Why I Tend to Believe that Rivka Was 14 Years Old (Or More) When She Married Yitzchak (Isaac) Who Was 40 at the Time of the Wedding (Breishit / Genesis 25:20)

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Rabbi Jack Abramowitz in an article entitled Did Rivkah Really Get Married At Three Years Old?

states: The Sifri says that Rivka was 14 when she married Yitzchak. This is the position accepted by the Seder Olam, whose entire raison d’etre is to create a chronology of events. Sure, 14 is still pretty young by our standards but I think we cannot be appalled if that was a marriageable age 4,000 years ago.

In his article Rabbi Abramowitz also mentions 2 other views. One view lowers her age to 3 and Ibn Ezra implying she was a full adult (by modern standards). The view that holds she was only 3 understands that Rivka was born close to the time of Akeidat Yitzchak (the binding of Isaac) and that event according to this viewpoint happened exactly at the same time that Sarah died. Sarah died when Yitzchak was 37, which then allows Rivka to be only 3 years old, since Breishit / Genesis 25:20 tells us Yitzchak was 40 when he married Rivka.

The view that Rivka was 14 or more at the time of her marriage, either holds that Sarah did not die at the time of Akeidat Yitzchak or alternatively, Avraham (Abraham) heard the news about Rivka’s birth after Akeidat Yitzchak but she was already 11 years old at that time. At the end of this post numerous respected Rishonim will be brought to give further weight to the viewpoint that Rivka was 14 and not 3 at the time of her marriage.

Reasons to Support the View that Rivka Was 14 (or more) at the time of her marriage

    • In Breishit / Genesis chapter 24 (as translated by Rabbi Kaplan) it states:
      24:10 The servant then took ten of his master’s camels, bringing along the best things his master owned. He set off and went to Aram Naharayim, to the city of Nachor.
      24:11 [When he arrived,] he let the camels rest on their knees outside the city, beside the well. It was in the evening when women go out to draw water.
      24:12 He prayed, ‘O God, Lord of my master Abraham: Be with me today, and grant a favor to my master Abraham.
      24:13 I am standing here by the well, and the daughters of the townsmen are coming out to draw water.
      24:14 If I say to a girl, ‘Tip over your jug and let me have a drink,’ and she replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ she will be the one whom You have designated for Your servant Isaac. [If there is such a girl,] I will know that You have granted a favor for my master.’
      24:15 He had not yet finished speaking, when Rebecca appeared. She had been born to Bethuel, the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nachor. Her jug was on her shoulder.
      24:16 The girl was extremely good-looking, [and] she was a virgin untouched by any man. The girl went down, filled her jug, and then came up again.
      24:17 The servant ran toward her. ‘If you would, let me sip a little water from your jug,’ he said.
      24:18 ‘Drink, Sir,’ she replied. She quickly lowered her jug to her hand and gave him a drink.
      24:19 When he had finished drinking, she said, ‘Let me draw water for your camels, so they can [also] drink their fill.’
      24:20 She quickly emptied her jug into the trough and ran to the well again to draw water. She drew water for all his camels.

It is unlikely that a 3 year old girl would have the strength to draw water for 10 camels. But it is feasible that a 14 year old would have the strength. It is also not such a great praise, to praise a 3 year old girl, that she was a virgin untouched by any man. But if she was 14 or older in a promiscuous society, it is praise.

  • When the servant wants to bring Rivka back to his master Yitzchak for marriage it states in Breishit / Genesis 24 verses 57,58 ‘Let’s call the girl and ask her personally,’ they replied. They summoned Rebecca (Rivka) and said to her, ‘Do you want to go with this man?’
    ‘I will go,’ she replied.

We learn from this episode that we don’t marry off a woman without her consent. If Rivka was above the age of Bat-Mitzva, it makes more sense to learn from the episode that we don’t marry off a woman without her consent. It makes less sense if she is merely 3 at the time of marriage.

  • It makes sense that Avraham (Abraham) would comply with what is written in the Talmud, Kiddushin 41a. Here is the translation of Sefaria.org

The mishna teaches: A man can betroth his daughter to a man when she is a young woman. The Gemara infers: When she is a young woman, yes, he can betroth her; when she is a minor, no, he cannot betroth her. This statement supports the opinion of Rav, as Rav Yehuda says that Rav says, and some say it was said by Rabbi Elazar: It is prohibited for a person to betroth his daughter to a man when she is a minor, until such time that she grows up and says: I want to marry so-and-so. If a father betroths his daughter when she is a minor and incapable of forming an opinion of the husband, she may later find herself married to someone she does not like.

  • At first glance if Rivka were 3 at the time of the marriage, it would seem to be going against the Talmud Sanhedrin 76b as interpreted by Rama in Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 1:3 (see Ein Mishpat on Sanhedrin 76b that refers to Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 1:3)
      • Among those who support the view that Rivka was 14 at the time of marriage is Tosafot, Rashba, Ritva, and Meiri to Yevamot 61b. Piskei Tosafot to Yevamot Chapter 6, note 110, Daat Zekenim, and Hadar Zekenim (Baalei Tosafot) to Breishit / Genesis 25:20 and see Radal 31:14 that the Vilna Gaon on Seder Olam, emends the date given for Akeidat Yitzchak to 26.