And a woman unto another thou dost not take, to be an adversary, to uncover her nakedness beside her, in her life. [Leviticus 18:18 YLT]

Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time. [Leviticus 18:18 KJV]

In reading of Jacob's marriages and his marrying the daughters of Laban (who may have had different mothers ?) I referenced Leviticus 18:18 and discovered that Robert Young does not state 'sister' but 'adversary'.

As far as I can understand, Young seems to be rendering אֲחֹתָ֖הּ as 'another' rather than 'sister'.

On the face of it, Young appears to be stating that a man must not take any woman to be a rival in any way to another wife, but to wait for the decease of the one before marrying the second.

Thus the text, in Robert Young's hands, would appear to be all about matrimonial peacefulness (and freedom from strife) and there would seem to be, in Robert Young's hands, no prohibition to Jacob to marry Leah and Rachel, being sisters.

I am looking for comment on the original Hebrew, please.

3 Answers 3


Both translations can be correct. It all depends on one's interpretation. Literal translation of „ishah el ahotah” would be „a woman to her sister”. But „a woman to another one (woman)” is probably an intended meaning based on the use of that term elsewhere.

In Exodus 26 we read:

3 The five curtains shall be coupled together ONE TO ANOTHER (ishah el ahotah); and other five curtains shall be coupled ONE TO ANOTHER (ishah el ahotah).

5 Fifty loops shalt thou make in the one curtain, and fifty loops shalt thou make in the edge of the curtain that is in the coupling of the second; that the loops may take hold ONE OF ANOTHER (ishah el ahotah).

6 And you shall make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains ONE TO THE OTHER (ishah el ahotah) with the clasps, so that the tabernacle may be a single whole.

17 Two tenons shall there be in one board, set in order ONE AGAINST ANOTHER (ishah el ahotah): thus shalt thou make for all the boards of the tabernacle.

And in Ezekiel 1 we read:

9 Their wings were joined ONE TO ANOTHER (ishah el ahotah); they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.

23 And under the firmament were their wings straight, THE ONE TOWARD THE OTHER (ishah el ahotah): every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one had two, which covered on that side, their bodies.

I would say that YLT's interpretation is the correct one.

  • +1 for being super informative, but I find your conclusion unlikely. You're comparing inanimate objects where it might be natural to refer to pairs as sisters in Hebrew but unnatural to do the same in English vs actual female person's who could actually have biological sisters.
    – Austin
    Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 23:29
  • It is not my own interpretation. Rabbis used those text as an argument against polygamy. Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 23:37
  • Very useful. I especially appreciate the comparisons with other contexts. Excellent hermeneutics. Thank you. Up-voted +1,
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 20, 2022 at 8:36

In [Vayiqra 18:18] אֲחֹתָהּ "Achot-H" is possessive (with a -Hei הּ suffix) so the noun אֲחֹת "Sister" (אָחוֹת Achot) belongs to a female subject - the "woman" (אִשָּׁה Ishah). Ancient Ivrit did not use the Shel- prefixes for possessive, like modern hebrew would say : [hers] as 'שֶׁלָ-ה'.

The Ivrit (Hebrew) version of Leviticus 18:18 uses a term אֲחֹתָהּ Achotah "[her]-Sister", Not simply אֲחֹת Sister.

And you shall not take a woman with **her-sister** [in marriage] as rivals, to uncover the nakedness of one upon the other, in her lifetime. (וְאִשָּׁ֥ה אֶל־אֲחֹתָהּ לֹא תִקָּח לִצְרֹר לְגַלּוֹת עֶרְוָתָהּ עָלֶיהָ בְּחַיֶּיהָ)
  • In the KJV, [Leviticus 18:18] uses two English words "her sister" as translations of two Greek words "αδελφή αυτής" (written in Erasmus' Textus Receptus).
  • Then why would Robert Young, so methodically and faithfully accurate to the Masoretic text, not have used the word 'sister'. I find it inexplicable, myself.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 19:06
  • @NigelJ - Robert Young is human and imperfect. This is not the only little "bug" I have discovered in his translation - it is good but not perfect.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 21:59
  • Good answer +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 22:36

I think @חִידָה gave a good answer to part of the question.

אָחוֹת definitely means "sister" in Lev 18:18 as per BDB. Indeed, the same word is used in Lev 18:9, 11, 12, 13, 18; all except V18 are correctly translated by Robert Young.

The opening phrase of the Hebrew in Lev 18:18 is this:

and a woman to her sister ...

Young translates this as "and a woman unto another ..."; the only explanation I can find for Young's translation of "another" is the use of this Hebrew word for inanimate objects as in Ex 26:3, 5, 6, 17, Eze 1:9, 3:13 where it translated "another".

However, that almost makes Young's verse worse for treating a sister as an inanimate object.

This Levitical law would certainly make Jacob's marriage to the two sisters illegal. Indeed, many pre-Sinai relationships would have been illegal under Levitical rules such as:

  • Abraham's marriage to his half-sister
  • Adam and Eve's children married their siblings
  • Jacob married two sisters

However, these relationships were not illegal at the time precisely because the Levitical laws did not yet exist and so the law did not yet apply.

  • +1 Yes, it is a very odd choice for YLT.
    – Austin
    Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 23:30

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