Saturday, 30 April 2016

Kiddushin 50: Unspoken Matters That Stay in the Heart are Insignificant - Limitations on Kiddushin

We begin with Gemara that comments on a Mishna in daf 49.  That Mishna notes that if a man betroths a woman based on a spoken fact about himself that turns out to be incorrect, the betrothal is nullified.  This is the case even if the woman wishes for the betrothal to be valid.  The Gemara uses this opportunity to consider the ramifications of the phrase, "unspoken matters that stay inside one's heart are not significant matters".  Must all assumptions be spoken aloud when we create a contract?  How do we know/evaluate what one has assumed if that assumption is unspoken?  What are reasonable assumptions?  Does it matter if facts change because of something beyond one's control?

A number of examples demonstrate the rabbis' process of inquiry.  My favourite: if a man refuses to free his slave or divorce his wife, he can be coerced to do so by the rabbis.  In such a case, the man states that he wishes to emancipate someone while his heart holds 'unspoken' wishes.  Are those wishes insignificant?  The Gemara teaches us that such a man in fact agrees with the recommendations of the rabbis, for all people wish to perform mitzvot, including the mitzvah of listening to the words of the Sages.  Thus he truly wishes to acquiesce, even though his heart tells him otherwise.

Other examples include the actions of an agent who follows directions incorrectly, and those who prepare to make aliyah (move up to Israel) and then do not do so.  The Gemara considers intention in all of these cases.  The rabbis also discuss whether or not the facts changed based on something outside of the person's control.  Should the sale of property outside of Haaretz be nullified if a person could not leave his country due to a circumstance beyond his control?  Was that circumstance truly beyond his control, or might his heart hold a desire to stay in his own country?

A new Mishna teaches us that a man who sends an agent to betroth a particular woman in a particular place, that is exactly what the agent must do.  If he betroths her on behalf of this man in different place, the betrothal is not valid.  However, if a man sends an agent to betroth a particular woman who lives in a certain place, that agent can find and betroth the woman wherever she is found.  The agent is bound to the specific directions of the person who sends him.  The Gemara notes that the delivery of gittin have similar limitations.  It also teaches us that the rabbis believed that betrothal could be done anywhere, but that divorce was a 'degradation'.  Because people might think badly of one who divorces, delivering a get might be done in a specifically non-threatening location.

Another new Mishna creates greater nuance.   If a man betroths a woman who says she has no outstanding vows but he learns that this is false, they are no longer betrothed.  Learning about these vows after they are married is grounds for divorce, for the assumption is that he would not have married her had he known about her vows.  The same guidelines apply for a man who betroths a woman who does not tell him of her blemishes.  When he learns of them, the betrothal is nullified or, if they are already married, he is permitted to use this as grounds for divorce.  A 'blemish' is said to be anything that would disqualify a priest from any sort of Temple service. 

And yet another new Mishna in amud (a) teaches us about betrothal costs and gifts.  A woman is not betrothed if a man betroths her and another woman simultaneously with an item worth less than one peruta each.  She is also not betrothed if her individual item is not worth at least one peruta.  This is the case regardless of other betrothal gifts that might be sent to her.  A minor who betroths a woman and then sends gifts later, when he is of age, is not betrothed.  That is because a minors actions are not valid legal actions and thus he cannot betroth himself to anyone.

The Gemara notes that although these cases are similar, they must all be mentioned because of significant differences.  The underlying point, however, is the notion of intention verses action. Although a man might intend to betroth a woman through gifts, it is the exchange of one item at the time of betrothal that confirms that betrothal.  Further, the importance of custom, minhag, is stressed. In some minority places, gifts are sent after the betrothal.  Perhaps we are learning about the halachot for the minority.  In most places, gifts are presented before the actual betrothal.  Based on our notes in Steinsaltz, it almost seems that the rabbis wish to ensure that community members who are gossiping about a betrothal are speaking about a valid betrothal and not one that will be nullified.

A final Mishna in today's Mishna-heavy daf: If a man betroths two woman simultaneously and they are forbidden to him, for example, a mother and a daughter or two sisters, he is not betrothed to either of them.  Similarly, if he betroths five women with a basket of figs, and two of the women are either sisters or mother and daughter, and one woman accepts the basket on behalf of all five of them the betrothal is void - at least for those who are forbidden to him.  The rabbis have different opinions - some believe that none of the betrothals is valid.  

The Gemara reminds us of the origin of these forbidden sexual relationships.  Some rabbis believe that these cases referred to concurrent rather than simultaneous betrothals.  According to this opinion, the betrothals were achieved through sexual intercourse.  Thus there would not be a violation of Torah law, punishable by karet, until the man actually had intercourse with the second woman of the pair of forbidden relations.  

One of the most interesting pieces of learning today was the importance of noticing the small, off-side commentary within the main narrative.  Sometime the rabbis share their wisdom about a relatively obscure topic while discussing other matters.  Without reading the entire daf, we miss out on these little gems.  I'm afraid that even when I do read the entire daf, I miss much of this important information!

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Kiddushin 47: Betrothal Via Dates, Loans, Promissory Notes

The Gemara continues to debate betrothal based on items worth very little.  They consider dates that are eaten one after another; the rabbis differentiate between dates that are worth more or less than one peruta and connect this to how the chatan refers to the dates. The rabbis also look at betrothals made with loans and with promissory notes.  While the rabbis continue to argue about each of the particular cases presented, they seem to rely on similar principles.  The item used for betrothal must be worth at least one peruta.  That principle holds when the rabbis discuss loans, promissory notes and women who are willing to accept any betrothal at all.

Clearly the process of betrothal was rife with issues in the time of the Talmud.  It is tough to know whether the rabbis were attempting to address issues of poverty, or issues of lenient practices, or issues of real resistance to halacha.  Or something else!  

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Kiddushin 46: First Dates & Betrothals; Terumah Errors

What if a minor girl is betrothed without her father's consent?  What if she is seduced (convinced by a man that she should have intercourse with him when they are not married or betrothed) or raped (where she gives no consent and yet a man has intercourse with her)?  Seduction and rape both assume that the perpetrator will marry his victim and that the perpetrator must pay fines.  In all of these cases, both the victim and/or her father is able to nullify her betrothal.

A new Mishna suggests a far fetched case.  If a man betroths a woman with a date, as long as it is worth at least one peruta they are betrothed.  If he betroths her with many small dates, as long as they equal one peruta they are betrothed.  If she eats each of the dates as he gives them to her, as long as one of those dates is worth at least one peruta, they are betrothed.

The Gemara wonders whether he might be offering her a loan.  If he is giving small parts of a larger offering, is this not like a loan?  Or perhaps this is a gift.  Can a gift that will not be used be kept?  Or must it be returned?  The rabbis offer an example of a forbidden betrothal: if a brother gives a gift to his sister as a promise of betrothal, must it be returned?  The betrothal is not valid.  But a gift is a gift...

The Gemara then considers a priest who separates challa incorrectly, from the flour, rather than from the dough.  Some rules of tithing are reiterated here: a priest should not have to separate tithes in case he does this incorrectly.  Tithes are taken from produce that is considered to be attached to the ground.  Thus if it is prepared in a perforated pot, it is considered to be connected to the ground and must be tithed.  An unperforated pot separates the produce from the ground and it need not be tithed.

The rabbis note that if a person separates terumah that is rotten, the terumah is invalid -- it is not even called 'terumah', and s/he needs to separate terumah again.  If a person did not know that their offering was rotten, the terumah is still terumah, but terumah must be separated again.  Terumah from poor-quality terumah cannot be used as offerings for superior-quality produce. 

Monday, 25 April 2016

Kiddushin 45: More on Consent and Agency

Today's daf continues the rabbis' considerations of consent and agency.  They begin by considering minor girls who are betrothed and then widowed.  Are their fathers permitted to marry them off a second time?  The rabbis consider the process of chalitza and how that ritual plays into the process of betrothal, marriage and ending a marriage.

Next, our rabbis consider the parameters of appointing one's father as one's agent.  The rabbis present cases that demonstrate a father pushing his choice of a daughter-in-law over his son's choice and over his wife's choice.  Can a father take such liberties?  Would a son even appoint his father as an agent?  Is this possible?  Perhaps the son discussed this with his father in advance of the cases presented?

We learn that it is seen as demeaning for a father to betroth a young woman on behalf of his son in the marketplace using vegetables or using money.  Such statements provoke questions about what might be seen as appropriate betrothals.  Is it the public, informal setting of the marketplace that is offensive?  Or is it the use of something as commonplace as vegetables or money that makes such a transaction distasteful?  

Our daf ends with examples that leave us questioning whether or not terumah can be eaten by the betrothed daughter.  If a father betrothed a minor girl, for example, and then he dies or he leaves the country, is his daughter permitted to eat terumah?  What if he is in the town but he does not agree to the marriage?  Can his silence be taken as acquiescence?  If her father does not eventually consent to the marriage, is she permitted to partake of terumah by Torah law? 

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Kiddushin 44: Authority to Accept in Kiddushin and Gittin

The Gemara discusses some of the similarities and differences between the halachot of marriage and the halachot of divorce.  Interestingly from a feminist perspective, their conversation revolves around the concept of consent.   In betrothal, we have learned that  unless his daughter is a minor, a na'ara's consent is required for betrothal.  In divorce, a woman's consent is not required but is valid.  Rav Yehuda, however, believes that only her father can accept the get - and that only her father can accept the kiddushin.

One of the larger questions is whether a daughter is property of her father, an extension of her father, an individual who has appointed her father as an agent.  When we frame the daughter's experience differently, we can understand her experience very differently.  In amud (b), the rabbis actually ask whether the young woman could be thought of as an extension of her father's hand, or as her father's courtyard (for a contract must be brought to her to be valid).

The Gemara also considers some of the difficulties that might arise if the young woman does not have a father.  In such cases, the girl can be betrothed through her mother/brothers without her consent while she is a minor girl.  Before she becomes a na'ara (between age 12 and 12 and half), she is offered what is known as the right of refusal.  There would be no get required in such a case; it is as if she were never married.  We also learn about fathers who decide that their daughters will be sold as maidservants, which seems to be code for marrying one's daughter into a marriage of servitude to her 'master' or his son.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Kiddushin 41: Agents in Betrothal; The Agency of Minor Girls Regarding Marriage

Another brief blog tonight as Pesach preparation continues.

We (finally) begin Perek II today, and we begin with a Mishna about agency in betrothal.  Both men and women are permitted to appoint agents for the purpose of betrothal.  They are also permitted to perform that action themselves.  Fathers are permitted to appoint agents to betroth their minor daughters.  They are also permitted to do this themselves.

The Gemara makes it very clear that while agents are permitted, it is far more desirable for one to g through the steps of betrothal him/herself.  The rabbis note that people should be certain that they wish to marry the people they will marry.  Reish Lakish takes this opportunity to note that women are so eager to marry that they will love any man who is found for them.  His opinions seems to be in the minority, however.  We learn that even in the case of minor girls, fathers are encouraged to allow the girls to marry only when they are capable of deciding whom they wish to marry.  The argument is that we do not want girls to marry men that they do not love; we do not wish to doom relationships to either misery or divorce.

The rabbis continue their discussion of shlichot, agents, regarding separating terumah.  Terumah is similar in that agents are permitted to separate terumah but that people should attempt to do this themselves. The conversation turns to which agents are permitted to separate terumah, which is an obligation and thus should be performed by a person who is obligated to perform that task.  The rabbis believe that Jews must act as agents for other Jews in a number of cases, as they are obligated to perform these mitzvot. 

So interesting to add this context to past readings of Masechet Ketubot, where we learn more about the stringencies of betrothal and marriage halacha.  The difference between marrying off babies through intercourse and insisting that girls are old enough to choose their own husbands based on their own desire is massive.  I wonder whether this changed over the course of the hundreds of years within which the Talmud was created and collected or whether this just reflects different streams of thought.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Kiddushin 40: Righteous vs. Wicked; Good vs. Evil; What We do in Public vs. What We do in Private

Today's daf is one worth reading and discussing in great detail.  Unfortunately, as today is also very close to Pesach, obligations other than blogging force me to speak to today's daf only briefly and in commentary rather than with a summary.

First we are treated to two examples of great rabbis who attempt to kill themselves before agreeing to the sexual advances of Gentile noble women.  We are told that they are saved by miracles.  The stories are both fantastical and fun.  Worth reading.  And worth thinking about the rabbis who tell stories of women approaching them; in our society, men resisting women's advances is not part of our  shared narrative.

The rabbis look back at those four actions through which we enjoy the profits in this world and the principle in the World-to-Come (see Kiddushin 39).  The rabbis share different opinions about how each of these actions is related to the others.  They discuss the difference between honouring G-d and honouring people.  For example, if a person cannot control his desire to transgress, should he transgress in another town while dressed in black, unrecognizable to anyone?  Does the attempt to behave like a good role model should (in public) mitigate one's sins against G-d's will?  The rabbis say that a person who is good toward Heaven and toward people is both righteous and good; one who is only good toward Heaven is only righteous.  Similarly, one who is bad toward Heaven and bad toward people is wicked and evil; one who is only bad toward Heaven but good toward people is only wicked.  The rabbis then speak of idol worship to continue their deliberations about sins of the heart and sins done publicly.

The rabbis discuss  how to understand one who cannot overcome his evil inclination.  The Sages suggest that we should always consider ourselves to be half-liable and half-meritorious.  Whenever we perform a mitzvah, the scale tilts toward merit.  And whenever we transgress, the scale tilts toward liability.  rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon understands this on a larger scale.  All people in the world are judged together and the entire world benefits both one's own scale and the scale of the world toward merit.  Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai adds that these actions count until the day we die; each of our actions is judged independently of the other.  It does not matter if we have been wicked in the past; we can affect our scale by doing acts of righteousness.

A new Mishna: One who is engaged in study of Bible and Mishna and derech eretz, the desired mode of behaviour, will not be quick to sin, for "a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12).  One who does not engage in any of these is not considered to be a person deserving to be part of the community.

The Gemara shares analogies of righteousness and wickedness to trees.  Rabbi Akiva argues with Rabbi Tarfon that study is greater than action because study leads to action.  Other examples demonstrate that study is more important than action -- though the rabbis are clear that a mitzvah is performed immediately if Torah study would not facilitate its immediate performance.  

The Gemara ends our daf with comments about those who do not engage in studying Bible, Mishna, or derech eretz.  They are said to be disqualified from bearing witness; they are like those who eat in the marketplace: dogs who lack shame.

Today's study offers us a window into the rabbis' insights about human nature: action verses will, one's public face verses one's private desires, good verses evil and righteousness verses wickedness.  The last line of our daf notes that anger is a form of self-harm, for it leads to nothing but more anger.  A beautiful daf!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Kiddushin 39: Mitzvot and the World-to-Come

The rabbis continue to argue about whether or not orla is permitted outside of Eretz Yisrael.  The rabbis are concerned about people gathering orla for each other outside of HaAretz and assuming that the fruit of Israel's trees is not as good as fruit outside of HaAretz, which can be eaten immediately.  They consider whether or not produce concerning orla is certain or uncertain outside of HaAretz, and whether or not un/certain produce is permitted or forbidden.

This is compared with transgressions regarding diverse kinds.  Diverse kinds are more complicated, for they can refer to produce in a vineyard, grafting a tree and a branch, sowing a field with two kinds of seed, and gendering cattle with a diverse kind.  Diverse kinds seems to be the umbrella category for any cross-mingling, but some categories involve actual mixing of DNA while others involve only close proximity.  Further, some of that mixing is prohibited both inside and outside of HaAretz.  Other mixing, like sowing different seeds in the same field, is only prohibited within the land.

Rav Chanan and Rav Anan argue about whether or not a man outside of Eretz Yisrael was permitted to mix seeds together in a number of different  ways.

A new Mishna teaches us that when we perform one mitzvah,  goodness is given to us, our life is lengthened, and we inherit the land, which refers to life in the World-to-Come.  And anyone who does not perform one mitzvah does not have goodness given, has a life that is not lengthened, and does not inherit the land.

The Gemara questions this Mishna.  Don't we learn in Pe'a (1:1) that there are specific things that we enjoy the profits of in this world and the principal reward comes to us in the World-to-Come?  These are honouring one's father and mother, acts of loving kindness, hospitality to ward guests, bringing peace between people, and Torah study is equal to all of them.  Doesn't this suggest that these are the mitzvot that we must perform in order to achieve the 'principal' in the World-to-Come?

Different rabbis share different understandings.  One of those is Abaye, who suggests that we have one good day and one bad day.  We are rewarded for our mitzvot, but our occasional bad days cleanse us of our sins -- those bad days are the ones referred to in our Mishna.  And Rabbi Ya'akov believes that there is no reward at all for mitzvot in this world; all rewards are in Haolam Ba'a, the World-To-Come.   He reminds the rabbis of a baraita that says there is not a single mitzvah written in the Torah whose reward is state beside it, which is not dependent on the resurrection of the dead (there reward is offered after we die, in the World-To-Come).  

An example is offered: honouring one's mother and father is followed by the promise of "your days may be long, and that it may go well with you:" (Deuteronomy 5:16).  However, "may go well with you" means that "in the world where all is well", ie. the World to Come, "your days may be long" -- when all of the world is long.

The rabbis give an example of a man who performs a mitzvah and then dies.  Could this be?  Perhaps he was thinking of a transgression.  But G-d would not punish a person for their thoughts alone!  The rabbis teach this principle: "Blessed be He, does not link a bad thought to an action".  What if his thought was horrible, like idol worship?  Rabbi Ya'akov wonders why the performance of a mitzvah did not protect him from such thoughts.  Rabbi Elazar suggests that one is protected from harm on the way to perform a mitzvah -- but not on the way back from performing a mitzvah?  Some reward!

The rabbis wonder whether witnessing this incident - where a father told his son to perform the mitzvah of removing a bird from her nest and then taking the eggs from the nest, and then falling from the roof to his death - might have caused him to become an apostate.  Others argue that it was seeing the tongue of Chutzpit the disseminator.  Chutzpit was executed and dragged through the streets by a pig (which the rabbis do not name, but call "davar acher," something else.  The justification: "should a mouth that produced pearls lap up dirt?"  This is what caused Acher to sin.

What about a person who just sits and does not transgress?  Is that the performance of one mitzvah and thus the promise of a reward?   Or is this a person who had the opportunity to transgress but resisted and just sat there?  We end our daf with the story of Rabbi Chanina bar Pappi, who was seduced by a noblewoman.  He resisted by reciting an incantation that caused him to break out in boils and scabs.  She performed a magical act that healed him.  He ran to a bathhouse that was known to be inhabited by demons so dangerous that even two people entering together by daylight would be harmed.  He told of two angels who appeared as two soldiers to guard him all night.  Perhaps, he thought, forbidden sexual relations was the sin that he was saved from.  Such an act of protection would be called a miracle.

The Gemara continues, in daf 40 to discuss other cases of seduction by wealthy, 'important' women.  I have to wonder whether these occurrences were fantasies or true experiences.  Perhaps tomorrow's daf will shed light on that question.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Kiddushin 38: The New Crop, Diverse Kinds, and Orla; Moshe's Birth and Death

If moshav, dwelling, teaches us that we are forbidden from benefiting from the new crop only after we inherit and settle in Eretz Yisrael, why don't the Jews eat the produce of HaAretz as soon as they enter the land?  Manna, answer the rabbis.  Manna was left over from their time in the wilderness.  We are directed to a number of texts that tell the story of both "coming to a settled land"  and "to the borders of the land of Canaan".  If Moshe Rabbeinu died on the seventh of Adar and the manna stopped falling that day, the Jews would have eaten the manna that they stored in their vessels until the sixteenth of Nissan.  That day, also the second day of Pesach, initiated the sacrifice of the omer and with it, permission to benefit from the new crop. 

Our rabbis take this opportunity to quote from baraitot which provide multiple textual references to prove that Moshe died on the seventh of Adar and that he was born on the seventh of Adar.

Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says that the Jewish people were commanded to do three mitzvot immediately when entering HaAretz: the new crop, diverse kinds, and orla.  All three of these mitzvot apply in and outside of HaAretz.  He then argues why these mitzvot should apply in all places.  He notes that the new crop is not a permanent prohibition (it lasts until the omer is sacrificed).  As well, it is not a prohibition against deriving benefit, for the new crop can be used for things other than eating.  Finally, there is dissolution for its prohibition.  This means that the grain grown before the omer has been sacrificed is allowed after the 16th of Nissan.  These halachot apply in all places, and so diverse kinds should have the same halacha.

He continues: diverse kinds are prohibited permanently, and their prohibition is against deriving benefit, and there is no dissolution for its prohibition.  Shouldn't this apply inside and outside  of HaAretz?  Similarly, orla is not a permanent prohibition (it lasts only the first three years of the tree's life), but one may not derive benefit from it and its prohibited fruit never becomes permitted.

Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Shimon, argues that any mitzvah that Jews were commanded to perform before entering HaAretz apply in all places.  Any mitzvah that was commanded within HaAretz should be performed only there, with the exception of monetary debts in the shemita, the sabbatical year, and the freeing of slaves in the Jubilee year.  Proofs for these exceptions are offered as well, of course.  One of these is that monetary debts are obligations of the body.  Our bodies travel with us outside of HaAretz, and so do our bodily obligations. Further, abrogation of monetary debts is not dependent upon the land but is proclaimed by G-d (Deuteronomy 15:2).  The emancipation of slaves does depend on "throughout the land" (Leviticus 25:10), but the Jubilee year overrides HaAretz and extends beyond the land.

Our Gemara ends with a discussion about some of the other similarities and differences between the mitzvot of the new crop, diverse kinds, and orla.  It is noted that these mitzvot were handed to Moshe from Sinai.  Orla and diverse kinds hold an uncertain status and thus apply outside of HaAretz only by rabbinic law.    Orla may be allowed outside of the land, for example, in Syria (Orla 3:9).  Jews are even allowed to purchase orla from a Gentile outside of HaAretz as long as the Gentile does not witness this!  Two other examples are shared regarding the permitted use of diverse kinds (vegetables grown in a vineyard).  

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Kiddushin 37: What Can Be Learned From "Dwelling"

A new Mishna: Any mitzvah that is dependent on the ground itself, aretz, applies in Eretz Yisrael only. Any mitzvah that is not dependent on the land applies both in Eretz Yisrael and outside of Eretz Yisrael.  Two exceptions: the mitzvot of orla and of chilim, diverse kinds, which apply in all places.  Rabbi Eliezer says that this halacha applies regarding the prohibition to eat from the chadash, the new crop, before the omer offering has been brought on Nisan the 16th, as well.

The Gemara first looks to define which mitzvot are dependent on the land and which are not.  Rav Yehuda argues a mitzvah that obliges a person's body applies to actions in and outside of HaAretz.  A mitzvah that obliges the land applies only inside of HaAretz.  The Sages stretch to find proof texts for this interpretation through an examination of Deuteronomy (12:1-2).  

Next, the Gemara asks about the exceptions: the halachot of orla and diverse kinds.  Orla teaches that it is prohibited to eat or derive benefit from the fruit of a tree until the tree is three years old.  Chilim restricts crops to one species in one place at one time.  In particular, vineyards must be kept separate from crops (or even seeds) of grains and vegetables.  The Gemara wonders about Rabbi Eliezer's suggestion that chadash, grain that ripened before the second day of Pesach, is included in the list of exceptions and should be observed in all lands.  Is he interpreting leniently or stringently?  With which rabbis does he agree or disagree? After noting possibilities, including the argument that "in all your dwellings" (Leviticus 23:14) refers to dwellings in any country.  Another suggests that "dwellings" refers to one's home only after the inheritance and settlement of HaAretz.  In the end, Rabbi Akiva argues that Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yishmael disagree regarding whether or not the original tanna is to ruling more stringently.  

The Gemara then looks at Rabbi Yishmael's stance regarding libations.  He believes that when the terms coming, biya, and moshav, dwelling, are stated, the ruling refers to after inheritance and settlement of Eretz Yisrael.  Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael argued about when libations were sacrificed.  Were sacrifices made in the wilderness?  Were the words biya and moshav written along with words about inheritance of the land in many places?  The rabbis note that these words were used regarding a king, regarding bichurim, and regarding inheritance.  Are we considering a situation where two verses come as one, and thus we should not be applying that halacha to other circumstances? 

Our daf ends with the Gemara asking and answering a number of questions about the word chilim.  Why was "dwellings" included in very different parts of the Torah?  Their questions: why with regard to Shabbat during the Festivals verses the New Moon?  Why with regard to the consumption of fat and blood with offerings?  Why when eating matzah and maror?  In each case, the rabbis teach that the inclusion of "dwellings" teach us about how to observe.  Shabbat does not require the sanctification of the court; blood and fat are forbidden even when there is no offering; we are commanded to eat matza and maror even when there is no Paschal offering.

Finally, the term biya, coming, is used regarding tefillin and the firstborn donkey (for which a lamb must be sacrificed).  The connection between this word and Exodus 13:11 teaches that the mitzvah of tefillin will be rewarded with entrance to HaAretz.  Regarding eating produce on the land after the Pesach (Joshua 5:11), we learn that the people sacrificed the omer than only then did they eat the produce of the land.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Kiddushin 36: Exemptions for Women - Offering

We continue to explore the origins of our current orthodox practice, where women are exempt from many of the mitzvot that are obligatory for men.  Yesterday's daf, Kiddushin 35 does not have a blogged commentary; however, going back to Kiddushin 35 would be an important part of learning these laws in greater detail.

Today we begin with the instruction not to cut ourselves nor to shave the corners of our beards.  The rabbis walk through this in great detail.  Cutting and scoring oneself is similar to pulling out or shaving off one's hair because they are both done as signs of respect for the dead in other cultures.  It would seem that the rabbis were not only trying to ensure that our bodies are holy, but they were addressing the cultural appropriation of other groups of people in hard times.

Our rabbis consider the possibility that "You are the sons of the Lord your G-d..." is not stated to exclude women.  Rather, they suggest that this verse confirms that at times people behave according to G-d's wishes, and so we are the sons of G-d.  During those times that we rebel or ignore G-d's instructions to us, we are not in fact his sons any longer.  This could apply to men and to women; it could also apply just to men.

A new Mishna specifies a number of Temple rites that are forbidden to women:

  • placing her hands on the head of the offering
  • waving the offering (in four directions after the hind leg and breast have been removed)
  • bringing a meal offering to the altar
  • taking a handful of meal offering
  • burning the offering
  • pinching a bird's neck to kill it in the offering process
  • collecting the blood from the offering
  • sprinkling the offering's blood
However, a sota and a female nazirite are permitted to wave their offerings as part of their participation in the offering process.

The Gemara explains that right from the start of these instructions in Leviticus 1:2-4, the verse says "Speak to the sons of Israel... and he shall (place hands, or wave, or... etc.).  If only the sons are commanded to listen, then those same sons are permitted to perform the given action.  In addition, the Gemara notes that some of these tasks are designated to priests and no others -- and priests are always men.

Because of the use of the word "hand" for the sota and for the priest, the rabbis determine that the sota and the priest wave her offering together.  That is, he places his hand beneath hers while she waves the offering.  Similarly, a nazirite waves her offering as it is placed into her palm by the priest who helps her wave.   The rabbis note that an owner and a priest can wave simultaneously by the priest placing his hands beneath the owner's.

It seems that the rabbis go to great lengths to maintain the social structure: priests above all, men above women.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Kiddushin 34: Excluding Women from Positive Time-Bound Mitzvot

The topic of today's daf has been discussed for thousands of years.  I have books on the subject.  We continue to debate these ideas.  Our daf helps us understand some of the logic behind our traditions, but it does not speak to the rabbis' context to begin with.  But more on that later.

The Gemara points out that women are exempt from observing positive, time-bound mitzvot.  These are commandments about things that we must do, rather than commandments about things that we must not do.  Time-bound refers to mitzvot that must be performed at a particular time of day.  There are practical reasons that might exclude women from positive time-bound mitzvot, like responsibilities for children or intermittent states of ritual purity each month.  However, such issues are not necessarily limiting.   

The Gemara first gives examples of positive mitzvot that are not time-bound, like sending a bird from its nest to avoid having it witness the death of its chicks, or affixing a mezuza.  

Next, the Gemara asks if women are in fact excused from positive, time-bound mitzvot.  It names a number of such mitzvot that women are obligated to perform.   These include eating matza on the first night of Pesach, assembling at Sukkot, and rejoicing at Festivals.  Thus how can we say that women being excuses from positive, time-bound mitzvot is a principle?

Apparently, the word "all" in a general statement (in a Mishna) might still have exceptions.  These statements are not over-arching.  A proof is found in Masechet Eruvin, where a Shabbat boundary can be extended by any food except for water and salt.  Oh, and mushrooms and truffles.  And these last two examples prove that the generalized statement is not overarching.

Much of the remainder of the daf relies on proofs based on juxtapositioning. When two verses are stated close to each other, the rabbis draw inferences about further interpretations.  Just like women are exempt from Torah study, women are exempt from donning phylacteries. If they choose to juxtapose phylacteries with mezuzot, however, then women could be permitted to don phylacteries for they are permitted to affix mezuzot.  The rabbis note that because phylacteries and Torah study are mentioned in the first and second paragraph of the shema but phylacteries and mezuzot are mentioned only once in the second paragraph, exemption is the proper interpretation.

From here the Gemara goes on to challenge that interpretation.  Perhaps there is another juxtapositioning, that of Torah study and mezuza.  This brings in a separate reference that refers to women's absolute requirement to affix mezuzot, suggesting that women should be obliged to study Torah.  Similarly, the example of residing in a sukka is argued in both directions.  Perhaps a woman is not obligated because of the words "all the homeborn in Israel", which serves as an exclusion of women.  But maybe a woman is obligated to observe this mitzvah because men and women are commanded to reside together.

The Gemara discusses the obligation to assemble at  the Festivals and the obligation to rejoice.  One argument is particularly telling: women do not need to assemble to rejoice at Festivals because their husbands should cause them to rejoice, instead.  The rabbis consider the case of a widow, too.

The remainder of our daf questions whether or not two verses that come as one (through these juxtapositions) create a precedent.  As they confirm that this is not the case, the rabbis note that there must be proofs teaching that women are actually obligated to perform mtizvot that are positive but not time-bound.  We will continue learning about how this works tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Kiddushin 33: Standing to Honour a Torah Scholar/ a Torah Scroll

In keeping with their conversation about honouring parents, especially fathers, the rabbis focus on honouring each other in today's daf.  Some of the main points as I understand them:

  • anyone with a hoary head - an elder - should be honoured
  • honour is demonstrated through standing in one's presence
  • craftspeople should not stand before Torah scholars to honour them if it interrupts their work and costs their clients money
  • one should not stand to honour a Torah scholar, even one's teacher, in the bathhouse
  • one should not contemplate Torah in a bathhouse, a lavatory, or anywhere where there is urine or feces
  • one cannot close one's eyes to avoid seeing and thus honouring a Torah scholar
  • a student should stand from the moment his/her teacher is seen until that teacher is either out of sight or at least four cubits (approximately two metres) away
  • covering one's head was sometimes used to demonstrate respect
  • elders are honoured because of their assumed wisdom after so many years of experiences
  • teachers should be honoured through standing before them once in the morning and once in the evening
  • more standing might suggest that a Torah scholar is like G-d
  • A father who learns from his son does not stand before him; the son stands before his father
  • Those who do extensive good deeds, like Rabbi Yechezkel, should be honoured through standing
  • if a teacher is riding on an animal, that is similar to a teacher walking, and one should stand to honour a teacher who is riding
  • a person who is impure and sitting under a tree imparts ritual impurity to anyone else who stops under that tree
  • a person who is ritually pure and sitting under a tree incurs ritual impurity only if one who is ritually impure stops beneath that tree
  • thus one who is in motion must be honoured; s/he is in a place of strength
  • Torah scrolls should be honoured through standing as well
  • One should stand before a Torah scroll in motion; a Torah scroll that is being carried (like a Torah scholar on a camel)
  • One should stand before a teacher studying Torah
  • One should stand before a Torah scholar, the president of the court, or the Nasi if they are passing by

The rabbis go to great lengths to describe some of the ways that they have been disrespected by other rabbis who did not stand before them.  This discussion makes me wonder whether this text reflects both encouragement to respect for the rabbis and discouragement from rabbis taking their own honour too seriously.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Kiddushin 32: Honouring One's Father and Teacher; Foregoing One's Honour

A great daf on how to honour one's father.  Some of the expectations include:

  • Honouring one's father through food
  • the food is paid for through the father's estate
  • if a father does not have much money, the son pays for that food
  • pairs of father/son, brother/brother, business partners, rabbi/student can redeem the second tithe together without paying an extra one fifth
  • one may not feed his father disrespectfully, for example, through using the poor man's tithe
  • a father can forego his honour if he believe that other behaviour would anger his son and create a situation where the son would transgress (ie. get angry and disrespect his father)
We learn about stoning and burning transgressors of specific sins as taught by one father to his son.  That learning turns into a conversation about the different punishments for different capital crimes.  Part of that discussion is an argument regarding which is more severe, burning or stoning.

The rabbis continue to discuss honouring one's father:
  • If a father transgresses a Torah law, his son should not say, "Father you have transgressed a Torah matter";
  • Instead, his son should say, "Father, this verse is written in the Torah (and then say the verse)"
  • This is to allow the father to correct his own mistake without being corrected by his son
  • If a father asks for water at the same time that a son is performing a mitzvah, the son should finish performing his mitzvah
  • This is because both the father and the son are obligated in mitzvot
The Gemara shifts to discuss when one might forego his honour.  In particular, the Gemara considers rabbis and their relationships with each other.
  • Through their expectations at weddings, we learn that Sages are expected both to serve when they are hosting and that Sages expect the respect of other Sages, as demonstrated by standing in the presence of a Sage
  • Who can forego his honour - a father? a rabbi? a Sage? a Nasi? a priest? a King?
  • We are reminded that Abraham avinu was a host who stood to honour his unknown guests
  • Through a number of different verses, we learn that elderly people and wise people are to be honoured
  • This means that a youth with wisdom is to be honoured equally to an elderly Sage or an elderly, uneducated man
  • The term sheiva, hoary head, is introduced in contrast with zakan, elderly

Monday, 11 April 2016

Kiddushin 31: How to Honour One's Parents

The Gemara is clear about honouring our fathers above our mothers.  This is because the father is to be honoured by his children and by his wife.  In cases of divorced or widowed parents, however, children are to honour their mothers equally to their fathers.  This is because their mothers are no longer obligated to honour those men.

  • If we cause our parents to suffer, even if only in private, we are causing G-d to suffer; we are needlessly pushing G-d away
  • A Talmud scholar should not walk more than four cubits with an upright or arrogant posture, for we demonstrate that G-d is in charge of this world, not us
  • Similarly, men should not walk more than four cubits without their heads covered in deference to G-d's Omnipresence.  As Rav Huna said, "The Divine Presence is above my head".
  • Rabbi Yehoshua is cruel to a young man asking questions about honouring his widowed mother
Stories are told about the Gentile Dama ben Betina, a wealthy Gentile from Ashkelon.  He was famous, in part, for the many ways in which he honoured his parents.  He gave up huge sums of money to avoid waking his father, for example.  The rabbis wonder: is it more or less laudable for someone to observe the mitzvot when they are not obligated in those mitzvot? After a short argument, the rabbis determine that one who is obligated and then fulfills the mitzvot is rewarded more significantly.  This is because it is difficult to follow commands.  Further, fulfilling a commanded mitzvah brings G-d closer through obedience.  Interesting arguments.

Further points about honouring one's parents:
  • It is better to treat one's parents with kindness even when asking them to do difficult work than to treat them disrespectfully while serving them fine food.
  • If parents choose to honour their child exorbitantly, a child may acquiesce unless the father is a Torah scholar, in which case the child should refuse that treatment.  This is because a Torah scholar knows that he deserves respect from his son and would be disappointed in his son's behaviour.
  • Rabbi Yochanan said that those who did not know their parents (Rabbi Yochanan himself; Abaye) are fortunate, for it is so difficult to fulfil the mitzvah to honour one's parents
  • Rav Asi left his mother for Eretz Yisrael when he realized that she was senile.  He asked permission to leave HaAretz to greet her, which was not allowed for priests, when he learned he mother was visiting him.   He was confused by Rabbi Eleazar's answer and when his mother died before reaching him, he wished he had not considered leaving HaAaretz at all.
One honours one's father in his life and in his death.  How?
In his life:
    • Goes where his father command him to go
    • Tells those he meets that he has done these things in his Father's name (and not his own name)
In his death:
    • Rather than saying, "so said Father," he should say, "so said Father, my teacher, may I be an atonement for his resting soul"
    • This should be said for twelve months following his father's death
    • After that time he should say, "May his memory be a blessing for the life of the World-to-Come"
    • One cannot call one's parents by their first names - ever.
    • In lectures, one can refer to "my father, my teacher"
    • Disseminators are permitted to use the first names of their teachers.
Finally, the Gemara considers differences between fear and honour.
  • Fear: One cannot sit or stand in one's father's place, contradict him, or take sides when his father argues, which would either go against one's father directly or would 'validate' one's father's argument, which is disrespectful.
  • Honour: One gives one's father food and drink, dresses and covers him, brings him in and takes him out for all household needs.
My take away points:
  • Mothers get a bad deal
  • Fathers get a great deal
  • Honouring one's parent has always been incredibly challenging

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Kiddushin 30: Educating One's Sons, Finding Partners for One's Children

Today's is a fascinating daf that touches upon a number of important and still-relevant questions.

  • Fathers must marry off their sons
  • Sons should be married between the ages of 16 and 22 or 18 and 24, depending on the rabbi
  • Sons should be married and educated while the father continues to have some authority
  • Fathers should teach their sons Torah - Bible, Mishna, Talmud, Agadot and Halachot
  • Talmud might cover them all
  • One may teach his son's sons, as well
  • One may use a tutor to teach his sons
  • Deuteronomy's imperative (11:9) to teach "your sons" refers to sons and grandsons; it excludes daughters*
  • One should teach one's sons diligently, veshinnantam (Deuteronomy 6:7)
  • The rabbis change that word to veshillashtam, related to the word 'three', so that we know to split education into three parts: study, review, study again
  • All study could be split into three parts: Bible, Mishna, Talmud
  • Study could be measured across one's lifetime (difficult to do accurately in advance as we do not know how long we will live) or with regard to daily study time
The rabbis digress and discuss how the Torah and other texts might be split into three or two.  Which is the middle letter of the Torah?  What do we do with that letter - do we attach it to the first or the second half of the Torah?  Should we be dividing the Torah according to numbers of verses?  Experts are better at counting letters and verses - should they be consulted?

The rabbis return to their conversation about how to educate:
  • Veshinnantam might refer to speaking clearly and decisively
  • One should know the Torah as well as he knows his sister (or, perhaps, as well as he knows the laws regarding forbidden relationships with one's sister)
  • Even when fathers and son or rabbis and students become enemies over the intensity of study, they should end their learning with love for each other (Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba)
  • The Sages teach that Torah study is like a bandage for one's wound
  • We are shown examples of the Torah as a healer of the evil inclination
The Gemara continues its discussions about other responsibilities of a father:
  • The baraita (29a) teaches that a father is commanded to marry his son to a woman, derived from Jeremiah (29:6) "Take wives and bear sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men".
  • How might a man marry off his daughter, when this is the decision of someone else and his son?
  • Land, clothing and money should be given to a daughter to increase her opportunities to marry
  • Teaching one's son a trade is an analogy taken from Ecclesiastes (9:9): "Enjoy life with the wife whom you love"
  • Teaching one's son to swim is a life skill
  • Teaching one's son a trade is better than teaching one's son business, for a person requires money to begin a business whereas a trade will provide a person with food in the worst of times.
Finally, the Gemara considers the mitzvah to honour one's father and mother:
  • honouring one's parents is similar to honouring G-d
  • everyone has three parents: a mother, a father, and G-d who provides our soul
  • a person who strikes his/her parent is put to death; this cannot be compared with the Omnipresent who could not be struck 
  • one's mother might be honoured more than one's father because a mother is more encouraging and less harsh

* This could have as easily been interpreted in the opposite manner: "your sons" means your children, sons and daughters, but not your grandchildren.  The rabbis' choice of interpretation is telling.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Kiddushin 29: Obligations Based on Sex

We are introduced to an important new Mishna.  I learned about this Mishna over 23 years ago when I began to research how I might enter the world of greater Jewish observance. This Mishna teaches that in all mitzvot where a son is commanded regarding his father, men are obligated and women are not.  All mitzvot about a father parenting his son, however, obligate both women and men.  Similarly, positive, time-bound mitzvot must be observed by men but not by women.  Positive mitzvot that are not time-bound are obligated by women and men.  Finally, prohibitions apply to both men and women, whether or not they are time bound.  There are only a few exceptions: the mitzvah to leave the corners of one's beard unshaven, and the mitzvah of a priest to have no contact with a dead body.

The Gemara touches only briefly on the first point of our Mishna: where a son is commanded regarding his father, only men are obligated to practice this mitzvah.  The Gemara uses only one question to clarify this point: isn't a son supposed to fear both his mother and his father?  The word for fear is said in the plural - wouldn't that obligate both a son and a daughter to fear their parents? 

The Gemara looks to the next point in our Mishna, that of mitzvot about parenting.  These apply only to men; women are exempt from their observance.  First, the rabbis consider what it is that a father is supposed to do for his son.  For example, he is t circumsize and redeem his son.  He should teach his son Torah, find him a wife, and teach him a trade.  Perhaps he should teach his son to swim.  And Rabbi Yehuda says that a man who does not teach his son a trade teaches him banditry.

The Gemara then considers the first two obligations of fathers: circumcision and redemption.  How do we know that a father is to circumcise his son?  Abraham was commanded to do so.  How do we know that women are not obliged to circumcise their sons?  Because G-d commanded this of him, and not of her.*  But how do we know that fathers are to circumcise their sons in perpetuity?  The  rabbis look to the word "commands", suggesting that this word signifies an mitzvah that is required in each generation.

And on redemption - the Gemara looks at the commandment, "you shall redeem", which could also mean "you shall be redeemed".  Men can be redeemed and also can redeem themselves while women can only redeem others.  Thus the mitzvah must not apply to women.  Why are sons redeemed and not daughters?  Because of our learning in Exodus, where sons and not daughters are redeemed.  And what if a man has not yet been redeemed but he wishes to redeem his son?  Is he permitted to redeem his son first, or must he redeem himself before carrying out the mitzvah of redeeming his son?  Must he redeem just his first born son, or every one of his first sons born to different women?

One of the lines of arguments used by Rabbi Yehuda is that we should always complete our own mitzvah before completing a mitzvah for someone else.  This idea, while seemingly 'selfish', has much to teach us today.  If we are performing a mitzvah, we are not doing something purely selfish nor are we doing something purely altruistic.  We are fulfilling one of our responsibilities. Whatever we think of those responsibilities, we are meeting the requirements set up for us.  That is not selfishness, because we might not enjoy or want to do those mitzvot.  However, it is also not the same thing as completing someone else's mitzvah.  Such an act is selfless - but Judaism teaches that our giving natures should not supersede our personal responsibilities.  How different from mainstream discussions of selfless service.

The rabbis move on to discuss the mitzvah to teach one's son Torah.  Why only fathers?  The word "you shall teach" is the same as "you shall study".  The rabbis understand that these terms are interchangeable, and thus if one learns, one is obligated to teach.  Women are not obligated to teach Torah, and thus they are not obligated to learn Torah.  Why teaching only one's sons?  Deuteronomy 11:19 specifies "and you shall teach them to your sons" and not your daughters.  This is enough for the rabbis to justify half of the Jewish population's restriction from learning and teaching Torah.

Moving on to the question of who should be taught first, a father who wants to learn Torah or his son, the rabbis tell a story about Rav Acha Bar Ya'akov, who sent his son to learn with Abaye and was not allowed to return, for his father saw that his son would not benefit from the learning and because Rav Acha wanted to learn himself.  A related story relates that Abaye used Rav Acha's goodness to defeat a seven-headed snake-like demon that would appear in the study hall at night.  Rav Acha's goodness killed each of the serpent's seven heads as he bowed in prayer.  

And by the way, say the rabbis, should a person marry first or study Torah first?  The rabbis seem to agree that one should study Torah first to keep one's mind grounded and clear.  However, if one is distracted so much by his sexual urges that he cannot study Torah, he should marry young.  The rabbis end our daf by questioning whether or not a Torah student should be married by the age of 20. 

*To me this seems to be an argument of convenience.  In that particular narrative, Abraham was the "he" in question.  To carry out that mitzvah as a gendered obligation in perpetuity seems to be a stretch.  Of course Abraham was commanded as "him".  He happened to be a man.  We could as easily argue that Abraham's age when he was circumcised teaches us the proper age for circumcision, or that his circumcision, with a rock, is how all men should be circumcised.  It is difficult to read these proof texts as definitive when they seem to be almost entirely subjective.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Kiddushin 27: More Details on Acquiring Movable Property with Land

The rabbis continue to understand the "how to" on transferring ownership of movable property - in this case, tithes for the priests and for the poor - by piling it on land that is also sold.  They ask questions about whether or not the movable property and land can be in different places, whether "acquire it" needs to be stated, whether a document or possession or money might stand alone or whether multiple conditions are required for the sale of property that is not guaranteed. The rabbis ask about the power differences regarding transfer of ownership via possession versus via document or money.  As well, they consider other questions, like whether the land and the movable property can be sold or gifted to different people.  

Amud (b) shares an interesting debate regarding multiple plots of land.  If a buyer has a document selling him ten plots of land in ten different countries, must he take possession of each individually?  Or does acquire all pieces of land after he has paid for all of them but possessed just one?  While the halacha agrees with this point, other examples are rejected - animals cannot be acquired by taking hold of one leash and pulling.  The argument is that each animal is a separate entity.  However, land is one large mass, the rabbis say.  Acquiring one plot allows us to acquire all of what we have purchased.

Ulla wonders about this concept.  Where can we find proof that when one takes an oath regarding one claim, the other party can ask him/her to take another oath that is otherwise not required?  An example from Masechet Sota is used to elucidate.  A woman accused of being a sota says "amen, amen" in response to a number of different oaths.  She only drinks the bitter waters if she was warned against seclusion with a particular man by her husband and she then went against those wishes.  

If she is betrothed, widowed or a yevama, she cannot drink the bitter waters at all.  This is because one cannot warn about seclusion in betrothal.  And once the couple is married, the husband must be free of iniquity for the bitter waters to work.  If he had intercourse with his wife after his accusation (which he would have to do to marry her), then the process of the sota is invalid.  

The Gemara notes that the sota ritual is based on a prohibition.  It asks where we might find an extension of an oath regarding monetary matters.  We will learn about this tomorrow!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Kiddushin 26: Movable Property can be Acquired with Guaranteed Property

We begin with a new Mishna, which teaches about property that can be used as a guarantee (ie. if the new owner learns that the property was already owed to someone else, the new owner does not lose his/her acquisition).  Such guaranteed property can be acquired by money, document, or possession.  Property that cannot be used as a guarantee - all of the items or 'movable property' in a home, for example - can be acquired by pulling, which is hand to hand acquisition.  However, movable property can also be acquired by money or document or possession as long as it has been somehow attached to land or other guaranteed property.

The rabbis first find proofs for the premises of this Mishna.   How do we know that guaranteed property can be acquired by money? by a document? by possession?  And how do we know that movable property can be acquired by money or by a document?  The rabbis refer to specific proof texts for each assumption.  They consider the case of gifts, as well.  And most interesting to me, they consider the notion of 'possession'.  Proof texts in Jeremiah (40:10) and in Deuteronomy (11:31) suggest that 'dwelling' signifies ownership of a home.  This would give rights to squatters; those in great need of shelter who possess an otherwise unused property.  

In answering a question about whether first fruits must be piled together to transfer their ownership, the rabbis consider the halachot of pe'a.  They note that any size of land is subject to the laws of pe'a, where the produce of at least 1/60 of the land's corners belong to the poor and needy.  So how small might a parcel of land be to transfer ownership of movable property - first fruits, or bikurim - along with it?  The rabbis tell stories of tiny parcels of land (one rabbi "disgusts" another when he uses the apparently useless example of putting a needle in a tiny piece of land to prove his point).  In these cases, people transferred a great deal of movable property to another person through the sale of a minuscule parcel of land.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Kiddushin 25: Is Castration a Blemish that Emancipates a Slave?

If a master cuts off his slave's extra finger, is the slave emancipated?  We learn that the irreparable damage of any of the twenty-four extremities (fingers, toes, ears, nose, penis, nipples - more than twenty-four) leads to a slave's emancipation.  The rabbis debate about the removal of an extra finger.  It is decided that if the finger was in line with the slave's other fingers, then the slave is emancipated.  If the finger was anywhere else on the hand, its removal is permitted without any benefit to the slave.  

The twenty-four extremities are usually used to exempt a person from the diagnosis of leprosy.  One of the reasons for this is based on the interpretation of a verse that tells priests to evaluate leprosy in one glance; the priest should be able to see all of the affected skin from one angle.  That is not the case in these extremities.   Further, the twenty-four extremities are immersed in water for ritual purification.  Any part of the body that is not covered in water might be exempt from being called an extremity, and thus damage to that body part belonging to a slave might not lead to emancipation.

The Gemara relates a story about Rabbi Chisda and Rabbi Hamnuna.  Rabbi Hamnuna is asked a question by the elders of Nezonya who did not attend Rabbi Chisda's lecture.  They said that Rabbi Chisda could not answer their question.  Rabbi Hamnuna makes an effort to answer - he cannot, and he returns to Rabbi Chisda.  The question: can a slave who has been castrated by his master be emancipated?  Does this constitute an "exposed blemish"?

The Gemara walks through this question methodically over the course of amud (a).  The question whether or not the testicles are extremities, whether they were fully or partially severed, whether they can be compared to the tongue, which must be ready for immersion but is not actually immersed.   The rabbis debate whether or not a priest could see all of the exposed skin at one glance.   

The rabbis also compare the testicles to the tongue, but this time in the context of sprinkling the water of the red heifer for ritual purity.  If the lips or tongue of a person who is ritually impure are sprinkled inadvertently, is the person now ritually pure?  If so, might this indicate that a slave who has his tongue removed by his master should be emancipated, as one of the twenty-four extremities has been damaged by the master?

Before beginning a new Mishna, the rabbis wonder Leviticus 22:24 applies to a slave whose testicles have been removed by his master.  In this verse, we are told that one whose stones are bruised or crushed or torn or cut cannot be sacrificed.  Wouldn't this teach us that testicles are an extremity?  The rabbis ask whether these same injuries are considered to be blemishes both on the penis and on the testicles.

A new Mishna speaks of Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Eliezer who say that a large domesticated animal can be acquired through passing, a small domesticated animal can be acquired through lifting.  The rabbis say that a small domesticated animal can also be acquired through pulling.

Discussing this Mishna, the rabbis use the example of an elephant.  All seem to agree that an elephant can be acquired by passing, where the bit or leash is passed from one owner to another.  The elephant could also be acquired through its presence in vessels: it could be made to step into four vessels in the pubic domain.  Another option: renting.  The ground upon which the elephant stands could be rented or bought, allowing the elephant's ownership to be transferred to it's new owner.  Finally, the elephant could be led to a section of ground covered by a net of vines.  Pulling the vines while the elephant is there constitutes 'lifting'.

It would seem to me to be obvious: yes, castrating your slave, whether his penis or his testicles, should be enough of a blemish to allow the slave to be freed.  But Talmudic debate is not based on what is 'obviously (to me - and to most of us) the right thing to do'.  Talmudic debate is about finding sources to prove one's opinion, supposedly without the interference of personal bias.  What a morally challenging perek!

Monday, 4 April 2016

Kiddushin 24: An Eye or A Tooth; Damaging a Fetus

When bringing the second tithe to Jerusalem (or exchanging it for money which can purchase sanctified food when reaching Jerusalem), the owner must add one fifth to the tithe.  The rabbis argue about whether or not a wife is obligated to add that one fifth of the tithe if she is bringing her husband's share.  This debate is particularly interesting to me as it highlights whether the rabbis believe that a wife is an independent being or a possession of her husband.

The Gemara goes on to consider the case of a Canaanite slave who has been injured by his master.  Both in Exodus (21:26-27) and in other texts, we have learned that a slave is emancipated if his owner injures his tooth or his eye.  For the remainder of our daf, the rabbis attempt to understand what this means.  They consider the role of intention: must a master intentionally hurt his slave?  They also consider what "tooth" and "eye" represent.  Clearly they are not things formed while in utero, for teeth are formed later.  Are these parts of the body that do not regenerate?  Would this mean that knocking out a child slave's 'milk tooth' does not lead to emancipation?  

The rabbis wonder what is included in 'extremities', or in 'regeneration'.  What about an extra finger?  What about damage done psychologically by hitting near the eye or the ear?  Blindness or deafness could result from "fright", leaving a slave functionally blind or deaf though he is physically intact.  The rabbis consider other cases where damage through sound leads to reparations.  Sound is, therefore, considered to be a source of damage.  

Should it matter if the tooth was already loose, or if the eye was already weak?  The rabbis consider the importance of functionality: if the person was able to use the tooth before the strike but was unable to use the tooth after being hurt, he is emancipated.

The rabbis provide an example that elucidates our rabbis' understandings of the status of a fetus.  If a master were helping to deliver his maidservant's baby, and he put his hand in her womb and destroyed the eye of the fetus, is he freed?   He did not intend to cause damage, which is an important consideration.  However, the more interesting point for me is that the rabbis argue about the developmental stage of the fetus being born.  The fetus is still developing while in the womb.  That means that until it is fully born, the fetus's extremities, including it's eyes, are not yet formed.  Thus the fetus is not freed when it is born with a damaged eye.

How horrible to imagine such a situation - and for the master to have no obligation to pay for his damage to this new human being.  However, our ancient rabbis valued a woman's life as a life.  A fetus did not have a life, legally, even at the point of birth, as it was still dependent upon its mother's body to live.  We can appreciate this additional argument regarding today's abortion issues.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Kiddushin 23: Addressing Patriarchal Systems of "Protecting the Vulnerable"

Can a slave use his own money to emancipate himself?  What if a master dies without heirs - who is permitted to take on his adult slaves? His minor slaves?  Where can the money paid for emancipation come from? Should slaves be freed early in any case?  Does a slave have the ability to acquire for himself while in servitude?  What if the master has no means with which to acquire?  When a slave receives his bill of manumission, is he simultaneously permitted to acquire?  Should these halachot align with the halachot regarding divorce, where movement from one location to another defines some of the changes in rights and responsibilities?  How important is it that the master hands the slave his bill of manumission?  Can agents be involved on either side?

The Gemara considers comparisons in dyads based on a power differential: between a slave and his master, and between a wife and her husband.  If either a slave or a wife are given a gift, their master/husband acquires that gift.  In the case of a slave, the master acquires the gift as well, even if the gift is given on the condition that the master does not acquire it.  With a wife, however, the gift is acquired only by the husband, even in a case where the gift was given on the condition that the husband does not acquire it.

As much as I find the concept of slavery abhorrent and as much as I am a strong feminist, I am beginning to understand better the philosophy behind the decisions of our Sages regarding social status.  The system of patriarchy was used, in part at least, as a social safety net.  Women were oppressed under these laws, for example, but they were also protected from other hardship that they would face in that ancient society as unmarried women.  Slaves were forced to work for the benefit of others, but they could sell themselves into slavery and buy themselves out.  They would share the master's standard of living.  They were protected from homelessness and hunger.

Of course, from my viewpoint it makes sense to consider dismantling a system that protects people in a way that relies on the generosity of the most privileged.   The system I am learning about benefits men and slaves more than women or maidservants; Jews more than Gentiles; those who are physically able more than those with physical challenges.  But with what would we replace this system?  Today we see people living on the street - men and women and children - with only broken social services to help them. We say that sexual assault is illegal but our criminal justice system rarely convicts the many men who commit those assaults.  Is our system truly better than this ancient system?  Or just another broken response to the suffering that seems to be inevitable in our social world?

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Kiddushin 22: Acquisition of Canaanite Slaves and Maidservants; Sexual Violence

Continuing to refine their interpretations of our last Mishna and related baraita, the rabbis speak about  a number of issues:

  • When taking a prisoner of war as one's wife
    • she does not actually have to be "beautiful"; beauty is subjective
    • only one woman can be chosen from the prisoners
    • sexual intercourse can happen once, at the most, before she converts
    • she may or may not be approached until after the end of the war
    • a second woman may not be chosen for another man
    • a woman cannot be chosen by one man for another man
  • When a slave is pierced with an awl to maintain his status as slave
    • his declaration must be just before the end of his service
    • some rabbis believe he must claim his desire in the morning and the evening
    • he must love his master and his master must love him
    • he must have a wife and children as he speaks about his wife and children
    • the master need not have a wife and children
    • "your house" refers to your wife
    • "fares well" means that the slave and the master must be healthy
    • "his wife and children go out with him" means that the master must sustain them
    • selling oneself into slavery is undesirable because G-d wants to serve only G-d: "For to the children of Israel are slaves" (Leviticus 25:55)
In amud (b), a new Mishna teaches us about Canaanite slaves.  They can be acquired by money, a document, or possession by the master.  Rabbi Meir says that they can be freed by money paid by others and by a bill of manumission paid for himself.  The other rabbis say that these slaves can be freed by money given by others by handed over by the slaves, or bills of manumission accepted by others.  This is because anything owned by slaves is actually owned by their masters.

The Gemara first wonders whether or not slaves are considered to be held to the halachot of movable property.  Can they be acquired by pulling?  Can they be acquired by lifting?  Does the age of a slave make a difference; for example, if a minor under the age of six is pulled - or called over - and he acquiesces, does this allow the master to possess him as a slave? Is a minor treated with the same guidelines as those informing our treatment of animals who cannot understand the ramifications of their behaviours?

Finally, the rabbis wonder if a Canaanite maidservant can be acquired as a wife through sexual intercourse alone.  They note that one party should benefit and the other should suffer as a result of the acquisition.  In this case, both would benefit, they argue.  But what if she was acquired through an act of atypical intercourse - anal intercourse?  The rabbis argue that she would not benefit from such an act and thus the act of acquisition should be valid.  They mention Leviticus 18:22, where we learn about "Lyings with a woman", suggesting that there are two forms of intercourse with a woman.

All of our texts about slavery are disturbing.  They reflect an ancient understanding of social status, social cohesion, the management of poverty, and the value of a life.  The last few words of our daf, however, are additionally difficult to understand as they suggest that what we would call "rape" might benefit a woman.  How could "typical" (read: vaginal) rape to be thought of as a positive experience - in any way - for the woman being raped?  The only conclusion I can reach is that women were so incredibly vulnerable that they experienced rape as a "ticket" to having a roof, and access to food, etc.  Not to mention the capacity to carry out their required mitzvot.  

The other possible interpretation I can imagine is that the rabbis had no idea at all about women's experiences of sexual intercourse as an act of acquisition.  Women were not enjoying the act on any level, but they were submitting because they had no other protections or options.  It is devastating to imagine this reality.  Sadly, in many parts of our world, women continue to live with frighteningly few options and they submit to these same acts of sexual violence today.