters. This tradition may be based on a reading of I Sam. 18:21: “So Saul said to David, ‘You can become my son-in-law even now through the second one [or: by two (bi-shtayim)],” understanding “bi-shtayim” as “by [my] two [daughters].” According to this view, Merab was properly married to David and her marriage to Adriel the Meholathite was sinful, just as her sister Michal was married to David and wrongfully given to Paltiel son of Laish (T Suspected adulteressSotah [ed. Lieberman] 11:17).

The Rabbis ask how David could have married two sisters, a situation that is prohibited by the The legal corpus of Jewish laws and observances as prescribed in the Torah and interpreted by rabbinic authorities, beginning with those of the Mishnah and Talmud.halakhah, and answer that David first married Merab and after her death married Michal (T Suspected adulteressSotah [ed. Lieberman] halakhah 18). A different Rabbinic position, however, denies that David married Merab; her betrothal to him was contracted in error, and therefore halakhically invalid. Saul promised that the man who would smite Goliath the Philistine would receive a great sum of money and also his daughter. David did indeed kill the Philistine champion, but Saul did not keep his promise. He explained this by telling David that one may not betroth a woman by way of fulfilling a debt. He said, “I am indebted to you, and if one betroths a woman by [way of repaying] a debt, the betrothal is not in force.” Saul then gave Merab to Adriel. Thus, according to this position, the betrothal was erroneous, David never married Merab, and there was no problem of marriage to two sisters (BT Sanhedrin 19b).

The Rabbis state that Merab died after bearing five sons to Adriel the Meholathite and Michal raised her dead sister’s children as if they were her own. This tradition seeks to resolve the contradiction between I Sam. 18:19, according to which Merab married Adriel the Meholathite, and II Sam. 21:8, that tells of Michal’s marriage to Adriel and the five sons that she bore him. The Rabbis explain that these were Merab’s children, but were attributed to Michal because she raised them (T sohta 11:20; JT Kiddushin 4:1, 65b).

Have an update or correction? Let us know


Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Get JWA in your inbox

Read the latest from JWA from your inbox.

sign up now

How to cite this page

Kadari, Tamar. "Merab, daughter of Saul: Midrash and Aggadah." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 5, 2023) <>.