Orpah: Midrash and Aggadah

by Tamar Meir

Orpah is one of the secondary characters of the Book of Ruth, which tells the reader only that she was Naomi’s second daughter-in-law. Like her sister-in-law Ruth, she initially wanted to accompany Naomi and return with her to her land; but, unlike Ruth, she finally accepted her mother-in-law’s arguments and went back to Moab. The Rabbinic expansion of this narrative, which relates both to Orpah’s actions and to her descendants, paints her in a generally unfavorable light.

Her Lineage

The Rabbis maintain that Orpah and Ruth were sisters, the daughters of King Eglon of Moab (Ruth Rabbah 2:9) who, in turn (according to the same A type of non-halakhic literary activitiy of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).midrash), was the son of Balak. Ruth’s descent from these kings is regarded as a mark of their merit, while no mention is made of Orpah in this context.

Her Marriage

R. Meir emphasizes the fact that Orpah and Ruth did not convert during their marriages to the two brothers, but remained Moabitesses, which is one of the reasons given for the punishment meted out to the brothers (Ruth Rabbah 2:9); another tradition has them converting during the course of their marriages, but maintains that Orpah returned to her people and her god (Zohar Hadash, Ruth, 78a). The negative attitude to Orpah is also reflected in the fact that her husband Chilion is depicted more unfavorably than his brother Mahlon (related to the word mehilah, pardon), Ruth’s husband. Chilion’s name is given the etymology of kelayah, destruction, and, adding to his disgrace, the Philistine Goliath, who was killed by David, issued from Orpah (Ruth Zuta 1).

Her Actions

Orpah’s departure from Naomi is seen as proper and she and her offspring were rewarded for the considerable way that she accompanied Naomi (BT Suspected adulteressSotah 42b). However, once she had taken her leave of her mother-in-law, her subsequent actions are deemed extremely negative. She is said to have lain, that very night, with one hundred men, and even with a dog. The Philistine Goliath, who fought the young David during the battle in the valley of Elah, was born of this promiscuous activity. (Ruth Rabbah 2:20). Orpah’s wanton behavior is said to be characteristic of her and one of the exegeses of her name describes such conduct: “Orpah—because everyone ground her like bruised corn [harifot]” (BT Sotah loc. cit.).

Her Offspring

The Rabbis identify the Orpah mentioned in the Book of Ruth with the Raphah (or Harafah), the mother of the four warriors of Gath who appear in II Sam. 21, and the Goliath from Gath (Harafah’s son), with the Goliath who fought David in I Sam. 17. According to this identification, both Goliath and the other warriors are therefore Orpah’s children. These men with their special powers were the recompense for the manner in which Orpah parted from Naomi. In the version of the A type of non-halakhic literary activitiy of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).midrash in BT Sanhedrin (fol. 95a), Orpah also aided her son, Ishbi-benob, in his battle with David and Abishai, and even died during the course of this fight. BT Suspected adulteressSotah connects the death of the sons of Orpah at the hands of David and his servants with these opponents’ respective mothers, Orpah (“And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law”—Ruth 1:14) and Ruth (“But Ruth clung to her”—ibid.): “May the sons of the one who kissed come and fall by the hand of the sons of the one who clung” (BT Sotah 42b).

Her Name

The Rabbis offer different explanations for Orpah’s name, in accordance with the various facets of her character. One interpretation is appropriate for the tableau in the Bible: she is called Orpah because she turned her back (oref) on her mother-in-law (Ruth Rabbah 2:9). Thus her action is in keeping with her character and reveals her true personality. Additional etymological explanations are likewise connected with her deeds: “It is written [in II Sam. 21:18]: ‘Harafah,’ and it is written [in Ruth 1:4]: ‘Orpah’: Rav and Samuel: One said that her name was Harafah, then why was she called ‘Orpah’? Because everyone engaged in intercourse with her from the rear [orfin]; and the other said: Her name was Orpah, then why was she called ‘Harafah’? because everyone ground her like bruised corn [harifot]” (BT Suspected adulteressSotah 42b). These dicta portray Orpah as a woman who behaved wantonly. And also: “[She was named] Orpah, for she deserved to have her neck broken [because of her actions], like the heifer who is so treated” (Ruth Zuta 1:4; although the specific act to which this criticism is directed is not given by the A type of non-halakhic literary activitiy of the Rabbis for interpreting non-legal material according to special principles of interpretation (hermeneutical rules).midrash).

The reason why the Rabbis depict Orpah in such a negative light apparently lies in their perception of her as the antagonist of Ruth. They are presented as sisters, which merely intensifies the difference between them. From the moment of their parting, Orpah becomes the negative of Ruth. The Rabbis present the latter as a paragon of modesty (see the entry: “Ruth”), while Orpah becomes a symbol of promiscuity. Ruth is the mother of David; Orpah is the mother of Goliath. Ruth adheres to Israel and thereby adopts all its positive qualities, even becoming the mother of the Israelite royal line; Orpah returns to Moab, thus reverting to being a Moabitess, estranged from all that is Israelite. Her lecherous behavior matches that of the Moabite women at Shittim and her children are the enemies who fight all Israel, especially David. “May the sons of the one who kissed come and fall by the hand of the sons of the one who clung”—that is, the sons of Orpah, who kissed her mother-in-law and left her, would fall at the hands of the offspring of Ruth, who clung to her mother-in-law (BT Sotah 42b).

16 Comments

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Is Orpah and Herse the same person.

In reply to by David L Thompkins

No

According to my Bible Ruth is the great-grandmother of David, not the mother.

In reply to by Sherry Stone

I agree with you the grandmother not mother

 I am trying to come to an understanding of the reason behind the name Orpah as used in the book of Ruth while she was married to Naomi"s son.I would have thought that Harafah should be appropriated in her matrimonial home. Please enlighten my curiosity.

This the most fasinating story in the bible.  It speaks to the sons these two women married pining and dying and the father-in-law dying as well  strange women in the house of the believers brings about death even in the house of the righteous.  One daughter converts and stops the madness and the other is a sodomite.  Her husband no doubt dying from aides or lonliness if he refused to participate in her disgusting behavior.. Imagine, Ruth's beauty; Boaz made love to her once and died that night.  and her first husband died;  they were beautiful in every natural way, but God went an extra mile and made sure  Ruth was beautiful inside and out.  Why the church is reading all kinds of tails of the crept when they can read and know the truth; study and show themselves approved unto to God I will never know!!! But I for one and thankful for the Midreash, there is so much to know and understand and the historic document keeps us away from Mystics and lies.

It seems hard to believe that ANY woman could sleep with 100 men in one night! Is it possibly just a story to depict Orpah as an immoral woman? 7

In reply to by Lynette Malherbe

I believe its metaphorically said, I don't think it's humanly possible to do so, nevertheless she must have done it with the multiple army man.......

God bless you all , in the Bible is everything , AMAIZING!!!

It is my understanding that Orpah had influence with Eglon King of Moab who arranged with the Philistine king of Gath to marry her to Eminem, a giant. They had four sons: Goliath, Saph, Ishbibenob, and Lahmi. Goliath is mentioned in 1 Sam 17. Lahmi is slain in 1Chron 20. The others are mentioned in 2 Sam 21.

In reply to by Terrie

I think you mispelled whoever you meant by Eminem.

In reply to by Terrie

Eminem? Like the rapper?

Goliath is from Gath... not Moabites why Orpah became his mother the moabites...

In reply to by Bonnie Ray S. Actub

Gath and Moab are synonomous for the same people and region.

Please correct me or give me more detail of it, isn't it Orpah is Moabite and Goliath is Gath, Philistine? How Orpah becomes Goliath's mother? Isn't the history say that Orpah returned to Moab? Help me please. GOD bless you :)

In reply to by Anonymous

Ahhh her new husband was Philistine so are her children

How to cite this page

Meir, Tamar. "Orpah: Midrash and Aggadah." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 24, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/orpah-midrash-and-aggadah>.

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