Saturday, 28 February 2015

Ketubot 27: Permitting Women Who May Have Been Violated to their Priestly Husbands

The Gemara continues to discuss a recently introduced Mishna.  Women who are taken captive as security for money owed by their husbands are permitted to return to their husbands.  There is an assumption that they would not be violated, for the fine might not be paid if they were harmed.  The rabbis consider when witnesses are required in such cases.  We are told about similar questioning  when women are held as collateral.  However, if women are held because their husbands have been charged with a capital crime, those women will not be permitted to return to their husbands.  The rabbis discuss whether these women have also committed crimes or colluded with their husbands.  They might be left to fend on their own, where nothing can "protect them from rape".  I am not clear on how women are protected from rape in ordinary circumstances, however.

A new Mishna teaches that women married to priests are forbidden to their husbands if their city is under siege by an army.  However, even a maidservant can testify that the wife of a priest has not been violated.  Women are not permitted to testify on behalf of themselves.

The Gemara begins with a description of what happens when an army takes over a city - not as an act of war, but as a place of refuge.  They make use of the inhabitants' goods - they take from open barrels, for example (not closed barrels for soldiers would not bother to close those barrels again).   The Gemara speak of violations of halachot of kashrut - wine might be used in idol worship, for example.

The rabbis must not have been fond of this Mishna.  They walk through a number of exceptions.  Perhaps the Mishna was speaking of only a certain type of army.  Perhaps it was speaking of cities where there was no possible escape.  Perhaps it was referring to a city that was not fortified with chains, dogs, geese and branches - all deterrents to soldiers.  Perhaps it was describing cities where there was not even a small hiding place that could hold even just one fleeing woman.  In all of these cases, the rabbis wish to permit wives to their priest husbands.

The Gemara wonders if a woman might remain forbidden to her husband because she has used a pathway that covers a buried corpse, leaving her ritually impure.  In response, the rabbis introduce the principle of ma li l'shaker?, why would I lie?.  If a concern is simply a concern, and not something confirmed by witnesses, a woman's testimony should be accepted according to this principle.  To this end, the Gemara considers the testimony of a woman's maidservant, husband, and son.  Interestingly, her maidservant and minor son are not considered to be credible witnesses, but their words - said in another context, incidentally - can be used as proof in a court proceeding.  

We end today's daf with a new Mishna featuring Rabbi Zeharya ben Katzav.  He swore to the court that his hand did not leave that of his wife while Jerusalem was under siege. He knew for a fact that he wife was not violated and thus she should be permitted to him.  The court used the principle a person cannot testify about oneself to justify their decision to force a divorce.  However, Rabbi Zeharya did not comply.  He build a home in his courtyard for his wife to live.  He also ensured that she was always with their sons when she entered the courtyard or at home, ensuring no opportunity for seclusion with her 'husband'.  The Gemara begins by questioning whether or not women who have been taken captive or divorcees are permitted similar circumstances.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ketubot 25: Challenges to Presumptive Status

But if we can't allow men who call themselves priests to claim their priestly lineage, then what good is the notion of presumptive status?  The rabbis argue about the determining factors.  What is decreed by Torah law and what is decreed by the rabbis?  Are we only speaking about the very special parts of an animal, or are we referring to access to all teruma?  And what about in other places, where taking challah from bread or raising ones hands offers priest full access to priestly benefits?  Perhaps receiving teruma directly from the threshing floor establishes one's lineage as a priest. Or perhaps partaking of challah confirms presumptive status.  Bottom line: does what allows a priest to access teruma allow him to claim his lineage?

The rabbis debate over these different traditions in different places, at different times.  And, as a reminder, they are discussing something that has not existed in earnest for some time.  Just like us, the rabbis were debating a topic that held little actual meaning in their lives.  However, every word of Torah was critical.  Thus every word of Talmud, interpreting and bringing Torah to life, must be understood - at least in halacha, if not in its larger meaning.  And so they continued to debate.

The Gemara offers another baraita as an authority: Lifting hands (to recite the priestly blessing), taking of teruma from the threshing floor, and testimony all establish presumptive status.  Yes, even testimony - for example, if a kohen has the first aliyah, he is assumed to be a kohen from then on.  Similarly, a person who has the second aliyah is assumed from that day forward to have the presumptive status of a levite.  

But what if they were just great men?  We learn that first reader is a kohen and second reader is a levite unless there is a prominent Torah scholar present.  Such a great man is given the honour of reading first or second from the Torah. 

The rabbis continue to argue based on a number of different but similar cases.  In each case, a man with questionable linage is permitted to claim his presumptive status as a priest.  Often the rabbis want to know if these men also have been seen on the threshing floor to take their teruma (a common argument is that not all places offer teruma from threshing floors!).  Does the testimony of a father offer his son presumptive status?  What about a brother?

Close to the end of our daf, some rabbis seem to become frustrated with this argument.  If he's good enough for teruma, why isn't he good enough to marry a kohenet?

It is amazing to witness the rabbis arguing about who is 'in' and who is 'out'.  Today, our rabbis continue the same arguments.  And all of this is a scrap of memory, a testament to the stratifications that have long ago become meaningless.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Ketubot 24: Collusion or ritual matters? and How does he prove that he's a Kohen?

Carrying on from yesterday's discussion, today's daf begins with commentary on why different case examples are provided.  The rabbis note a concern regarding women colluding and providing misleading testimony.  They also consider how the case of men of unknown lineage who claim that they are priests has different implications for purposes of finances and of ritual.  Rabbi Yehuda and the rabbis disagree about this.  The Gemara attempts to deconstruct the difference between their arguments.

The Gemara compares this case to that of two men bringing produce to a town on their donkeys.  If the first to arrive praises his colleague's produce and diminishes his own (ex. my produce is fresh and still moist while his is dry; my produce is not tithed while his is demai, doubtfully tithed), he is not believed.  The rabbis are said to be in collusion with each other; at the next town they will switch roles.  While there is suspicion of collusion, the rabbis rule leniently in these cases.

Another case is introduced regarding ritual purity.  If a potter has left his vessels on their own and he leaves for a drink of water, those pots might be touched by passersby, for the pots are close to the public domain.  

The Gemara wonders what Rabbi Yehuda and the rabbis are disagreeing about.  Is it about collusion?  Or is it about whether one who eats teruma is permitted to be 'elevated' to the full status of priest, ie. permitted to marry a kohenet, etc.  The Gemara goes on to ask a number of questions about the limitations on one who calls himself a priest.  Can a person who signs a document as a priest allowed to use that as proof of his priestly lineage?  Can a person who raises his hands in the priestly benediction  automatically understood to have priestly lineage?  No, we learn, these priestly actions do not prove priestly lineage.

Our daf ends with a number of possible explanations as to why the lineages of these priests are questioned to such a degree.  The rabbi cite a number of different concerns.  Primary is the notion of presumptive status.  Rabbi Yosei reminds us that the authority of presumptive status is great.  These men were of unknown lineage, and that outweighs their behaviour - including performing the priestly benediction.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Ketubot 23: Women as captives with and without witnesses

The rabbis dig into women who claim that they were divorced.  It seems that these women either had no get to prove their marital status.  The rabbis look at how to weigh the importance of witness testimony.  One witness versus two witnesses; those who agree with the woman's claim versus those who disagree.  

Similarly, the rabbis question responses to women who claim that the were held captive but that they were not raped; they are 'pure'.  One of the examples provided tells of Shmuel's daughters who were held captive and claimed that they were pure, each testifying on behalf of the other.  It is interesting that women's testimony is counted in this circumstance.  Usually, only men are permitted to testify.  In this case these daughters are said to have "made themselves unappealing" to their captors.  They are believed.  The Gemara walks us through what might have happened if witnesses claimed that they saw the women violated.  The rabbis also consider the women use of a migo, where they did not have to say that they were taken captive in the first place, which lends credibility to their claims that they were not violated.  

Why go to such lengths to determine women's credibility?  The rabbis are concerned that a woman will marry a prohibited partner and that children will be born as mamzerim or otherwise distanced from the community.  These laws are about maintaining the societal structure that seems to reflect the rabbi's interpretation of G-d's will.

Amud (b) begins with a new Mishna that touches upon women's complicated relationships with other women.  We learn that if two women are taken captive and both claim that they are 'pure' but the other has been violated, neither is deemed credible.  But if both women claim that the other woman is 'pure' but that they themselves were violated, they are believed.  

The Gemara goes into significant detail regarding which woman might claim something about herself or about another woman.  The rabbis also consider what to do with the testimony of any other witnesses who might have been present.  We learn that the Sages are lenient regarding women who have been taken captive.  This translates to mean that only one witness is enough to bolster a woman's claim of 'purity' - even if that witness is a slave or a maidservant.   

Our daf ends with a Mishna that brings men into this equation.  If two men claim that they are both kohenim, but both have unknown lineage, neither ids deemed credible.  But if each names the other as a priest, they are both deemed credible.  The rabbis then argue about whether or not a man can claim priesthood based on the testimony of only one witness.  They consider the financial stake of this male version of questioning, returning to the question of men in dispute over a field.  However, the future of the descendants of these men are at stake, as well. 

Monday, 23 February 2015

Ketubot 22: When is a Woman Credible?

While today's daf digs deep into the halachot regarding witnesses, the depth was overshadowed by the topic at hand.  After finishing their conversation regarding judges where something goes awry, the rabbis focus on a new Mishna on when to trust a woman's word.  It teaches that if a woman says that she was married but now is divorced, she is deemed credible.  This is because the mouth that prohibited (by saying that she was married, she puts herself at a disadvantage) is the same mouth that permitted (by saying that she is a divorcee and now allowed to marry all but Kohanim).  But if one witness says only that she is married, the woman is not deemed credible. 

Similarly, if a woman claims that she was a captive but not raped, she is deemed credible because the mouth that prohibits (by admitting that she was a captive) is the same mouth that permits (by saying that she is 'pure' and thus of higher status; able to marry).  If witnesses say that she was in fact raped, then the woman is not deemed credible.  But if those witnesses speak up after this woman has married, the woman does not need to leave her husband.

Deuteronomy 22:16 is utilized to explain this slightly differently.  In that verse, a man is said to have married off his daughter to 'this' man.  By marrying her, the rabbis understand that she was prohibited from being with any other man.  By referring to 'this' man, the rabbis explain that she was permitted to that one man.  Thus the same mouth that prohibits is the mouth that forbids.

The Gemara begins in earnest with an innocent enough interpretation.  The rabbis say that a woman has been deemed credible because she offers a reason for her claim.  However, this is immediately countered.

Shmuel asks what to do if a woman claims that she is ritually impure (menstruating) and then that she is pure.  Does one statement have to immediately follow the next for her to be deemed credible? Although the rabbis rule leniently, and although Shmuel learned this passage forty times to be sure that he remembered it, he behaved stringently when this happened to him.

A woman might provide a rationale like, "I was too tired for intercourse and so I claimed to be menstruating".  Or a woman might explain that she did not sip from the cup of wine after the bracha because her sister-in-law across the table, in the state of niddah, and she did not wish to embarrass her sister-in-law by accentuating the fact that she was the only one not taking the wine.

The rabbis move on to a discussion of what to do if a woman claims that her husband has died and witnesses dispute her claim.  The Gemara goes in and out and around.  What about the requirement of two witnesses?  What about just one witness?  What about the credibility of the witnesses?  Would a woman actually lie to her husband's face?  Would she stop herself from lying if she had found witnesses to back her claim?  What about divorce - what if she did not have the get with her?  

What is difficult to muster is the fact that women had such little currency in the times of the Talmud.  They did not count as witnesses - and if they were allowed to speak for themselves, almost anyone else's claim would supercede her own.  If a woman knew that her husband had died - or if she knew that she was divorced, it was not enough to simply say so and move on with her life.  Without external proof, a woman's word was worth less than a thirteen year-old boy's..  

Ketubot 21: Judges as Witnesses: Conflict of Interest?

Today's daf is detailed and legal in nature.  Without going into those details, the overview of the rabbis' discussions is enough to fill today's blog!  And today's entry is my 600th note on daf yomi... I will continue to learn; to attempt to fit together this puzzle.

If a person testifies that a signature on a document is indeed his/her own, is s/he simultaneously testifying to the monetary agreement written into the contract?  And if one witness dies, can the surviving witness testify to the validity of both signatures?  Can a witness sign a shard of earthenware in the court to demonstrate the validity of his signature?  In a pinch, can a judge and one witness combine their testimony so that the case can move forward?  IF there are three judges, can the third judge ratify the testimony of the other two judges if they affirm that they recognize a witness' signature?

Discussing whether or not a witness can become a judge, the rabbis turn to sighting the new moon as a case example.  Generally two witnesses must sight the new moon before they report their sighting to a panel of three judges who will then sanctify the new month.  What if those who see the new moon are judges?  Are they allowed to skip a step and sanctify the new month themselves?  The rabbis are acutely aware of the impression of impropriety that might result from allowing a judge to be a witness.  How can that judge be questioned like other witnesses? 

We end our daf with the example of three judges, where one of those judges is challenged.  The rabbis want to ensure that there is no conflict of interest; if the rabbis have already made their judgement when they entertain the challenge, they might not want to taint one of their own judgements by questioning the rabbi at that time.

In this very legally-based daf, it is clear that the rabbis are concerned about their power.  They mention how important it is that orphans get their inheritance, for example, and that halachot do not hinder that process.  

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Ketubot 20: Handwriting Witnesses; How to Remember

Part of today's daf is challenging in its legal referencing.  Another part of today's daf is less legally complex.  I won't pretend to understand all of the legal ramifications of today's daf.  However, I can give an overview, and I can share the meaning that I derive from the text.

As in almost all legal affairs, two witnesses are required to lend credibility to a claim.  When arguing over the validity of a legal document, two witnesses must agree that a handwritten signature was not forged, coerced, or in any way invalidating the document.  Those signatures were often signatures of witnesses - the rabbis use the example of a contract describing money lent from the lender to the borrower.

The legal complexity arises when those witnesses have died, when either the witness or one of the parties might have been incapacitated, or when different pairs of witnesses contradict each other regarding their memories of the document being signed.  Our daf describes detailed accounts of different rabbis' concerns.  Each possibility seems to open up a new set of possibilities.  Following these arguments proved itself too time consuming for me in this daily daf yomi context.

One of the rabbis' resulting conversations focuses on memory.  Witnesses are required to actually remember the signing (or other circumstances in question).  They are permitted to look at notes, but those notes must jog a real memory of the incident.  Sometimes witnesses can have their memories 'jogged' by others, but not by litigants themselves.  Torah scholars, however, are permitted greater leniencies than ordinary people when it comes to retrieving memories. Our notes explain that this because Torah scholars would never degrade the court by succumbing to a bias or lying about a memory.

We are presented with an example of how people remember things.  The rabbis are concerned about potential ritual impurity in piles of dirt that are outside of a city.  Women might bury miscarried babies there; people might bury limbs that have fallen off due to sickness there.  But wouldn't people remember if something that imparts ritual impurity had been buried there in the recent past?  The rabbis guess that unless something was buried secretly, people would learn about these incidents and would remember them even up to sixty years after the burials.   This could happen even in Eretz Yisrael, which is supposed to retain ritual purity.

While Rabbi Chisda argues that people might remember up to sixty years after an event, the Gemara disagrees.  People might remember an incident forever.  Thus there is no time limit on how long a witness's memories are considered to be valid.

We end today's daf with a new Mishna that turns back to handwriting.  Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says that if one witness testifies that his own signature and the other's handwriting are valid - and the other witness testifies that his own signature and the other's handwriting are valid, then they are deemed to be credible.  But if each witness only vouches for the validity of his own signature, two other witnesses are required to validate their handwriting.  The rabbis disagree.  They claim that one person vouching for his own signature is enough; two witnesses are not required in this case.

Of particular interest to me was the example of bar Shatya which has come up in the past.  He was said to have been both sane and insane in a cyclical manner throughout his life.  When witnesses were able to verify his sanity, his decisions stood up in court.  When witnesses told that he was not sane during a particular transaction, some of his decisions were reversed (the sale of land; not that of movable property).

It is fascinating to understand how our Sages understood the notion of sanity.  Clearly, people have struggled with mental illness and wellness for thousands of years.  Based on these texts, it seems that unusual behaviour was seen as a part of the continuum of human experience, just like ambiguous sexual identity or going through a period of ritual impurity.  The shame that we attach to these 'differences' is not recorded in Talmudic texts.  However, that does not mean that people in these circumstances were not stigmatized.  But the difference between ancient and modern descriptions of mental health is striking.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Ketubot 18: Credibility, Oaths, Being Compelled to Transgress

Today's daf is the shortest I can recall.  Amud (a) completes yesterday's conversation regarding one who is in debt to another person who has deceased.  Amud (b) introduces a new Mishna, this time regarding the credibility of a signature.

The rabbis find a person credible if he uses a migo.  For example, if a person tells the son of a deceased person that he owed the father 100 dinars but he had already paid back 50, he is believed.  Why?  This man could have said that he owed nothing at all. The son would not have known the difference, as he did not know his father's accounts.  Thus the man in debt is believed.  The rabbis debate whether or not he is even required to state an oath.

They liken this sort of admission to the act of returning a lost object.  It is not necessary to do this - no-one other than oneself and G-d would know about the transgressions - but a person does the right thing anyway.

What about those three categories of witnesses that are treated differently from other men: minors, 'imbeciles' and 'deaf-mutes'?   Are they required to take oaths?  Are their oaths even credible?  What about partial oaths?  The rabbis consider whether a person would actually be so insolent as to lie to the face of a person to whom they owe money.  As always, I find it fascinating that people in power would offer people in dire straights the opportunity to take an oath. And lie.  But the notion of the 'fear of G-d' seems to be incredibly powerful.

Our new Mishna is all about handwriting on contracts.  If a person's signature is present and that person agrees that it is his handwriting but he was coerced, a minor, or disqualified (for example, a relative) as a witness, he is believed. But if witnesses say that the signature was collected legally, then the original witness is not deemed to be credible.

The Gemara teaches two possible reasons that a person might be compelled to sign a document.  First, he might be threatened with his life.  In this case, the rabbis suggest that it is appropriate to sign the document.  We know that saving a life, even one's own life, permits us to transgress laws.  On the other hand, the second reason for signing under duress would be because of a monetary threat.  This type of threat does not permit a person to transgress halachot.  If a person says that he signed under duress and it is learned that he was threatened monetarily, he is not deemed to be credible at all.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Ketubot 17: Complimenting the Kallah, Entertaining & Honouring the Couple, Presumptive Ownership of a Field

Do we always compliment a kallah, calling her fair and attractive?  What if she lame or blind, the rabbis argue?  Beit Shammai say that we should always speak the truth.  Beit Hillel argue that we do not diminish a man's acquisition; we enhance his new bride in his eyes.  In different parts of the land, the rabbis sing to the kallah that even without rouge, eye shadow or braided hair, she is a graceful ibex.  The same compliment was sung to Rabbi Zeira upon his ordination.

The rabbis share some of the greetings and standard sayings that were used in different situations.  They also note that the tradition of dancing before the kallah and chatan, entertaining them, goes all the way back to Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak, who would dance on three myrtle branches that were juggled for the couple.  And although Rav Aha suggests that he could carry the kallah on his shoulders, our Sages agree that men should not even look at the kallah's face - she is, after all, a married woman.

Because honouring life takes precedence over honouring death, the Rabbis believe that it would be logical to interrupt a funeral procession for a wedding procession.  However, what if the king's procession was at the place of a wedding procession?  We are obligated to choose kings and to honour them.  The rabbis argue whether King Agrippa did the right thing when he interrupted his own procession for a wedding procession.  They decide that it would have been inappropriate to dishonour the king in this way, and so the processions in question must have met at an intersection where there was a way to maintain the king's honour.

The rabbis take on how different people are honoured in death. A regular person, one who studies some Torah, a Torah scholar, etc. Interestingly, they note that a regular person requires only ten people.  So how many people should be at a woman's funeral?  The rabbis assume that she is not a scholar, so is ten people the appropriate number?  But women are not obligated to learn Torah; should women not be honoured with 600,000 attendees - the same number as a Torah scholar who has learned both Bible and Mishna?

The Gemara returns to the question of how we determine whether a kallah was a widow or a virgin at the time of her wedding.  What exactly is the hinnuma?  Certainly it demonstrates virginity, but what is it?  A veil, a canopy of myrtle?   Certainly it denotes virginity.  What about grains?  How might grains be a certain sign of virginity?  What if no-one throws grains; should the virgin kallah suffer for her community's actions?  The rabbis suggest that there were two different dishes prepared with grains for weddings: fresh for virgins and toasted for widows, etc.

Our daf ends with a long discussion about the Mishna's statement about one who claims he bought his field from the claimant's father.  Witnesses could denounce this assertion.  The rabbis wonder people establish presumptive ownership.  In ordinary circumstances, one can claim that land belongs to him if he has maintained and benefited from the land for at least three years. But if the land is willed to a minor, the rabbis appreciate that this boy might not understand his father's obligations or ownership, and thus the rabbis are lenient regarding time in such circumstances.  My assumption is that when the rabbis speak of 'age of majority' they are referring to age thirteen, the religious age of majority.  Could a thirteen year old child actually argue in the courts with a grown person who was living on his father's land?  

The rabbis note that a person who is fleeing his land because of debts is able to file a protest regarding the land from afar.   But if he is fleeing because his life has been threatened, he cannot protest from abroad.  Thus he has no presumptive claim on the land.  The rabbis note that there are jurisdictional considerations, as well.  The person claiming presumptive ownership must be in the same 'country' as his opponent.  That is, Both must be either in Judea, the Galilee or Transjordan.  The rabbis decide that as long as communication is reasonable between the two countries in question, the protest of a previous owner of the field (lodged against the current occupier) negates any other claim to presumptive ownership.  In a nutshell, the halacha protects landowners who have had to leave their land from claims by occupiers that the land is now theirs.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Ketubot 16: The Migo, Measuring Credibility, No Shame

A new Mishna that began in daf 15 tells us about a widow or divorcee who is claiming her ketubah.  She tells her husband that she was a virgin when they married, worth 200 dinars, where he disagrees and says that the ketubah noted the value of 100 dinars.  Witnesses who saw her wearing a hinnouma, or wearing her hair uncovered, or who saw grains thrown at the wedding (all of these being practices at the wedding of a virgin) can claim this as credible proof that she was a virgin.

If one says that a field of questionable ownership belonged to someone's father and that he bought it from someone's father, he is considered credible  This is because he could have simply said that the field was his own; bringing up the purchase of the field from someone's father acknowledges that the field was at one time the father's possession.  It strengthens his rival's claim.  This adds credibility because it states a less advantageous position as a proof.  Such a halachic argument is called a migo.

Finally, the Mishna notes that sh'peh sh'asar, hu ha'peh sh'hitir, the mouth that forbade is the mouth that permitted.  However strong this migo is, the Mishna notes that witnesses to the father's land ownership will remove credibility from the current owner of the field.

What does all of this have to do with the kalah who is fighting to be believed that she was a virgin when she was married?  The Gemara begins with an examination of the certainty of the kalah and the chatan.  If one party is certain and the other is not, the person who is certain is believed.  If both parties are certain, however, witnesses may be required to settle the claim.

The rabbis go on to recount a number of situations where a migo is used to bolster a woman's credibility.  For example, a woman may have been secluded with a man and then questioned about the man she was with.  If she states that she did have intercourse but the man was a priest, she is believed.  She did not have to say that she had intercourse at all.  Adding that disadvantageous detail strengthens her claim that the man was of high status.

One of the other examples focuses on whether or not a woman was raped after she was betrothed but before she was married.  This type of case is reminiscent of today's courtrooms; women are believed based on nuance and circumstance more consistently than they are believed based on their stated experience of trauma.

The Gemara goes on to share a number of interesting details.  One of those details suggests that virgins (rather than women celebrating second weddings) attracted a good deal of attention in the community.  Another tells us that men might receive a receipt once they have paid out the agreed ketubah amount.  Otherwise, the ex-wife could use that ketubah in a second court and demand a second payment.  Another reminds us that the baraita preceding this Mishna tells that a woman had lost her ketubah.  This makes sense, for if the ketubah were available, it would state whether the amount promised was 200 or 100 dinars.  The rabbis discuss the meaning of the word 'lost' and question why the ketubah was not thought to be 'burned'.

Two other examples of proof of virginity are described.  Both would take place at the wedding.  First, a cos shel b'sorah, a cup of good tidings may have been passed around after the marriage was consummated and all was deemed to have gone well (ie. there was blood; there was no question of petach petua).  The cos was connected to the notion of teruma, where the first and best fruits were tithed for the priests.  Second, an open barrel of wine was passed before non-virgins while open barrels were passed before virgins.  This was offensive to the rabbis.  Why point out the non-virgins in this manner?  Just pass a closed barrel before the virgins!  But, others argue, a woman might claim that she was a virgin but the closed barrel was not passed before her because no-one could carry the barrel.

Amazing that the rabbis found only one part of that custom to be offensive.

Some dapim are filled with cultural rather than religious customs.  The rabbis do not use these customs to form halachot, but to better understand the needs of different communities.

There is no modesty around sex, particularly with relation to wedding celebrations.  The rabbis admit that they are celebrating both the kalah's virginity and the consummation of marriage.  On the one hand, this speaks to the rabbis' dedication to fulfilling the mitzvot.  On the other hand, the idea of flaunting a woman's virginity seem incredibly crass and bawdy.  Today's Judaism is influenced by the staid, more Christian notions of humility and shame.  Clearly, there was little shame in antiquity regarding the commanded path of sexual behaviour.  

Monday, 16 February 2015

Ketubot 15: Uncertainties, Majorities, "Equally Balanced", and Consequences

We are introduced to a number of principles in today's daf.  The first is rather far-reaching.  We first learn that the virgin girl who was raped when at the wagons in Tzippori claims that she did not know the man who raped her.  If at least half of the people living in Tzippori, her home, are Jewish of unflawed lineage, that is called a majority.  If at least half of the people who might pass by (in the place where she was raped) are Jewish of unflawed lineage, that is called a second majority.  Some rabbis believe that only one majority is required to deem the child fit to marry into the priesthood once it is born.  Other rabbis require two majorities.

A confounding factor related to this principle is the notion of whether something is "fixed" or "moving".  The population of Tzippori is considered to be fixed, while the population travelling by the wagons is considered to be moving.  Our Sages wonder whether a majority of a fixed population should take precedence over a majority in a moving population or vice versa.  They bring up the concept of "equally balanced", where we might erroneously assume that one factor would override other factors.  For example, one might not follow the majority principle if one group is equally balanced.

In this particular case, our notes explain that this woman's child would be deemed fit to marry into the priesthood as long as there were two majorities (the city and the passersby) of unflawed lineage.  The rabbis disagree about what to do if only one of these groups had such a majority.  Some say that she and her child could marry into the priesthood but only ab initio.  Others say that she and her daughter are forbidden to marry into the priesthood and must divorce if they have married in the meantime.

The rabbis use the example of another uncertainty.  If nine shops sold kosher meat and one did not, is meat considered to be kosher when a person cannot recall from which shop it was purchased?   And if the meat is found in a package on the street, can it be considered kosher because of the majority of fixed stores?

They ask similar questions around the uncertainty of a child's lineage.  If an infant is found on the road and the majority of people passing by and living in the town nearby are fit to marry into the priesthood, is this child considered fit?  Is this child considered to be Jewish at all?  The rabbis discuss this at length, deciding that the child can be considered Jewish if a majority of Jews are present.  However, whoever finds this baby is legally required to save its life, regardless of its religion, even if Shabbat must be desecrated to do so.  

Why does it matter if the baby is Jewish?  To know what can be fed to the baby - non-Kosher food is permitted to a Gentile baby.  Why does it matter if the baby is Jewish? To know that lost property should be returned to the baby.*  As well, later rulings on property (ex. an ox who gored someone) are different for Jews and Gentiles.

Two more queries regarding uncertainties.  The first: if there are nine creeping animals (many of which are forbidden to touch, particularly if those animals have died) and one frog, what is the status of a person who touches something but doesn't know which creature s/he has touched?  Is s/he tahor or tamei?

If a person throws a stone into a crowd, not intending to hurt anyone, and a person is killed, what is the consequence?  Usually, a person is liable to death for killing a Jew.  There are different consequences for killing a Gentile.  But if the original murder is accidental, there is an exemption to the call for capital punishment.  Should this person be exempt?  What difference might it make if there were nine Gentiles and one Jew in the crowd?  What if there were equal numbers of Jews and Gentiles in the crowd?  If there is what is considered a majority of Jews, does it matter?  The rabbis remind us that when it comes to matters of life and death, we rule leniently. 

We end today's daf with Perek II which begins with a new Mishna.  Due to the jam-packed nature of today's daf, we'll leave that for tomorrow.

I know that I am beginning to understand just the surface of the complexity of these principles and conversations, and this is my second time through masechet Ketubot.  The principles regarding majorities and how they relate to what is deemed "equally balanced" regarding uncertainties is still fuzzy.  Hopefully further learning will help to clarify these concepts.

*I cannot help but wonder if these lost items might refer to the baby's parents.  If the parents return one day and the baby is deemed Jewish, the parents would be permitted to return to the baby, according to my reading.  If the baby were Gentile, the new family could claim the baby as their own.  This is NOT halacha, but conjecture.

Ketubot 14: Will their child be fit? The pros and cons of societal delineations

The Gemara turns to face a question regarding a betrothed couple.  If the woman becomes pregnant, and both she and her fiance claim that he is the father, what should be done?  The question suggests that this couple might be lying and that a child who should be classified as a mamzer is going to be integrated into the larger Jewish community.  

To begin answering this question, the Gemara turns to what could be a parallel case.  In this situation, a widow has married and had children with a priest who then dies.  That priest was of uncertain lineage, known as a chalal.  What is the status of the child in that case?  How might that help the rabbis better understand their reasoning regarding the betrothed couple expecting a child?

The conversations that ensue cover many considerations:

  • whether or not the woman might investigate the lineage of her husband/husband-to-be
  • how many uncertainties are involved in each situation
  • the notion of a widow of a chalal as an 'issa', where their child would be like dough: of many ingredients
  • how fitness might be determined regarding the child of a Gibeonite or a mamzer
  • how silence might help or hinder one accused of being a mamzer
  • how silence might help or hinder one accused of being a chalal
The daf ends with a new Mishna.  It is short, but certainly powerful: A young girl descends to collect water where she is raped by an unknown person. According to Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri, she is permitted to marry a priest as long as the majority of young women in her town marry into the priesthood.  The Gemara begins with Rabban Gamliel, who adds to the leniency: even if the majority of people in her town are from flawed lineage, she is still allowed to marry a priest.  Of course, Rabbi Yahoshua disagrees.  Certainly we will learn more about the reasoning of these rabbis in tomorrow's daf.

As I have often noted, our Sages were reformulating a society that relied on clear boundaries.  The lines between right and wrong, fit and flawed, tahor and tamei, permitted and forbidden - were analyzed down to the millimetre.  In today's daf, we are presented with a betrothed couple who tell the Sages that they had intercourse and that she is pregnant.  In our times, what harm could come from simply believing them without debate?  But in the times of the Talmud, our Sages were attempting to maintain lines of purity.  If they could avoid uncertainty, questionable status, the possible integration of a chalal or a mamzer, they would do so.

Of course, even ultra-Orhodox families do not maintain pure lines of descent any longer.  Anyone could call oneself a Kohen, a priest.  But in the liberal Jewish world, we see an extreme version of 'diluted' lineage.  Are we worse for those leniencies?  Certainly we are further away from the interpretations and opinions of our Sages.  But are we truly further away from G-d's description of the Jewish people?  Without a Temple (and according to me, thank heaven for that - we would be arguing about animal sacrifice right now), do we truly require these strict, stringent rules to understand our identities?

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Ketubot 13: Rabbi Yahoshua does not conduct his life based on her words

Today's daf introduces two Mishnayot with describing three distinct cases.  In each of these cases, the wife is being accused of something; she claims her innocence.  Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Eliezer agree that she is credible.  However, Rabbi Yahoshua says that we do not conduct our lives based upon her mouth.  Rather, she retains her presumptive status until she can provide proof of her claim.

Where does Rabbi Yahoshua's repeated comment come from?  It seems to be misogynistic.  Women's words do not help us create our rulings.  A note in Steinsaltz helped me to understand perhaps another level of meaning.  Formal principles and informal guidelines determined how the rabbis argues and decided upon halachot.  One person is almost never permitted to act as a witness.  

Just to add another layer to that point, a woman is not permitted to be a legal witness as she does not truly have the status of person in Talmudic times.  She is the acquisition of her father or the acquisition of her husband.  She is to be provided for and protected.  But if she crosses certain lines, she is on her own.

The first Mishna is concerned with the case of a woman who is accused of having a petach petuach.  She claims that this is true but that she was damaged by wood (a euphemism for having broken one's hymen accidentally with something other than flesh).  Rabbi Yahoshua claims that she maintains her preemptive status of having been "trampled by a man".  The Gemara considers what her ketubah should be worth in these different circumstances.  The rabbis question why she did not tell him in advance of their marriage that she had been 'damaged'.  Also, the rabbis consider whether or not her claim is supported by a migo, a claim that brings her less fortune than an alternative claim.
 The second Mishna offers two cases for examination.  The first tells of a woman who is seen speaking with an unknown man.  When asked, she states his name and that he is a priest.  While Rabbi Eliezer and Rabban Gamliel believe her, Rabbi Yochanan reminds the rabbis not to use the words of her mouth to conduct their lives.  He says that she retains the preemptive status of one who has had intercourse with a Gibeonite or a mamzer until she brings proof of her claim.  

The second case tells of a pregnant woman who is asked about the father of the fetus.  If she states his name and that he is a priest, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabban Gamliel believe her.  Rabbi Yochanan does not wish for his life to be conducted by the words of her mouth.  He says that she retains the preemptive status of a woman who conceived with a Gibeonite or a mamzer.The Gemara discusses this mishna at length.  First, the rabbis note that she was speaking with a man.  How does this constitute intercourse?  The Gemara refers to the euphemism stated in Proverbs 30:20:  She eats and wipes her mouth and says, "I have done no wickedness".  

The rabbis then wonder why these two cases are stated together; what is the novelty that suggests the need for two different cases?  Their answers are based upon the status of the child once it is born.  It might retain the status of its mother; its entire life might be affected by this ruling.  The rabbis consider these women's statements and the possible consequences that they face.  
  • They discuss appropriate punishments for seclusion: usually, a man and woman are both flogged for seclusion.  The woman is not barred from her husband's home, however. Why is this case different? 
  • Next, the rabbis remind us that these women are claiming that the men in question were priests.  If they were living in a city where lineage was clear, shouldn't it be easy to believe her claim?  
  • Further on, the rabbis look at what difference it might make if the woman had been taken captive.  Looking at the halachot regarding captivity, the rabbis note assumptions that are made regarding captors' status and sexual behaviour.  
  • They end the daf with questions about the status of the child in this situation.  Is s/he a mamzer? A shtuki, one whose father is unknown? How might this knowledge change rabbis' understanding about the legal processes facing these women?
It is clear that the words of women are not generally trusted by the rabbis.  Was this because of women's status at the time, as acquisitions rather than as those with the full rights of men?  Was this because women had done things that led the rabbis to mistrust them?  Was this a simple lack of communication between women and men?  We continue to face legal situations where voices are not heard or believed; however, these voices are those of both women and men.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Ketubot 11: Those of lesser value; determining credibility; complacency

Our first Mishna tells us that the ketubot of a number of women should specify that they are entitled to 200 dinars (like all adult women who are virgins) should the marriage end.  These women are not obvious choices: converts, ransomed captives, and freed maidservants who went through these changes in status before the age of three years and one day.  The rabbis use much of today's daf to argue about the implications of this notion.

To begin, the Gemara notes that one can act in someone's interest in their absence but one cannot act against someone's interest in their absence.  Those who have converted to Judaism as minors would be asked to confirm their conversion upon reaching maturity.  But would they choose to do this?  What difference might it make if their parents were Jewish, if only one parent was Jewish, etc.?  The rabbis believe that it would be in a minor's interest to convert to Judaism or to actively choose to stay Jewish.  However, a grown person would be more interested in holding on to her life of licentiousness.  Disturbingly, the rape of one of these young women would lower her value in the ketubot from 200 to 100 dinars.  Just like all Jewish women.

The rabbis are clear: they wanted men to continue to find their wives desirable.  They knew that their rulings could either encourage or discourage men to this end.  

Our second Mishna is more disturbing.  First, it teaches that girls under the age of three years and one day who have intercourse with an adult man, boys under the age of nine years who have intercourse with an adult woman and women whose hymens have been damaged due to 'wood' (foreign objects) are all given ketubot worth 200 dinars.  Second, it teaches that chalutzim, divorced women, and widows have ketubot worth 100 dinars.   This second set of women are not subject to claims regarding their virginity.

The rabbis wonder whether there is a difference between losing one's virginity because of an accidental fall and losing one's virginity due to an act of intimacy.

It is very disturbing to note that a man who has intercourse with a girl younger than three has done... nothing; it is as if one poked an eye.  One tear will be replaced by the next and then the next.  This toddler's hymen will grow right back.  And thus he has done nothing.  Nothing.

Similarly, a boy who has intercourse with a woman renders her to be as if she was injured by a foreign object.  Nothing has changed for him nor for his status.  The action of his penis is what affects change in a grown woman's status.  And the sexual abuse of a boy is not mentioned at all.

The Gemara focuses on what action might have been done to a woman.  The rabbis want to know whether or not the chatan was aware of his kallah's condition before he betrothed her?  If there is a dispute, she may be deemed credible.  But amount of her ketubah might be changed.  

This valuing of human life - of women's lives - is uncomfortable, frightening, even disgusting to read.  As this is the second time that I am learning Ketubot, it is somehow easier to stomach the rabbi's casual conversations about the rape of children and the undervaluing of traumatized women.  Is this how our ancestors have understood women?  Through an increasingly desensitized lens; with complacency and acceptance?   

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Ketubot 10: Proving virginity after the fact; The power of dates

A number of interesting points raised in today's daf incude:

  • men won't claim a petach petuach, an open opening, lightly after preparing/paying for the three day wedding feast
  • on payment of the Ketuba:
    • rabbis debate whether women should be given 200 dinars as it is valued in different places or in the place where it was promised
    • women are given the least valuable property unless it is contracted otherwise (which is standard in modern ketubot)
    • 100 dinars offered to a widow may be Torah law or may be rabbinic law - depends upon whom we ask
  • a man who claims petach petuach is only credible if he was previously married
    • if he is single, he doesn't know what intercourse feels like and he is hurting his wife's name
    • he may have used some force and not noticed the hymen
    • if he is single and claims to know what a petach petuach feels like, then he has been with prostitutes and he is subject to lashes
  • when a woman claims that she is a virgin, the rabbis can subject her to demeaning tests
    • if she sits on a barrel of wine, a woman who has had intercourse will breathe out alcoholic vapour
    • if she claims she is from a family like that of the Dorketi, she may not bleed nor menstruate, resulting in difficulties with conception
    • if she (or the chatan) were malnourished or otherwise ill, they might not bleed or be able to have intercourse
I have a logical question related to these virginity tests: if a man has intercourse with his kalah and he claims a petach petuach, that means that he completed the act of intercourse.  Thus any test after that point in time will concur -- she is no longer a virgin.  She might never bleed again; her hymen might not ever stretch or break again.  How could any test affirm her previous virginity after that first act of intercourse?

We begin a new, short Mishna.  It teaches that a virgin kalah is promised 200 dinars while a widow is promised 100 dinars.  However, a virgin who is also a widow, a divorcee or a chalutza (one who was released from yibum, levirate marriage), is promised 200 dinars.  This is because her virginity is still worth that higher price.

The Gemara analyzes in detail the etymology and the possible meanings of a number of words in the Mishna, Of interest to me is a conversation about dates as a powerful food.  We are told not to make halachic rulings after eating dates or drinking (one quarter log of) alcohol.  The rabbis believe that dates are considered to be filling and also a laxative.  We learn that dates are good to eat in the morning and evening, but not in the afternoon.  When eaten at noon, however, dates have the power to curb negative thoughts, intestinal discomfort, and hemorrhoids.  They warm, satiate, loosen the bowels, and strengthen, but they do not pamper.  And close to the end of today's daf, we learn one of Abaye's "mother's" pieces of advice: dates eaten before bread are like an axe to a palm leaf.  Dates eaten after eating bread are like a bolt on a door.  

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Ketubot 9: Petach Patuach... What to do, what to do

And the unpalatable reality of Ketubot begins to take hold as we move into daf 9.

We begin with the chatan who finds a petach patuach, an "unobstructed opening" when consummating marriage with his kalah.  Either he believes that the vaginal opening is too... open, or there is no blood.   Is he believed?

The Gemara walks through the options.  If his claim is that this happened since their betrothal, when she was supposed to be faithful to him, then he believes that she had consensual intercourse or that she was raped.  If she was raped, she is still permitted to her husband.  However, if this chatan is a Priest, she is forbidden to him whether it was consensual intercourse or rape.  

Was she warned?  The Gemara looks at similar cases that require warning.  For example, if a man accuses his wife of having an affair with another man, she is only forbidden to him if there was jealous warning and seclusion.  This means that a man would specifically forbid his wife from secluding herself with a particular man and she did so regardless.  Only one witness is required to verify such a case.  

The rabbis speak of King David and Batsheva - they had intercourse when she was married to another man.  Why was she not forbidden to both her husband and King David?  The rabbis decide that King David must have raped her, for she is allowed to him if she did not give her consent.  Yes, that's right, she is allowed to him if she is raped, but if she consents, she is forbidden to him.  

To cope with the potential less-than-ideal behaviour of King David, the rabbis suggest that all men who went to war in the time of King David presented their wives with a conditional get, divorce contract.  Thus Batsheva was in fact divorced from her husband Uriah when she was with King David.  But even the rabbis note that King David should have waited for confirmation of Uriah's death before betrothing Batsheva.  

A reminder - there are no witnesses to the act that was discussed initially; usually two witnesses of a certain status (ie. male, able bodied, over age 12, etc.) are required to verify a claim like this one.  But the rabbis seem to think that one witness, the chatan himself, is similar to other situations where only one witness is required.  Yet this chatan might not be the best judge of whether or not there is a 'petach patuach'; whether a lack of blood signifies previous intercourse.

There is also mention made of a girl who was originally betrothed under the age of three years and one day.  Certainly, accusing her of having a 'petach patuach' would be misguided.  Why, the rabbis claim that intercourse with a baby under the age of three years does not affect the hymen; it grows back.  Thus this early intercourse is not affecting her current state.

How disturbing this is to learn and to think about.  We are speaking about the rape of children; in modern times, such a concept is met with revulsion rather than cool logic.  Ketubot is a painful masechet so far.

Amud (b) delves into the absence of blood and 'petach petuach' as very different claims.  Although their tenuous understanding of women's physiology cannot be understated, they do recognize that the hymen is not a one-size-fits-all.  Women might have a large opening in their hymens.  Kallot might not bleed during their first acts of intercourse.  However, while the chatan could easily see whether or not blood was present, he might not have any understanding of a 'petach petuach'.   How can he compare? In the halacha, the rabbis agree that a chatan is not believed if he claims petach petuach.  If the kallah is under the age of twelve and a half, however, he is believed.  Further, he is believed if he claims that there was no blood and malnutrition, illness, or a genetic anomoly are absent.  

Our daf ends with a comparison of families in Judea and in Galilee.  In Judea, seclusion of the couple is allowed following betrothal and before the wedding.  Thus if the chatan claims a lack of blood or 'petach patuach' on the wedding night, it is assumed that he was the cause.  In fact, the kallah would inform family members about blood or a ruptured hymen at the time to ensure that there were no claims of infidelity on the wedding night.   In the Galilee, however, there is no opportunity for seclusion and thus it is easier to claim that the young woman has had intercourse with a man other than the groom.

All of this to understand why a the couple marries on Wednesday and not Thursday... let's keep the chatan angry so that he can take his new wife to court on Thursday morning!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Ketubot 8: Sheva Brachot, Mourners, and The Secret

Lots to describe... how can today's daf be summarized and considered succinctly?  I'll give it a go.

We begin with a discussion of the sheva brachot, the prayers that are recited at a number of different times throughout the wedding and celebration.  The rabbis walk through each of the seven blessings and wonder whether there are truly seven blessings.  Does this one count as two blessings?  Do we always recite that one?

One of those discussions centres on our gratitude for having been created as human beings.  The rabbis look to Bereshit, Genesis to find the appropriate blessings.  But is there one creation story or two? In Bereshit we are told that "G-d created man in his own image" (1:27), but later we learn that "Male and female he created them" (5:2).   Was there one act of creation or two, the rabbis wonder.  Did G-d change G-d's mind about how to create human beings?  Our notes share some of the rabbis' other ideas: did the first woman run away and so a second woman had to be created?  And so which prayer or prayers do we include in the sheva brachot?

Next the rabbis question the inclusion of a prayer that states, "... in Whose dwelling is joy".  This is part of the singing before the birkat hamazon, the blessing after meals.  If the sheva brachot were not recited because all present at one of the meals after the wedding had celebrated the occasion already, this prayer is added.  The Gemara gives us further details about the inclusion of this prayer - is it said from the time of betrothal?  What about when a bris, a circumcision is taking place?  Certainly the parents are not feeling joy as their baby experiences pain.   And what if mourners are part of a minyan?  Do they recite this prayer, too?

From this discussion the Gemara tells us of parents in mourning for their children.  In particular, Reish Lakish sent his disseminator to Rav Chiyya bar Abba, who was the teacher for his children.  Rav Chiyya had lost a child.  The disseminator, Rabbi Yehuda bar Nachmani, stated one thing after another.  At first, his comments spoke of G-d's wrath taken out against the children due to the sins of their parents.  This just makes Rav Chiyya feel worse, Reish Lakish told his disseminator.  Try again.  Rabbi Yehuda bar Nachmani then speaks of mourners, those who comfort mourners, and the entire Jewish people.

I stop and notice this sensitivity toward a parent who has lost a child; likely one of the worst things that a person can experience.  We could choose to push those mourners toward recognizing G-d's glorious majesty, as we do when we say the kaddish,   Or we could speak of G-d having G-d's reasons, perhaps punishing parents by hurting children.  Reish Lakish explores those options but he also suggests something much more compassionate.  We do not have to pretend that we know what G-d does and why.  Instead we can remind people that G-d comforts, that we are surrounded by death, that sometimes righteous people suffer.  

And then the rabbis discuss alcohol.  Specifically, are we supposed to encourage the mourner to drink? Drunkeness can provide comfort in the most trying times.  Ulla teaches that we have three glasses before the meal to help the mourner regain an appetite; three glasses during the meal to help with the intestines, and four cups after the meal to assist with digestion and disinhibition, which is thought to be important for a mourner.  Each cup corresponds to a blessing in the birkat hamazon, too.   

A number of commentaries are quite critical of these instructions.  Ten cups is the maximum number allowed, we are told.  One small cup with meal is enough.  In fact, they should be careful to not get the mourner drunk.  Clearly our rabbis are not comfortable with this discussion and its leanings.  A healthy fear of alcohol is important.  However, why do the rabbis that follow the times of our Sages feel strongly enough about this particular halacha to challenge it so forcefully?

Finally, we learn about the gift given to the community by Rabban Gamiliel.  The connection is through four blessings added to other blessings said by the mourners.  These blessings were for those who attended to the burial, those who lead the city and allow the poor to be buried, the destruction of the Temple, and for Rabban Gamliel.  Why Rabban Gamiliel?

 Upon seeing that people were upset about the exorbitant cost of burials and funerals, he instructed others to wrap him in a simple, rough linen cloth to be buried.  At less that one zuz, this shroud could be accessed by almost anyone.  Such a radical move - set by his own example - was highly respected by the Jewish people.  

One quick note: we are also presented with a great quotation today.  It tells us not to open our mouths for satan to climb in.  Our notes suggest that ancient Jews believed that we could draw Satan to us just by mentioning something bad. Whether or not we believe in that concept, it has gained tremendous notoriety in recent days through books like "the Secret" and other philosophies that glorify individual control.  If we speak negatively negativity will follow us.  If we speak what we want, that will come to us.  For me, this breaks down when I think about parts of the world where everyone is starving.  Do those parents save their children by thinking positive thoughts?  It can't hurt, but it can't create water where there is none, either.

Not as concise as I'd hoped, but finished.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Ketubot 7: Virgins on Shabbat; Widows; Groom's Benediction

Today's daf is somewhat more straightforward than the other dapim of Ketubot thus far.  There are only three major topics covered, and each is straightforward.  Well, each is incredibly complex, but I am able to summarize the concepts without terrible brain strain.

First, the rabbis continue to debate about whether or not a couple where the kalah is a virgin can consummate their marriage on Shabbat.  Is this not inflicting a wound; is this not creating pain on a day dedicated to joy and menucha?  Different rabbis tell each other about their hometowns and about places that they have visited.  What is permitted in those places?  Who aligns himself with whose rulings?  We learn in a not that the halacha is lenient: intercourse is permitted on Shabbat for this kalah and chatan.  But it is discouraged in some communities.

One of the delights of Talmud study is witnessing leaders struggle through difference.  The rabbis were all concerned with the same things people worry about today: continuity, meaning, compliance, influence, etc.  They made decisions not based on what they believed was G-d's will based on the texts, but what they believed was best for their communities based on what they knew, what they learned, and what they found in the text.  The rabbis were wise but they were just people.  And they were limited, but they were brilliant.  In the midst of reading about the acquisition of women through intercourse, it is a relief to bump into the humanness of our ancient leaders.

So far the discussion in Ketubot has referred to virgins.  But what of widows and widowers?  It seems that remarriage was relatively common in the ancient Jewish world.  On the surface, it would seem that widows are treated very poorly in comparison with virgin kallot: they were allowed only one day rather than three days of preparation; they were allowed only three days instead of one week of further celebration; their ketubot noted their worth at 100 instead of 200 zuzim; etc.  

Today's daf introduces the groom's benediction in relation to a widow bride.  He is to recite a slightly shorter benediction to his bride.  It is to be recited at the wedding canopy.  The way that the Gemara describes this practice suggests that the status quo was to ignore the special status of a bride if she is not a virgin.  The rabbis are almost indignant about the necessity to treat widows with dignity as well.  

This moves us into a larger conversation about the chatan's benediction.  The Gemara describes what is to be said in the benediction; what form is followed.  Our notes teach us that Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Yemenite traditions are slightly different.  Each has it's own very similar form.  It is amazing to imagine people reciting the same words two thousand years ago as today when they step under the chuppah, wedding canopy.

We end the daf with a reference to the sheva brachot, the seven blessings that are recited numerous times over the course of the wedding week.  Certainly tomorrow's daf will enlighten us with more information about the sheva brachot.

Ketubot 6: Unintentional Destructive Wounds on Shabbat; Missed Teaching Opportunities

If a person intentionally is destructive in causing a wound on Shabbat, he is liable.  If a newly married couple were to have intercourse on Shabbat, the blood that might be caused by this "wound" could be evidence of a transgression on the part of the groom.

To determine whether or not intercourse could be permitted according to these circumstances, the rabbis use a similar case.  What if a cloth stopper is used to plug a hole in a wine barrel on Shabbat?  The cloth would inevitably become soaked with wine and would have to be squeezed out - and that action is prohibited on Shabbat.  Is that destructive, unintentional action permitted/encouraged?  The rabbis seem to misunderstand women's anatomy.  They believe that the hymen does not stretch; it tears, and when it bleed, the blood is either 'pooled' behind the hymen or it is released from the blood vessels in the hymen itself.  Either way, the fact that the rabbis speak of women's bodies in this detached, clinical and misinformed manner is difficult to read.

If a young girl who has not yet reached puberty has intercourse after her wedding, is there the same fear that her 'hymenal' blood, which is not considered to be ritually impure, will be menstrual blood, which is a source of ritual impurity?  The rabbis decide that she has four nights to continue having intercourse; the groom need not worry that she will make him ritually impure.  In our notes, we learn that the rabbis recommended that she rest from intercourse until she has fully healed from that first 'wound'.  

Is it true that the couple could engage in intercourse after four days - on Shabbat?  The rabbis argue further: just as walking through a narrow alley on Shabbat will cause pebbles to fall (also prohibited on Shabbat), a man is permitted to have intercourse with his virgin wife on Shabbat even it will cause bleeding/wounding.    

And then the rabbis move into the realm of male insecurity.  Men are exempt from saying the Shema for those first days following the wedding.  Why?  Perhaps they are afraid that they will not know what to do sexually with their virgin brides.  Perhaps they are fearful that they will learn she is not a virgin.  One way or another, he must be preoccupied with the act, and so the Shema is omitted.  But there are other circumstances when men are preoccupied.  They are not allowed to forego the Shema in those situations.  

The rabbis agree that men are exempt from saying the Shema over those first three nights.  And then they wonder about those men who are experts at 'diverting'; having intercourse with a woman without rupturing her hymen.   They note that many men are experts at this; many other men can do it but cannot predict their success in advance.  Thus they would continue to be preoccupied until the hymenal bleeding proved that the intercourse was successful.  The Gemara wonders: if so many men are able to have intercourse without rupturing the hymen, what does the blood on the sheets prove?  The rabbis answer: intention if of primary importance.

Today's daf ends with a bizarre juxtapositioning.  The rabbis move into a conversation about lancing and removing pus from an abscess on Shabbat.  

We are privy to the rabbi's lack of knowledge regarding women's bodies, women's emotions, and men's insecurities and preoccupations.  It seems that the rabbis did not teach their students about how to stretch the hymen to cause young women as little pain as possible.  They did not teach their students  about the nature of blood and pain.  They also did not teach their students how similar men and women would feel in that situation: ready to do what they are to do and fearful about doing it 'incorrectly.'  Thus young men and women were distanced from each other in the moment that they could be building intimacy.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Ketubot 4: Balancing Joy with Mourning; Balancing Women's Rights with their Victimhood

The rabbis attempt to accurately interpret the Mishna that began Masechet Ketubot.  What do they figure out through their conversations?

  • if the mother of the kalah, bride, or father of the chatan, groom, dies on the day of the wedding,
  • the couple is married immediately
  • the couple is secluded and has intercourse
  • the couple separates; women sleeping with the women and men with the men for fourteen days
  • the first seven days are days of rejoicing
  • men are not considered to be in 'acute mourning'; they can bathe, adorn themselves, etc.
  • women are permitted to be adorned with jewellery 
  • the second set of seven days is mourning
  • the first thirty days of mourning are not as strict as usual: the kalah is adorned so that her new chat an continues to desire her
The rabbis wonder about calling off the wedding.  One reason to postpone is based on the absence of, in particular, the mother of the bride.  She would have been the one to oversee the feast and the celebration; her daughter's adornment and her special body/skin treatments.  Thus her death could mean that no one is capable of adorning the bride.  

The rabbis also wonder about spoiled food: has the meat for the feast touched water by the time that the death occurs?  If it hasn't, it should be able to be resold - particularly in a city where there is demand for meat even after its preparation has begun.  But if the meat has begun to cook, the wedding plans continue.  This consideration is a practical one.  But did these halachot preclude the needs of the individual kalah and chatan?  More on the emotional needs of these young people soon.

The rabbis look to menstruation as a comparable interruption of a wedding.  Rav Yosef says that Rava teaches that when a kalah begins to menstruate before intercourse, she retreats to sleep with the women and the chatan goes to the men until she is out of niddah.  But if she begins to menstruate after intercourse, they are permitted to sleep together that night.  

The rabbis then examine some of differences between the a couple whose parents have died and a couple where the kalah begins to menstruate on the day of the wedding.  

First, they note that while a wife is menstruating, she is not obliged to help her husband with the usual markers of intimacy: washing his face, hands and feet; preparing the bed; to paint her eyes blue or use rouge; to pour wine into his cup.  Our commentary tells us Rashi's interpretation: these actions could lead to intercourse, which is forbidden when in mourning.  

But when a wife is in mourning it is different than when a husband is in mourning.  The rabbis suggest that his sexual urge is strong and that he might not be as sensitive when in mourning.  This would not lead him to a transgression if he is in mourning.  But if she is in mourning, he might still insist that she have intercourse with him.  This transgression on her part would not be a serious transgression, for she as innocent in her desire and her action.  

Le's not be pretty about this - we are talking about marital rape.  And we are reminded that this concept was impossible to even imagine two thousand years ago.  But today, we can imagine the powerlessness that women experienced in their worst moments; when mourning her mother.

The rabbis are convinced that young couples will not take mourning lightly, thus it is permitted for them to keep the mitzvah of intercourse after the wedding.  In ordinary situations, however, the rabbis are concerned that couples will not take mourning seriously.  Further, they note that when one's husband or wife is in mourning, s/he must behave as if s/he is in mourning while in the presence of his/her partner.  Even if the partner might hear about inappropriate behaviour, behaviours of mourning should be practiced.  In this way, the rabbis demonstrate the importance of being sensitive to the needs of one's partner.

Our daf ends with the beginnings of another consideration.  We have learned when examining possible wedding dates that couples could not marry on Friday night nor Saturday lest the break the halachot of Shabbat by preparing for the wedding.  As well, bleeding after intercourse could be considered to be a form of 'cut'; inflicting a wound is forbidden on Shabbat.  Certainly the rabbis will continue this conversation tomorrow.

In part, we learn about ways in which women's rights are protected: women can adorn themselves while in mourning; their husbands must behave as if he is in mourning if women's mothers die, etc.  At the same time we learn that women's rights are almost non-existent; their husbands are their masters and their owners.  Women can be raped, hurt, misunderstood - there is no consequence for men who behave disrespectfully.  I watch myself bouncing back and forth between being impressed with the progressive views of the rabbis and being mortified by the realities of antiquity.