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Rechabites

Rechabites. A Jewish religious sect mentioned by Jeremiah. It seems clear that they are an early instance of ‘tradition-fundamentalists’, who adhered to what had been established in the Wilderness period of the Exodus, and who refused innovations (e.g. wine, since vines could not be planted and harvested in that period).

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Rechabites

Rechabites (rē´kəbīts), in the Bible, a family that practiced asceticism. Organized by Jonadab, who helped Jehu purge Israel of the Baal cult, they drank no wine, built no houses, sowed no seed, planted no vines, and lived in tents. The Rechabites were apparently related to the Kenites.

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Rechabites

RECHABITES

RECHABITES (Heb. בְּנֵי הָרֵכָבִים), a small religious sect first identified as such in Jeremiah 35 in an incident dated in the reign of *Jehoiakim, but tracing their descent to Jonadab son of Rechab, who was a contemporary of *Jehu (ii Kings 10:15–17 where he is called Jehonadab; see below). Jeremiah was commanded by God to take the Rechabites to one of the chambers in the Temple and serve them wine. The Rechabites, however, refused to drink the wine, citing the charge of their ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab, which forbade them to drink wine, to cultivate or even to own fields or vineyards or to build houses. They had remained pastoral tent-dwellers until the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, when they had taken refuge in Jerusalem. It is not known whether this was when Nebuchadnezzar merely occupied the West and Jehoiakim became his vassal (604 b.c.e.) or during Jehoiakim's rebellion (601–598), nor whether the Rechabites had been able to continue to dwell in tents while residing in Jerusalem, but at any rate they continued to abstain from wine. Jeremiah, while he did not necessarily demand this Nazirite-like asceticism, extolled their strict observance of these commandments, contrasting it with the evil ways of the people of Judah. He promised the Rechabites that they would continue to serve before God: "Jonadab son of Rechab shall never lack a man to stand before me" (35:19).

"Ben Rechab" may mean not literally "son of Rechab" but "Rechabite," in which case Jonadab may have won over his clansmen as well as his descendants to his way of life. He was not necessarily the physical ancestor of all the Rechabites of Jeremiah's day, but he was in any case their lawgiver and spiritual ancestor. Whether the Rechabites had peculiar religious observances (e.g., letting the hair grow) other than those enumerated above is not known.

Opposition to the Monarchy of Omri

Jonadab son of Rechab sided with Jehu against the House of Ahab. From a fragmentary text (ii Kings 10:15–17) it appears that Jonadab, riding in Jehu's chariot from Jezreel to Samaria, gave his blessing to the slaughter of the royal family, and that Jehu was interested in proving to him his zealousness on behalf of God. Jonadab also participated at Jehu's side in the slaughter of the prophets of Baal in the House of Baal in Samaria (ii Kings 10:23). There is no evidence in the text that other men of the family of Rechab participated with Jonadab or that he acted as a representative of the sect. However, although Jonadab was accepted by Jehu on the strength of his personality, it may be assumed that his reputation as a zealous supporter of the God of Israel, who would tolerate no compromises, derived from his position as a head of a family that was completely opposed, because of its zealous faith and unique social character, to the rule of the House of Omri. Jonadab may have promulgated his rules as a reaction to the policies of Ahab, which notoriously provoked the opposition of the prophets and the sons of prophets headed by *Elijah and *Elisha. It appears that even at that time the Rechabites were distinguished from the prophets by their asceticism and extreme zealousness on behalf of the God of Israel (there is no sign that the prophets also participated in the slaughter of the worshipers of Baal in Samaria).

Origin of the Group

There is no definite information concerning the origins of the Rechabites. From a vague verse in i Chronicles 2:55–"These are the Kenites who came from Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab"–it follows that the house of Rechab (as far as it is possible to identify it with "the house of the Rechabites" in Jer. 35 and "the son of Rechab" in ii Kings 10) was related to the *Kenites. This verse mentions the Rechabites only in passing, in connection with the lineage of the Kenites. It goes on to say that the Kenites, or at least some of them, were among the inhabitants of Jabez, implying that they established a permanent settlement there, which cannot of course refer to the Rechabites. Even if "the house of Rechab" is also a place-name, identical with the name of the family, as is usually the case in the genealogies of Chronicles, there is no proof that it refers to a permanent settlement. If preference is given to the text of the Septuagint: "these are the men of Rechab," over that of i Chronicles 4:12: "these are the men of Recah," it is seen that, in accordance with the genealogical context in i Chronicles 4:11–15, the Rechabites were related to the Kenazites and the Calebites. Indeed, if these above verses reflect the process of settlement of the desert tribes in Judah in the period of the united monarchy in Israel, it may be estimated that the Rechabites were known, many years before Jonadab, as a special family in Judah. It is reasonable to suppose that, like the Kenites and the Kenazites, the Rechabites were absorbed in Judah at the time of the united monarchy, and in any case their territory was adjacent to the permanent settlements in the hill country of Judah. But their character as a religious sect dates only from the time of Jonadab.

Seminomadic Shepherds

Not engaging in agriculture and living in tents, the Rechabites must have subsisted by raising sheep and goats (cf. Gen. 4:20; 25:27). It follows that the Rechabites were among the nomads and herdsmen who dwelt in proximity to the permanent settlements in Israel and Judah, and even wandered further to the Wilderness of Judah. From the verses describing the meeting between Jonadab and Jehu–which took place between Jezreel and Samaria–it may be inferred that Jonadab's settlement was in the neighborhood of the cities in Israel. But their wanderings in the different periods ranged over Israel and Judah.

Relation to Society at Large

It appears that, in contrast to the deeds of Jonadab in the days of Jehu, the Rechabites in the following generations did not participate in the practical life of the kingdom and were essentially not a rebellious sect. The impression is that they did not set out to preach a way of life to the whole people, but, as is generally the case with a separatist group unified by family ties and stringent communal restrictions, it served in its very existence as a challenge to the conventions of the agrarian society and culture; in this respect it was analogous to some of the ascetic sects in the Wilderness of Judah in Second Temple times.

Second Temple Period

There are allusions to the existence of the family of the Rechabites in the days of the Second Temple. In Nehemiah reference is made to Malchijah son of Rechab, officer of the district of Beth-Cherem who held the Dung Gate (3:14), but there is no mention of his being unique among the other officers. Diodorus Siculus (19:9), in the name of Jerome of Cardia, speaks of the asceticism of the early Nabateans at the end of the fourth century b.c.e. in terminology almost exactly like that which Jeremiah used in describing the Rechabites, and he too placed special emphasis on the prohibition against drinking wine. There is no way of knowing of any connection between the Rechabites and the Nabateans, but it is probable that there were parallels to biblical asceticism, such as that of the house of Rechab, among other ethnic groups that settled in the south and Transjordan. According to the Mishnah (Ta'an. 4:5), "the children of Jonadab son of Rechab" had (in Second Temple times) a fixed day in the year for bringing wood for the altar of the Temple. They were probably descended from the tent-dwelling Rechabites, but they hardly constituted a separate sect. There were "water-drinking" sacrificers, and the Midrash traces their descent to Jonadab (Gen. R. 98:10; Sif. Num. 78, 81, et al.; cf. Ta'an. 28a; tj, Ta'an. 4:2, 68a), but this merely indicates that sects of teetotalers existed in the Second Temple period. The designation which connects them with the pre-Exilic Rechabites may very well be typological rather than truly genealogical.

bibliography:

E. Meyer, Die Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstaemme (1906), 40–409, 444ff.; J.W. Flight, in: jbl, 42 (1923), 158–226 (incl. bibl.); S. Klein, in: Ẓiyyon Me'assef, 2 (1927), 9; J.A. Montgomery, in: jbl, 51 (1932), 183–213; H. Schmoekel, Jahwe und die Fremdvoelker… (1934), 212–22; S. Talmon, in: Eretz Israel, 5 (1958), 111–3; N. Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (1959), 142–5; Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 2 (1960), 232, 338, 625–6; S. Abramsky, in: Eretz-Israel, 8 (1967), 255–64, incl. bibl. For the Rechabites in the Second Temple period see: Y. Baer, Yisrael ba-Ammim, 1 (1955), 45, 125.

[Samuel Abramsky]

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