This week’s parsha includes a motley array of laws, many of which have to do with status, be that marital, economic, or social. Chapter 23 (of Deuteronomy/Devarim) begins by describing a few classes of people that are excluded socially from the “congregation of Hashem.” The Torah says:
“An injured, crushed, or severed one may not enter the congregation of Hashem. A bastard may not enter the congregation of Hashem, even to the tenth generation, he will not be admitted to the congregation of Hashem. An Amonite or a Moabite may not enter the congregation of Hashem, even to the tenth generation, he will not be admitted to the congregation of Hashem for ever” (23:2-4, translation mine).
What is the congregation that is being referred to here? If I had just considered the first two classes of excluded people, I might assume that the text was discussing marginalized Israelite populations, those with deformities and those born out of sexual misconduct. However, the inclusion of Amonites and Moabites in the same (excluded) category broadens the scope of what may be being referred to. Clearly, an ordinary Amonite or Moabite will never be accepted into the “congregation of Hashem” as understood biblically to mean the Chosen People. Therefore, it is understandable that the dominant interpretation of this verse is that it is speaking of Amonite and Moabite converts to Judaism. Even after they have converted, no matter how many generations later, they will not be fully accepted into Israelite society. So too with the second category of mamzer.
I remain curious as to what is being referred to here, and my curiosity is only heightened by the fact that this is the only place in the Chumash in which this term appears. Conceivably, these classes of people could be being excluded from more insular communities than that encompassing the entire Israelite nation. As with Levites who are physically deformed in some way (Leviticus/Vayikra 21:17-23), these groups could also be being excluded just from the most public, or most elite, of ritual roles a Jew can be honored with (e.g. reading from the Torah). However, it is hard to draw any specific conclusions due to the fact that the three groups mentioned are so diverse.
What is excluding
These various Others
From the assembly?