Monday, 17 June 2013

Eiruvin 100a, b

Today was the day that I have been waiting for.  After months of patiently (or not so patiently) working through painfully difficult conversations about the whys and hows of the halachot of eiruvin, I came to a discussion about something absolutely riveting.  

Dutifully, I will cover briefly the start of the daf.  We learn about the prohibitions regarding the use of trees on Shabbat.  We cannot climb them, sit in them, lean on them, or otherwise use them (I wondered to myself about whether or not we are permitted to use the shadow of a tree on Shabbat!).  This is actually a fence built around the prohibitions regarding picking fruit and cutting branches on Shabbat.  The rabbis engaged in detailed debates about climbing trees before Shabbat - is s/he allowed to climb back down? If so, when?  And on...

The rabbis continue, speaking about whether or not walking on grass on Shabbat is prohibited or permitted.  In order to further their discussion, they use the phrase "he who hastens with his feet sins" (Proverbs 19:2), where simply walking can be a sin.  Interestingly, this phrase is also used by Rav Asi, whom Rami bar Chana reported saying that "it is prohibited for a man to force his wife in the (conjugal) mitzvah".  Of course, this refers to sexual intercourse which is unquestionably a mitzvah obliging us to procreate.  

Rav Yehoshua ben Levi tells us that "Anyone who forces his wife to do the mitzvah will have unworthy children."  Rav Ika bar Chinnana tells us that we learn this again from Proverbs 19:2: "... the soul without knowledge is not good".  Knowledge is understood as consent in this context, and thus when a woman does not consent to intercourse, the soul of the offspring will be scarred.  Or, the Gemara suggests, "he who hastens with his feet sins" refers to a man who has intercourse with his wife repeatedly.  So perhaps this is not about rape at all but about repeated intercourse, which could cause a woman pain or distress, and so it should be avoided.

But wait.  The Gemara reminds us of Rava's teaching: "(If a man) wants all of his children to be males: (he should) have intercourse repeatedly".  But this may not be difficult; Rava may have been speaking of a man who acts with his wife's consent.

Is it possible to get even more contentious?  Here we go: Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani tells us that Rabbi Yochanan said: "any woman who demands of her husband (this) mitzvah will have sons the likes of whom did not exist even in Moses' generation."  It is good for women to demand sex!  He quotes Deuteronomy 1:13 and 1:15, where we learn about the gathering of the heads of Moses' tribes.  Moses is unable to find men who possess understanding, which is even more important than wisdom.   Further, Leah's demanding that Jacob fulfill this mitzvah of sexual intercourse is said to result in their son Issachar, "men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred, and (everyone answered to them)." (1 Chronicles 12:33)

Of course, the Gemara is hesitant to accept that women should be rewarded (albeit with sons who are powerful) by demanding sex.  Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi said that Eve was cursed with ten curses (Genesis 3:16).   He explains the verse, "' To the woman He said: I will greatly multiply': this refers to two drops of blood.  One is the blood of menstruation and the other is the blood of virginity... 'Your pain' regards raising children (and I love that he sees this as a painful obligation!).  'And your travail...this is the pain of pregnancy.... In sorrow you shall bring forth children'," obviously referring to labour.  

He goes on: "'And yet your desire shall be to your husband' teaches that the woman desires her husband... and he shall rule over you' teaches that the woman demands her husband in heart (too shy to  demand sex) but that the man demands verbally".  And then Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi adds that "This is a good trait in women".  So he is suggesting that women are cursed, and our passive aggressive demands for sex are laudable.

The Gemara refines this as well, teaching that women demand sex not through action but through "making herself pleasing to her husband", and that this is a praiseworthy trait.  Fruther, the Gemara then challenges: are there really ten curses on Eve, or only seven?  Rav Dimi taught some of these curses. Women are cursed as we are "wrapped as mourners", as we cover our heads; we are "ostracized from all people and incarcerated within a prison", as we spend our time in our homes.

I love this, too.  The covering of women's bodies and the necessity of being in the home are not signs of our difference, our connectedness to G-d, our power in the home.  They are curses.

The Gemara wonders about the meaning of ostracision.  Perhaps this term refers not to staying at home but to the restriction on having more than one husband, unlike men.  

More curses follow: "She grows her hair long like Lilit (thought of as a demon in Talmudic writing); she sits... to urinate like an animal; and she serves as a pillow for her husband during sexual intercourse".  Why would other Sages not include these curses?  Perhaps they are not curses at all, but praises, suggests the Gemara.  Instead of curses, perhaps all of these are examples of modest behaviour.  Rabbi Chiyya agrees, comparing women with birds of the sky, who make us wiser (Job 35:11), with beasts of the earth (ibid), from whom we learn modesty as they urinate crouching, and the rooster, who enraptures the hen before mating (ibid).  

Rabbi Yochanan disagrees. In fact, we could learn modesty from cats, who cover their excrement; from ants, who do not steal from other ants; from the dove, who is faithful to its partner; from the rooster, who first appeases the hen and then mates with it.  And how does the rooster appease the hen?  Just like men in bars.  Rav Yehuda tells us that Rav said "(the rooster stretches as if to say) I will buy you a coat that will reach down to your feet... After mating, the rooster bends its head (as if to say) May the crest of this rooster fall of if he has (means) and does not buy you (a coat)".  Meaning that the rooster actually doesn't have any money, so he can't actually buy you the coat, but if he could, he would, and by the way thanks for the sex.

Of course, we are not given a satisfying, clear narrative regarding women's rights in their sexual relationships.  Instead we are offered another window into the minds of men who determined the lives of women for thousands of years.

I take great joy in watching the rabbis passionately justify their social structure, their personal power, their empathy for women and children, their understanding of Torah. They manipulate and bend these sacred, beautiful writings to mean what benefits them and their worldview.  Just as I am doing in this very moment.  It benefits me to read this work historically, anthropologically, sociologically, psychologically, and theologically.  It benefits me to learn from within a feminist and anti-oppressive framework.  I am not pretending to do anything different.  And we could draw a very straight line from the rabbis meta-cognitive processes to my own.

No comments:

Post a Comment