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Q&A: The Name Avishag

October 13, 2014

Question: Recently I met a young woman by the name Avishag. I recalled the first chapter of Kings I where King David employed Avishag Hashunamit as his sochenet – body warmer, since his body was so cold and he needed the warmth of a virgin to keep him warm. I also recalled the Gemara in Sanherdrin (22A) which discusses how Avishag tried to get David to marry her and when he explained that he couldn’t since he had the maximum 18 wives, she jested that he didn’t have the strength anyway to have relations with her and was merely using this as an excuse. King David went on to have relations with Batsheva 13 times to prove that he was still a very vibrant [sic] and active man. This Gemara, in my opinion, does not reflect so positively on Avishag and my question to you is: why would someone name their daughter after her? Answer: 1. Not every Midrash is factual. Hazal claimed that Bilam lived for centuries, then they claimed he died at the age of 35. Obviously one was not true. See Rabbi Soloveichik’s writings for how to understand non-fantastic Midrashim that add to biblical stories.

2. If this must be an actual account of a real incident, which it can not be because the plain meaning of the verse describing what happened with Bathsheva is referring to an entirely different incident, in the opinion of many, this particular Midrash does reflect well on Avishag’s character. She was expressing her discomfort with her intimate yet not sanctioned relationship with David, and offered to make everything Kosher.

3. I find it hard to believe that someone who was so close to King David was not virtuous.
4. Avishag is still a nice name, even if you could find someone in history with that name who was an unsavory character. Did you know that the most prominent Tovia (Tuvya/Tobias) in the Bible was the main gentile opponent to the reconstruction of Jerusalem? Yet good Jews have been using that name for centuries.
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2 Comments
  1. Doesn’t Tuviah (Tuv-Yah) also just mean the goodness of God? Sounds like a nice name to me, regardless of who had it beforehand, no?

    🙂

    • exactly. therefore, even if one were to make the case that the/a Avishag of the bible was not righteous, it does not mean that the name is pasul forever.

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