Thursday, 31 March 2016

Kiddushin 20: Keeping a Maidservant; Conditions of a Slave

The rabbis wonder whether or not a girl can be sold to her relative, particularly if she is permitted to be sold to a master of flawed heritage.  The aim is to allow maidservant to fulfill the mitzva of marriage.  However, marrying a forbidden relative leads to more serious consequences than other transgressions, including marrying into another family of flawed lineage.
The rabbis teach us that when we purchase a slave, it is as if we have acquired a master.  How could that be?  A Hebrew slave must be kept in the same conditions as the master himself.  He must eat the same food as the master together with the master, for example.  The effort that would go into maintaining the standard of living of a Hebrew slave would be difficult to maintain.  Thus the slave requires the master's work.
The Gemara then explores the redemption of a Hebrew slave by an idolator, and the partial redemption of a house within a walled city.   Both of these issues seem to be beside the point, though the rabbis spend much time on them.
It is fascinating to witness which ideas are considered to be worthy of deep exploration by the rabbis.  To my mind, there are a number of questions far more interesting than the ones that the rabbis choose to explore.  For example, how do the rabbis understand the valuation of a maidservant as it changes with her age?  Or why are girls put in situations that might put them into danger?  Or why are girls' opinions about their fathers' selling them do not hold weight when we are dealing with major transgressions?  I could go on.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Kiddushin 19: A Father Selling His Daughter

The Gemara wonders whether or not a master could designate his Hebrew maidservant to his minor son.  I am guessing that the rabbis find this distasteful and are not merely arguing.  However, there are previously discussed halachot, including a yevam who is nine years old and one day who has intercourse with his yevama.

One of the arguments against designating one's maidservant to a minor son is the issue of consent.  The Gemara notes that a maidservant must consent to her designated husband.  One rabbi argues that the maidservant's consent is not her acquiescence but her knowledge of the upcoming marriage arrangement before it occurs.  

The rabbis discuss some of the difficulties with their understandings.  Can a maidservant be used as collateral?  What are some of the complications that arise if a maidservant is given money that is not meant to be a betrothal but a peruta's worth of money is left over and used a betrothal?  What about conditional betrothals that are interrupted by other betrothals?  Which betrothal is valid?

Our daf ends with the Gemara discussing a father who sells his daughter as a maidservant.  What if the family who purchases her is flawed?  What are reasonable criteria for a divorce?  Does the husband agree that his family was flawed at the time of the betrothal?  

Again we watch the rabbis struggle to understand the sale and purchase of human beings.  The complexity managing the contradictory nature of the mandated slavery described in Torah text and the halachot that apply to human beings.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Kiddushin 18: Less Emancipation for Hebrew Maidservants

Continuing to discuss the Mishna of daf 14, our rabbis wonder further about the laws of inheritance.  Namely, was inheritance offered according to patrilineal descent?  If so, how do we understand the inheritance of Lot and his children, for example?  We know that Jews did not inherit from Gentiles, and Lot was surely a Gentile.  Perhaps, the rabbis argue, Torah law differs from rabbinical law regarding the designation of "Jew" and "Gentile".   How did the Noahide laws inform the rabbis' considerations?  Yaakov's marriage to both Leah and Rivka should serve as proof that our patriarchs were not subject to rabbinical law regarding marriage and divorce.

Next, the Gemara looks at differences between Hebrew slave and Hebrew maidservant.  Beyond the elements already mentioned in our last two dapim, the rabbis delve into the fact that a Hebrew maidservant is not sold a second time.  They walk us through the possible reasons that a Hebrew slave or a Hebrew maidservant might be sold twice. Those possibilities are denied.

The rabbis consider the possible ramifications of this rule.  Part of their conversation focuses on the status of a maidservant.  She has to be sold to a master who can perform the mitzvah of marrying her himself or offering her to his son.  How does this affect her emancipation?  The rabbis realize that a Hebrew maidservant, once married, cannot be freed as a Hebrew slave might be freed.  She requires a get or the death of her master in order to be emancipated.

Our daf ends with a relatively detailed discussion about selling a maidservant and selling a daughter.  Again, we bump up against competing realities: human beings have the right to be free and independent; women (and children and others) have limited rights as human beings.  The rabbis seem to engage in this struggle, too.  Ultimately, however, women are clearly seen as property that is subject to legal sale.  The main issue for the rabbis is how to determine which sales - and other actions - are, in fact, legal. 

Monday, 28 March 2016

Kiddushin 17: A Slave/Maidservant's Time Served and the Valuation of Severance

A slave must serve six years before being released, unless the Jubilee year interrupts those six years, ending the slave’s service early.  But what if a slave is sick for part of his/her time in service?  The rabbis agree that if a slave is sick for up to four years of his/her time in service, s/he is considered to have worked the full six years.  If the slave is sick for four or more of those years in service, then the six years has not been fulfilled and the time unserved must be repeated.  If the slave was able to work, for example, sewing, but not for hard labour, the time counts as having been served. 

When a slave leaves service, s/he is given severance from one’s flock, threshing floor, and winepress, and from all that with which the Lord has blessed you (Deuteronomy 15:14).  The rabbis argue about what this means.  Rabbi Meir argues that each of these gifts is worth five sela and thus the slave is given fifteen sela in severance.  Rabbi Yehuda argues that the slave is given thirty sela, like the fine that is paid for a slave (Exodus 21:32). Rabbi Shimon believes that the slave is given fifty shekels, which is the valuation of a man – regardless of whether or not he is a slave.

The remainder of the Gemara examines possible proofs for each of these opinions.  One of the more interesting arguments suggests that “if you grasped too much, you did not grasp anything.  If you grasp a bit, you grasp something”.  This was a folk saying that the rabbis used to explain why a slave should not be given the larger amount of payment in severance. 

Another interesting argument suggests that severance of cattle, wheat, and wine all increase in value or add to the quality of life of the emancipated slave.  These things cannot be substituted for money, which could decrease in value over time. 

The Gemara moves on to explore why a Hebrew slave could serve the master’s son and not his daughter.   A Hebrew maidservant could serve the master alone.  A pierced or Hebrew slave sold to a Gentile could only serve that master.  All of these statements are understood to mean that in the case of the master’s death, the slave might be either emancipated or permitted to complete his/her service through inheritance to a daughter or son (or brother, in the case of levirate marriage).

Using the juxtapositioning of different directives from this Mishna, the Gemara discusses possible meanings and connections between different pairs of guidelines.  One reminder that results from this conversation regards the rights of the convert.  A convert is permitted to inherit from both his Gentile father and any other Gentile, but this ruling is based on rabbinical law rather than on Torah law.

Our daf ends with a more detailed conversation regarding the relationship between those who have converted and their first families.  How should they deal with the question of inheritance of idols, or the inheritance of wine used for the sanctification of idols?  Who is considered to be the rightful heir of Gentile whose son and grandchildren are converts?  How might this extend to money that is owed when a convert died?

Kiddushin 16: An Additional Way to Emancipate a Hebrew Slave/Maidservant

We continue to learn about the rabbis’ understandings of our Mishna (Kiddushin 14).

The rabbis interpret the possible meaning of “She shall not go out as the men slaves.”  For the rabbis, this refers to a Hebrew maidservant’s acquisition and release from slavery compared with those of a Canaanite slave.   They consider, for example, whether or not a document is required in all circumstances.

When it comes to a slave’s release through the purchase of his own freedom, the rabbis agree that money is not the same thing as a promissory note.  Interesting that the promissory note is not permitted in this circumstance when it is allowed in other situations that do not involve the potential freedom of a human being.

The rabbis then consider the ‘signs of puberty’ as a maidservant’s additional reason to be released from slavery.  Perhaps there is another way that a maidservant is released from slavery: the death of her father.  Would this include the death of her master?  Perhaps the Mishna only included possible incidences that have a set time.  Because we cannot know when a person might die, that would not be included in the Mishna’s reasons for early emancipation.

The rabbis speak of a nine year-old boy who develops two pubic hairs.  As in the case of a girl under the age of twelve, these are considered to be hairs of a mole rather than signs of puberty.  For boys, two pubic hairs that develop before the age of thirteen not considered to be signs of sexual maturity.

The rabbis agree that there are six ways to leave slavery – for a maidservant, working six years, reaching the Jubilee year, death of her master, and reaching puberty lead to her freedom.  For a Canaanite slave, working six years, reaching the Jubilee year, emancipating himself through money or an object worth money, piercing his ear, and the death of his master lead to his freedom. 

A severance gift is given to these slaves upon their emancipation.  Because that gift is given by the master of the maidservant to the father of the maidservant, questions arise regarding the severance gift when a maidservant’s master has died.  Might this suggest that the maidservant might be freed from service when her father dies, as well?  The rabbis wonder why the gift would not be given to the maidservant herself.  They look at the potential transfer of gifts from a maidservant to her brothers or to other family members.  And if a person flees from slavery, s/he is not given the severance gift.   However, buying one’s freedom allows for the gift.

Interestingly, the rabbis use the phrase “yod keret”, a yod into a large city.  This refers to the letter yod which is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.  A yod in a large city speaks to the unnecessary elaborate examination of a particular examination. 

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Kiddushin 15: Methods of Acquisition and Release of Hebrew Slaves

In daf 14, our last Mishna outlined that Hebrew slaves can be acquired in three ways: through money, through a document, or through selling oneself.  He could be emancipated in three other ways: through completing six years of slavery, through reaching the Jubilee year, or through buying his own redemption.  If he decided to stay with his owner, a slave could be freed only on the Jubilee year or through the death of his master.  A Hebrew maidservant could be emancipated through similar means; however, she would be automatically released when showing signs of puberty.

Today's daf outlines the rabbis' attempts to understand a number of different parts of this Mishna.  First, they are comparing the piercing of a slave's ear with other circumstances that mark one's ear.  The leper's right ear is marked with sacrificial blood as part of his emancipation.  The rabbis use this connection to understand that someone who sells himself should not be pierced.    

Other verbal analogies and homiletic analyses are applied to this Mishna.  What does it mean when we learn about a "hired worker"?  What can we learn from the seemingly superfluous phrase, "to him"?  The rabbis use the occurrence of these phrases in other circumstances to prove the accuracy of their interpretations.  Amud (b) is focused on the release of a slave by his relatives.  The Gemara questions when and how family members might release a Hebrew slave from service with a Gentile master.  Clearly the rabbis are concerned about men who would continually sell themselves into slavery knowing that their families might 'buy them out'.  

It struck me today that if a Hebrew maidservant is emancipated before she reaches puberty, that means that she is sold into slavery as a child.  Would she be subject to marrying a Hebrew slave, as would her Canaanite counterpart?  And why does becoming a naara release her from servitude?  There must be a legal reason, but I'm wondering if this was done to protect the virginity of Hebrew girls who would otherwise be at risk of being raped by someone who would change their value/status?

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Kiddushin 13: What do Women Want?

The rabbis want to understand how they can determine what women want.  The simple answer would be to ask women what they want.  However, if it is possible that a woman has entered into a contract (ie. betrothal) against her will, the entire community can be facing a problem.

One determination is whether or not a previous arrangement had been agreed upon.  If so, a woman's speech, silence, action or inaction could change its meaning.  For example, if a man steals what a woman is selling - a belt, let's say - and says he'll return it if she betroths him and she silently takes the belt back, are they betrothed?  She has simply taken back stolen property.  But if they had previously arranged for a betrothal, her silence and her action could represent acquiescence.  The rabbis also use the example of a man taking a sela from a woman's hand and claiming that they are betrothed based on this exchange of more than a peruta.

Rabbi Asi claimed that the sale of land also required the exchange of at least one peruta.  The rabbis discuss people who do not have knowledge of halacha and yet make halachic decisions.  Such people are spoken of in terrible terms, and are said to be worse than those of the generation of the flood.

Other rulings of Rav Asi are discussed, beginning with a very long discussion about women who bring burnt offerings following childbirth.  The rabbis discuss this offering in depth, noting past related arguments.  The discussion ends with a debate about one of the men in question; whether or not he is a yavam.  The rabbis note that both divorce and death should fully sever the bond between a husband and a wife.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Kiddushin 12: The Value of a Peruta; Indecent Proposals

The first part of our daf focuses on the value of a peruta.  Is it just another word for a small denomination?  Or does it have a specific value?  Does its value change with place and time; inflation and deflation?  Might certain items be worth less than a peruta - a pile of rags, or one fig?  The rabbis argue about whether a peruta is worth a one eighth or one sixth of an Italian issar - or something else altogether.  They spend quite some time debating the value of different coinage.  

Another question is the valuation of a blue rock, for example, used for betrothal.  Might someone know the value of that stone?  And if we are wrong, and a woman is betrothed with an item that could be challenged in the future, we could have a significant problem on our hands.  Her marriage could be invalid and her children could be mamzerim.  This could lead to generations of difficulty; it could even lead to the dissolution of families.  

One interesting aside tells of the many behaviours that Rav would flog people for transgressing.  Although many of these are disputed, there is one agreed-upon impropriety.  A man should never betroth a woman through sexual intercourse.  This is because it is unseemly for witnesses to watch a couple seclude themselves and engage in intercourse.  One of the other, more contentious transgressions include betrothal without a speaking with a woman about the betrothal first.  It seems that although we learn that certain acts were halachically sound, they were considered to be societally inappropriate.  Rav cites 'licentiousness' as the reasoning for his rulings.  But how is it that the rabbis could make those judgements in only these limited cases?

Rav may have flogged husbands who rescinded gittin, bills of divorce, after they had been sent to their wives.  He also may have flogged sons-in-law who lived with their mothers-in-law due to possible licentiousness.  It is argued that this refers only to men who lived with their wives' families for long periods of time, or who were rumoured to be sexually involved with their mothers-in-law.

Finally, we learn that in some disputed cases, women were consulted as to whether or not they wished to be betrothed.  For example, if a man presented myrtle sticks for the purposes of betrothal and when questioned, stated that four dinars were wrapped within the bundle, the woman has a number of choices.  She could accept or reject the betrothal or she could stay silent.  Her silence was significant and was not considered to be acquiescence.  In such cases, the woman's opinion mattered.  If she wished to be betrothed, she was betrothed.  If not, she was not.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Kiddushin 11: The Value of a Thief, the Value of a Coin

Some interesting ideas shared in today's daf:

  • if one finds a blemish on a slave that was unknown when the slave was bought, and that blemish does not affect his/her labour, the sale is valid
  • if the slave is found to be a kuvyustus, a thief of a gambler, that is considered to be a blemish
  • the blemish of gambling would be known publicly before the slave was sold, and so such a sale is valid
  • comparing this with wives who have blemishes, the rabbis wonder about when they are still able to partake of teruma and share it with their families
  • women who value themselves will not agree to a betrothal for less than one dinar
  • Rabbi Yannai's daughters held themselves in high esteem

  • The rabbis argue about the value of money in different times and places
  • Money mentioned in the Torah refers to Tyrian coinage: silver coins worth at least one dinar
  • Money mentioned in rabbinical texts refers to the coinage of that place
  • A ma'a is said to be one twentieth of a shekel or a mishnaic seal; eventually it was established to be one twenty-fourth of a Biblical shekel.  The mishnaic shekel was worth 12 ma's.
  • The smallest amount of money used for payment was at least two coins, or two ma'a
  • In this context, one sela is a copper coin worth one eight of a dinar.  The larger, Tyrian sela is one half of a dinar.

  • Consecrated property not for use on the altars can be exchanged for an item of equal value, even if that is only one peruta
  • A firstborn son is redeemed for five sela (Tyrian, silver coins - equal to 102 me'a)
  • A slave's life, if ended by an animal attack, is worth (to his/her owner) thirty sela of pure silver regardless of his/her worth
  • One who raped/seduced a virgin pays fifty sela of pure silver as a fine
  • One who defames his wife pays her father one hundred sela of pure silver (if she has no father the money is hers)
  • One who strikes another person must pay one sela in the coinage of the land, equal to half of a silver dinar
  • The rabbis consider whether or not a Hebrew maidservant can redeem herself by deducting that money from her worth, thus ending her time in slavery early
Most intriguing to me is the notion of thievery or gambling as "blemishes".  It seems that behavioural or emotional shortcomings were judged and reflected in one's valuation.  I suppose that today's world is similar; if we have mental health or behavioural struggles, we are seen as 'blemished' or worth less than others.  I wonder if any systemic help was available for those who struggled with addiction, mental health or other behavioural issues.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Kiddushin 10: Intercourse as Acquisition; Betrothal vs. Married

We learn that a man can betroth his wife through sexual intercourse.  "Atypical intercourse" also leads to betrothal, but only if the young woman's husband is the person who is participating in this act.  Any other man who rapes a woman via atypical intercourse does not render this young woman does not affect her status as a virgin.

Today's daf focuses upon the notion of sexual intercourse as a basic model of acquisition.  Disturbingly, the rabbis walk us through this model, teaching about when during intercourse the woman is acquired.   We learn the case of a woman in the midst of sexual intercourse when a second man offers her a document of marriage.  If the beginning of intercourse defines acquisition, then she is betrothed as soon as the intercourse begins.  If not, however, she could be having intercourse with one man while she betroths another!

The rabbis also consider the acquisition of a girl over the age of three years and one day.  Intercourse would allow her to be betrothed, but the rabbis note that this thought of as wrong.  A man having intercourse with a minor would be punished via strangulation, we read in a commentary.

The rabbis continue to compare acquisition through money with acquisition through intercourse.  They bring in the question of teruma, which affect women who marry priests.  The timing of the betrothal and the wedding are critical when it comes to teruma, for betrothed women might share their teruma with their families if they are under the chupa but still living at home.  She could then share that teruma with her relatives who are not permitted to partake.  Partaking of teruma is a dangerous crime if it is done after the fact.   It is notable that the rules regarding Canaanite and other young women consider other factors.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Kiddushin 9: How a Woman Can Avoid Betrothal; Rape and Status

If a woman asks a man for something and he says he will give it to her if they become betrothed, her answer is critical.  Saying “give it to me, give it to me” means that they are not betrothed.  It is as if she’s said, “Come on, just give me the water!”.   The rabbis discuss consent: how does the sale of a woman differ from the sale of a field?

A note here regarding valuation: we learn that it is difficult to appraise the value of a gem, but not so much the value of a ring.  Thus the ring presented for the purpose of kiddushin has no gem.  A good thing to remember in these times of "the size of the diamond is the measure of a man's love".

In amud (b) the rabbis note that when a woman becomes betrothed or leaves a marriage, her ownership is transferred.  In the case of betrothal she is transferred from one man, her father, to another, her husband.  In the case of divorce, her ownership is transferred from her husband to herself. 

Finally, I learn that the rabbis are concerned about betrothal through sexual intercourse alone.  What about the transfer of documentation or of money?  The rabbis discuss the intricacies of such a scenario.  If a man has intercourse with a woman who is betrothed, he is liable to be stoned (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).  But if he betroths her with money and not intercourse, is she fully betrothed?  What if he betroths her with money and then engages in anal intercourse with her?  Does anal intercourse affect her status as a virgin – and might it affect her status as betrothed? 

The Gemara discusses disturbing circumstances in great detail.  If a woman is anally raped ten times, are all of her rapists stoned?  Or is the first stoned and the subsequent rapists strangled, as they violated a betrothed woman while only the first rapist violated a virgin?  And what if a betrothed woman had been betrothed via a document before that “act of atypical intercourse”?  A document is solid, just like a get, and thus the woman was fully betrothed before she was raped.  Thus when she was anally raped she was both a virgin and a betrothed young woman.  But somehow this does not apply to maidservants.  We are taught that different halachot apply to maidservants and yevamot.

Finally the rabbis discuss whether a woman’s husband can render her a non-virgin through atypical or typical intercourse. 

We learn from the notes in Steinsaltz that there are four death penalty punishments: strangulation is the least harsh, where a scarf is wrapped around the neck and pulled on both sides.  Then is decapitation by sword, and then burning.  Finally there is stoning, where a person is dropped from a four metre height, a stone dropped upon him, followed by stoning by the community if he is still alive. 

Kiddushin 8: Valuation; Betrothal as a Conditional Act

The Gemara discusses how valuation might be understood or misunderstood.  The rabbis use a number of examples to demonstrate the importance of one’s words when conducting a transaction.  That transaction might involve inheritance, the sale of land, the barter of vessels, grains or animals, slaves, maidservants, or wives.  Contracts are contracts, and specificity is critical if the contract is valid.  Even more so if we are flirting with creating the status of “mamzer” needlessly.

The rabbis also consider from where money might come.  Is one hundred dinars from collateral or a loan the same as one hundred dinars in hand?  And what if one dinar is missing?  And what if one of the dinars is flawed, or copper instead of silver?

If a woman takes those hundred dinars and disposes of them, she has not consented to the betrothal and thus the betrothal is not valid.  A woman who says that another person can accept the money and betrothal on her behalf is betrothed.  If she simply says, “give the money to my father,” she is not betrothed.  If she says to put the money on a rock, or to give it to a dog, and those things belong to her, she is betrothed.  But if they do not belong to her, the betrothal is invalid.  The rabbis go so far as to discuss what to do if that dog is chasing her.