Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Yevamot II 88: Witnesses and Deserted Wives

Much of today's daf discusses legal issues that arise due to the claims of witnesses.  More specifically, how we are to rely upon witnesses with regard to a woman whose husband has died while abroad?  Is it necessary to have two witnesses claim that this husband has died, or will one witness suffice?  Do the testimonies of men and women carry the same weight?  How do these cases of deserted wives compare to other cases that rely on witnesses, like whether or not someone has consumed tevel, untithed produce, for example?  Or like when there are discrepancies regarding konamot, articles that people claim are sanctified and prohibited.

The rabbis are more lenient regarding witnesses in these cases than in others.  The testimony of women and others who are not normally 'counted' as witnesses is almost equal to that of men.  Two witnesses are not required - though the rabbis spend a good chunk of time arguing how this should affect a woman's legal status should the 'deceased' husband reappear.  The rabbis go to great effort to ensure that women do not wait indefinitely for their lost husbands.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Yevamot II 87: Widows, Possible Widows, Teruma, and Ketubot

We begin with a Mishna that describes when and how Israelite women are able to partake of tithes due to her children.  

The Gemara begins by noting that a seemingly superfluous letter "vav" in Leviticus 22:13 is proof for our rabbis that daughters are included with sons in one particular case.  A note reminds us that 22:11 is the verse that rabbis use to prove that women may eat of teruma when married into a family of Kohanim.  Yochlu, may eat, is also understood as meaning ya'achlilu, may feed.

Second, we are taught that the Jerusalem Talmud notes that the phrase bat u'vat can be understood as meaning both a priest's daughter and a female who observes the practices of kohanot.  Clearly our Sages are certain that women and men are both to be included in these observances.

The Gemara lists numerous sources in their discussion of whether or not a woman is permitted to partake of the breast and the right hind leg, the parts of an animal specifically reserved for kohanim.  Cases include Israelite women marrying priests and kohanot marrying Israelites.  They include the woman's rights to partake after they have children from one marriage, children from a second marriage, and children who have died.  They also include a discussion of what it might mean when a daughter leaves her father's house.  Rav Mordechai points out that it might seem odd to allow an Israelite woman to partake of the breast and hind leg while excluding a kohenet from doing the same.  

Although I've had my doubts when reading about sexual assault and abuse, it is evident here that our Sages are concerned about the welfare of women.  Women cannot provide for themselves.  Who is responsible for their housing, their food, their welfare?  The rabbis are creating clear guidelines to ensure that the community knows that individuals are accountable for women who intermarry.

Are pregnant women like other women with regard to access to the breast and the right hind leg?  The Gemara walks us through the rabbis' considerations.  Is a fetus a separate body within a woman's body or an individual, just like a child already born?  Is a pregnant woman allowed to be thought of as a youth, or is she automatically excluded from the rules applying to one in her youth?  How should the halachot be different regarding yibum and teruma?

The Gemara notes that Proverbs 3:17 states: Her ways are the ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace".  The rabbis use this to mean that all women should be treated with consideration.  Women should not force women who are already married to then perform chalitza; she should not be demeaned in front of her new husband.  Our notes teach that "pleasantness" does not mean that the Torah's halachot are pleasant.  However, they are fair and without discrimination.  A very interesting aside.

We enter into Perek X with a new Mishna.  If a woman was informed (by only one witness) that her husband has died while overseas and she remarries and her first husband returns, she is in big trouble.  Both relationships must in in divorce, all children lose their status, the women lose their rights to tithes, teruma, and ever marrying a priest (where applicable).  She also loses all of her belongings.  Rabbi Yosei disagrees.  She is allowed her ketuba from the first marriage.  Rabbi Elazar believes that her first husband retains rights to her possessions, her earnings, and her ketuba if desired.  Rabbi Shimon suggests that she is allowed to the second husband if he is a brother to the first; chalitza is not required and their child is not a mamzer.

If she was married the second time with the permission of the court, she is divorced from both men but does not bring a sin-offering for the court permitted the second marriage.  If the second marriage was performed without the consent of the court, she is permitted to return to her first husband, but must bring a sin-offering.  The rabbis suggest that she may in fact have to bring a sin-offering either way, for the court only permitted the second marriage and not 'licentious behaviour'.  

The Gemara speaks about witnesses.  It is unusual for one witness to be valid.  In this case, it seems that the rabbis are eager to allow women to remarry rather than wait for more conclusive evidence that a husband has died.  This makes sense in ordering a society: it could be 'dangerous' to have women who are 'in limbo' waiting around for their husbands...

One note about witnesses: we learn that a witness is more likely to be believed if s/he disputes a claim that would make him/her liable to bring a sin-offering.  In fact, even if two witnesses claim that a person has transgressed a sin (ex. eating forbidden fat), as long as the accused denies the claim, s/eh is not required to bring a sin-offering.

Today's daf has been a bit of a rollercoaster regarding my understanding of the Rabbis' views on women and their rights.   

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Yevamot II 86: Leviim and First Tithes

We continue to deepen our learning about who is entitled to teruma and first tithes based on marriage.  Some of the issues raised include the marriage between the daughter of a Levite and a Kohen, betrothal versus marriage, and whether the gift could be consumed in a cemetery.  Each specific situation require the rabbis to reexamine the possible limitations of their halachot.  

An interesting story is told about Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya.  Akiva argued that priest were excluded from eating first tithes, for they were not to eat anywhere -- they were not allowed to eat in cemeteries.  Rabbi Elazar took first tithes from a certain garden.  Abaye actually changed the entrance to the garden so that it opened onto a cemetery, thus disallowing Elazar from taking first tithes.  Elazar, we learn in our notes, was a tenth generation Sage descended of Ezra, who allowed priests to take from first tithes.  However, his argument is that he relies on those tithes to live.  As he was a rich man, Elazar's statement was untrue.   So his statement teaches us that the rabbis were able to choose which arguments they felt would be more persuasive in their discussions.  It also teaches us that Abaye, even if he was 'fighting the power', had a lot of chutzpah!

There seem to be a number of possible reasons that the Leviim were prohibited from partaking of first tithes.  One possibility is that the Kohanim required first tithes while they were impure because at those times they were forbidden from partaking of teruma.  Another possibility is that Ezra may have punished the Leviim for not travelling into Eretz Yisrael.  Perhaps Leviim were not permitted to partake of first tithes as punishment.  After some time, those giving first tithes could then give them to Leviim or Kohanim as they saw fit.  Given this situation, the Gemara suggests that Abaye may have said to Elazar that he could partake of the first tithes if he was following the narrative regarding punishment.  But if he was demanding his 'fair share', Elazar should still be prohibited from partaking of the tithes.

Our daf ends with the beginning of a new Mishna.  It teaches us that an Israelite woman who is married to a priest may partake of teruma.  She can continue this privilege on behalf of her children and grandchildren if her husband dies.  If she subsequently marries a Levite, she cannot partake of teruma any longer but she can partake of first tithes.  If her Levite husband were to die as well, she could continue partaking of first tithes on behalf of any children/grandchildren from him.  If she had remarried an Israelite, she could partake of neither.  The Mishna then teaches that if her children from each marriage dies, she is accordingly disqualified from partaking of tithes/teruma.

Interestingly, our notes remind us that it does not matter whether her child is a girl, boy, androginos or tumtum.  

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Yevamot II 85: Ten Lineages; Rights of Women Vs. Those of Men

We begin with the rabbis asking about whether the sons and the daughters of Aaron are subject to similar prohibitions regarding avoiding ritual impurity.  Through this conversation the rabbis discuss the ten different lineages: Priests, Leviim, Israelites; chalalim, converts, freed slaves; converts, freed slaves, mamzerim; Gibeonites, children of unknown parentage, and foundlings.  Within these different groups, some intermarriage is allowed and some intermarriage is prohibited. 

The discussion includes specific questions that elucidate the halachot in question.  For example, when a yevama does not have a ketuba because her first marriage was prohibited, can she receive a ketuba from her yevam (who is permitted to her)?  The rabbis discuss who would benefit from such arrangements and why the cases might be brought to court.  It is noted that women would always want to be married.  If she or her children benefit from the existence of a ketuba, the rabbis assume that she is encouraging her husband to stay with her; to give her a ketuba.

These categories of Jews mostly hold no meaning in today's world.  Growing up in the Conservative movement, I did not question the idea that Kohanim and Leviim had certain special responsibilities at services.  I only learned as an adult that the Reform movement discarded those designations years ago.  Because the Temple is no longer standing, most of the categories of Jews are irrelevant.  There has been so much intermarriage within the larger community that it would be impossible to know who is of a certain lineage.  

Learning these detailed halachot is useful as an exercise: first, we learn our history according to the rabbis.  Second, we learn what the rabbis believe we should be doing if the Temple were rebuilt.  Finally, we learn about how the rabbis think.  Often, when I have difficulty following an argument because I do not have the background to fully understand it, I make myself feel better remembering that I am continuing to learn the logic of our Sages.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Yevamot II 83: Is an Androginos a Creature Unto Itself?

The rabbis question Rabbi Yosei's assertion about those who are androginos as a creature unto itself.  A note tells us that Tosafot and Rambam believe this to be true, for s/he is in a permanent state of uncertainty regarding sex.  Ramban disagrees, believing that an androginos is a third gender, neither male nor female.  Other rabbis hold different beliefs, including the notion that these people are half male and half female.  According to Rabbi Yosei's view, an androginos cannot marry a woman and thus cannot enable her to partake of teruma.

To determine whether or not Rabbi Yosei's opinion is valid, the rabbis consider how halacha is determined.  They walk through similar rulings that have been decided with regard to other legal questions.  These include grafting, protracted labour, and forfeiture/proscription.  The argument regarding protracted labour teaches us about bloody show during pregnancy.  When the blood is associated with menstruation, is renders the pregnant woman ritually impure.  However, when the blood is associated with the pregnancy - in example, as part of a protracted labour - the pregnant woman is rendered a ziva, with different consequences.

We are told that Shmuel disagrees with Rabbi Yosei.  And then we are told that Rabbi Yehuda believes that a tumtum who is 'torn' and found to be have male sexual organs is man.  He cannot perform chalitza because he is treated like a eunuch.  Others disagree.  We are told about the tumtum of Biri who was betrothed, then 'torn' and confirmed to be a man, and then went on to father seven children.  But what if the tumtum were torn and found to be a woman?  Chalitza should have been avoided in that case, as well.  The rabbis agree that cases where a tumtum is found to be fertile are unusual.

Our daf ends with a discussion of punishments for sexual relations with someone who is androginos.  

Rabbi Eliezer says that sex with an androginos through his male organ, assumed to be anal intercourse, is forbidden while vaginal intercourse is excepted.

Rabbi Simai teaches that an androginos is referred to in Leviticus 18:22, "And you shall not lie with a man as with a woman."  The word 'lie' is stated in the plural.  Only an androginos could facilitate intercourse in more than one way, Simai argues.  The Gemara disagrees because the start of this directive speaks of lying with a 'male'; thus when someone has intercourse with an androginos 'like a male', he has transgressed.

The rabbis who disagree with this interpretation believe that the entire statement refers to sex with an androginos.  Then where do they find proof for the sin of anal intercourse between two men?  The verse begins with the word, 'and'.  "And you shall not lie with a woman..." suggests that before this verse, it would be assumed that you (a man) would not lie with a man, either.

We learn that though he allowed some rights to those who were androginos, Rabbi Eliezer did not believe that they were fully male.  The proof for this comes from Eliezer's opinions regarding animals in line for sacrifice.  The Gemara walks us though sacrificial animals including birds, which are not identified by sex, and other animals, which are identified by sex.  In cases of consecrated animals, it is necessary to know their sex to properly assign their ritual slaughter.  Rabbi Eliezer teaches that animals that are androginos are removed from this group of animals because their sex is in question.  Birds might be of any sex, however, and bird that are androginos can be offered as consecrated animals.  Rabbi Eliezer does not recognize one who is androginos as automatically male or female.

What a challenging, disturbing, hopeful daf.  The rabbis hold varied and thoughtful views about those who have different sex organs than most.  Some of those views offer hope - like the notion that Leviticus 18:22 is referring only to those who are androginos.  Most views confirm the heterosexist, sexist and limiting views that challenge so many people.  Ultimately, it is clear that heterosexual, vaginal intercourse is the only sanctioned sexual activity offered by our rabbis.  It is critically important to ensure that 'gay sex' is not condoned, even if we are speaking of an androginos and a male partner.   I also wonder about the notion that only an androginos could have intercourse in two ways.  A man could have intercourse with an average woman in two ways, as well.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Yevamot II 82: Nullifying Sanctified Food/Liquid; Androginos, Marriage & Teruma

The rabbis continue to untangle the argument between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan regarding whether an androginos entitles his wife to partake of the thigh and the breast of the offering (which are specifically offered to priests under Torah law).  They have moved into an argument about parts of the whole: when is a sanctified food nullified because it is intermingled with large numbers of similar, non-sanctified foods?  They examine laws regarding contact with liquids, solid foods, temporary or permanent prohibitions, and creeping animals.  They consider whether or not the food in question has been crushed into pieces or whether it remains whole.  There are disagreements as to whether or not some of these laws are Torah law or rabbinic law.

A principle: only a small majority of a permitted substance nullifies a forbidden substance.  Due to this chazaka (established presumption), the rabbis can argue that when a forbidden substance touches the permitted substance, it is as if it has always been that way - permitted.  In fact, Rabbi Yochanan rules that when we are in doubt, we assume that like has intermingled with like, regardless of the amounts, and thus the substances are always permitted.

Rabbi Yochanan goes on to argue that Rabbi Yosei's Seder Olam Rabba teaches that we carry on the sanctification of eretz Yisrael since the time of the second Temple (when the land was last sanctified).  In that way, we are still operating under Torah law regarding teruma, as well, and thus the wives of androginos are entitled to teruma.

The rabbis turn their attention to the 40 se'a of liquid required for a mikva.  When does is a non-sanctified se'a nullified?  And how would one remove an intermingled se'a of liquid?

At the end of today's daf, the Gemara refocuses on the question at hand.  The original verse says that "if the kohen who is androginos marries an Israelite woman, he enables her to eat teruma".  The rabbis argue that "If he marries" suggests that he may remain married ab initio.  However, the following verse states that "he may not marry a man," suggesting that he might not marry a woman but a man, for he might be a woman himself.  And if this is the case, teruma would not be made available at all as the marriage would not be valid ab initio.

The rabbis are arguing about whether or not an androginos is a true male.  They state that they believe his is a true male, and that the punishment of stoning for a man having intercourse with an androginos   is in fact a question: is the punishment completed once, for anal intercourse, or twice, for both anal and forbidden vaginal intercourse?  

Of course, it is telling that an androginos is considered to be male.  What does it mean that female genitalia are ignored when describing such a person's gender?  The rabbis are eager to classify this person as either male or female.  Tomorrow's daf begins with further questions about these two categories.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Yevamot II 81: Androginos, Eunuch, Aylonit &Tumtum Kohenim/ot and Teruma; Seven Important Foods

Before beginning a new Mishna, we are told about the fate of a widow who has intercourse ("behaves licentiously") while waiting for her yavam.  We also learn about an aylonit who has intercourse with her yavam.  The first is not forbidden to her yavam, but is forbidden to the man with whom she was with as punishment.  The aylonit is permitted to marry a priest, but only because she is not forbidden to him as a harlot.  In both of these cases it would seem that the rabbis hold varied opinions about each women's status and the reasoning behind that status. 

A new Mishna teaches us that priests who are eunuchs from birth and priests who are androginos both enable their Israelite wives to partake of teruma.  Rabbi Yehuda brings some thoughts that are disturbing to my modern sensibility: a tumtum who has been torn open and found to be male cannot perform chalitza for he is treated as a eunuch.  An androginos, who has both male and female genitalia, may marry a woman but not a man.  In fact, a man who has intercourse with an androginos is liable to the punishment of stoning for having sexual relations with a male - even though that male has female sexual organs (as well).  Rabbi Eliezer concurs with this ruling.

The Gemara begins by explaining that men who can father children enable their wives to partake of teruma.  This is true whether the reasoning has to do with the men's genitalia or whether it is based on another factor, such as impotency.

Next, the rabbis tackle the question of whether or not an androginos priest entitles his wife to partake of teruma.  Rabbi  Yochanan and Reish Lakish enter into a significant debate about this question.  Reish Lakish believes that she can eat teruma but not of the breast and thigh offerings that are reserved by Torah law for the priests.  Rabbi Yochanan disagrees.  She is able to eat of the breast and thigh (of peace-offerings) as well as other teruma.  

Is this because rabbinic law is not strong enough to maintain the sanctity of the breast and thigh offerings now that the Temple has fallen?  Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan argue about the status of fig cakes and whether or not they are currently permitted to be intermingled with other, non-sanctified, non-teruma foods.  Clover and other crops are compared with fig cakes.  

The rabbis argue about which foods are so important that they cannot be nullified in a mixture of one part to two hundred parts.  Rabbi Akiva suggests that there are seven such foods:

  • Perech nuts
  • badan pomegranates
  • sealed barrels of wine (and possibly sealed barrels of oil)
  • shoots of beet (chard)
  • cabbage stalks
  • Greek gourds
  • Homeowner's loaves
Rabbi Yochanan teaches Rabbi Meir's ruling: these important foods are those sold by unit.  Reish Lakish explains this by saying that any object that is usual to count - he is less stringent on this point. The rabbis continue to argue about whether or not a ritually pure item can be nullified if lost in a grouping with one hundred ritually impure items.  They ask similar questions as well: if a piece of ritually pure sin offering is intermingled with ritually pure but non-sacred items, wouldn't the first item maintain its status?

We are so far from the original questions asked earlier in today's daf that I can hardly remember those first questions.  Though I found them quite fascinating at the time... the rabbis seem to be arguing about in what ways we should include those who do not fit into the binary gender categories.  I have to wonder how common it might have been to experience these questions within the community.  It would seem that kohanim and kohenot must have been more carefully protected if they had less regular genitalia.  And it would make sense that this particular community would have many such community members as they were encouraged to intermarry quite closely.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Yevamot II 80: Status and Yibum: Traits of Those Who Are Sexually Underdeveloped

Can a sexually undeveloped man perform chalitza? Join the community?  
We learn that fascinating ideas were floating around in the times of the Talmud:

  • a eunuch was said to be caused by his mother baking bread at noon and drinking strong beer (or perhaps fermenting beer, or clear/cloudy wine, etc.) while pregnant with him
  • we can identify that one was never fertile because his stream of urine  does not form an arch
  • a firstborn animal is examined for eye blemishes three times within eighty days to determine whether or not the 'defect' is permanent
  • a 'defect' that affects the entire body, such as prolonged sexual immaturity, does not heal. Only 'defects' that affect one organ can heal.
  • Beit Hillel: proof of being a eunuch or an aylonit involves bringing proof that the young person is twenty years old and has not grown two pubic hairs
  • Beit Shammai: The same proof is provided, but at age eighteen
  • If proof is provided, these young people do not perform chalitza/enter into levirate marriage with her yavam
The rabbis go on to argue these points.  First, suggests Rabbi Eliezer, don't women and men mature at different rates?  Perhaps women should be examined at age eighteen and men at age twenty?  But did they not cure eunuchs in Alexandria of Egypt?  Or perhaps punishments were indications of how eunuchs and ayloniyot were granted status?  For example, if a youth should be punished by karet for a sin done between twelve and eighteen years, and later he grew two pubic hairs, isn't he regarded as a eunuch by natural causes retroactively?  Or was he a minor at the time of the offence, as he had not reached sexual maturity at that time?  A note suggests that this idea might have been directed at young women, as they are the ones who reach maturity at age twelve.  The rabbis are struggling with which genders were intended here.

Shouldn't an aylonit be entitled to the fine paid by a rapist, asks Rav Yosef?  Abaye notes that an aylonit passes directly from minority too full adulthood, and adult women are not entitled to the rapist's fine.   This is obviously deserving of more comment, but I'll move on for the sake of time.   And the end of that story: Rav Yosef is convinced.  

Some more facts of the day:
  • a child born in the eighth month (or seventh) is considered to be a minor until his/her twentieth birthday due to his/her weak constitution
  • a premature child was not allowed to be moved on Shabbat though his/her mother could bend over to nurse if she 'suffers due to her milk' - going without nursing could be a danger to mother and child
  • Now such children are allowed to be moved on Shabbat.
  • one who was born in the seventh month has undeveloped nails and hair; gestation has been delayed for any reason
  • one who has not grown two pubic hairs by twelve (girl) or thirteen (boy) is considered a minor until their twentieth birthdays
  • Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel teaches that a human child who stay alive for thirty days  is not to be called a stillborn
  • a stubborn and rebellious son is one who transgresses between the time that he has grown two pubic hairs and the before his member is fully surrounded by hair
  • babies can be born up to eleven months without the woman's husband present for the baby to be considered fit and not a mamzer
The rabbis discuss more signs of a eunuch: anyone who
  • is twenty and has not grown two pubic hairs
  • does not have a beard, and his hair is unusual
  • whose skin is smooth
  • whose urine does not raise foam
  • urinates without forming an arch
  • whose semen dissipates 
  • whose urine does not ferment
  • who bathes in the rainy season and his flesh does not give off steam
  • whose voice is "defective" so that one cannot know if it is a man or a woman
And an aylonit:
  • who is twenty years old and has not grown two pubic hairs
  • who does not have breasts
  • who experiences pain during intercourse
  • whose lower abdomen is not like other women (without the "cushion of flesh above the genitals")
  • whose voice is deep so that one cannot know if it is a man or a woman
The rabbis hold different opinions regarding whether all or just one or some of these characteristics must be present to declare someone's status.  Steinsaltz's notes share a number of hormonal and genetic differences that lead to these experiences. 

Rabbi Akiva suggests that if these individuals were created in this way by the Hand of Heaven, they should not perform chalitza/enter into levirate marriage.  However, if they were in this state due to interference by men, they should perform chalitza/enter into levirate marriage like any other person.

It is amazing to bear witness to ancient thinking about birth, nursing, genetic and hormonal conditions... We continue to struggle with anyone who does not fit into the ideas of 'normal' that we have continued to recreate.  For all that we consider ourselves to be living in a progressive society, our ideas are not that much different than those laid out by our Sages two thousand years ago.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Yevamot II 79: Three Jewish Traits; Infertility and Chalitza

The rabbis continue to explore stories of King David, King Solomon and King Saul to understand more about inclusion.  Specifically, the wish to understand whether or not the Gibeonites are truly meant to be excluded from the congregation for eternity.  They learn that Joshua's decree of exclusion was interpreted in two ways: in the times of the Temple, the Gibeonites are excluded.  In the times of the Talmud - until now - we are lenient.  

One quote from King David was new to me and quite significant.  He used three verses to describe traits of the Jewish people.  They are merciful, shamefaced, and kind.  If a person is converting to Judaism, they must embody these characteristics.  A note suggests that rabbis reinterpreted this idea.  They do not believe that Jews embody these traits.  Instead, they suggest that G-d gave those gifts to us to do with what we will.  The subtle difference between these two descriptions of Jewish traits is quite fascinating.  Are we different innately?  Did G-d bestow these differences upon us?  Do these traits occur independent of our relationships with G-d, or with our religion?

Amud (b) introduces another Mishna, this one more obviously connected to discussions about yibum.  The rabbis are unclear about the implications of chalitza for the yevama of a eunuch or the yavam of an aylonit.  A eunuch is a male who is infertile either due to natural causes or due to an accident.  An aylonit is a woman who is sexually undeveloped and cannot have children.  

In this Mishna, the rabbis question the words and the meaning of a baraita.  Did it say that a eunuch performs chalitza with his yevama; his brothers perform chalitza with his wife? Or did it say that the eunuch and his brother do not do these things?  Would the baraita make more sense considering whether or not he had ever been fertile?  Or whether or not he can be cured?  And an alylonit cannot perform chalitza nor enter into leverage marriage.  Both the aylonit and the eunuch can enter/marry into the priesthood after chalitza.  However, neither can enter/marry into the priesthood if they have had intercourse.

The Gemara examines cases that might help the rabbis understand the application of the unclear baraita.  Their cases involve situations where yibum may or may not be a viable option for the family in question.  

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Yevamot II 78: Conversion and Inclusion Over the Long Term; Converting a Fetus

The rabbis want to know exactly who we include in our larger community of Jews.  Those who are not included but who want to be Jewish cannot fully join the community following conversion.  Today's daf shares the guidelines for inclusion of those in different communities.  The rabbis also discuss when and how to include the children and grandchildren of those from different mixed marriages.  

Two of the examples stand out for me.  The first regards the fetus of a woman who converts.  For Egyptians who convert, only the third generation is able to enter the Jewish congregation fully.  If the first generation woman who converts from her Egyptian heritage, and she is pregnant, does the baby require its own immersion?  Is the fetus like her thigh; a part of her body?  Or is the fetus a separate person?  Does the fetus count as the second generation convert?  Is the mother's body an imposition between the fetus and the water of immersion?  Ritual immersion (other than that to purify women who are niddah) allows a substance that is on most of one's body to remain there unless a person wishes to remove it.  Does this rule apply to the fetus?

The second example regards a mamzer.  If a mamzer marries his gentile maidservant and he frees their child, the child is Jewish, and fit -- no longer a mamzer.  Thus the child follows her/his mother's status.  However, in most cases where 'outsiders' marry Jews, their children follow the status of their fathers.

These complicated rules are still followed.  They have caused many families to study Jewish thought so that they can be considered fully Jewish.  They have also caused many family rifts as people are not able to meet the stringent conditions of inclusion in the Jewish community and families are forced to live separate lives.

A new Mishna teaches us that mamzerim and Gibeonites are forbidden to enter the congregation and to marry Jewish women.  This applies eternally, and to both men and women.

First, the Gemara focuses upon the mamzeret, the female mamzer.  Surely she becomes permitted to enter the congregation after ten generations!  The rabbis find proof texts for this assertion. But perhaps it is not a necessary halacha, for a mamzer's descendants will die at the hand of Heaven after three generations.  That is, those mamzerim who are unknown will die out after three generations.  If the mamzer/et is known, s/he is destined to live.

Next, the Gemara looks at the prohibitions facing the Gibeonites.  It is suggested that this originates in the times of King David, where there was a three-year long famine (II Samuel 21).  David blamed the people of Israel: in the first year, for worshipping idols, in the second year, for sexual impropriety, in the third year, for promising charity publicly then giving nothing.  When no transgressors were found, David blamed himself and turned to speak with G-d through the Umim V'Tummim.  These were the stones in the breastplate of the High Priest.  G-d told David that the famine was because Saul put the Gibeonites to death.  

Our daf ends with the rabbis debating whether or not Saul did in fact kill the Gibeonites.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Yevamot II 76: Exclusion via Imperfect Genitals, Ancestry; Lesbianism

If semen is released in an unusual way - through a hole in the penis, for example - then a man is restricted from a number of his responsibilities/honours.  The rabbis teach us how to assess for this problem and how to treat it.

The rabbis need to know whether a man with this sort of injury is ejaculating normally.  How do they do this?  Showing him pornography is not an option.  However, showing him brightly coloured women's clothing might just do it.  But the rabbis believe that other methods might be more efficient in helping him to ejaculate.  Warm dough is to be placed upon his anus.  The warmth should help him ejaculate, they argue.  This is truly fascinating.

Perhaps the injury can be treated, the rabbis suggest.  Instead of stitches, they bring an ant and place it on the injured penis, allowing it to bite the penis and create a scar.  The body of the ant is removed but the head stays in place, holding the skin together around this hole/scar.

I cannot imagine that a man with an injured penis would be willing to undergo such a treatment today.

We are introduced to the concept of lesbianism for the first time.  Rav Huna teaches that women who rub against each other due to sexual desire are engaging in intercourse and are prohibited from marrying a kohen.  Rabbi Elazar has a different opinion.  He teaches that this behaviour is not intercourse but an example of licentious behaviour.  Thus women who engage in lesbian acts are permitted to their husbands and they are permitted to marry kohanim.  Our notes teach us that men are to take steps to discourage their wives from such behaviour.  They also tell us that these women are liable to lashes, for they are behaving 'like Egyptians', which is forbidden.

The rabbi's debate centres around whether or not a penis is a necessary component in the legal act of sexual intercourse.  Given the halacha in this matter, it is clear that the penis is required for intercourse to occur.  What women do together might be undesirable, but it is not intercourse and thus not an act of acquisition.

A new Mishna explains that a man with crushed/injured testicles or a severed penis can still get married.  He can marry a convert or an emancipated maidservant.  He is not allowed to marry a woman born Jewish.  This is because Deuteronomy 23:2 tells us that he cannot "enter the congregation of the Lord".

But what is a priest with a severed penis to do?  Does he forego his sanctified status and marry a maidservant, or does he stay unmarried as a proper kohen?  The Gemara looks to other examples of such marriage restrictions, including Israelites with crushed testicles and mamzerim.  They note that Solomon married the Pharaoh's daughter.  But didn't he convert her before the marriage?  Even if she converted, conversion was not accepted in those times.  Kings were afraid of people marrying into to their successful kingdoms.  The Pharaoh's daughter was already royalty and so this would not apply to her.

The Gemara continues to explain who could marry whom in times of the Mishna.  First-generation Egyptians could marry each other.  Their children could marry each other.  And then the third-generation children would be accepted into the congregation of Israel.  The rabbis use this information to understand what restrictions should be placed on men with 'imperfect' genitals.  

Another new Mishna is introduced.  It clearly states exclusions: Ammonite and Moabite men can never marry Jewish-born women, nor can they ever joint the congregation.  Women from these tribes are immediately accepted, however.  Egyptian and Edomite converts wait three generations.  Rav Shimon tells us that women from these tribes should be permitted immediately, just like the women of Ammonite and Moabite clans.  He is challenged: did he learn this from his teachers, or is it an opinion based on an a fiori reference?  Rav Shimon insists that this has been taught previously.

The Gemara examines a proof text at some length as it retells the story of Saul learning about David's lineage.  His ancestral line allows Saul to understand whether David might be king or just an ordinary man one day.  We walk through some of the family lines, including Ruth's Moabite line, the lines of Judah's children through Tamar, and others. 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Yevamot II 75: Ritual Purity and Male Infertility

There are verses in Leviticus that create difficulty for the rabbis.  Women shall not touch any holy thing while the are ritually impure, men shall not eat holy things until they are pure, and the setting sun brings purity.  

How can the rabbis reconcile these verses with our instructions from the Mishna?  When are people permitted to eat teruma? To eat from the second tithe? To immerse?  How can we understand G-d's intentions when the guidelines are almost contradictory?  The rabbis discuss numerous possibilities in amid (a).

Amud (b) focuses on the Mishna's instructions regarding a man whose penis or testicles are less than perfect.  The rabbis discuss the testicles, the penis and the seminal 'cords'.  They consider injuries including crushing, severing, and piercing.  The rabbis consider differences in injury including birth differences and injuries; illnesses and inconsequential blemishes.  Clearly the concern is primarily around procreation: is this man capable of fathering children?  

However, for some reason, the rabbis are concerned that the head of the penis be present.  Even a hairbreadth of the corona is enough, but the corona must exist.  Why? Is the notion of a working penis without a head somehow a problem?  Perhaps this has to do with the rite of the covenant; with circumcision.  Perhaps the rabbis want all men to have that reminder with them if they are to cohabit with their wives.  Without that physical reminder, perhaps sex would just be about pleasure and not about one's (men's) connection with G-d.

A man with one testicle is considered to be like a eunuch, a man born without testicles.  As long as this man can procreate, he is able to partake of teruma.  Injuries seemed more suspicious, though.  We are reminded that the rabbis lived in a place and time where an injury often led to infection, which often led to major disfunction or even death.

Some of the rabbis comments seem gratuitous; an excuse to speak graphically about sex.  They speak of the shape of a man's injured penis and how it might rub against a woman's genitals.  They debate: if a man's penis has been injured and now is shaped like a quill or like a gutter, is he fit to eat teruma? Second tithes? etc.  Can he plug the hole, they wonder?  The very explicit imagery of their language suggests that the rabbis may have used this question as an opportunity to discuss sexual intercourse in great detail.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Yevamot II 74: The Search for Internal Consistency; Ritual Purity Following Childbirth

The Gemara continues its analysis of those who are not permitted to partake of consecrated foods.  The rabbis consider different tithes: animal tithes, consumed by the person offering those tithes, are different from second tithes, for example.  The rabbis compare an uncircumcised man to a zav and consider stringencies based on that comparison.

The rabbis are searching for some internal consistency.  If second tithes are surrounded by certain halachot in one situation, we should be able to identify similar halachot in other situations.  And if two situations are similar, the halachot should be consistent between them.  However, this system is short of perfect.  

For someone like myself who does not assume that the Torah was actually G-d's word but, instead, an amalgam of different inspired writers, I cannot fathom that a perfect system exists.  Instead I believe that the rabbis - and others - can interpret based on our knowledge and our interests.  In doing so, they find metaphors and connections that validate their understandings.  So the effort that is spent on finding connections between the Temple rites and the rites of yibum is not as exciting for me as it is for others.  Though the sheer human drive for connection is quite powerful.

The rabbis look at halachot regarding the zav and the leper as they attain ritual purity.  There is significance in the setting sun (which permits partaking of teruma), immersion (which allows partaking of the second tithe), and bringing offerings (which allows partaking of sacrificial foods).  But each is required for different states of ritual impurity, from being a zav to being a woman who has gone through childbirth.

Specific consideration is given to women who have gone through childbirth. Since in Leviticus 12:4 we learn that she is impure until "the days of her purification are completed", must she go through immersion or bring an offering?  Is the passage of time enough?  Leviticus 12:8 adds a stringency, teaching that a priest must make such a woman pure.  Abaye interprets this to mean that the new mother can access teruma after immersion and then sunset, in accordance with 12:4.  After the priest purifies her, she can access sacrificial food.

The rabbis find this interpretation difficult.  Shouldn't teruma require the greater stringency?  They suggest alternative interpretations to this end. And so our rabbis begin and end this daf with their search for internal consistency.

Yevamot II 73: Ritual Impurity and Teruma

Today's daf brings us back to our learning in Pesachim.  The halachot of sacrifices is reviewed and reconsidered in light of yibum.  However, the rituals of yibum are foregone for the moment.  Instead, daf 73 focuses on the rules regarding ritual purity around teruma and tithes.

The rabbis consider a number of issues:

  • whether one who sprinkles the ashes must be ritually pure
  • whether an uncircumcised man can eat the second tithe
  • whether an acute mourner* can eat the second tithe
  • differences between access to teruma, second tithe, and first fruits 
  • teruma and first fruits belong to kohanim
  • first fruits and second tithes both must be brought to a place
  • first fruits and second tithes both require a declaration
  • consequences, (flogging, death at the hand of heaven, and karet) that implicate the importance of halachot
  • when priests can benefit from ritually impure consecrated items 
  • stringencies that apply to consecrated items but not to teruma:
    • piggul (offerings are invalid because one has considered eating them improperly
    • notar (meat that remains is invalid and must be destroyed)
    • korban (an offering to G-d)
    • misuse
    • karet (one who eats consecrated items while ritually impure)
    • forbidden to an acute mourner
  • stringencies that apply to teruma:
    • death (one who is forbidden but eats teruma intentionally is liable to death at the hand of heaven)
    • one-fifth (one who is forbidden but eats teruma accidentally must pay back its cost plus 1/5)
    • pidyon (teruma cannot be redeemed or 'unsanctified')
    • non-priests (teruma is forbidden to zarim)
We learn that kohanim washed their hands before partaking of teruma or first fruits as a symbol of the importance of ritual purity.  This is the origin of our tradition of netilat yadaim, hand washing, before partaking of food.

* an accute mourner is one who is in the first hours of mourning

Monday, 15 December 2014

Yevamot II 72: Mitzvot Specific to the Circumcised Penis

Perhaps the Israelites were saved from the effects of the north wind on their circumcision  scars, for the north wind never blew at all while the Israelites crossed the desert. Or perhaps the north wind blew each day at midnight in homage to the Egyptian first born sons who were killed at that time.  The rabbis mention different winds and their attributes.  They are focused on the ways that G-d has safeguarded G-d's people from harm.

If someone appears to be uncircumcised, they must be circumcised a second time.  Perhaps it was in fashion to pretend that one still had his foreskin, and men would allow the skin to appear as foreskin.  Perhaps it was politically savvy to claim that one was uncircumcised.  Perhaps a number of men were circumcised in an incomplete manner, where at least shreds of skin remained around the corona of the penis.  The rabbis suggest that a second circumcision correct any of these experiences, and there is little sympathy for the notion that the surgery could put them in danger.  Note that we are speaking of grown men and not children, who are carefully protected from circumcision should it pose any danger.  

The rabbis note again that priests who are not circumcised are not entitled to teruma, though their families may be entitled in some circumstances.  

  • a tumtum priest does not have access to teruma nor sacrificial food because s/he may be male and uncircumcised (for his penis is not visible), but 'his' wives and slaves do have access to teruma only (sacrificial food is only for male priests)
  • one who was born with no foreskin and one who is circumcised but the skin draws forward are both permitted to partake of teruma
  • an androginos who has both male and female genitals may partake of teruma if he has been circumcised
  • an androginos who has been circumcised may not partake of the sacrificial foods, for they are permitted only to males and he may not be a male but someone of a third gender
The rabbis wonder how a tumtum could be married.  Perhaps he was betrothed?  And in fact, the tumtum could be betrothed to a man or a woman, for he might be a woman or a man.  But how could such a betrothal be valid?  The rabbis are concerned that the tumtum could in fact be a woman betrothed to another woman!  Which of course, was thought to be ridiculous.  Perhaps the text was referring to the other women in a tumtum's life who would have access to teruma: the tumtum's mother, sisters, etc.  But if the tumtum cannot parent a child, those women are not enabled to partake of teruma, either.  The rabbis wonder if the text was referring to someone whose testicles are visible externally, and so he is clearly a man.

It is fascinating to witness the rabbis debating the issues that continue to confound so many leaders in our society today.  The more strictly that a society creates boundaries and fences, the more difficult it might be to understand the notion of someone living in the 'grey'; living on the boundary.

But it seems as though these Jews were not uncommon, those who were not distinctly fitting into categories of women and men.  I wonder if the intra-familial partnering, especially within the kohan clan, created a greater likelihood of genital differences.  Ironic, as those gender differences created difficulties for the rabbis who so carefully constructed roles based on a binary gender system.

We are reminded that the mitzvah of brit, circumcision, takes place during the day.  If the brit occurs at night, covenantal blood must drip from the infant the following day.  The rabbis note that these guidelines refer to a brit that occurs at its proper time: on the eighth day after birth.  If the brit occurs later than that, daytime or nighttime is an acceptable time.

As an aside, we learn about the rabbis' uses of the text called the Torat Kohanim.  Our notes teach that it is halachic midrashim on Leviticus.  It was redacted by Rav, made up of tannaitic statements and unattributed comments thought to belong to Rabbi Yehuda.  Our daf describes an incident where this great, difficult work was read by Rabbi Yochanan in three days and learned completely within three months.

Our daf ends with a conversation regarding ritual impurity and sacrificial rites.  When can a priest perform rites, such as sprinkling the ashes of the red heifer?  Is a priest who is also a tumtum or an androginos permitted to perform these rites?  The presence of a penis - and a circumcised penis, to be specific - is of paramount importance.  But Rabbi Yeduda challenges the Gemara: an androginos should not be permitted to perform these rights, for even if he is circumcised, she could be a woman. And women cannot perform these rites.

Rabbi Yehuda also speaks to which people are excluded from performing rites as they are excluded from attending the shalosh regalim, the three pilgrimages to the Temple.  Women and those who are androginos are excluded while minors, he argues, can be included.  The Gemara notes that Rabbi Yehuda uses the pronoun of "he" referring to the person (or people) who draws the water for sanctification and who sprinkles that water.   He and not she.  Thus women are excluded.

It has always been a challenge to understand why sometimes we are to interpret "he" as a reference to all of us.  Men should not kill - none of us should kill.  But at other times, the male pronoun is used to refer to men specifically and not women (nor children).  How do the rabbis know how to accurately interpret the meaning of the male pronoun?

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Yevamot II 71: Uncircumcised

The Gemara continues to explore connections between those who are prohibited from partaking of teruma and those who are prohibited from eating the korban Pesach, the Paschal lamb.  In particular, today's daf examines those who are strangers, those who are uncircumcised and have not circumcised their sons & slaves, and those who are apostates.  There is a discussion in our notes regarding the epistemology of apostate: m'shumadut.  Perhaps it refers to the root m/sh/d, to be forced to convert.  Perhaps it refers to meshumada, short for the Aramaic eshtamoda, or alienate.  Thus apostates are said to be Jews who have alienated themselves from the blessing of being Jewish.  Each of these people are disqualified from some communal offerings, like the korban, but permitted to partake of others, such as tithes.

The notion of 'stranger' is used to describe an apostate as well as a visitor.  Similarly, it is not enough to exclude the uncircumcised.  What of the Arab who was circumcised?  Or someone of another clan that circumcised its men?  Or what if the child who was born without a foreskin?* In this second case, the rabbis teach that it is permitted for the infant to benefit from teruma up until his eighth day.  After that point in time, he is only allowed to benefit from teruma if he has been circumcised.  If the infant is ill with an illness affecting the entire body, he is allowed to recover for seven days after the illness has passed; his status allows him to partake of teruma while being uncircumcised. This is discussed with regard to whether or not the infant's father is permitted to eat from the korban pesach.  If the father is wilfully restricting his sons or slaves from circumcision, he cannot eat from the korban.

The Gemara discusses hypothetical cases where an infant might have to delay his circumcision.  

  • an infant born a tumtum, where the genitals are unknown
  • an infant whose head is somehow born but it's body remains in its mother's body
  • an infant who remained alive in this position due to his mother's fever
The Gemara uses verses from Joshua to better understand how men can be circumcised at different times.  As well, the rabbis discuss the notion of 'circumcising a second time'.  They believe that this refers to a circumcision that folds back the membrane of skin over the corona of the penis.  Abraham was not circumcised in this way.  The rabbis look to find proofs regarding the rite of circumcision - its timing; its procedure.  

Again we learn the importance placed upon separating one from another: us from them, right from wrong.  The inclusion or exclusion of Jews from different rites and privileges seems to be one of the major themes running through Talmudic texts.  In this case, we are understanding who is allowed to participate in basic rituals.  So many guidelines, so many rules, so many consequences... and yet these traditions have somehow been maintained in some detail over thousands of years. 

* Rabbi Akiva taught that covenantal blood must be dripped from such a child.

Yevamot II 70: Who Cannot Partake of Teruma? The Importance of Intact Male Genitals

Our Gemara discussed the Mishna that introduces Yevamot II and Perek VIII.  The Mishna teaches us that:

  • regarding an uncircumcised priest and all others who are ritually impure:
    • they cannot partake of teruma
    • their wives and slaves can partake of teruma
  • regarding a priest with petzua dakka, crushed (damaged) testicles or kerut shofcha, a severed penis:
    • they and their slaves may partake of teruma 
    • their wives may not partake of teruma because priests may not have intercourse with women who are rendered chalalot, and their wives would be rendered chalalot if they had intercourse with anyone with such conditions
    • these wives may partake of teruma if they have no sexual contact with their husbands following the injuries, for their marriages were sound
    • any damage to even one testicle counts as petzua dakka
    • as long as there is one hairbreadth of corona of the penis, it is not considered to be kerut shofcha 
The Gemara begins with a discussion about what is forbidden to hired servants, sojourners, or other 'outsiders' at Pesach when the korban Pesach, the paschal lamb, is shared with the community.   They note who is permitted to partake of the meal and who is not.  In particular they look at those in acute mourning and those who have not been circumcised.  We learn the halacha: hired servants and sojourners are not allowed to partake of teruma, one who is not circumcised is liable to karet (for transgressing a positive mitzvah), and one who does not circumcise his children/slaves may not sacrifice the paschal lamb.

Today's daf does not make the connection between the halacha as determined by the Gemara and the Mishna.  However, we note that the rabbis are attempting to understand other circumstances where an entitlement like teruma - in this case, the paschal lamb - is restricted to certain groups of people.

Yevamot 69: Which Family Relationships Prohibit One From Teruma?; Promiscuity & Rumours (regarding women, of course)

When are women disqualified from partaking of teruma?  Today's daf explores the intricacies of this question.  Some of the rabbis' discussions include:
  • how we know that Levite and Israelite women are indicated along with kohenot regarding marriage into the priesthood
  • why widowed and divorced women are mentioned specifically regarding teruma
  • teruma is prohibited to some who have intercourse with certain men, including chalalim, specific converts, etc.
  • where intercourse during betrothal prohibits a woman from partaking of teruma and where it does not
A new Mishna teaches us that when a woman is raped or seduced by a priest who doesn't marry her - or when she is raped by an imbecile who does marry her - if she is a kohenet she is still allowed teruma and if she is an Israelite she is not allowed teruma.  If an Israelite has extramarital intercourse with a kohenet and she becomes pregnant, she cannot take teruma for she has an Israelite fetus.  If she miscarries she is allowed teruma.  Once she gives birth she is enabled to take teruma on behalf of her son, who is a priest as the daughter of a kohenet.  Thus the son is more powerful than the father: the son's status allows her to partake of the teruma while the father's status does not.

Further, our Mishna teaches when a slave disqualifies and enables his mother to partake of teruma through two complex cases.  A mamzer also can disqualify or enable his mother from partaking of teruma.  Another example of this phenomenon regards a High Priest.  when a kohenet marries an Israelite and they have a daughter who marries a priest, if they have a son, he is fit to be a High Priest, which enables his mother to partake of teruma.  But he disqualifies his mother's mother from teruma, for he is the offspring of her Israelite husband.

The Gemara discusses these case examples.  First they note that we already know that marriage to an imbecile is invalid, for a barite taught that minor boys and imbeciles who married women and then died - their yevamot are exempt from chalitza and yibum.  

Regarding the woman who is impregnated by an Israelite, she is not partaking of teruma, the rabbis argue that in other circumstances women are allowed to partake of teruma almost immediately.  Using the marker of forty days following the death of her husband that a woman can partake of teruma, Rav Chisda notes that women may take teruma until she is forty days pregnant.  Before that date, the fetus is not truly human but 'water'.  

When looking at the case of a shetuki, a child born of an uncertain father, the rabbis look at rumours carefully.  If she says that the father, a priest, is her betrothed and their are no rumours about her promiscuity, the child is not a mamzer.  But if there are rumours that she has been with other men as well, the child is called a mamzer.   This difference can determine whether or not she has sustenance provided to her once the baby is born.  

To have intercourse with one's betrothed is fine according to Torah law.  Rabbinic law forbids this contact.  It is interesting to watch the rabbis argue about the dire importance of women's sexual reputations.  We continue to debate about these questions: what can we assume that we know about a woman if she is promiscuous?  What can we assume that we know about a woman if people SAY that she is promiscuous?   

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Yevamot 68: More on Kohanim and Yibum

Further detail is provided about when women are disqualified from partaking of teruma.  Specifically, a yevama can be forbidden from partaking of teruma in a number of circumstances.  The daf pays special attention to the limitations placed on a kohenet, a priestess - the daughter of a priest.

These details are difficult for me to digest; the halachic decisions do not grab my interest.  However, small points along this road are fascinating to me.  For example, there are many categories of people who are not supposed to marry into the priesthood.  However, the rabbis discuss extensively what happens when these marriages happen.  From this tension I would suggest that our ancestors struggled with halachic compliance just like today.  

Another interesting point is found in a discussion of Leviticus 22:10: "No common man may eat of the sacred."  According to Torah law, there should be no intermarriage for priests, Kohamin.  And yet marriage between Israelites and Kohanim, Leviim and Kohanim, Israelite deaf-mutes and Kohanim - all of these seem to be a part of the lives of our Sages.

The notion of separating what is common from what is sacred is very much in line with other Talmudic teachings.  The rabbis draw lines based on their interpretations of Torah text.  Then they draw fences around those lines to ensure that we do not come close tot the lines themselves.  This creates a clean, rational guide for living. But the rabbis are well aware that we do not separate what is common from what is sacred when we live our lives. Many of us live on fuzzy lines.  Others run back and forth.  Others challenge even the notion of lines at all, claiming that we should equalize ourselves as much as possible. 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Yevamot 67: The Power of a Fetus: Not So Much, Actually

Today's daf covers two new Mishnayot.  The first teaches us about an Israelite woman whose kohen husband dies, leaving her pregnant.  Her slaves who were transferred to him do not partake of terumah while she is pregnant.  This is because the fetus will be one of his father's heirs (if male), and thus will partially own those slaves but only once it is born.  Rabbi Yosei notes that in the opposite case, where a kohenet marries and Israelite who dies, leaving her pregnant.  The mother is already forbidden to partake of her family's teruma because she married an Israelite.  This the fetus cannot enable its mother or slaves to partake of teruma.  In the Mishna, there is an argument: either pregnant woman's slaves should not partake of teruma because of the share of the fetus.

The Gemara discusses this Mishna throughout amud (a) and part of amud (b).  Interesting points emerge, including whether or not a fetus can inherit/aquire (not until it is born), the inheritance of daughters versus sons, and the fact that we can rule according to the minority regarding infant boys (half of the infants will be girls and some will die, thus boys do not count for over 50% of newborns).  We also learn that orphaned minor girls are provided for by the inheritance of their deceased parents until those girls are betrothed.  Even if the boys have to beg on the street, the girls are provided for first.  What is left goes to the boys' inheritance.

The second Mishna teaches us that the fetuses of certain Israelite fathers disqualify their kohenet mothers from partaking of teruma.  However, they never enable their mothers to partake of teruma.  The fathers discussed are those of a widow or divorcee whose husband left her pregnant, a yavam, one who is betrothed, a married deaf-mute, and a a nine-year-and -one-day- old boy who has intercourse  with a woman.  However, if the woman is an Isarelite and the father is a priest, they do not enable her to partake of teruma.

The Mishna goes on to debate what should be done when there is uncertainty about the boy's age.  To be legally betrothed he should have two pubic hairs.  The rabbis recognize that the age of nine years and one day is somewhat arbitrary; individual children develop at different times.   The Mishna ends with a reminder of past learning, where levirate marriage of a rival wife is prohibited if it unknown whether or not the husband died before or after his wife.

I found it difficult to hold the competing halachot in my head while learning today's daf.  These concepts are not terribly challenging on their own, but putting them together requires focus and a great memory.  I should probably write diagrams to help my recall as I read.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Yevamot 66: Melog and Tzon Barzel Property: Who Gets Teruma? Who Gets the Goods?

As we move into Perek VII, we shift from the concept of acquisition in yibum toward the halachot of teruma.  Daf 66 seemed out of place; the legal discussion sounds like something taken from Ketubot. We learn a new Mishna: When a woman is prohibited from marrying a priest and yet they marry, are her slaves entitled to partake of teruma?  That woman might be a widow who marries a High Priest, or a chalutza who marries a common priest.

The Mishna describes two types of property (and we have to remember that slaves are property): melog, usufruct property, and tzon barzel, guaranteed investment.   Slaves who are melog property continue to belong to the wife in marriage. Her husband is responsible for their sustenance but not through the use of teruma.  Slaves who are tzon barzel property belong to the husband once the couple marries.  He is responsible for their sustenance and they may partake of teruma, but he also bears the loss and reaps the gain that might come from these people.

Finally, the Mishna teaches that an Israelite woman who is permitted to marry a priest (and then marries him) will have access to teruma for her slaves whether they are melog or tzon barzel property.  However, a kohenet, daughter of a priest, who marries an Israelite cannot partake of teruma for her new family nor for her slaves.

The Gemara considers a number of theoretical cases including a not-yet-circumsized priest.  His condition is thought to be temporary, unlike the woman who is 'unfit' to marry a priest, and so this analogy does not work.  What can we learn from the example of a mamzer born of a forbidden relationship involving a priest?  We learn that there are people who cannot partake of teruma themselves but they enable other to partake.  

Rav Ashi describes a situation that uses a widowed kohenet's voice as narrator.  She says, "Initially, we partook of the teruma of my father's house.  I married [the High Priest] and [my slaves] partook of ther teruma of my husband.  And now [that my husband has died], I have returned to the original circumstance."  Rav Ashi points out that this widow was in fact forbidden to the High Priest.  Because they married, she is now classified as a chalala.  Thus she and her slaves are not entitled to partake of teruma when she returns to her father's house.

Amud (b) focuses on the division and valuing of a woman's property when she leaves her marriage to a priest because he has died.  They compare this process to the valuing of a cow that has been given to another person; the exchange is akin to rental, or lending.  Interest therefore does not apply.  That cow's access to teruma is discussed as well.  

It is noted that slaves who are property through tzon barzel are freed if they lose or severely damage a finger, an eye or a tooth.  However, the injury had to be at the hand of the husband, who owns these slaves under tzon barzel, and not the wife.  Similarly, other property that the wife brought into their marriage must be valued as well.  What if the husband does not own that property, as it was melog, but he sold it over the course of the marriage?  What if he wished to give her its value instead of the actual property?  It is noted that women's rights to ownership of property are defended by many of our rabbis.  The details are debated, but a line of thought runs through our past two dapim suggesting that the Gemara concerns itself with the financial viability of women who are divorced and widowed.  

Having said this, the women who were slaves and maidservants and minor wives were not offered similar protection.  The creation and maintenance of a highly structured, hierarchical society was paramount in the mind of our rabbis.  Each law lines up with the next.  We witness a complex integration of past texts, social visioning and belief in the guiding power of G-d.  Our rabbis used this web to justify continued oppressions: slavery, forced marriage through rape, etc.  Further, the kindnesses of our rabbis toward women in some situations become more acutely highlighted.  Sometimes I wish that I could simply read this text and marvel at how progressive our rabbis were, protecting the lives of some women.  But it was only some women who were offered any protection - and it wasn't that much protection after all.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Yevamot 65: Be Fruitful and Multiply: Fertility, Agency, and Legal Rights

We learn more about the specific rules regarding couples who are infertile.  In yesterday's daf, the rabbis determined that couples should divorce if they have been infertile together for ten years.  After her second marriage, if the woman continues to be infertile for ten years, she may or may not marry yet again.  Her third groom must know that he is taking the risk of being unable the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply.

Today's daf looks at the guidelines around divorce in these relationships.  When is a woman able to dissolve the ketubah and still receive the money agreed upon in her get?  When is she able to receive that money in addition to any other provisions in her get?  When can a man argue that a woman is infertile and when can she counter with the argument that she is now infertile, but while she was married to him she was in her youth and would have been physically able to procreate with another man?  The rabbis are very respectful of women's rights in this area; more so than in any other text that I have read.  Women are given the benefit of the doubt, for what woman would wish to call herself infertile?  And what woman would want no children?  The rabbis are also lenient regarding remarriage.  They are careful to allow women to partner with different husbands.  Clearly they wish to ensure that as many couples are procreating as possible.

But is the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply only given to men?  Rabbi Yochanan ben Berocha reminds us in a new Mishna that Genesis 1:28 commands both Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.  The Gemara begins with traditional arguments about the differences between men and women, including the idea that men alone are the conquerors that are described in the following verse.  Rav Yosef teaches us that the mitzvah is stated in the singular rather than in the plural in Genesis 35:11, which means that it was directed at the man alone.

Sometimes situations for half-truths.  For example, our matriarch Sarah states that she did not laugh after being told that she would bear a son in her old age.  But she did laugh.  The rabbis discuss briefly some of the merits of lying in order to deal with an accusation and in order to promote peace.  I have no doubt that this concept is discussed at great length in other Talmudic conversations, but this was an interesting glimpse into the rabbis views on lying.

To end today's daf, we are told about Rabbi Chiyya's wive, Yehudit, who had two sets of twins.  The first were the righteous daughters Pazi and Tavi.  The second were the great rabbis Yehuda and Chizkiyya.  We are told that Yehudit laboured terribly with these boys, first at seven months and then at nine months when the second twin was delivered.  Yehudit disguised herself and went to Rabbi Chiyya with her question: is a woman commanded to be fruitful and multiply?  He answered that she is not.  Upon hearing that news, Yehudit drank an infertility potion.  Rabbi Chiyya was dismayed, wishing that she could have had just one more set of twins.

We are learning about the age old necessity of family planning; the dire need for birth control.  We know that women's highest value was in having children; allowing their husbands to keep their mitzvah: be fruitful and multiply.  And to prevent another person from performing a mitzvah is its own category of sin.  So when we learn that Yehudit went to this difficulty to learn the laws, confront her husband - albeit, as a Sage - regarding those laws, and to put herself at great risk with this infertility potion, she must have been desperate.  Although some orthodox women continue to feel trapped by their in/fertility, we are so lucky to live in a time when there exist options for most Jewish women regarding family planning, birth control, and agency over our own bodies.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Yevamot 64: Three Stikes You're Out: on Establishing a Presumption

I do not blog on Shabbat, but I read the daily daf.  Check out Yevamot:63 for a fascinating read on what makes for a good wife.

But today's daf is Yevamot 64, which focuses on fertility.  How can the rabbis ensure that people - men, in particular - fulfill the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply?  

A new Mishna: when a couple is not able to have children together for ten years, the husband can take on a rival wife or they are to divorce and remarry.  After ten more childless years, the woman in question is considered to be infertile and her second husband is able to take on a rival wife or divorce her as well. If she miscarries, the ten years are counted from the date of the miscarriage.   

Arguments ensue regarding ten years.  Why ten years and not three years, which would allow for three pregnancies (plus a few extra months)?  Our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all struggled with issues of fertility in one way or another, and we are taught that the ten year mark is significant for each of them.  The rabbis also comment on the merit of our foremothers and other women; they are not punished through infertility.   In fact, Rabbi Ami suggests that both Abraham and Sarah were tumtumim, people whose genitals are concealed.  He uses the metaphoric verse describing the "hewn rock" and "hole of the pit [that formed you]" beside the verse, "Look to Abraham your father and Sarah who bore you" (Isaiah 51:1, 2) to prove this point.

The Gemara notes that the mitzvah of having children is commanded of the husband only.  We do not assume that a woman is infertile when a couple cannot have children.  In fact, we are subject to some painfully descriptive stories regarding male infertility due to disease. Later commentaries teach that divorce is only one option, and in fact couples usually stay together when they cannot have children.  

The rabbis wonder if the suggestion of 'ten years together before making a change' might have been geared toward the longer life expectancy of ancient days.  However, Rabba quotes a number of other rabbis who refer to King David's era where people lived seventy to eighty years.  Thus the rabbis determine that ten years is the right amount of time to spend together as an infertile couple.  As an aside, it is more than a little mind-blowing to read about what happened in the olden days in a statement that is approximately 1700 years old. 

We move from the questions surrounding infertility to questions about the death of babies.  The rabbis determine how and when we can establish a presumption.  If a couple has a baby and that baby dies, they are allowed to begin that ten year count from the date of the baby's death.  But what should be done if a couple's first and then second babies die after their circumcisions?  Do they circumcise the third child?  And if the third dies following circumcision, do they circumcise the fourth?  What about when three sisters each watch their babies die following circumcision - should the fourth sister circumcise?  The rabbis stretch this argument to marriage - if a woman's first, second and third husbands die on their own (not accidents at sea, for example), should she be permitted to marry a fourth husband?  The rabbis determine that two similar cases can establish a presumption; however, people are not forced to follow this suggestion. 

We should note that circumcision is never foregone; it is delayed.  Once the baby has grown, he is circumcised to enter the covenant.  Further, the rabbis connect these teachings to those regarding an aylonit and someone with a disease like epilepsy.  If it is known that three women in one family line are infertile due to immature sexual organs or due to leprosy or epilepsy, etc., men are told not to marry into that family.  A note in the Steinsaltz text teaches us that this is one of the earliest references to genetically transmitted diseases through a carrier with no symptoms.  Amazing.

Our daf ends with a disturbing halachic connection.  We learn that if a man commits a sin against Torah law that is punishable by karet, he is flogged.  If he commits the sin again, he is flogged a second time.  If he repeats the same sin, he is to be locked in a narrow, vaulted chamber.  He is fed barley until he dies (because his stomach bursts).  If find it difficult to imagine such a punishment being carried out.  But I certainly imagine people repeating their 'sinful behaviour' after taking their punishments.  Perhaps I'm just hoping for the best... or perhaps this was simply an extremely effective threat.