This website is made possible by generous donations from users like you. $18 helps keep JWA online for one day. Please consider making a gift before our June 30 fiscal year end. Thank you!

Close [x]

Show [+]

Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael: Midrash and Aggadah

by Tamar Kadari

The Rabbis identify Mahalath with Basemath (based on the exchange of names between Gen. 28:9 and 36:3; cf. “Esau’s Wives”). Some of the Rabbis maintain Esau’s marriage to Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael reflected his desire to repent of his evil deeds and act in accordance with the wishes of his parents Isaac and Rebekah for a proper mate (JT Bikkurim 3:3, 65c–d). Mahalath’s name indicates that the Holy One, blessed be He, pardoned (mahal) Esau for all his wickedness. Her other name, Basemath, also teaches that by this marriage Esau’s character improved (nitbasmah; Gen. Rabbah 67:13).

However, according to another view, this marriage resulted from negative motives (Gen. Rabbah, loc. cit.): Esau married the daughter of Ishmael, and he and his father-in-law plotted to kill Isaac and Jacob and thereby inherit both families (Gen. Rabbah 67:8). This negative attitude to Esau is based on his not divorcing his two Hittite wives Adah and Judith when he married Mahalath, even though he knew that they were displeasing to his parents. If he had married Mahalath to fulfill his parents’ bidding, he should have divorced them; since he did not do so, he merely increased his parents’ pain and suffering (mahalah, literally, sickness). Indeed, Mahalath was as wicked as Esau’s 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, 28:9).


Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

No wonder the blessing goes to Jacob.

By this time Prophet Ismail (A.S.) had died, and Esau was about 77 years old.

and who were the children of Esau & Mahalath? This would mean the two religions combined here.Judaism and ??????

Yishmael repented by this point as it sates by the death of Avraham. And anyway, when esav married machalat, yishmael already died as it says in Rashi and chazal

Mahalath, and Esau, were first cousins. Too close for comfort, for me, but to each his own. FDR, and his wife were cousins of the fourth degree. Too many other bloodlines out here, to breed within the same bloodline.

Were progeny from this marriage Of Esau to Ishmael's daughter considered to be "in-breeding?"

Albert Maslar

How to cite this page

Kadari, Tamar. "Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael: Midrash and Aggadah." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 6, 2019) <>.


Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Get JWA in your inbox