Members of a family descended from Hammath, the progenitor of the house of Rechab; otherwise known as the Kenites (I Chron. ii. 55), who were the descendants of Hobab (Jethro), the father-in-law of Moses (Judges iv. 11). In Jeremiah (xxxv.) it is recorded that the prophet took some Rechabites into the Temple and offered them wine to drink, and that they declined on the ground that Jehonadab, son of Rechab, their ancestor, had commanded them not to drink wine or other strong drink, or to live in houses, or to sow seed, or to plant vineyards, and had enjoined them to dwell in tents all their days. Jeremiah used this fidelity of the Rechabites to their principles as an object-lesson in his exhortations to his contemporaries.
Jehonadab appears at an earlier point in the Bible as the companion of King Jehu when he slaughtered the prophets of Baal (comp. II Kings x. 15, 23). Jehonadab was apparently a champion of the worship of
God's promise that the Rechabites "shall not want a man to stand before me forever" (Jer. xxxv. 19) is interpreted by R. Jonathan to mean that they shall become scribes and members of the Sanhedrin. Other rabbis say the Rechabites married their daughters to priests and had grandchildren in the priesthood (Yalḳ., Jer. 323). Jonathan's appears to be the accepted view, as the Rechabites became scribes (I Chron. ii. 55) and sat with the Sanhedrin in the granite chamber ("lishkat ha-gazit"; perhaps the same as the chamber of Hanan) of the Temple. The names of the subdivided families, the Tirathites, the Shemeathites, and the Suchathites (ib.), are appellations indicating their learning and (in the case of the last-named) their custom of living in tents (Mek., Yitro, ii. 60b; Sifre, Num. 78 [ed. Friedmann, p. 20a); Soṭah 11a). R, Nathan remarked that God's covenant with the Rechabites was superior to the covenant with David, inasmuch as David's was conditional (Ps. cxxxii. 12), while that with the Rechabites was without reservation (Mek., l.c.). The Talmud identifies "ha-yoẓerim" ("the potters"; I Chron. iv. 23) as the Rechabites, because they observed ("she-naẓeru") the commandment of their father (B. B. 91b). Evidently the Talmud had the reading "ha-noẓerim" (="diligent observers") instead of "ha-yoẓerim." This would explain the term "Migdal Noẓerim," the habitation of the Rechabites, in contrast with a "fenced city" (II Kings xvii. 9, xviii. 8). The appellation of "Noẓerim" or "Noẓerites" is perhaps changed from "Nazarites" as indicative of the temperate life of the Rechabites.In the Second Temple.
The appointed time for the service of the Rechabites in the Temple was the 7th of Ab (Ta'an. iv. 5). After the destruction of the Second Temple, traces of the Rechabites are found in the pedigree of R. Jose b. Ḥalafta, the author of "Seder 'Olam," who claimed to be a direct descendant of Jehonadab ben Rechab (Gen. R. xcviii. 13).According to Benjamin of Tudela.
Judah Löw b. Bezaleel, in his "Neẓaḥ Yisrael" (Prague, 1599), claims that the Jews in China are descended from the Rechabites and that they are referred to in Isa. xlix. 12 ("the land of Sinim"). Benjamin of Tudela (1160) found Rechabites in his travel: "Twenty-one days' journey from Babylon, through the desert of Sheba, or Al-Yemen, from which Mesopotamia lies in a northerly direction, are the abodes of the Jews who are called the Rechabites." He describes them as "an independent tribe. The extent of their land is sixteen days' journey among the northern mountains. They have large and fortified cities, with the capital city of Tema. Their nasi is Rabbi Hanan [a name suggestive of the chamber of Hanan]. The Rechabites make marauding expeditions in distant lands with their allies, the Arabs, who live in the wilderness in tents. The neighboring countries fear the Jews, some of whom cultivate the land, raise cattle, and contribute tithes for the men learned in the Law, for the poor of Palestine, and for the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, who, except on Sabbaths and holy days, neither eat meat nor drink wine, and who dress in black and live in caves." Benjamin's description of the Rechabites isambiguous, and, the text being unpunctuated, it is difficult to tell when he refers to the Rechabites, when to the Arabs, and when to the mourners of Zion. Probably the tents referred to are those of the Arabs, and the abstention from meat and wine applies to the mourners of Zion. The latter evidently were Karaites, who made frequent pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the tenth and eleventh centuries (See Pilgrimage).
The Rechabites were found also by the English missionary Dr. Wolff, in 1828, near Mecca in Arabia. He credits them with the observance of the pure Mosaic law. They speak Arabic and a little Hebrew. They are good horsemen, and number about 60,000.
- Lewisohn, Shorshe Lebanon, pp. 220-228, Wilna, 1841;
- M. A. Ginsburg, Debir, i. 96-101, Warsaw, 1883;
- L. de St. Aignan, La Tribu de Rechabites Retrouvée, Versailles, 1871;
- The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, ed. Asher, London, 1840-41.
According to Ewald, Schrader, Smend, and Budde, the Rechabites represented a reaction against Canaanitish civilization. As Budde points out, in the wilderness, or steppes, the religion of
These Rechabites, a part of the Kenites, as even the late Chronicler remembered, bound themselves to maintain the nomadic ideal of life and the primitive simplicity of
If they were Kenites, how came they in the Northern Kingdom at this time? The Kenites were dwellers on the southern borders of Judah until absorbed by that tribe (see Kenites; comp. I Sam. xxvii. 10, xxx. 29). The explanation is probably to be found in I Chron. ii. 55, which connects Rechabites with Hammath, a town at the hot springs by the Sea of Galilee, a little to the south of Tiberias (comp. Buhl, "Geographie des Alten Palästina," pp, 115, 226). Probably a colony of them settled at this point for a time, and so became residents of the Northern realm. The same reference connects them with Jabez in Judah. It is probable, therefore, that all were of one family. In the time of Nehemiah they were connected with Beth-haccerem, a town near Tekoah, southeast of Bethlehem. Budde has well shown the importance of the Rechabites for an understanding of the religion of Israel.
- Ewaid, Gesch. iii. 543 et seq.;
- Smend, Alttestamentliche-Religionsgeschichte, 2d ed., pp. 93 et seq.;
- Smith, Rel. of Sem. 2d ed., pp. 484 et seq.;
- Budde, Religion of Israel to the Exile, ch. i.;
- Dillmann, Old Testament Theology, p. 172;
- Barton, Sketch of Semitic Origins, p. 277.