Kenneth Cohen

Classes of Jews

Parshat Nitzavim discusses the last day of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life. He gathers all of the nation together, to give them one last charge, before his death.

The commentators tell us that encouragement was needed for the people, after hearing ninety-eight curses in last week’s Parsha.

It is also interesting to note that the Torah lists the various classes of people. It begins with the heads of tribes, the elders, the police, and all other men. It then lists women and children, as well as the convert. And the lowest class appears to be the wood choppers, and the water drawers.

Rashi, quoting the Tanchuma, explains that there was a group of Canaanites, who came to convert in Moshe’s time. They did the same act of deception as the Givonim did, in Yehoshua’s time. They neglected to tell Moshe that they were of the Seven Nations.

Therefore, Moshe assigned them the lowest task of being wood choppers and water drawers. There was an additional punishment that awaited these deceivers.

Moshe did not want the regular nation to marry with these insincere converts. Similarly, Yehoshua had the same problem with the Givonim, and wanted to change their status from a regular convert.

It wasn’t until King David, who formally dealt with the problem. He declared that the descendants of those who deceived Moshe and Yehoshua, would be given the status of “Netin.”

The Talmud in Masechet Kiddushin, lists ten levels of Jews, in terms of making it clear who one may marry. The highest levels belonged to the Kohein, Levi, and Yisrael. This was followed by the Challal, who was the product of a forbidden Kohein relationship. (For example, the offspring of a Kohein and divorcee.) The next two levels were a sincere convert, who accepted the 613 Mitzvot, as well as a freed slave, known as Charara. They are full fledged Jews, but a Kohein cannot marry their daughters.

Levels seven and eight, are Mamzer and Netin. The first being the product of adultery, and the second, the status given by King David to the deceivers.

The final two are Shtuki and Asoofi. The first refers to one who doesn’t know who is father is, and the second, an abandoned baby that doesn’t know either parent.

Moshe gathered the entire nation of Israel, and reminded them that they were becoming a nation that would strictly adhere to the word of G-d.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at