Sunday, 30 November 2014

Yevamot 58: When Can the Yevama Partake of Teruma?

The rabbis debate about a when a woman who is marrying a priest can partake of teruma.  One of their questions has to do with the meaning of "wedding canopy".  This might refer to the metaphorical entrance into the husband's home; it may refer to sexual intercourse. We learn that Rabbi Yishmael (son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka) holds in accordance with Rabbi Meir: if her act of intercourse entitles her to partake of teruma, her wedding canopy also entitles her to partake of teruma.  However, if her act of intercourse disqualifies her from teruma, her wedding canopy disqualifies her as well.

The rabbis want to understand whether or not there is significance to the wedding canopy.  They look at the sota's examination through drinking the bitter waters.  We know that widows and those who are waiting for their yavamin do not drink the bitter waters.  The rabbis speak of a woman who, after she is married, is accused by her husband of having secluded herself with a man.  She cannot drink the bitter waters.  Why not?  Betrothed women must not have intercourse with anyone while betrothed - she should be held accountable, right?  Well, the husband who accuses his wife of being a sota must be free from iniquity to force her to be examined by the waters.  Since he married this woman knowing that she had secluded herself with another man, he has sinned, as well.  Thus she cannot participate in this ritual, even if she and her husband both want that experience.

However, if this husband accuses this wife of secluding herself with another man after entering the wedding canopy and before intercourse, she can be examined by the bitter waters.  The rabbis suggest that this proves that "there is significance" when woman who is unfit to marry a priest enters the wedding canopy but does not yet have intercourse.

The rabbis clarify the differences between a betrothed woman and a betrothed yevama.  They look to suspicion and the ritual of the sota; they consider the significance of intercourse.

Even the rabbis recognize that there are difficulties with the stringencies of rabbinic law compared with Torah law.  For example, they tell of two competing opinions regarding whether or not yevamot (descended of priests) can partake of teruma when they are forbidden to their yavamin.  One of the barriers is the rabbinic ruling that a yevama is forbidden to a brother who is a priest if he has another brother who is a priest.  From the moment that her husband died, she was eligible to marry either brother.  She would be understood as reserved for an act of invalid intercourse, and when she becomes betrothed to one brother, she has made herself ineligible to partake of teruma because of this transgression.  One point of view suggests that Torah law allows her to receive teruma.  The other states that she cannot receive teruma until she has undergone divorce and chalitza and she has returned to her father's home.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Yevamot 57: When a Yevama is Prohibited to a Priest; Babies

When is a yevama who is married to a priest barred from partaking of the teruma reserved for priests?  The rabbis look into the question in some detail.  The first category of women discuss are those who are generally prohibited from marrying priests at all.  These are divorced women and widowed women.  The second category of women discussed is a far more disturbing group.  These are the girls who are married to priests when they are younger than three years and one day.

The rabbis tell us that women are not permitted to take from teruma after they marry a priest if they are somehow forbidden to the priest.   Marriage to a priest includes betrothal and intercourse, like other marriages.  But if a baby - because that is who we are talking about - is married and then widowed and then married to a priest, she is denied teruma.  Why?  There are two reasons.  First, she is a widow and thus forbidden to her yavam.  Secondly, she is a baby and thus their sexual intercourse does not 'count'. We have learned earlier that a girl under three years who has intercourse (ie. is raped, for she could not consent to such an act) is considered to be a virgin.  This is because the rabbis believe that the hymen grows back when it is torn at such a young age.  The end result of this logic leaves this baby girl having had intercourse with her husband and then with her yavam but without any provisions for food, etc.

Another disturbing factor is highlighted.  If this baby girl is a Kohen, she is not entitled to partake of teruma from her first family once she has been married to a priest.  Why not?  Because once she has been 'acquired' by her husband and/or her yavam, her father has no claim to her.  In other words, she is not his property nor is she his obligation any longer.  And halacha like this is important to the entire community.  If this baby girl's family were to provide her with teruma, she is taking sustenance away from others.  Each priest gets a share of the teruma; conflict could arise if this baby girl had more teruma claimed on her behalf after she was 'married off'.

There are so many questions I would want to ask the rabbis about today's daf.  Did they imagine what the experience of rape at age 2 might be like?  Were they concerned about removing a baby girl from any comforts and blocking her from receiving the necessities, including basic sustenance?  Was the ownership of girls and women really necessary to carry out G-d's word - is it possible that some of their interpretations were off because they did not have any women around the table with them?  If they were to learn more about female anatomy, might they rethink their decisions regarding the lives of girls and women?  Who were the men who would actually go along with the halacha that told them to have sexual intercourse with baby girls?  In fact, was this ever practiced - or was this a theoretical conversation?  

Those are just the questions that were at the front of my mind after reading today's daf.  It is difficult to reconcile such arguments with today's sensibilities.  These particular conversations are not simply the documentation of antiquated rituals.  Those conversations might be focused on stages of ritual impurity,  or on the type of sandal to be worn at certain times.  These conversations are about our most fundamental rights; the right to the security of our bodies.  

There seems to be a tension that the rabbis face frequently.  This struggle is about women: are women  human beings and thus made in G-d's image and worthy of respect?  Or are women chattel, another possession that is both of value and an expense?  I cannot understand how women can be understood as people and yet treated as property.  The same argument could be made regarding slaves, children, and people with disabilities.  It's just that women were and are half of the population.  How did the rabbis justify such degrading treatment of human beings?

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Yevamot 55: Forbidden Relationships; Sexual Behaviours

Amud (a) walks in spirals around the concept of paternal and maternal sisters-in-law.  The rabbis consider the case of an aunt, comparing the restrictions upon that relationship to those on the yibum relationship.  I found amud (a) helpful in understanding that the paternal sister-in-law is eligible for levirate marriage, while the maternal sister-in-law is not.  The differences in paternal vs maternal kinship was very different in antiquity from today's understandings.

Amud (b) is much more controversial.  The rabbis argue about what counts as intercourse.  They speak about the corona, the head of the penis, and the initial stage of sexual intercourse refers to inserting just the corona of the penis into the vagina.  However, the rabbis argue about this.  Could initial contact just be a kiss?  And then we learn how the rabbis define a kiss:  a kiss is the word used to describe sexual organs touching externally.  We should be careful to whom we offer a kiss!

The rabbis also discuss the notion of 'cohabitation with seed'.  It is interesting that they do not require cohabitation with seed as the defining factor of sexual intercourse.  

A few other disturbing facts our mentioned today.  A yavam (or any other man) is not permitted to have sexual intercourse with a dead woman who is forbidden to him by Torah law.  However, that act is not defined as intercourse at all.  No mention is made of ritual impurity.  Is this "of course, theoretical"? Or is this something that the rabbis were not concerned about as it happened so infrequently?

The rabbis state that one can have intercourse with a woman in two ways.  Our notes suggest that this refers to vaginal and anal intercourse.  It is clear that anal intercourse is a forbidden act.  However, it must have been practiced to have been discussed so openly by our rabbis.

If a man has a "dead organ", this means that his penis is fully limp and that he can only have intercourse through inserting it manually.  Such an act performed with a prohibited sexual partner does not result in the consequence of karet, but could result in flogging.

The rabbis mention the cases of the sota and the designated maidservant.  Both of these women are in predicaments that have removed their agency and force them to be dependent on the men around them.  Their presence in today's text, however, has to do with whether or not they are available to men as sexual property.  How will men be consequenced if they have intercourse with these women?  There is no mention of the experience of the women themselves.

The rabbis are concerned about which acts are punishable by karet and which acts are punishable by other serious consequences, including stoning and excommunication.

It continue to feel both surprise and dismay when I read of the misinformation shared by our rabbis.  The voices of women are completely silenced through the text.  Without the voices of women, the rabbis miss me mark with any interpretations that they might devise.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Yevamot 54: Men and their Sexual Behaviours

The rabbis want to understand the precise ways in which a yevama is permitted to her yavam.  In ordinary circumstances, a woman is forbidden from marrying her husband's brother.  This is one of the forbidden sexual relationships explicitly explained to us in Leviticus.  Today's daf touches on who is forbidden to a yavam based on extrapolations from Torah law.  We are reminded that a mother's family is not meaningful regarding inheritance, and so the rabbis are more lenient about marrying into her family.  The relatives of one's father, however, are strictly forbidden.

Two other points arise in today's daf that jump off of the page, as they are continually part of today's discussions about sex, perversion, inclusion and religiously based shame.

First, we learn that a yevam must intend to have sexual intercourse for the yibum to be valid.  The rabbis go into great detail regarding the possible manners in which a yavam might accidentally have intercourse with his yevama.  He might be sleeping and tricked into intercourse.  He might be erect for his wife and then accidentally pressed into or forced into his yevama.  He might push up against a wall with a naked erect penis and accidentally push himself into his yevama.  Or he might intend to have intercourse with an animal and find himself somehow, accidentally, having intercourse with his yevama.  The act of intercourse does not have to be completed for yibum to be valid; just the initial stages of intercourse must have begun.  

The rabbis have not yet defined what is meant by initiating the first stage of intercourse.  Does that mean one thrust?  Does that mean genital contact?  It is amazing that the rabbis allow men to make such wild excuses for their behaviour.  Why could the man - even the man who might be coerced - not pull away from this illicit act?  If this were a woman, she would be judged as complicit unless someone heard her scream.  Why are the men allowed to be unaccountable for their actions when they could simply pull away?

We are reminded of Rabba's story of a man who accidentally fell from a building - for some reason being naked and erect - due to normal winds.  This man fell on a woman below, and was pushed by the force of the fall into her vagina.  The rabbis determined that he is liable for four of five counts in this case, and he must pay for injury, pain, lost wages, and medical costs.  He is not to pay for the shame brought about through this act of intercourse, for the act was accidental.  

If I have ever suspected the rabbis of fantasizing while insisting that they were interpreting text, this has to be my proof.  Falling into a woman? Such an act of intercourse is certainly impossible.  However, it does sound like the kind of sexual fantasy that a sexually limited and frustrated person might create.  At least the woman in this fantasy is provided with some degree of compensation.

Finally, we are told about the rabbis' views on sexual intercourse between men.  Because Torah verses state that men cannot lie with men as they lie with women, no form of intercourse that could happen between a man an a woman is permitted between two men.  Again, the beginning of the act of intercourse is all that is required.  This act is punishable by stoning, as is the act of intercourse with an animal.  We learn that intercourse with a forbidden yevama or intercourse with a menstruating woman are both punished through karet.

When the rabbis teach that men cannot have intercourse with other men as they would with women, I immediately hear a challenge.  What could men do with other men that women would be incapable of doing?  Perhaps those acts should be publicized as permitted.  I'm sure that there are a lot of creative men out there who would be willing to figure out which acts of intercourse would be permitted to them according to this interpretation of Torah law.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Yevamot 53: More on Acquisition Via Intercourse: Consent, Coercion, Any Type Will Do

First, the rabbis continue their discussion about intercourse and chalitza as the two defining acts of yibum.  They note that chalitza is valid regardless of tanai kaul, compound conditions.  Tanai kaful tells us what will happen if the condition is met; additionally, it tells us what will happen if the condition is not met.  We learn in a note that Tanai kaful require four elements to be fulfilled: both positive and negative aspects must be stated, its positive aspect must happen before the negative aspect, the condition must be stated before the action itself is stated, and the condition itself is feasible.  Thus chalitza is valid and dissolves the leverite bond, even if the yavam insisted on a gift from the yevama in addition to chalitza.

Steinsaltz provides us with a chart to explain exactly which acts are valid when performed in different orders.  Chalitza, Intercourse, Levirate betrothal, and the Get are listed as alternate first and as second acts.  In each case, he describes whether or not those acts are valid in that order.  He also suggests which further actions could be taken.

Our new Mishna is the start of Perek VI.  The Mishna teaches that intercourse is valid in yibum regardless of consent, coercion, or type of intercourse.  Further, any type of intercourse between a yavam and a yevama who is forbidden to him by Torah or rabbinical law disqualifies the yevama from marrying  into the priesthood.  

The Gemara begins to deconstruct this Mishna by looking at intent.  The rabbis agree that both people should ideally be consenting and performing this mitzvah for its own sake.  However, intercourse is valid regardless of whether or not either or both people are willing or intent on performing the mitzvah.

Next, the Gemara wonders what coercion might mean when thinking of a man.  Rava suggests that there is no such thing as coercion of a man, for there is no erection without intent.  Perhaps he was sleeping and his yevama "drew him onto herself".  Some of our commentary looks at this further.  The rabbis seem to agree that men must be somewhat cooperative to participate in an act of intercourse.  

We will see where this conversation goes as it continues tomorrow.  One of the interesting questions I am waiting to learn more about is the notion that any sexual act of intercourse - specifically anal intercourse - is a valid acquisition of the yevama in levirite marriage.  So far I have seen no mention of other forms of intercourse.  Why would anal intercourse be valid in these circumstances and not in ordinary marriage rituals? As we learn from Steinsaltz, shouldn't yibum require the act of intercourse that might result in a child?  Was that not the entire point of yibum (a husband dies childless and so his wife is permitted to be with his brother to continue the family line)?  

Monday, 24 November 2014

Yevamot 52: Processes of Acquisition

Does the mitzva of yibum require betrothal, or is intercourse good enough?  The rabbis discuss whether betrothal followed by intercourse is the proper performance of the mitzva of yibum.  It is clear that the rabbis prefer betrothal followed by intercourse.  If intercourse alone finalizes the marriage, then yibum is extremely different from other marriages; the rabbis do not want to give the impression that licentiousness or immodesty is ever condoned.

After teaching us that yevamin might be flogged for having intercourse with their yevamot without betrothal, the rabbis continue with this line of thought.  Many others are subject to flogging/lashes.  Most of the examples shared speak of insubordination toward the Sages/rabbinic law or 'immodest behaviour'. Immodest behaviour includes betrothal in the marketplace rather than in the home, which suggests a lack of planning and family involvement; it is similar to soliciting a prostitute, we learn in a note.

An interesting example is shared regarding a son-in-law who lives with his in-laws.  This man is to be lashed, for the couples are tempting infidelity by living together.  But what about a man who walks through his father-in-law's home?  Why was he lashed?  The Gemara explains that the rabbis were referring to Rav Sheshet, who lashed a man who passed through his father-in-law's house.  In that case, however, the man was already rumoured to be in a forbidden relationship with his mother-in-law.  To walk through the home was to encourage these rumours.  A note teaches us that a ruling allowed young couples to live in a separated part of the in-laws' homes.  This ruling has been used to allow many multi-generational families to live together.

The Gemara outlines the ketubah, marriage contract, written for a yevama.  It is similar to that of an ordinary bride, but the financial responsibility for her comes first from her deceased husband's estate.  The Gemara then discusses the get, divorce contract, that might be given to a yevama.  It could be written at the time of the betrothal and presented after the marriage; it could be conditional, stating that the woman cannot marry anyone else.  The rabbis seem to direct their concern toward the status of women regarding the priesthood.  Divorced women may not marry kohanim, priests.  We can see that the rabbis are protective of that tiered system.

The rabbis then discuss these points in greater detail.  If a get is written in advance and presented after the marriage, does it dissolve the bond of yibum?  If the get is presented in an ordinary marriage in this way, there are different considerations.  The levirate bond ties the yavam and yevama together in a manner different from other relationships.  

At the end of our daf, the rabbis attempt to compare the acquisition of a wife through yibum to the acquisition of the land belonging to a convert who dies without heirs.  This attempted parallel is very telling; the process of marriage and certainly the process of marriage through yibum is truly an act of acquisition.  Wives are a form of property that are owned - bought through contracts and rituals; released from ownership through other formalized processes.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Yevamot 51: Strength of the Levirate Bond

Abaye challenges Rabban Gamliel's notion of the levirate bond.  The rabbis debate about whether or not that bond is strong enough to acquire a woman fully - and at what point in time; before or after which other rituals.  They use example of one yevam and multiple yevamot; multiple yevamin and only one yevama.  They wonder about whether or not the relatives of rival wives are forbidden to the yevam if he only divorces one yevama, if he divorces all yevamot, if he has intercourse with one yevama after having divorced her already...  Many, many scenarios are introduced and discussed.

The underlying question for our rabbis regards the strength of the levirate bond.  Does the yevama belong to her yavam completely simply because he is her yavam?  Is intercourse or chalitza a full requirement?  Or would a get, a bill of divorce, have an effect on her status?  Is she betrothed to the yevam from the moment that her husband dies childless?  Or must he complete an action, which could include intercourse, to demonstrate that she belongs to him?

One of the examples that the rabbis use to explain this concept is quite disturbing.  If a boy who is nine years old and one day is a yavam and has intercourse with his yevama, and his brother, also nine years and one day, has intercourse with her as well, is the second intercourse invalid?  In a note, we learn that the true question here has to do with acquisition.   Minor boys may or may not have the status to acquire a wife (or any other property, to put this into context).  Under the age of nine, boys are said to be incapable of intercourse.  After the age of nine, they can have intercourse but cannot fully, legally acquire a wife.  

Again, we see the rabbis discussing both women and minor children as property.  The acts ascribed to the boys in this case are certainly considered to be abusive according to today's understandings of child development and care.  Yet there is no acknowledgement of the psychological, physical, emotional or other impacts that these acts might have on these young boys.  Though their arguments might be theoretical, the halachot that arises from these arguments affect the lives of real people.  To picture boys in this scenario does not seem to concern our rabbis at all.  

Yevamot 50: Chalitza and Intercourse

Today we end Perek IV and begin Perek V.  Perek IV ends with a discussion about shnai dorot, the years of the generations.  Our notes teach us that the rabbis held slightly differing opinions as to what this might mean.  Perhaps a certain number of years are allotted to an entire generation or perhaps each individual is given a preordained number of years to live.  Some rabbis believe that years cannot be added to one's preset lifespan but they could be subtracted from one's life due to one's choices each day.  Another idea attached to the shnai dorot is the idea that each day has a number of given goals that we are to achieve.  These ideas are both inspiring and depressing to me.  Inspiring that I might achieve all that is possible for myself if I consciously choose "the right path".  Depressing because I know that I will never make the best decisions possible; that so much is decided in advance of my existence - that independence is relatively impossible.

Perek V begins with an exceedingly long Mishna that is quite repetitive and filled with examples regarding a similar set of points.  Apparently the rabbis were curious about why this Mishna might have been included; is it not redundant?  But again these great minds were able to share interpretations that suggested new and different meanings within the words of the Mishna.

The basic concept of daf is that chalitza and intercourse are our Torah-determined methods of managing yibum.  Thus any action taken after chalitza or intercourse has no halachic effect on the yevam and yevama; by Torah law, they have either broken the levirate bond through chalitza or strengthened the bond through marriage (as intercourse is both levirate betrothal and marriage; the ultimate act of acquisition, done through women's bodies).

The Mishna and Gemara discuss numerous details.  One of the major points of interest is the difference in ritual between yibum with one yavam and one yevama and one yevam and two yevamot.  With one yevama, there is not need to worry about timing or complicated decision-making on the part of the yibum.  She is either betrothed/married to the yavam through intercourse or she is released from the yevam through chalitza.   When two yevamot are waiting for the yavam to decide on whether or not to take on his sister-in-law as his wife, we are walked through exactly how he must treat one and then the other yevama.

Today's daf seems to push two ideas: the first is that Torah law supersedes rabbinic law.  The second is that men should be careful when taking on rival wives - they can complicate things dramatically, even after the men themselves have died.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Yevamot 48: Conversion of Slaves

When a beautiful Gentile woman is taken captive, she is left to mourn her family for 30 days before marrying her Jewish captor.  The rabbis find ways to interpret the 30 days to be 90 days.  Three month allow us to know with some certainty whether she is pregnant and whether or not the father is a Gentile from her life before captivity.  This assumes that she is not raped by her Jewish captor, of course.  And that last comment is my own - the Gemara does not mention the possibility of rape in this circumstance.

What is done to her hair and her nails?  The rabbis agree that her hair is cut, just like others prepare for spiritual renewal through shaving their heads.  They do not agree about her nails.  Some rabbis, including Abaye, believe that her nails are left to grow long, which is unattractive.  Others believe that her nails are cut short while she is in mourning, for her hair and her nails are treated similarly and her hair is cut.  The halacha is in accordance with Abaye.  It is fascinating to note the differences in standards of attractiveness depending on place and time.  In Western society today, long nails on women are considered to be far more attractive than nails cut short.

What do we do about slaves who are not interested in conversion?  Do we coerce them to immerse and accept the mitzvot?  Do we allow them to live in Jewish homes with converting?  The rabbis debate their options.  It is noted that mistrust is appeased through conversion.  A slave who has converted will not cause utensils that are susceptible to ritual impurity to become impure through their touch.  A slave who has converted can be trusted to keep secrets from foreign enemies.  

A slave is allowed to resist conversion for up to twelve months.  If that slave continues to resist conversion, s/he is sold to a Gentile at that time.  It seems that the assumption is that slaves will see the benefits of becoming Jewish.  Conversion will be something appealing to them within one year of living in a Jewish home.  Could this be?  I wonder how slavery might be different in Jewish and Gentile homes.  

The Gemara speaks of the mitzvot kept by slaves who do not choose to convert.  A person who is called a ger toshav observes at least some of the mitzvot of Shabbat.* Perhaps, it is suggested, a ger toshav keeps Shabbat as we keep Festivals.

Our daf ends with a conversation about why people who convert at this time (a time when Jews are persecuted and oppressed) are subject to so much torment.  First, this assumes that those who have converted are suffering at least as much, if not more, than those who are born Jewish.  Second, the rabbis agree that conversion absolves people of any sins (against G-d) that they might have committed  prior to conversion; any sins done by their parents.   Why so much suffering?  Perhaps they should have converted earlier.  Perhaps they are performing the mitzvot out of fear of punishment rather than out of love for G-d.

I can't help but wonder what torment was suffered by those who chose Judaism.  Did back luck seem to befall them?  Did they suffer because of prejudice, or because they were not trusted? For the rabbis to discuss the torment of those who have converted, their hardships must have been significant.  Again I am reminded that our rabbis looked for a logical explanation for everything that happened in their world.  G-d had a hand in their circumstances.  This world view is so jarringly different from my own that I continue to react to our rabbis' questions.

* A ger tzedek, a righteous stranger, is like a Jew in all senses.  Is this another word for someone who has converted?  Or is this person still considered to be a Gentile?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Yevamot 47: Conversion

Today's daf is all about conversion.  We learn about how the rabbis respond when a person who has converted privately admits that s/he is not actually Jewish.  The rabbis debate about what we believe when that person speaks: can s/he affirm her own status?  The status of his/her children?  Grandchildren?  The idea of trust is paramount here: if a person can be believed in one circumstance, that does not mean that s/he should be believed in all circumstances.  As a Gentile, for example, this person who had participated in an incomplete conversion is not able to testify in court.  Thus his/her assertions carry different meanings.

The most interesting part of today's daf in my experience is the description of conversion. We learn that one is to be circumcised and then heal (if male) and then immerse.  At each stage of the conversion, the court of rabbis should speak with this person about conversion.  When they ask why the person is converting when Jews are persecuted and oppressed, the 'right' answer is, "I know, and I am not worthy of joining the Jewish people but I desire to do so regardless."  

The rabbis should not try too hard to discourage or to encourage this person to convert.  They should point out agricultural laws (peah) which force us to give away part of our crops.  The rabbis should not overwhelm this person with details of the mitzvot.  At the end stages of the conversion, the rabbis should speak about the stringent and lenient mitzvot.  They point out that immediately following immersion, s/he is like a born Jew in every way.

The rabbis walk us through the conversion story of Naomi and Ruth, where Naomi tells Ruth of obligations that she will face.  Ruth answers each statement with her commitment to practice as a Jew, to be a Jew.  These questions and answers serve as the model of conversion

As well as specifically speaking about the conversion of women (which is a condensed version of male conversion as the circumcision step is eliminated), we learn about the conversion of emancipated slaves.  Their immersion signifies full conversion.   We are reminded about women who are chosen as either slaves or wives from captives of a rival nation.  Those women are entitled to one month of mourning including shaving their heads and preparing their nails.  Following that ritual, they are immersed and thus converted, ready for marriage.  It is noted that if one of these women chooses to take on the mitzvot early on, she can forego the mourning process and immerse and marry immediately. 

This text is challenging.  On one level, it is incredibly helpful in understanding the origins of today's conversion rituals.  On another level, we are learning about the creation of distinct lines between "us" and "them".  The rabbis wish to define those lines with incredible precision.  Even the Torah itself allows blurry lines that we can interpret as more or less exclusionary.  Our Sages, however, choose to dive into that place of distinction and analyze it carefully, keeping track of exactly who is Jewish; who's words matter and when their words matter.  And this focus on difference is uncomfortable to me, for the Judaism that I love allows me to live in the blurry, in-between places. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Yevamot 46: Slaves and Conversion to Judaism

What a daf!  Filled with controversy and the traditions of antiquity...

Slavery was commonplace in the times that the Talmud was written.  People would frequently trade money for people - their bodies and/or their labour.  We learn from the rabbis' discussions that there were different guidelines regarding Jewish and Gentile slave trading.  Gentiles could purchase only a slave's labour but not his/her body.  Jews, on the other hand, could purchase both the labour and the body of another person.  

When slaves decided to convert to Judaism, like all others, they had to immerse and become circumcised (if they were male).  If a slave declared that s/he was intending to convert just before immersing, S/he could convert to Judaism and thus belong to his/her slave owner only as a labourer but not in body.  If the slave owner witnessed the immersion including such a statement, it was assumed that the slave owner agreed with the slave's decision.  Beloreya, a woman who converted to Judaism, watches her slaves immerse - this is provided as an example.

But of course, the Gemara teaches us that slave owners might not want to lose the full ownership of their slaves.  The text describes ways in which slave owners can stop their slaves from converting through their immersions.  They can hold them tightly, demonstrating their full ownership.  They can put a brindle around the slaves' necks, tightening its grip during the immersion to ensure that the immersion is not complete (water must touch every part of the body during immersion).  They can place a clay pot on the head of their slave immediately following immersion; clearly the slave is completely owned by that master.  Notes teach us that the slave masters' intentions are clear through these actions and thus the immersion is meant to confirm the status of a slave and not of a freeman.

This was so disturbing to read that I could hardly stomach it.  What about the intentions of the person who is a slave??  How could Jews, who were slaves in Egypt not all that long ago from Talmudic times, enslave others?  From the descriptions provided in today's daf, slavery was primarily considered to be an act of economic significance rather than an act of oppression.  It is difficult to stomach such descriptions of thoughtless assertion of power, control and harm upon others.

The Gemara continues, now discussing the poll tax.  If people could not pay their taxes, they were bought as slaves to the king.  Sometimes neighbours might pay a person's taxes for him/her.  In those situations, the neighbour now owned this person just as the king would have owned this person.

The Gemara discusses the need for both immersion and circumcision when men convert to Judaism.  Women do not require circumcision because they do not have the body parts required to enact this mitzvah.  Does that mean that only immersion might be required in some circumstances?  The rabbis discuss the importance of both circumcision and immersion.  They look at the timing of these actions and the implications of behaving as a Jew without having completed both acts.  

We learn that some halachot are warranted simply because the people are not learned in Torah.  We enforce the halachot to ensure that people do not accidentally transgress Torah law.  However, if people are learned in Torah, it is not necessary to enforce such halachot; there is no fear that such people will accidentally transgress Torah law.

Amud (b) teaches us about conversion at Mount Sinai.  The rabbis agree that the people must have converted before receiving Torah.  When would they have done the circumcisions?  The immersions?  Somehow they must have been performed.  The rabbis then look to their own circumstances to better understand guidelines for conversion.  They note that a story regarding a conversion teaches them that a court of three is required, that both circumcision and immersion are required, and that conversion cannot be done at night.  Based on that same story, I might conclude that only men can convert, that one must wait before immersing, and that only great Sages can oversee a conversion.  

Watching the rabbis draw their conclusions based upon the cases presented to them is truly enlightening.  It is abundantly clear that we all bring ourselves to our decision-making and interpretation.  What we pay attention to; what we notice is based upon who we are.  But what we pay attention to is what we interpret to be important.  Thus we always miss information when we look to extrapolate upon the meaning of an event.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Yevamot 45: Status of Mamzerim; Intention and Immersion as Conversion

The rabbis disagree about who is a mamzer.  They agree that a mamzer is defined as a person resulting of the union between two people whose sexual relations are punishable by karet.  But if a Jewish woman has intercourse with a slave or a Gentile (or if a Jewish man has intercourse with a maidservant or a Gentile), is their child a mamzer and thus forbidden into the priesthood/forbidden to marry a priest?  If that offspring is a mamzer, is s/he permitted to marry within the congregation of Israel?

Among other arguments, the rabbis note that betrothal is not permitted between two people of this status, and thus they are forbidden to be married at all.  They argue about whether or not it should be permitted - or even encouraged - to leave one's home and/or hide one's parentage if the community would erroneously consider that person a mamzer.  

Although Rav believes that such offspring are permitted, he once refused to marry his daughter to someone in this predicament.  He stated that his reasons were based on other considerations.  At the end of prolonged begging for his daughter, it is written that Rav stared at this man in the eyes for some time, causing that man to die.  A note teaches us that this type of power is mentioned several times in the Talmud.  One explanation is offered with few details: when staring at people, a Sage can draw out the holy sparks in any individual.  If nothing further is left, the person dies.   An interesting 'aside'!

The rabbis also consider the case of a Jewish person having intercourse with someone whose status is half-freeperson, half-slave.  They also debate the status of a child born of one Jewish parent and a convert to Judaism.  A number of cases are presented specifically regarding immersion in the mikvah.   If a woman immerses for the sake of ritual purity following menstruation, can that serve as part of her conversion process?  If a man immerses following seminal emission, can his immersion serve as part of the conversion process?  If the rabbis agree that these are valid conversions, what should be done if and when the community questions the immersions?  Notes by Steinsaltz remind us that conversion included the intention to convert and to keep the mitzvot.  Thus many rabbis considered such immersions to be valid, even without the presence of a three-person court.

One of the more intriguing points in today's daf is the importance put upon whether or not an offspring who is female is permitted to marry into the priesthood.  Even if the Temple were rebuilt, how would we know who are truly Kohanim - without 'tainted lineage'?  How would today's rabbis know which daughters were truly fit to marry into the priesthood?  Our lineage is so far removed from its relative 'purity' (or inbred exclusivity) of two thousand years ago that it would be impossible to use these guidelines.  However, the arguments exist, and perhaps we could use the style and substance of those arguments to help us find some direction...

Our daf ends with the introduction to a slightly different topic.  When a slave is about to be immersed, which affirms his state as a slave (and obligate him to some of the mitzvot), he might preempt the process and immerse with the intent to fully convert to Judaism.  This would render him a freeman.  However, a note tells us that he would then have to reimburse his 'owner' for his cost as a slave.  Likely this would be a difficult task for someone who did not have enough money previously to free himself. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Yevamot 44: Supporting Yevamot; Who is In and Who is Out

We begin with a Mishna that concluded daf 43: When four brothers are married to four women and the brothers died childless, the eldest brother can consummate the yibum with all of his yevamot if he wishes.  If one man was married to two women and died childless, intercourse or chalitza with one of those wives will release the other, rival wife from yibum and she does not require chalitza.

The Gemara shows us that the rabbis want to amend this Mishna to accord with other established halachot.  Four brothers could not be all of the brothers!  Who would be left as the yavam?  And why four women?  Perhaps we are meant to understand that a yavam takes on only as many yevamot as he can comfortably support.  Further, notes go into some depth regarding the conjugal rights of each wife, which for Torah scholars should be once each week. That could be stretched to once each month without angering the women, the rabbis suggest.  More wives that that would be onerous for a Torah scholar to sexually satisfy.  Workers in other professions could take on as many yevamot as they could support - both financially and sexually.  Finally, the rabbis consider how many 'houses' a yavam must build for his brother in the case of two yevamot.  

One of the expression used is "a person should not spill out water collected in his pit.. when others are in need of it."  This principal teaches that we cannot perform an action that might disadvantage another person at some point in the future.  A debate between the rabbis and Rabbeinu Yerucham (Beit Yosef) questions whether this is an ethical guideline or a halacha.  If it is the latter, Rabeinu Yerucham suggests that a person should be excommunicated and flogged for such behaviour.

A new Mishna teaches the words of Rabbi Akiva: a person who remarries his divorcee (following her marriage to another person) or his chalutza should divorce that woman for all of their children will be mamzerim. The Rabbis say that those children are not mamzerim - only the relatives of his divorcee are forbidden in marriage by Torah law.  Thus only those children would be mamzerim; the children of chalutzot in this case would be considered fully Jewish.

The rabbis walk through this Mishna to deconstruct its foundations.  Do all rabbis agree on who should be called a mamzer?  Does everyone agree on who is said to have "flawed lineage", rather than being called mamzerim?  And do the rabbis agree that girls with 'flawed lineage' are not allowed to marry priests?  

The Gemara  looks at how status may carry on from one generation to another.  For example, a divorcee is considered to be an abomination (Deuteronomy 24:4)  if she remarries her ex-husband.  However, her children are not tainted in any way by that status - their lineage is unquestioned.  The Gemara considers the notion of being 'fit': women can be fit to marry into the priesthood; they can also be considered fit to marry into the congregation of Israel.  The rabbis consider which rabbis agree upon the status of women who have married and then engaged in intercourse with another man.  Who says that she is a zona?  Who believes that she is disqualified from marrying a priest?  And, as important, who agrees that her children should be considered as having 'flawed lineage'?

We can see the rabbis' determination to identify who is 'in' and who is 'out'.  They are reflecting - and creating - a strictly boundaries society.  Make it too exclusive and no-one can join or even maintain their membership.  Make it too inclusive and the essence of Jewish practice - practice that is distinguishable from that of our neighbours - loses all meaning.  And that tradition of debate over "who is a Jew" continues today.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Yevamot 43: Unattributed Statements; Utensils, Betrothal and Celebration

Continuing from yesterday' heated debate, the rabbis argue about halachot.  Does the halacha always accord with the unattributed ruling in a Mishna?  A number of examples are shared that suggest that halachot might sometimes follow the rulings of certain known rabbis.

A debate about utensils begins this exploration.  If a tool/utensil is broken or changed in some way, is it still a tool/utensil?  The rabbis look at the brush used for combing wool.  If it looses all but one tooth, is it still a utensil?  What about two or three remaining teeth?  The rabbis rule - based on an unattributed Mishna - that if the utensil is still useful as a tool in any way, even a different way, it is still a utensil.  This is important because utensils are subject to ritual impurity.

We move along to better understand the three month waiting period between betrothal and marriage to a yevama by her yibum.  The rabbis suggest that certain external events, such as the 9th of Av, affect betrothal in general and with regard to yibum.  We learn more about celebration in the times of our Sages.  Weddings, which really entailed consummation, were celebrated with feasts and parties.  Betrothals, however, were private affairs.  The legal work was complete, but the couple was not celebrated as 'married' until consummation.

As often happens, I have found some of the 'beside-the-point' notes far more engaging than the formal subject of the daf.  Hmmm...

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Yevamot 41: Timing of Yibum; Three Months Separation; Blaming Women

Amud (a) looks at a Mishna about the basics: when is yibum a mitzvah, and when are we breaking Torah law by performing yibum?  Much of the commentary looks at the timing of yibum.  The rabbis want to ensure that yibum is permitted in each case.

Amud (b) looks at a Mishna about when yibum occurs.  All yevamot must wait three months following their husbands' deaths before performing chalitza or consummating the yibum.   This is said to ensure that there are no questions of lineage should the yevama be pregnant.  However, minor girls who are not physically able to become pregnant are also separated for those three months, and so there is a sweeping generality to this particular halacha.

The rabbis debate about who should support the yevama during those three months. Ultimately, her support will come from her deceased husband's estate or from her own dowry.  An interesting side note tells us that some rabbis wish to ensure that she is supported financially while others see her as being "penalized by Heaven."  

It is astonishing to see the rabbis create laws that leave women in precarious situations and then blame them for their circumstances.  Clearly the rabbis believe that they are accurately interpreting the will of G-d.  How could anyone truly believe that they have that degree of closeness with G-d?  And then have the audacity to deny their own power and tell women that their misery has been caused by G-d?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Yevamot 40: Eating to Excess on Yom Kippur; More on Inheritance; Fences Around Relationships

We begin with the continuing discussion about things that revert back to their original status.  The rabbis use examples including leavened bread for Pesach, and overeating on Yom Kipur.  Because the mitzva is to afflict oneself, and an example of that is fasting, some rabbis argue that we should be permitted to eat to excess - to the point of repulsion.  I know a whole lot of Jews who would prefer eating until they were sick to fasting.

A new Mishna reminds us that any inheritance due to a yevama and thus her yavam reverts back to its original status once chalitza is performed.  If yibum is enacted, the yavam is entitled to the inheritance.  If his father is alive, he is entitled to the inheritance as his son has died.

Another new Mishna teaches us that a chalutza cannot engage in sexual relations with any of the yavam's relatives, nor can he do similarly with hers.  The yavam is forbidden to the chalutza's relatives' rival wives, as well.  He is not restricted from her rival wives.  And his brothers are not restricted at all.

The Gemara discusses these permitted and forbidden relationships intently.  One of the issues that arises repeatedly is the different directives of rabbinic and Torah law.  The rabbis are keenly aware of the fences that have been built around Torah law to protect the people from transgression.  On the one hand, those fences keep us somewhat safe.  On the other hand, we push people away from Jewish halachic observance where we ask them to adhere to laws that inconvenience us above and beyond Torah instruction.

Although levirate marriage is no longer a pressing topic of debate. the tension between rabbinic and Torah law continues to stretch between the more and less observant members of our larger community. The Kutim, or Samaritans, interpreted only Torah law; they did not create this vast network of interpretations and consequences like the rest of Jewish community.  They were outlawed.  The growth and development of Jewish tradition has been shaped very consciously by this political decision to require adherence to rabbinic law.  It is tough to imagine Kutim practice today as another form of Jewish practice.  And yet that is what it is - a different interpretation of Torah.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Yevamot 39: The Order of Brotherly Responsibility; Chalitza vs. Consummation

A wonderful metaphor for power in a relationship begins our daf.  Beit Hillel say that "his hand is as her hand" when it comes to a husband's rights to his wife's property.  Beit Shammai say that his hand is stronger than her hand in this regard.  But what of a yavam?  Beit Hillel suggest that the hand of a yavam is weaker than that of a full husband, for a yavam's hold on a yevama are always less than that of a husband.  Beit Shammai suggest that the yavam's rights are similar to those of a husband.  All of this affect inheritance should the yevama die after levirate betrothal but before consummation.  According to Beit Hillel, her property is divided between her yavam and her family. According to Beit Shammai, her property is given to her yavam and his heirs.

The rabbis wonder whether the Mishna is providing us with clues to its interpretation.  Are we to understand the strength of the levirate bond through hints about the requirement of a get, bill of divorce, in addition to chalitza?  We are reminded that the yavam should create a new ketubah if the yevama presents herself without a ketubah.  The rabbis teach that he will be less likely to divorce her thoughtlessly if there is a financial incentive to remain married.

A new Mishna teaches us that the eldest brother is required to consummate the marriage with the yevama.  If he refuses, each younger brother is asked to do the same.  If none wish to consummate the marriage the eldest brother must do so or perform chalitza immediately. No excuses, including waiting for a minor brother to grow up, or waiting for a deaf-mute brother to heal, or waiting for a brother to return, is accepted.  The yevama must be married or free to marry someone else.  A note reminds us that a yevama is never compelled to consummate a marriage with a yavam who is a deaf-mute or an 'imbecile'; she is permitted to perform chalitza as she chooses.

There is a debate between Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.  Which is preferable, the eldest or the youngest brothers consummating the marriage?  Performing chalitza?  Is it better for the eldest brother to perform chalitza or the youngest brother to consummate the marriage?  Through the debate, it is clear that the expedience is the primary consideration.  Deliberating about who is going to marry or release the yevama should be done as quickly as possible, for "we do not delay in the performance of a mitzva."

We learn about the halacha in a note by Steinsaltz: chalitza is no longer a preferable choice.  Thus if all brothers are willing to perform chalitza, it is preferably performed by the eldest brother.  And if the yevama is interested at all in chalitza, then chalitza is performed by the eldest brother immediately.

Beyond the halachic difficulties with yibum because of forbidden relationships, I am picturing balagan each time that this tradition was practiced.  What if one brother died on a boat and the remaining brother was to marry his former sister-in-law?  How might that affect the family dynamics, both for that couple and for the larger family?  How might it affect the children?  The rival wives, who had no say in the matter?  What if a yavam wanted to perform chalitza but felt sorry for his yevama, who just lost her husband, and so he married her to save her from further rejection or isolation?  

The rabbis describe the ritual of chalitza and suggest that a bill of chalitza be drawn up and kept as a legal record of the act.  In chalitza, the yavam extends his right foot.  The yevama removes his shoe and then spits toward his face with the spittle landing on the ground between them.  The document would have to describe the shoe, note that her spittle was visible, and provide assurances that the yavam is the brother of the deceased and that the yavam is the widow of the deceased.

The rabbis want to ensure that chalitza or consummation of the levirate marriage is chosen because of its status as a mitzva.  One interpretation teaches that when society values the mitzva of chalitza, then chalitza is the preferred option.  When society values the mitzvah of consummation of the yibum, then marriage is the preferred option.  At the end of the daf, we learn more about rabbis' mixed feelings regarding this issue.

If a yavam is interested in consummation because of the beauty of the yevama, or because of her inheritance, or because he wants to be served by her, or because he wants the status of being a married man, is it a mitzva to marry?  Perhaps not.  Then again, we learn that Deuteronomy 25:5 tells us that "Her brother-in-law will have intercourse with her."  This could suggest that the reasons for his compliance are secondary to his willingness to fulfil that mitzva.  It is as simple as: she was permitted to her brother-in-law until she married his brother.  When his brother died childless, she became permitted to him again -- again, he can choose whether or not he wishes to marry her.

This quote from Deuteronomy is interpreted to mean that it is preferable to consummate the marriage, as it is a clear positive mitzva.  Chalitza is thus a less preferred option.

And so why do the rabbis create halacha that prefers chalitza?  I am guessing that chalitza was simpler for the courts, simpler for the family members.  This is a wonderful example of the rabbis choosing to interpret and enact rituals based on their human preferences and not simply on the logic that they understand as an extension of G-d's words.  And if they can do this regarding chalitza, why not with other contentious and challenging issues?  It would seem clear that we are intended to consummate yibum, and yet we do not.  Why would it be so difficult to understand verses, such as those regarding slavery or sexualized behaviour between men, as problematic and unhelpful to our societal structure?  Why not reinterpret?

Monday, 10 November 2014

Yevamot 38: Inheritance in Uncertain Circumstances

When it is uncertain whether or not a grown man is the child of a deceased father or the child of a yavam (because the man's mother may have become pregnant before or after participating in yibum), we run into many problems.  Yesterday those problems associated with the adult son being a mamzer, or one of uncertain lineage.  Today we focus in on inheritance.

The rabbis discuss a number of different cases.  Each case allows us to understand the intricacies of decision-making in uncertain circumstances.  Halachot of inheritance teach that inheritance is given to heirs.  Without heirs, it is split within the family along generational lines.  For example, a father's inheritance is split between his sons.  Would the heir in question (the son of the deceased father or possibly the son of the yavam) be given a larger portion of his deceased father's inheritance, for he is that man's son, or should he receive a smaller portion of inheritance only after the yavam and his other brothers have split the wealth?

A new Mishna brings us back to the experience of the yevama.  Both Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai agree that she is permitted to sell her property or belongings ab initio while she is waiting for her yavam to consummate their yibum.  However, they disagree on the status of her property if she dies while waiting.  Beit Shammai says that it is divided between the yavam and her family.  Beit Hillel says that all possessions maintain their status: the ketubah stays with the yavam, and property that entered the marriage with the yevama remains with her family.  Once the yevama and the yavam are married, the usual property laws are in effect.  The only exception is that the ketubah is payable from her first husband's property rather than from the yavam's property.

The Gemara is a discussion among Ulla, Rabba, Abaye and Rava.  They uses cases and arguments to clarify Beit Shammai's assertions.  In doing this they examine the details of betrothal, the strength of the levirate bond, creditors, and other concepts critical to this discussion.   To elucidate the concept of uncertain claims, they tell the story of a man and his father who die when a house collapses.  The man owes money.  We do not know who died first.  If the man died first, then all debts were forgiven.  If the father died first, the son immediately inherited and thus the man's wife and creditors can petition the father's heirs for money owed by the son.

The rabbis look at the case of a sota whose husband dies before she drinks the bitter waters that will determine whether or not she is entitled to her ketubah.  Beit Shammai suggests that she is allowed to collect her ketubah and does not drink the waters if her husband has died.  Beit Hillel disagrees: she can cannot drink the waters because her husband is not there to bring her to the waters as is commanded.  Thus she is unable to collect her ketubah.

Abaye speaks about the value of a ketubah.  Does a woman become more or less desirable when she carries the relative wealth of a ketubah?  In our notes, the rabbis debate about whether or not the ketubah was created for women.  Women are more valuable and thus protected if they bring money with them into their new marriages.  Or, perhaps, because women can't bear being alone, the ketubah is an assurance for women that men will want to think very carefully before divorcing their wives.  Then again, the ketubah may include the lowest value of men's possessions to convince men to marry.

In the past I have learned about ketubot as ancient, progressive protection for women. It would seem that the contract may be more complex that that.  The rabbis recognize that the ketubah may be very different from other contracts regarding debt.

I am finding it painful to think about the women who were living with these laws fifteen hundred years ago.  Of course they did not want to be alone; they were unprotected legally and physically from the very real threats in their world.  And this group of rabbis was creating a legal structure that systematically excluded and silenced them while stating that they were protecting women.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Yevamot 37: Mamzerim and Inheritance

We begin with babies that are born to yevamot seven months after their husbands have died; seven months after they have performed yibum and the yevama has married her yavam, her husband's brother.  Is that baby of her first or second marriage?  Without knowing who the baby's father is, we create a situation of uncertain lineage.  This can lead to the child being known as mamzer.  As such, the child is very limited in whom s/he can marry

As part of this discussion, the rabbis tell us about some women who carry for only seven months - one rabbi even uses his family as an example.  They speak of the changes that are visible and knowable in a woman's body after three months of pregnancy.  They tell us of many different categories of people who have uncertain lineage and thus which people will marry each other.  Notable are the three groups of people with uncertain lineage: shtukim (those with unknown parentage), kutim (Sameritans), and foundlings (found babies).

From here the rabbis tell us why it is so important to keep track of these categories.  If a man parents children in different places, for example (marrying more than one woman), then a brother could marry a sister and a  father could marry a daughter; the entire world could become filled with mamzerim (sic). 

But what about Rav Nachman and Rav who were known to travel to different lands, asking who wished to be their wives for a day?  The rabbis are very concerned about this story.  How could Sages break so many halachot - to marry with the intention of divorcing (as it would hurt another's feelings by breaking their trust)?  And to seclude themselves with women who might be so excited that they menstruated (even if they did not see or feel any blood)?

The rabbis go to great efforts attempting to justify the actions and words of these Sages.  They wonder if the Sages were hoping to have 'bread in the basket' so that they would not have forbidden thoughts while away from their wives.  They insist that the marriages were not consummated; they suggest that these "wives" were prepared in advance so that they would certainly be ready for consummation when the rabbis arrived.

If one marries and then divorces, giving the woman 'payment' for her trouble, how is that different from prostitution? And how is this benefiting the women, other than the amount of money through the transaction (and bragging rights)?  Our rabbis were rightly uncomfortable with this situation.

We end the daf with another discussion of inheritance.  Our Sages want to understand how the halachot of yevamot differ from those of inheritance.  One example is a man who has a land-locked field with a designated path through someone else's property.  If the man leaves the country for an extended period of time and the path has disappeared, can he reclaim a path?  The rabbis discuss this an teach that he can ask the owner, if it is the same owner, to help him find the shortest route across his property.  But if the land has been divided or it has a new owner, no change needs to be made.

In both cases, we are trying to determine how to create certainty in a case of uncertainty.  However, as our notes point out, the rabbis know that this is not an appropriate example.  Inheritance involves acquisition, which can be proven independently of witnesses.  Parentage requires people to know and then attest to  a relationship between two or more people.  Clearly the rabbis are concerned about creating too many leniencies.  They want to ensure that we do not lose the word to mamzerim.

What a different world.  It is difficult to imagine a circumstance where a child with unknown parentage would get any kind of negative treatment here in North America today.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Yevamot 36: Pregnant as a Yevama?

What do we do if a woman is pregnant when her husband dies?  If she is not pregnant, the yevam can consummate their marriage or perform chalitza, which allows the yevama to either marry her yavam or to marry someone else - except for a priest (who cannot marry a chalutza).  But if she is pregnant and the marriage is consummated, the baby would mean that she is not eligible for yibum, and both of them have had forbidden relations.  If she is pregnant and they perform chalitza, the baby might not be viable, leaving her eligible for yibum.  Further, all of these circumstances have implications upon the rival wives and their ability to marry.

The Gemara discusses the many details of these circumstances, noting that all decisions much align with the Mishna.  The halachot must make sense of different rabbis' arguments, as well.  It is of note that the consideration of waiting nine months to ensure the viability of the deceased husband and yevama's child.  There is a question regarding whether or not waiting thirty days after birth is reasonable.  Some rabbis say that if the baby lives less than thirty days, the yevama is able to perform chalitza.  Further, the yevama would be forbidden to a priest had she performed chalitza.  The rabbis are more lenient in some cases, allowing women to remain married to priests ab initio.

Reish Lakish teaches about a yavam who performs chalitza with a pregnant woman and then she miscarries.  In that case, there was no child of the deceased husband and thus she might have been permitted as a yevama.  Reish Lakish's argument: chalitza must be performed with all remaining brothers before she (and her rival wives) can marry others.

We learn from Rava that there were three cases in which Reish Lakish's arguments held over those of Rabbi Yohanan.  The first is this argument, and the second regards inheritance.  The daf tells us about death-bed gifts and inheritances - a very different argument from those we have been learning in the recent past.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Yevamot 34: Cases Demonstrating Prohibitions: Women's Bodies

The Gemara discusses a number of cases to help them understand different prohibitions.  Extended, more inclusive, and simultaneous prohibitions require different numbers of offerings.  Today's daf is one of those unusual dapim that focuses upon highly sexualized case studies.  Some of the rabbis' opinions are fascinating, some are offensive to modern sensibilities, and some seem simply ridiculous.  But all of them teach us about the mores of the society in which our Sags lives.

One point of interest, though it is not at all on-point, is that Rabbi Eliezer shares his opinion about babies, breastfeeding and intercourse.  He suggests that for two years following the birth of a baby, a husband should spill his seed outside of his wife's body to ensure that a subsequent pregnancy will not prematurely end mild production and thus risk the nursing baby's life.  We know that the halacha goes against this view; men are required to have sexual intercourse with their wives without "spilling seed" outside of their wives bodies.  But now we know that Rabbi Eliezer disagreed.

Some of the more difficult passages have to do with women's sexual functioning.  The rabbis agree that virgins cannot become pregnant through he first act of sexual intercourse.  If a pregnancy happens, it is because there was a second act immediately after that first act.  They speak about Tamar, who was said to become pregnant after her first act of intercourse with Judah.  But she had been married twice before!  Well, the rabbis argue, we know that Onan's seed was spilled on the ground, and Er must have had anal intercourse with her.  She did not become pregnant, but she did break her hymen with her finger before intercourse with their father.  This far-fetched fantasy demonstrates that the Talmud is a site for all of our rabbis' thinking.  All of it.

Under the age of three, intercourse with a girl does not carry a prohibition.  She is left as a virgin (we have learned earlier that the rabbis believe that her hymen grows back).  Between the ages of three and twelve, there is no fear that a minor girl will become pregnant -- thus intercourse is not prohibited.  If a girl is menstruating, it is prohibited to have intercourse with her due to ritual impurity.  When the rabbis consider right and wrong as they create halacha, their only stated motivation is accurately understanding the will of G-d.  But when their interpretations are so obviously misinformed and/or maintaining the societal structure of the time, how can we accept their interpretations as 'truth'?

At the end of today's daf, we learn that the Rabbis believe that women are in control of when we become pregnant through our wishes to become pregnant.  And thus women who are widowed and do not have intercourse for ten years will not become pregnant with a new husband.  Except, of course, if they want to become pregnant.  A number of women are mentioned - it is even said that one rabbi told his wife that she was being gossipped about by the Sages.  Rav Chisda's daughter married two different Sages with ten years between them.  We learn in a note (and in a novel) that as a child she predicted that she would marry both of them.  

It is clear yet again that the rabbis understand very little about women's bodies - their physiology, their emotional and psychological processes, their lives and concerns.  We cannot assume that we understand all of the concerns of girls who lives two thousand years ago.  However, we know that girls and women would have opinions about what they might do with their bodies and what others should be permitted to do with their bodies.  The Sages seem to be comfortable omitting women's voices.  Their conclusions regarding women's bodies and lives are shockingly mistaken and even dangerous.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Yevamot 33: Multiple Prohibitions; Wickedness; Switching Wives; Rape of Minor Girls

The Gemara discusses what prohibition could be referred to when the Rabbi Chiyya and Bar Kappara argue regarding Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi's ruling regarding multiple prohibitions.  Perhaps, for example, one cut off his finger with a ritually impure knife.  This would simultaneously prohibit him from the Temple due to both ritual impurity and a blemish.  

Most of today's daf outlines cases where multiple prohibitions are transgressed, causing a debate regarding whether one or two punishments are issued, which transgression is more severe, and which punishment is more grave.  

Today's daf mentions a point that we learned in yesterday's daf that I neglected to mention in my last post.  We are told that when a person does something wicked, that does not mean that s/he should be buried with other people who have done wicked things.  It seems that those who committed at least two wicked acts (intentional transgressions of Torah law that has been punished by the court) are buried in a distinct part of the cemetery in ancient times.  However, because even pious people might do one wicked thing, all people can be buried in proximity of each other except for those who are deemed "completely wicked".  

A new Mishna tells us that two men marry two women and switch them before consummation/the canopy.  They are punished because they are prohibited from having intercourse with married women.  If they are brothers, they are violate laws regarding family relationships.  And if the two women are sisters, they transgress another halacha regarding family relationships.  Finally, if the women are menstruating, the brothers transgress the prohibition regarding ritual purity.

A note tells us that that last addition could seem superfluous.  However Tosafot HaRosh teach that this is a novelty; that this is a prohibition that is not allowed now but will be permitted one day in the future.  Is this suggesting that intercourse with a menstruating woman will one day be permitted?  That does not seem possible, given the understandings of ritual purity... unless women one day will not menstruate.  However, perhaps it is suggesting that one day something else will be permitted in the future... 

Back the the Mishna.  If this happened, the women would be separated from the men for three months to determine whether or not she became pregnant through this transgression.  If the women were actually minor girls, no separation would be necessary, as they could not become pregnant.  And if they were the daughters of priests, they would be forbidden to marry priests at any time in the future and they are not to eat of the teruma.  

The Gemara begins with the notion of intentionality.  Would men intentionally switch wives?  They determine that this was an accidental switch.  First the rabbis consider the minor girls: minor girls return to their husbands because seduction of minor girls is considered rape, and rape victims are permitted to return to their husbands.  The rabbis realize that this does not prove or disprove intention.  Next, they look at returning pregnant women to their husbands after three months apart.  If the switching was intentional, they would not be permitted to return to their husbands.  Thus this case is regarding an accidental switching of wives, our rabbis teach.

Little commentary is necessary when looking at the comments about minor girls.  Legally, they can be raped and then returned to their 'proper' husbands for continued sexual intercourse -- because their bodies are not yet able to conceive. The complete disregard for the bodies of young girls is encapsulated here.  Her agency as a human being - in the most basic ways - is of no concern to our rabbis.  Instead, they focus on the mitzvah of intercourse -- without even pretending that the intercourse will lead to procreation. Why wouldn't the rabbis rule that minor girls should not be made to engage in intercourse at all?  The betrothal documents are as good as marriage.  The reasons must have to do with maintaining a social structure reliant on the acquisition and ownership of people and things by men, regardless of the cost to others.  There is something about the unexamined assumption of ownership of women's bodies that is difficult to stomach as a 21st century Jew.