Saturday, 31 January 2015

Yevamot II 120: I'm Not Dead Yet!

What a gruesome daf.  Although we begin with continuation of past conversations about potential widows, potentially dead husbands, and how that affects rival wives, we don't stay there.  Today we move on to the critical question: how can we be certain that the husband is dead?

A new Mishna teaches us that a witness must look upon the countenance (defined as the cheeks) of the face rather than other identifying marks or characteristics.  Even if an animal has begun to rip a person apart, the body must be identified within three days of dying.  Otherwise the face will have begun to change in early stages of decomposition.  Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava says that not every person, place or hour is identical.  Thus the Gemara hones in on how we might identify a missing husband as a dead husband.

We begin innocently enough - facial features, moles, etc.  The rabbis share many reasonable ideas as to why these distinctive markings might be identifiers or might be misleading.  Then we move on to clothing and other property - for example, a donkey saddle.  The rabbis share their concerns that certain things will not be given away or lent to another person - one's money purse, one's signet ring, one's donkey saddle (which would bruise another donkey, as they are made to measure).  

But then we dive into the gore.  Cut open bodes, found legs below the knee, those cut with a white hot knife - all of these husbands might still be alive.  We learn about how surgery is sometimes performed with exceedingly hot instruments in order to cauterize the blood vessels and to lessen the risk of infection.  We learn that people were sometimes taken down from their crucifixions before they died.  And often deaths met out by governments were designed to prolong the experience of dying both as a threat to other potential 'rebels' and as punishment.  

The detail with which the rabbis discuss these examples is disturbing.  Much of it might be imaginary, for one rabbi speaks of witnessing an Arab cutting open a camel which died immediately.  The others spoke about the state of that camel's health and the influence of wellness on the time of death.  It seems as though the rabbis had not necessarily witnessed most of the atrocities that they speak of at length.  

So why go into such detail? My guess is that the rabbis used this opportunity, as with other generally taboo subjects, to discuss what is fascinating, forbidden, and enthralling.  Like a group of boys talking about torture or about seeing nude women (although that experience is changing very quickly with the ubiquity of pornography), our Sages used the Torah to discuss almost every aspect they could think of regarding human existence.   Makes for a painful daf, though.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Yevamot II 118: To Spare Someone From Transgressions; Women Love Being Married

Today's daf includes a number of short Mishnayot and commentary.  Each of them is concerned with the proper halacha when a woman is claiming that her husband has died while abroad.  In some of these cases, the woman has also lost a child while abroad.  Sometimes the child died before the husband, so that she was left as a yevama, and sometimes the husband died before the child, so that she was exempt from yibum.  In all cases, the credibility of the woman's word is questioned.

IN a number of these Mishnayot, Rabbi Akiva argues with Rabbi Tarfon.  The latter rules stringently, and Rabbi Akiva replied with the same statement repeatedly: This is no way to spare one from transgression.  In developing the halacha, Rabbi Akiva is clear that a good part of their responsibility is to help Jews keep the mitzvot.  Rival wives should not be left to partake of teruma, waiting for their priestly husbands indefinitely, for example.  

The fact that Rabbi Akiva openly considers his role as one that facilitates the practice of mitzvot is significant.  Of course, this is always in the minds of the rabbis as they balance the needs of the community, the words of Torah, the words of Sages who have come before them, etc.  But usually the rabbis are silent about this motivation.  Their interpretations are stated as facts based on proof texts: a rabbi's interpretation is what G-d has intended, obviously - just look at this proof!  It is refreshing to witness Rabbi Akiva's ability to name the importance of how the halachot are constructed as means to an end.

At the end of today's daf, one last Mishna examines the importance of marriage in women's lives.   The rabbis begin by speaking about a woman whose husband gives a get to his agent to be delivered to his wife.  Before she receives it, her husband dies.  Should we consider her to be divorced from the moment that he hands off the get?  Or is she considered to be married?  The Gemara notes that most women wish to remain married, regardless of their husbands' appearance, profession, or status.  The rabbis share a number of sayings that suggest that a woman's status is always improved by marriage, regardless of who she marries.

Many women continue to feel this way.  At the same time, we continue to learn that our highest value is our ability to look attractive to men and to procreate.  So really, we do continue to gain status through marriage: if we are 'wanted' by a man, our value is set.  And yet in modern times, especially with the advantages of not being property, of having access to birth control, and of having options for employment - we must balance how important those old values are.  Somehow the approval of men is still linked to our sense of self-worth. Although they were located in a very different perspective, the rabbis were astute in their observations.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Yevamot II 117: On Dead Husbands and Women as Witnesses

A new Mishna offers some clarity regarding the issues discussed for some time.  We learn from this Mishna and the beginning of the Gemara that a woman who testifies that her husband has died is credible.  In ordinary circumstances, she receives only the value stated in her ketubah.  He statement does not affect inheritance until her husband is confirmed dead.  If she enters into yibum with her brother-in-law, however, he is able to inherit from his brother.  

Rav Chisda is concerned that if we interpret marriage contracts according to midrash, homiletically, then what stops us from interpreting the entire Torah according to midrash?

Rabbi Nachman asks what the court should do if a woman comes to the court and asks to remarry for her husband has died.  She is believed and she is given her marriage contract. But if the woman is obviously motivated by the money that she will receive through her ketubah: if she asks for the ketubah and then for permission to remarry, or simply for the ketubah, then she is not provided with that document.  I am not clear why a woman should not want to have her ketubah, for she may need that money to survive after her husband has disappeared/died.

A new Mishna teaches us that a woman can testify regarding her husband's death, and any other woman is believed with similar testimony, except for five women.  These are the widow's mother-in-law, the daughter of her mother-in-law, her rival wife, the wife of her yavam, or the daughter of her yavam.  The Mishna notes that there is a difference between a ketubah and a death certificate, in that a ketubah provides written proof of the testimony of others while a statement of death might have been completed by the woman herself.

Any of these five women might hate the widow and would have reason to lie: they would like her to leave the family.  Other reasons for this type of hatred between women are described.  The Gemara mentions that the widow eats the family's food and she might be resented for that.  For the most part, though, women are said to hate other women because one woman likely will speak about another woman to a man - a husband or father or father-in-law - who will use that information against them.  The rabbis cite Proverbs 27:19, "As in water face answers to face, so the heart of man to man" to explain that when hatred builds in one person, it will also build in the person who is hated.*  The rabbis tell us that women have many reasons to lie about family relationships and they should not be trusted.

It is disheartening to read about the rabbis' concerns about women hating other women in their families.  But feminist theory speaks about this same dynamic: when men have power over women, women turn any hatred that we might feel toward that system not against men but against other women.  This is because we too have internalized the workings of this patriarchal system.  We too see the men as more deserving of the power that they yield.  Thus we direct our bad feelings at other women, for we will win the favour of those in charge; we will ensure our own survival.

Another Mishna asks what should be done when a woman says her husband has died and then she remarries.  If another witness claims that her husband is in fact alive, she need not divorce her current husband.  If two witnesses say that he is alive, then she is forced to divorce her new husband.  If this happens before she is married, the rabbis follow the principle regarding witnesses: one witness stands on its own merit if two witnesses are unavailable.  But if there are two witnesses, their opinion holds sway.   A note tells us that the people say that a widow with a missing husband should not remarry just because of the rumours that would spread about her.  The note tells us that this is considered to be 'good advice' rather than halacha.

The rabbis seem to be balancing a number of principles:

  • the value of a man's testimony is at least twice (if not one hundred times) the weight of a woman's testimony
  • in cases with groups of witnesses, the majority rules
  • two witnesses negate the testimony of one witness, etc.
The Gemara points out that following majority rule would not necessarily create a stringency; in some cases it would create a leniency.

At the very end of today's daf, we begin a new Mishna regarding rival wives. If one says that her husband died and the other says that he is alive, the one who believes he is dead may remarry and may take the money promised in her ketubah.  The other may not marry and may not take of her contract.  If one wife says that he died and the other says he is killed, there are different opinions.  Rabbi Meir says that since they disagree, neither can remarry.  Rabbis Yehuda and Shimon disagree: both agree that he is dead, so both may remarry and take the money promised in their ketubot.  Finally the Mishna teaches that if single witnesses - men or women - disagree about whether another woman's husband has died, then the woman cannot remarry.

*A note reminds us that the rabbis generally interpret this proof regarding Torah study: study begets more study.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Yevamot II 116: The Credibility of Women

The Gemara deepens its discussion of witnesses who claim that a husband has died, which would allow his widow to remarry or to enter yibum/perform chalitza.  Can the wife herself be trusted?  What about other witnesses to the death?  What if the couple was witnessed in a fight where the woman said, "you divorced me"?  What of promissory notes or gets, divorce contracts, that are found?  Are they proof of anything at all?

The rabbis walk through the example of a man whose get is found.  They search the city that was named to ensure there is no other man of the same name.  However, there are witnesses who claim that this man was in another nearby city on the day that the get was composed.  Thus how could he have written that get in that city?  The rabbis introduce  a number of far-fetched possibilities, including his transportation from one city to another on a flying camel (a racing camel).  

The rabbis consider the possibility that the woman might lie to her husband about his divorcing her, which is almost unthinkable to them.  A woman lie to her husband?!  They note that if she might lie to her husband then she is not credible in any way.  Rabbi Yehuda suggests that a woman is a credible witness on her own regarding her husband's death only if she arrives at the court crying, in torn clothing.  The rabbis counter this, saying that she might learn from her friends to present herself in this way.  Further, a crafty woman might take advantage of this expectation while a 'foolish' woman might not, and the wrong women would be allowed to remarry.

A new Mishna teaches us about an argument between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai where Beit Shammai's ruling carries - and is more lenient.  Beit Hillel suggests that a woman is deemed credible only if she came from the grain harvest and if she is in the same country where her husband's death took place.  Beit Shammai suggests that any harvest would do, and that she could be in any country comported with that of her deceased husband.   The harvest stands as a time marker for the rabbis.

Finally, the Gemara considers the case where people travelled over the Jordan River on a boat carrying the waters of purification and the ashes of the brown heifer.  Should the subsequent ritual impurification that resulted (from an ollve bulk of dead carcass son the boat floor) teach us never to take such valuable things across water, etc.?  The rabbi veer off course, but they find their footing again.  I am hopeful that they will come back around shortly.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Yevamot II 115: Proof of Identity

When are women trusted to act as witnesses to their husbands' deaths?  The rabbis are balancing the imperative for women to be married with the prohibitions against both women's testimony and polygamy for women.  

First, they examine the notion of losing a husband in war.  What counts as a war?  How big or how small must that fight be to be called a war?  When would women wait to see if their husbands have been killed and when would they run and assume that their husbands are dead?  Is it similar if a woman and her husband were smoked out of a cave?  She might survive by running, assuming that her husband has stayed and died.  The rabbis note that men would likely be killed, while as Rav Idi says, women's "weapons are upon her".  They acknowledge that women would likely be raped but not killed in an attack.

The rabbis remember a bride and groom who suffered a fire in the bridal chamber during the ceremony.  Upon seeing her husband charred, only a palm of his hand remaining, the bride yelled, "Look at my husband, look at my husband!"  Believe it or not, the rabbis did not accept her testimony.  Their story:  the fire caused him to lose his hand, and his embarrassment at this "deformity" forced him to run far away - but he could be alive.  

Why would a woman lie about the death of her husband in war?  The rabbis suggest that she might wish to cover the truth: she hates her husband.  Thus she does not complete a thorough search for him, and he might be alive.  Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava argues this point: the country is riddled with troops, he says, and we must allow the testimony of one witness when considering whether or not women can remarry.  Of course, this point is countered as well, in a sneaky way: if the country is riddled with troops, it is too dangerous to testify at all, and thus one witness cannot be trusted.

The Gemara shares a story about a boat that sinks while carrying Torah scholars.  Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi allowed widows to remarry based on the testimony of women regarding these deaths.  But perhaps water is like war, the Gemara states, and even one hundred women are like one woman in relation to testimony.  Since Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi allowed them to remarry, one witness must be permissible in this circumstance.

Amud (b) carries this story further - what about distinguishing marks?  If men were found or seen, the court would not be relying on the testimony of women but on the distinguishing marks themselves.  Using an example of plants that might be moved or traded, and thus they become unidentifiable property, the rabbis discuss other distinguishing marks.  If a vessel is found with a letter on it, it is assumed to have been destined for a specific purpose:

  • letter: mem - ma'aser sheni, second tithe
  • letter: tet - tevel, untitled produce
  • letter: taf - teruma
  • letter: dalet - damai, doubtfully tithed produce
  • letter: kuf - korban, offering
  • no inscription on a metal vessel - value of vessel plus contents are used to purchase an offering
The rabbis continue to doubt whether this is enough information to identify the vessel and/or its content.

One last story is told about Yitzchak the Exilarch, son of the sister of Rav Beivai, who died while walking from Corva to Spain.  Abaye is not sure that this is enough information; perhaps another man named Yitzchak, son of the sister of Rav Beivai, died on that trip.  Rava is confident that his wife can remarry.

Abaye's argument is based on a bill of divorce that was confusing, for it referred to a husband who may have shared the same name as another man.  In fact, in response to Abba bar Abba (the father of Shmel), Rabbi Yehuda Nesia ordered that all of the town of Neharde'a be searched for a man of the same name.  Rava argues that this is not a proof; it refers to the respect that Rabbi Yehuda Nesia held for Abba bar Abba.

Today's daf is a wonderful example of the Rabbis arguing points of concern in fine form.  The "yes, but" argument is exciting.  It takes us on a journey to other stories, other experiences, all in the name of clarifying the argument at hand.  And today's paths were not so onerous; so filled with brush that we could not see back to our starting point.  

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Yevamot II 114: Are Parents Responsible for Minors' Transgressions?; A Woman's Testimony on Her Husband's Death Overseas

Daf 114 is filled with a number of interesting tidbits.  To begin, the Gemara discusses whether or not parents must ensure that their children keep the mitzvot.  We know that minors are not obligated to keep the mitzvot until they are of age (12 for girls, 13 for boys).  The rabbis compare minors to Gentiles who are what we might called "Shabbos Goyim".  Then they consider tithing and ritual impurity.  If a child's father is a chaver, one who keeps mitzvot meticulously, but his maternal grandfather is not, that child might arrive home with untithed food.  The rabbis believe that the parent need not take away that food.  

I would like to extrapolate from this halacha.  The rabbis are suggesting that we need not be heavy-handed with our children regarding mitzvot.  Some ultra-orthodox families who even forbid their children from visiting with less observant family members.  This particular discussion and resulting halacha - particularly with regard to a less observant grandfather - might hold important information.

The rabbis go on to consider other related potential prohibitions.   For example, is it permitted for a Jewish child to breastfeed from a Gentile woman?  The rabbis also consider both minors and adults who suckle directly from animals - even forbidden animals.  There is a suggestion that this action should be fine on Shabbat and Festivals, when one should drink differently than at other times. This is clarified: when a life is at stake, one may drink in this manner regardless of the day.  The rabbis also consider when it might be permissible to consume the blood of an animal.  Exactly how much blood is forbidden?  And is it the blood in that animal part or is it the blood that flows in that animal while it alive that is being counted? 

Offering a number of bizarre case examples, the rabbis wonder about situations when it is unavoidable to bump against prohibitions.  Two brothers marry two sisters, one of each is deaf and mute, one man dies childless, what is the remaining brother to do?  In some of these cases he is required to divorce his current wife and to perform chalitza with the other because of the numerous prohibitions in yibum.  I won't go through the details of these examples again; needless to say, men who become deaf and mute lose their rights to divorce.

We interrupt today's daf to introduce Perek XV, which begins with a new Mishna.  We learn about more occasions when the testimony of women might be taken more seriously.  When a couple goes overseas and their is no war; there are no arguments, and she returns - childless - claiming that the husband died, she may enter into yibum.  If there is a war or if they were arguing when they left, she is not believed when she claims on her return that he died.   Rabbi Yehuda argues that she is never believed unless she returns in torn clothing, crying.  The rabbis disagree.  

The rabbis note that "peace between him and her" and ""War in the world" are phrases chosen in order to teach us the phrases, "A quarrel between him and her" and "Peace in the world".  The rabbis go on to argue whether she might be saying what she believes to be true rather than what she knows is true.  They consider whether famine, pestilence, rockslides or other maladies are similar to "a war in the world".  In each of these cases the rabbis consider the credibility of a woman's testimony.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Yevamot II 113: Caregiving

In daf 112, we began Perek XIV.  Today's daf further's yesterday's conversation regarding the rights of minor girls and of women who are deaf and mute.  The rabbis wonder how and why their rights are different.  They clarify the differences - the minor girl has a time limit; an age by which she must refuse, and women who are deaf and mute may heal over time.  This has implications on whether or not these women are offered gets, divorce contracts.  We also learn that women who are deaf and mute are not protected from potential assault: if a man has intercourse with a married woman who is deaf and mute, he is not fined for he did not know that she was married.  This particular teaching makes me wonder whether or not a woman's protestations were meaningful only if she was married.

The rabbis note that women are more eager to be married than men.  This means that they will be less discriminating regarding whom they marry: women are likely to accept a man who is deaf and mute as a husband, for example.  Men who are deaf and mute are introduced to this conversation. The rabbis remind us that separating teruma is not accepted if it is done by minors, those who are deaf and mute, "imbeciles", a Gentile who separates the teruma of a Jew even with permission, and one who separates teruma for someone else without their permission.

We move toward conversations about which offerings are appropriate when transgressions are made  by those of unknown status.  Instead of other offerings, in these cases guilt offerings are brought in cases of uncertainty.  If a woman becomes "imbecilic", her husband cannot divorce her; he must continue to care for her until she heals, we learn in a note.  But he can marry again.  Once they are divorce, however, he is not responsible for his first wife any longer.  The rabbis debate whether or not he may divorce her at all.  They consider whether or not she is able to understand her get and to care for herself.  They want to ensure that she is not treated like "ownerless property".  A very important choice of words.

Our daf ends with a discussion about consent.  We know that a competent woman is not required to consent to her divorce.  But a woman who is deaf and mute is not to be divorced at all.  How does consent work in these cases, comparatively?  The rabbis argue about who might be protected via consent.  They continue to argue this point into tomorrow's daf.

These conversations remind me of those that we participate in today regarding care for the ill or elderly.  Does our society require formalized structures to ensure that people are taken care of when they are unable to care for themselves?  What are our options in this regard, and which institutions should make those decisions?  Our rabbis would argue that Jewish law covers all of these questions, of course, but every society requires a labour force made of of caregivers - so often, these people are women and either unpaid or miserably paid.  How do we ensure that those who cannot fend for themselves are protected?  And how do we ensure that it happens respectfully?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Yevamot II 111: Mix and Match; Intercourse Imperative

Minor girls and women who are deaf and mute are compared.  The rabbis introduce a number of different scenarios to help them discern which of them might have more rights that the other.  Are they acquired or only partially acquired through sexual intercourse - or through consummation?  If the yavam has intercourse with one (or both) of these women and that intercourse is invalid, she could be exempted from chalitza in the future.  The technicalities of this very remote possibility seem to be endless.

A new Mishna walks right into the waters of who disqualifies whom from staying married to a yavam if that yavam has sexual intercourse with his yevama and then his rival wife.  Depending on the status, standing, etc. of the women in question, the yavam's greediness might lead him to lose his partner(s).  Minor girls, deaf-mute women, and halachically incompetent women are compared to each other.  If a yavam marries each one of these first and then has intercourse with the second, who is exempted from yibum?  Who is encouraged to refuse? Who is told that they should divorce? Who stays married?

Another Mishna teaches us about yevamin and minor yevamot - they are to grow up together.  They are too young to divorce. Within thirty days of their marriage, if they have not had intercourse, they are to perform chalitza.  After that time, they are advised to perform chalitza.  If the yevama claims that there has been no intercourse but the yavam disagrees, they perform chalitza.  If he agrees, they perform chalitza.  And if he admits the truth, even after one year, they perform chalitza.  So truly the rabbis are much more eager than in usual circumstances to find ways for children's to annul their marriages through yibum.

The Mishna goes on to tell us that if a woman vows that she will never benefit from her yavam, the courts asks him to perform chalitza.  The rabbis understand that chalitza forbids her from marrying him again in the future, yet they encourage chalitza.  

Rabbi Meir seems to be opposed to the notion of yibum between a minor boy and a woman.  The Mishna suggests that in this case she should "raise him".  But Rabbi Meir is not convinced that they should be engaging in intercourse when the minor boy is not obligated to perform mitzvot.  However, he agrees that once they have had intercourse, they should continue to live as a married couple.  

So is Rabbi Meir's response a reaction to the notion of a boy having intercourse with a woman?  Or is he interpreting the words of his Sages without bias or other motivation?

The rabbis partake in a fascinating conversation at the end of today's daf.  How could a man possibly live with a woman for thirty days and not have sexual intercourse with her?   Which tanna could have suggested such a bizarre reality?  And it was Rabbi Meir, say his colleagues, who introduced this idea.  Well, say the others, Rabbi Meir could not have been referring to one's betrothed, and without seclusion.  Instead he must have been thinking of one's mother-in-law or one's brother's widow, with whom one would feel more inhibited and embarrassed.  Intercourse might take more time in those cases.

It would seem that many of the rabbis believed that women and men would not be able to resist sexual urges if left alone with each other.  Even forbidden relationships would be fostered through intercourse just given the opportunity.  If their beliefs are such, the extreme, separatist recommendations regarding men and women begin to make sense. Even homosexual behaviour gains some clarity -- people will jump at any opportunity to have intercourse at any given time with just about anyone.  So when they restrict sexual behaviours, they must restrict them with a fundamentalist's clarity.  

What is wonderful about Talmud is that we learn Rabbi Meir's position, even though his is not position that informs halacha.  And Rabbi Meir is a tremendously respected rabbi.  Hebrew school would have been much more exciting if we as children learned Talmud: how the rabbis argue, disagree, debate - while continuing to respect each other.

*which is also sexual intercourse but in the context of a wedding rather than simply an acquisition

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Yevamot II 110: Minor Girls and Those Who are Deaf and Mute: Chalitza? Yibum? Divorce?

We begin with the question of whether or not a minor girl requires a bill of divorce if she has had sexual intercourse with her husband.  Can she just walk away?  In today's context, that would seem to be a good option.  But in the times of the Talmud, walking away without one's get was walking away with absolutely nothing.  The rabbis liken this to other cases where a condition is set in the husband's mind at betrothal, but the couple has sexual intercourse before the condition has been met.  In that case, the woman is given a divorce; in this case, the minor girl too should be given a divorce.  

But isn't this case the same as one already argued by Rav and Shmuel (where Rav argues for the divorce)?  The rabbis share some interesting ideas about how this case is different.

A new Mishna teaches about conditions for chalitza, yibum, rival wives, and divorce in cases where a man marries two minor girls, a minor girl and a "deaf-mute"(sic), a minor and a halachically competent adult woman.  The Mishna suggests that consummation or chalitza will exempt the rival wife from yibum or chalitza if the wives are both minors or deaf and mute.  However, if one wife is a minor or a deaf-mute and the other wife is a competent adult, chalitza/yibum cannot exempt the adult.   Similarly, if the yevam performs chalitza with the adult woman, this does exempt the minor/the wife who is deaf and mute.  

The principle seems to be that only a competent woman's actions can affect other rival wives.  Those who are not legally competent do not have the power to exempt those who are legally competent.

The Gemara takes on the question of who is permitted to perform chalitza.  A man who is deaf and mute?  A woman who is deaf and mute?  A woman who would be performing chalitza on a minor boy?  Further, does it make a difference if the person who is deaf and mute became that way after marriage?  And if chalitza is not allowed, what is one to do when the marriage is unsuitable?  The rabbis suggest the option of consummating the marriage and then getting divorced.  Today, this sounds like a radical suggestion.  Then again, chalitza is a pretty radical concept, too.

Part of these considerations focus on what is Torah law and what is rabbinic law.  For example, we learn that a man who becomes mentally incompetent or deaf and mute while in his marriage can never divorce his wife.  If he was competent at the time that he married her, he cannot change his mind while halachically incompetent.  This sentences a woman to life with a challenging husband.  Again, in Talmudic times, a woman was thought to be financially and socially 'protected' when she was married.  Thus this halacha may have seemed to be based in compassion.

As an aside, we learn that if she becomes mentally incompetent, he may not divorce her.  If he becomes mentally incompetent, he may never divorce her.  I take this to mean that "not" implies "at the present time".  "Never" suggests that there is no time at all where divorce will be an option.

Our daf ends with a discussion about whether a yavam might prefer a minor or a woman who is deaf and mute.  A minor will eventually become competent, but she might leave.  A woman who is deaf and mute is not competent, but she will be available for sexual activity.  The rabbis suggest that she would be more 'complete' for him; a full acquisition.   Marriage to a minor girl might be called a 'partial acquisition'.   If these women were rival wives, would yibum with one of them exempt the other?

We are discussing girls/women who were extremely vulnerable.  Today, there are many laws that have been created to protect women from these sorts of behaviour, which often would lead to terrible harm.  Just the notion of being a man's belonging is off-putting to modern thinkers.  So I question the text: were these laws actually thought to be an interpretation of G-d's intentions in the Torah?  Were they meant to maintain social structures?  Were they intended to protect women?  Were they intended to protect men and by extension their belongings?

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Yevamot II 109: Refusal in Context; What We Should Cling to and What We Should Avoid

When a minor girl is married off by her mother or brothers and she refuses her husband, she is considered to be an orphan.  She is no longer of her father's home nor is she provided for by her ex-husband.  In fact, because minor girls marrying and refusing is a rabbinic concept, it is subject to much debate.  Does the girl who has refused and then remarried that husband partake in yibum if that husband dies?  Does that change if she is still a minor at that time?  What if her sister is married to her husband's brother?  

Each questioned is examined with the community in mind.  Will people know that the girl who refused has remarried?  Will they think that she married a forbidden relative if she participates in yibum after that remarriage?  The rabbis note that people speak about divorce more than they speak about marriage.  It is possible that people would only know about a refusal, a chalitza, or a divorce, but not about a marriage or remarriage.  Interesting commentaries on human nature, particularly for a community that forbids lashon hara.

In amud (b) the rabbis consider three things that one should cling to and three things that one should avoid according to Bar Kappara.  One should cling to:

  • chalitza - if one participates in yibum because he finds his yevama attractive, etc., he should not marry her.  It is only for fulfilling the mitzva of yibum that one should marry his yevama.  Thus chalitza is a good option.
  • bringing about peace - Psalms 34:15 teaches us to seek peace and pursue it.  
  • nullification of vows - Rabbi Natan teaches that making a vow is like building a personal altar; fulfilling the vow is like sacrificing on that altar - a double sin.  Instead, vows should be nullified by others.
One should distance oneself from:
  • refusal - in case the minor girl grows up and regrets her decision
  • accepting deposits - where the owner lives in the same city; the owner could enter the bailee's home at any time, take the money, and then sue for that same money 'lost'
  • serving as a guarantor - Regarding Sheltziyon guarantees where payment can be demanded before the borrower has defaulted on the loan; from Proverbs 11:15 which also warns against evils of accepting converts (with some insulting analogies care of Rabbi Chelbo) and of confounding oneself with Torah.  This means learning for its own pleasure and not for halacha or the mitzvah of Torah learning.   That would be me, according to Rav Pappa.
The daf ends with conversation more directed at the situation at hand: a minor girl who may refuse her husband, remarry him, and become a yevama while she is still a minor.  We learn that betrothal to a minor girl is considered full betrothal when she becomes a woman - if she has not refused her husband by this time.  Betrothal is realized through intercourse.  

While still a minor, she might believe that she has an advantage over him as she has the right of refusal. At the same time, he has an advantage over her as he can divorce her.  Truly, this is the only time that a 'woman's' consent is of such great importance.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Yevamot II 108: Minor Girls Refusal - More Details

A minor girl can be married off by her mother or brothers.  Today's daf establishes the rabbis' opinions regarding her right to refuse that marriage.  Her refusal can be to anyone, anywhere, any time - even after the marriage has been consummated.  It is fascinating that the act of sexual intercourse, usually used to finalize the act of acquisition, is utterly meaningless in this one situation.  It is as if she were never married at all - she is able to go back to her family and partake of teruma if she was a priestess marrying an Israelite, for example.

I am not clear why the rabbis are so lenient with regard to the wishes of a minor girl.  Perhaps they were discouraging mothers and brothers from marrying off these girls.  Or perhaps there was something else guiding the rabbis that I have not understood from the text.

If a minor girl refuses her husband, there are potential implications.  For example, what if she also divorces him?  Does she then follow the halachot of divorce or the halachot of refusal, which teach opposite lessons regarding whether or not she could remarry that husband?  What if she refuses her husband and then is betrothed again?  What if she refuses again - and what if this happens multiple times?  If her first husband dies before they have children and she becomes a yevama, is she required to perform chalitza after she refuses her deceased husband?  And what are the rules regarding interfamilial relationships after a refusal?  Which halachot are primary?

While the rabbis sort out these issues, I find it more interesting that they are inordinately concerned - comparatively speaking - with the will of a young girl.  When other women are raped, married off by their fathers, entering yibum, or otherwise upset with their lot, there if very little mention of their preferred choice of husband.  Perhaps I will learn more about this unusual consideration in dapim to come.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Yevamot II 107: Refusal - Minor Girls Annul Their Marriages

Today's daf begins Perek XIII with a new Mishna.  We learn about a debate between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai regarding the right of refusal of a minor girl who has been betrothed through her mother or brothers to an adult male.  Beit Hillel argues that she should be allowed to refuse that marriage whether she is 

  • betrothed or fully married
  • in the presence of her husband or in his absence
  • refusing her husband or her yavam
  • without witnesses or the presence of a court
  • refusing many times as a minor
Beit Shammai disagrees, suggesting that she must be only betrothed, in the presence of her husband - and not her yavam, before a court, and refusing only one time as a minor after which she should not be betrothed again until she is a woman.

The Gemara explains why Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai make these assertions.  One of the more interesting comments regards Beit Shammai's comment about whether or not minor girls can refuse more than once.  He says that they cannot - but this is to protect them from being passed around from one man to another by their families.  Instead they should have the right to refuse only once and then they cannot be betrothed again until they are of age.  

The Gemara also considers whether marrying and then refusing would leave the husband liable for his sexually licentious behaviour.  Having had sexual intercourse and then nullifying the marriage could be bad for both parties.  However, this is countered.  Everyone would understand that the sexual intercourse that resulted from a betrothal and a wedding was not sexually licentious behaviour.    Further, the rabbis note that married men are offered greater social status.

We learn that a minor girl who is widowed without children is permitted to refuse her yavam without the need for chalitza.  The rabbis are concerned about whom this yevama might marry and whether or not that marriage might be perceived as condoning a forbidden relationship.  The rabbis also consider the notion of refusing a levirate marriage versus refusing a levirate bond.  The bond may exist regardless of whether or not a levirate marriage takes place.  The rabbis wish to clarify whether or not a minor yevama is permitted to marry other yevamin or in fact anyone she wishes to marry.  They also are concerned about whether or not a court of three should be required.  Because getting a get is less stringent, the rabbis agree that two upstanding witnesses are enough to validate refusal.

We end today's daf with another Mishna regarding minor girls.  We learn that a minor girl who consents to being married off by her mother or brothers must perform refusal to annul the marriage.  However, if she did not consent to the marriage - and if she was too young to understand how to keep her ketubah or her belongings safe while in marriage - then her marriage is invalid.  It is as if she is a seduced unmarried woman.  Thus she does not need to perform refusal to annul the marriage; she can walk away and it is as if the marriage never happened.  

This Mishna seems to actively discourage mothers and brothers from marrying off their minor daughters.  The rabbis are concerned that young women understand the meaning of marriage when they consent to be married.  This is truly revolutionary, in particular compared with other Talmudic statements regarding minor girls and their negligible rights when it comes to rape, consent, and other issues.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Yevamot II 106: Comparing Getting a Get and Performing Chalitza

Leniency surrounds chalitza.  As long as the intention is there, chalitza is almost always granted ab initio, even when the rituals  are done incorrectly.  The rabbis compare this with the halachot surrounding the get.  When obtaining a get, for example, coercion is permitted.  If a man does not want to give his wife a get, he can be coerced.  However, the get is invalid if he does not intend to get divorced, or if something is done unlawfully and he is not breaking a declaration made earlier. 

It would seem natural that the rabbis compare the procedures for chalitza and divorce.  Both are legal processes that end a couple's bond together.  One regards the end of an ordinary marriage, what the other regards the circumstance when a childless husband dies and his wife is permitted to enter a marriage with one of his brothers.  Chalitza is like a 'divorce-before-the-fact'.  And though it breaks that bond between two people, it makes sense that it is not considered with the same stringency as divorce.  Divorce ends an actual marriage, which involves family members, including children.  

In their comparisons, the rabbis look at factors including intention, whether witnesses are required, whether witnesses recognize the yevam/a, whether the three tasks: reciting verses (Deuteronomy 25:7-10), removing the shoe, and spitting, are done in the proper order, and whether or not the spittle travels in a reasonable trajectory in front of the yavam.

When they look at intention, Abaye tells of a woman whom he helped trick her yavam into performing chalitza.  Even in that circumstance, the chalitza was valid.  This tale is followed by the repetition of a baraita where an escaped convict offers extra money (five dinars) to the ferry driver to help him escape.  The ferry driver is only entitled to his usual fee, however, as the escaped convict never intended to pay the exorbitant fee.  

This seems bizarre; if one intends to make empty promises to another person, s/he is not held to account.  How could the rabbis conclude that such verbal contracts are not legally valid?  I'm sure that I will learn more about the deliberations of the rabbis in future learning.

We are told that Abaye was impressed with Rav Pappa's quick connection between mistaken agreements for chalitza and the baraita on the ferry driver.  He asked about Rav Pappa's parents - both lived in the city.  Abaye then stared at these parents and they died.  Our commentary teaches that Abaye was overcome with jealousy when he compared these parents, devoting their lives to their son's study, with his own very negligent parents.  This particular passage does not portray Abaye in a very positive light.

Again it seems that the rabbis were not particularly invested in maintaining the practice of levirate marriage.  They are making chalitza as simple as possible to perform, especially in comparison to the get, which continues to leave far to many women as agunot, unable to remarry, because their husbands refuse to participate in the process of attaining a get.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Yevamot II 104: Chalitza and a New Principle

Chalitza requires three actions: the yevama removing the yavam's shoe, the yevama spitting in front of the yavam, and the the yevama stating that she is performing chalitza.  The yavam's shoe must be made for walking, as the song says.  Chalitza should be performed on the right foot and during the day.  But some rabbis argue about whether or not chalitza would be valid after the fact if performed on the left foot and/or at night.  

The left foot question brings the rabbis to question whether halachot of chalitza might be analogous to the halachot of leprosy or monetary disputes.  In some situations, such as putting on tefillin, left-handed people don tefillin on their left sides.  In other situations, such as leprosy or a slave who chooses to remain in servitude, the right side of the body/the right ear is used for ritual purposes.  The rabbis discuss whether or not verbal analogies are valid.  For example, does "foot" in one context connote "foot" in another context?  Are the surrounding details similar enough to apply the interpretation of one verse to that of the other?

The rabbis share their difficulties with rabbis who choose to follow their own opinions and/or the opinions of unattributed opinions or dissenting opinions rather than the rabbinic majority.  For example, one rabbi witnessed chalitza at night, on his own - without two other witnesses who were not related to the yevam/a, using a slipper instead of a shoe.  Was he following individual opinions?  Aren't unattributed opinions considered to be majority opinions? 

A new Mishna wonders when chalitza is valid: are all three actions - spitting, speaking, and removing the shoe - required together to validate chalitza?  The Mishna lists a number of halachot regarding chalitza, including the disqualification of a deaf-mute, the invalidity of an adult woman and a minor boy, the requirement to repeat the chalitza of a minor girl and adult man, the requirement of two/three judges who are not relatives of the couple, and whether or not a chalitza done in prison with no witnesses is valid.

Rabbi Zeira introduces a principle that informs the rabbis' questions regarding the rituals of chalitza.  He asserts that whatever is fitting to be mixed, mixing is not indispensable to it.  And whatever is not fit to be mixed, mixing is indispensable for it.  This means that as long as it is possible to perform an action, that action does not have to be completed.  But if it is impossible to perform an action, such as a person who is a deaf-mute and is not capable of reciting the verses of chalitza, then the that action is in fact required.  

The daf ends with our rabbis continuing to consider whether chalitza is valid if one of its rituals is completed only partially.

I find the principle of mixing as introduced by Rabbi Zeira quite interesting.  Something is only necessary if we can't manage it. If we're able to do it, we don't need to.  This principle could lead us to believe that we do not need to 'prove' ourselves through ritual.  But we must be able to do those things.  In the context of different abilities, this principle is extremely exclusive and alienating.  But we can choose to use this concept toward bettering our functioning  in ritual and in life.  We should not focus on the ritual itself, but on knowing how to perform that ritual.  The focus is on learning rather than performance.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Yevamot II 103: Chalitza and Shoe Trivia

We learn numerous interesting facts regarding the removal of the yavam's shoe in chalitza in today's daf.  Amputeeism, club foot, euphemisms regarding feet and genitals, size and materials of shoes, placement of shoes, Yael and benefits to those who are wicked, and contact with ritual impurity.

Because chalitza requires that the yavam 'stands', amputeeism is at issue.  Certainly one need to be able to stand to perform chalitza.  If he is missing a leg, does the wooden prosthesis stand in for his foot?  What if the prosthesis extends past his knee?  And what about those who cannot stand on their feet due to a condition like club foot?  Their feet, including their heels, should be flat on the floor, the rabbis have determined.  Do those who cannot put their feet on the ground forego the ritual of chalitza?

An interesting conversation teaches us about ways that feet are used as euphemisms for genitals.  The Gemara provides us with a number of examples, from a baby being born from a woman's feet (which might refer to women squatting while birthing) to poetic language where one "falls at her feet", or has intercourse with her.  In fact, the rabbis note that Yael had intercourse seven times with Sisera over the course of one day.  They know this because of such euphemisms.  

And this takes us on a short but fascinating tangent.  How could Yael do such a thing, even in the name of a heroic effort?  This is licentious sexual behaviour.  The Gemara tells us that even if Yael had reason to sin in this way, she would be experiencing pleasure through these sexual acts.  Who benefits from a righteous act?  This question could open a lengthy exploration about whether or not one must suffer while fighting against wickedness.  Is there any pleasure to be enjoyed along the way?  Or does that take away from the righteous act?

Another glaring point is the rabbi's assumption that Yael would have enjoyed each of these sexual encounters with Sisera.  Do the rabbis believe that women always enjoy intercourse?  Certainly many women did not find intercourse particularly pleasurable, especially when procreation and the proper dissemination of semen (I'm noticing that choice of words) was of primary concern.  Women's pleasure was of course part of their obligation, of course, but was pleasure assumed to always accompany intercourse?  I can't imagine enjoying intercourse with an enemy I was preparing to murder... but maybe that's just me.

The shoes for chalitza were kept aside, where the judges would witness this act, but they had to fit the yavam - not too tight, not too loose.  They had to have a heel at the back of the shoe and they had to be hard enough to protect the foot, perhaps leather or wood or both.   The yevam would walk in those shoes to make them 'his', and then stand while the yevama knelt and removed his foot from the shoe.  If that shoe had come into contact with ritual impurity, it would have to be 'treated' in the same way a leper would be treated.  But the rabbis seem to have worked hard to ensure that chalitza was as easy as possible to perform.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Yevamot II 102: Chalitza Shoes

Today our daf focuses almost entirely on shoes.  When a man's shoe is removed by the yevama as part of the process of chalitza, what should it be made of?  Should it be leather, felt, wood, fabric?  Should it have cords or a bow (at the top of the calf)?  How tight should it be; how loose?  Must the shoe be in perfect condition or can it be ripped or worn?  What if the yavam wears more than one shoe on each foot?  And when is chalitza valid, upon removing most of the shoe?  Upon removing the heel of the shoe?  

Some of the details are more interesting than others.  If a minor yevama has grown up with her brothers-in-law, perhaps she has already removed their shoes.  Does this count as chalitza?  How important are the three required witnesses?  And where does intention come into play?  We learn that the rabbis may have kept appropriate shoes on hand to ensure that yevamin would fulfill the obligation of chalitza.

The detail that is described in today's daf is emblematic of Jewish tradition.  Yes, we want to understand the reasoning behind our traditions.  However, and perhaps more importantly, we are driven to know how to practice each ritual properly.  The practice of chalitza is antiquated; it was antiquated when the Talmud was formed.  But we continue to study its minutiae, regardless of whether or not we will ever have reason to practice the ritual.  Why?  Is this for the sake of knowledge?  For a better understanding of our ancestors?  For the proper practice of ritual should the Temple be rebuilt - for Moshiach?  What keeps us engaged in the study of Talmud?

Monday, 12 January 2015

Yevamot II 100: Who Receives Teruma; Without Separating for Three Months; Contraception

A woman should receive teruma/ the poor man's tithes before men; this protects her from waiting in a line with a group of men for long periods of time.   An uncircumcised man is allowed to receive tithes only if it is determined that this was out of his control.  Those who are seen as 'incompetent': minors, deaf-mutes, imbeciles, etc. do not collect teruma, nor do those who are androginos or tumtumim, who are "creatures unto themselves".  The rabbis balance between ruling to acknowledge differences and ruling to protect those who are vulnerable.

A new Mishna teaches about what should be done if a woman does not separate herself from her yavam for the first three months following her husband's death.  In such a case, a pregnancy could be the result of consummation with her yavam or it could be the result of the early birth of a pregnancy from her first husband.  In such a case, the child will grow up with unknown status.  But because his/her status is limited to one of only two possible options, the Mishna goes on to describe what s/he might face as an adult.  This includes whom he can marry, what he can eat, how he is punished, how he mourns his father, whether he receives teruma at the granary, and how he participates in the priestly watch - to name some.

Many details and halachot are discussed.  One point in particular stood out in my reading - what is to be done with a minor girl who is a yevama?  The rabbis teach that if she is between eleven years old and twelve years and a day, she is at risk of becoming pregnant and then at risk of dying if she has intercourse with her yavam.  Under age eleven, pregnancy is not a risk and thus she is not to use a contraceptive.  However, in general, women are permitted to use contraceptive barriers if they are pregnant, minors (as just discussed), or nursing women.  Clearly it is not permissible for the life of a fetus or baby to supersede the life of its mother.   This has implications on how yevamot and their children might be allowed to claim different rights. 

The concern for women - and girls' - lives is evident as the rabbis write about women's safety when standing in line with men and women's safety as mothers & mothers-to-be.  However, that women and girls would not be protected from forced intercourse is a glaring contrast.  I continue to wonder why contraception can be used in some circumstances and not in others.  Women's lives seem to matter less as human beings than as baby-makers.  

Yevamot II 101: A Court of Three

Today we end Perek XI with some final words about a son born of a yevama and an unknown father.  The rabbis discuss different circumstances if one possible father is a priest or if both possible fathers are priests. As part of this discussion, we are reminded that the Gemara speaks of cursing one's father as blessing one's father out of extreme deference.  The rabbis note that one cannot curse or strike someone who might be his father.  Perek XI ends with words regarding shares that might be entitled to such an adult-child due to his patrilineage. 

A new Mishna begins Perek XII on the mitzva of chalitza.  Three judges, even laymen, witness the procedure.  He must be wearing a shoe made of soft leather that covers the entire foot.  A soft shoe is not valid, as are sandals without heels.  He can be an amputee from the knee down; wearing a borrowed sandal, or a sandal made of wood, or shoes on the wrong feet.  Chalitza is also valid as long as his shoe is not too big for him to walk in; not so small that it does not cover most of his foot.

The Gemara establishes the need for a shoe that does not tie high upon the leg.  It speaks to the number of elders required: because "elders" implies at least two, and because the word is mentioned twice, we could assume four rather than three elders were intended.  And because the elders should not have an even number, five might be most appropriate, the Gemara argues.  Laymen are implied due to a verse that speaks to blindness; all elders should be without any physical blemish.  Those elders must be able to see the yevama's spittle hit the ground before she becomes a chalutza.

The Gemara focuses on this notion of physical beauty representing some sort of inner perfection.  Rav Yosef teaches that a court must be clean in righteousness and similarly free from blemish.  "You are entirely beautiful, my love, and there is no blemish in you" (Song of Songs 4:7) is also called upon as a proof text regarding the perfection of the Great Sanhedrin.  The rabbis seem eager to speak of the importance of our physical presentation as well as our righteousness.  Why would a natural physical difference be a sign of anything other than G-d's creative creation?  Perhaps the rabbis were more eager to explain physical differences than they were to see all creation as a reflection of G-d's image.

The rabbis continue to explore who these three judges might be if they are not actually experts.  They examine texts that would suggest that they can be Israelites.  They also suggest that according to another verse, these judges might counsel the yavam regarding whether he should perform chalitza or levirate marriage.  The example used is interesting.  If the boy and girl were of different ages, what is an old man to do with a young girl?  And what is a boy to do with an old woman? "Go be with someone like yourself and do not bring a quarrel into your household". 

Refusals, as offered by minor girls who are given in marriage by someone other than their fathers, should also be declared in front of three witnesses.  Similarly, the ordination of elders and the ceremony where the heifer's neck is broken also require three witnesses.  We learn in our notes that a court of three witnesses is announced in advance.  Usually the court will witness chalitza in a synagogue, letting communities know that they will be in a particular place on a particular day.  Does this mean that the yevama would actually spit in on the synagogue floor?  Even if it were a dirt floor, it is difficult to imagine such disrespectful actions within a holy place.

Finally, the rabbis agree that people who have converted to Judaism should not sit on courts.  They use a proof text that speaks about witnesses being of Israel. 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Yevamot II 99: Hidden and Confused Identities; Slaves, Maidservants and the Family Structure

The rabbis continue to present case after case of far-fetched examples that might challenge the practice of yibum.  A reminder: yibum is the practice of levirate marriage, whereby a husband who dies without children renders his wife a yevama.  A yevama is bound either to marry one of her brothers-in-law or to participate in the ritual of chalitza, which releases her from this obligation.  In normal circumstances, marriage is forbidden between close family members, and so the rabbis are spending much energy on specifying the circumstances that permit yibum.

Although I am tempted to transcribe these bizarre family structures here, I recognize that each holds only a slightly different challenge to yibum. The larger structure of yibum as a philosophy and a practice is only minimally better understood through the study of each example.  And I am not prepared to repeat each of today's cases in this format. Let's just say that in these cases, each family intermarries closely and in very strange circumstances.

A couple of these cases focus on the idea that two women are in hiding when their babies are born.  This causes confusion - neither woman knows which baby belongs to which mother.  This causes problems when those babies grow up.  They might be forbidden to participate in some rituals - whether these regard the halachot of kohanim or whether these regard yibum and the practice of chalitza or levirate marriage.  Certainly we would not want someone marrying a close relative that is not in fact a brother to the deceased.

The notion of being in hiding is interesting to me.  Was this something that actually happened with some frequency?  Were Jewish women in danger and secluded in homes or caves somewhere?  Or are these examples as fantastic as some of the other unusual circumstances suggested by our rabbis?  If being 'in hiding' was a relatively common experience, how did that work?  What were the women facing when they were not in hiding?  How did they eat, sleep, care for their children, clean themselves and their families and their belongings?  How did they communicate with the outside world?

Amud (b) reintroduces the question of who is permitted to partake of teruma.  We already know that only priests are allowed to claim teruma on behalf of their families.  However, today's daf asks questions about slaves, maidservants, converts, and other 'outsiders' in the priestly world.  When and how are these marginalized groups excluded from the world of the kohanim?   What about when a slave or a maidservant is freed?  We are reminded that the rabbis argued about whether or not a slave could claim teruma on behalf of his owner.  One argument against this practice notes that claiming teruma is in itself a proof of priestly status.  If a slave claims teruma, leaves town and then says he is a priest, any witness who noticed him claiming teruma would erroneously affirm that he is in fact a priest, himself. 

The notion of 'family' is brought into the spotlight in amud (b), as well.  It would seem that maidservants and slaves are considered to be part of the larger family.  This learning is based on cases in Yevamot that ask how a family can have children of five different statuses.  Such a thing is only possible if slaves and maidservants, for example, marry and have children.  Since their children are considered to be part of the family, they must be part of the family, too.  Is 'family' the same things as 'household'?  It would be interesting to learn more about the definitions of 'family' two thousand years ago.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Yevamot II 97: Partial Acquisition; Rape and Limitations; Riddles; Converts Have No Siblings

Today's daf is long and complicated.  We cover four basic areas of thought:

1) So in the end, what do we do with a yavam who is nine years and one day or who is sexually undeveloped at age 20?  And what do we do with a yevama in such circumstances?  The rabbis want to ensure that physical development is complete.  They suggest that we fatten up one who's thin and that we help one who is heavy to lose weight to ensure that their developmental lags are not due to their body size.  If such people have intercourse with their yavam/yevama, it is considered to be similar to levirate betrothal.  One is acquired, but not completely; further action will be required in the future to complete the acquisition.

2) The rabbis speak about women who are raped (i.e. one has intercourse with a woman without her consent) or seduced (i.e. one has intercourse with a  woman after convincing her to participate).  What rights does a man have to such a woman if the rapist or seducer is his father? His son?  How does participating in forbidden family relationships create subsequent consequences?  This particular section is quite disturbing, as the rabbis speak of these forbidden relationships with disinterest.  Even more disturbing, they remind us that rape is usually permitted - legally and morally.  It carries few consequences for the rapist, unless the particular woman that he raped is halachically forbidden to him.

3) The rabbis include a number of bizarre family genealogies in the form of riddles.  A note by Steinsaltz teaches us that these may have been classic riddles, perhaps told by shepherds to one another when they gathered to water their flocks.  They are generally presented as gentile families, for it would be offensive to suggest that a Jewish family might engage in such painful inbreeding.  "I am my own Grandpa" comes to mind.

4) We begin to learn about those who have converted to Judaism regarding yibum obligations.  All agree that once one converts, one is born anew.  This generally means that all family relationships are considered to be formed again from the start.  Thus even twins are no longer siblings and are not obligated in yibum.  Although this seems clear, the rabbis recognize that there are some circumstances that might require a convert to claim a past relationship.  For example, if those same twin brothers had intercourse with each others' wives, they would be liable to punishment for having sexual relations with a forbidden relative (the wife of one's brother).  It seems to me that the rabbis were somewhat uncomfortable with the notion of yibum; they were quick to find reasons to disqualify people from participating in this practice.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Yevamot II 96: Nine Years Old & A Day and a Yavam; Rabbi Elazar & Rabbi Yochanan in Conflict

Today's daf teaches three different Mishnayot.  All of them touch upon the details of yibum when the players are of different ages, when they die at different times, when rival wives are involved, and when multiple family members - sisters and brothers - are part of the equation.  The Gemara offers increasingly complex cases to elaborate upon the suggestions of the Mishnayot.

Though yibum was most often put aside in the times of the Talmud, the rabbis studied its sometimes contradictory, always confusing halachot in great detail.  Every day that I learn Yevamot, I wish I had the time to take notes and draw maps to better understand the laws and their applications in sometimes bizarre circumstances.  

Many of today's debates regard the actions of a minor boy who is nine years and one day.  If he is a yavam, what effect does intercourse have on his yevama (as he is a minor)?  How do things change if he has intercourse, or performs chalitza, etc., with his yevama before or after his brothers might do the same?  When does a woman's status change?  Whom does he disqualify with his actions, and who disqualifies him with their actions?  Which acts must be repeated?  And on and on and on...

I was surprised by the end of amud (b).  Rabbi Elazar repeated one of these rulings of Rabbi Yochanan, his teacher, without quoting Rabbi Yochanan as its source. Rabbi Yochanan learned of this and became very angry; how could his star pupil be so disrespectful?  Two other students tried to appease him, explaining that rabbis were in a similar argument in the past about a lock or handle for a door.  In that case, the Torah scroll was ripped due to their anger.  Rabbi Yochanan was appalled: the rabbis in that case were colleagues!  Were these students suggesting that Rabbi Elazar was Rabbi Yochanan's colleague?

Finally, another rabbi suggested that all of Rabbi Elazar's teachings came from Rabbi Yochanan and that would be assumed.  Just as Joshua's teachings came from Moshe Rabbeinu, yet Joshua would not need to mention Moshe's name.  Rabbi Yochanan became calm.

What pettiness, I think.  Where is his modesty?  One of the notes in Steinsaltz teaches that Rabbi Yochanan had not children, and his teachings were his progeny.  Thus it was far more important to Rabbi Yochanan than to most that his teachings carry his name on to future generations.  Still, the interpersonal conflict that we experience now certainly was present through all of these Talmudic discussions.  How amazing to remember such detail; to debate with such clarity, all in the face of family, monetary, health, and collegial stress.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Yevamot II 95: Who Renders Whom Forbidden?

The rabbis struggle with what we should do if a husband has intercourse with his mother-in-law.  Their examination takes a somewhat circuitous path.  At the beginning of our daf, the rabbis walk through who is forbidden to whom based on prohibited sexual relationships.  

One of the more interesting arguments winds its way back to the thoughts of beit Hillel and beit Shammai.  Before their betrothal, women are permitted to all men and men are permitted to all women.  After they have been married, the woman is forbidden to all men except for her husband. The man, however, is only forbidden to his wife's family members.  What does that teach us about the whom men choose to be with?  They could be with anyone, but they choose their own mothers-in-law?

The rabbis then discuss punishments.  It is necessary to determine the severity of a given prohibition. TO do this, the rabbis walk through numerous cases and question whether they should be considered light prohibitions, severe prohibitions, or regular prohibitions.  They note who is punished in relation to who has transgressed a prohibition.  Who disqualifies whom?  Part of this conversation touches on whether a punishment will last for a lifetime, or whether a punishment is temporary.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Yevamot II 94: More on One Witness, Double Standards for Men/Women Whose Spouses May Have Died

Our rabbis look again at why we can trust just one witness in cases of agunot when Torah law teaches that two or three witnesses are required.  One of their arguments involves the notion that a woman - or a man - cannot be the only witness on their own behalf (regarding this specific issue).  They rabbis extrapolate from this: another individual witness must be allowed to testify.

A woman would know that a child of her second marriage would be called a mamzer - or at least a partial mamzer.  The rabbis assume that that consequence would be enough to encourage that woman to ensure that her husband is dead.  The rabbis focus on the idea that a yevama or her first husband, still alive somewhere, might lie to better their circumstances.  Again the rabbis note that a woman might 'hate' her first husband, which could impact on her actions and her motivation.

The huge differences in halacha for men and for women are highlighted in our new Mishna.  we learn that if a woman goes abroad and a witness reports that she has died, her husband may remarry her sister. And if the first wife is found to be alive, both women and rival wives and family members are allowed to that husband.  If he has a child with his second wife and his first wife was alive when the child was born, the child is a mamzer.  Any later children born of this second wife are not mamzerim.  Clearly, though both men and women are prohibited from many relations, men are treated with greater leniency.  Our notes tell us that this is in part because women rarely travelled abroad.  Rare circumstances justified lenient halachot.

A halacha teaches that a man does not require to get a get, bill of divorce, for a marriage he entered with a forbidden woman as long as he was unaware of that prohibition.  The exceptions are a  woman already married through the court, a woman who is the sister of his betrothed, and a woman who is a yevama and marries her yavam.  The mishna also speaks of a case when a woman goes abroad with her brother-in-law and they are both said to have died.  

The Gemara looks at a number of different marriages that a man whose wife is 'lost' might marry.  It considered whether or not the bill of betrothal might have contained a condition that was not met, and thus the marriage was not actually complete. Another interesting conversation details the rabbis' thoughts regarding whether or not this man may marry his mother-in-law following her daughter's death.  Some argue that she is prohibited; others argue that she is permitted by Torah law as long as her daughter has already died.  

The real question for the rabbis, of course, is what the punishment should be for these possible offences.  Should this man be liable to death by burning, as stated in the Torah (for intercourse with a close relative of his wife)?  Or is he 'just' liable to receive karet?  Or another less concerning punishment?  What are the punishments if he has intercourse with his mother-in-law after his wife has died?  Our notes teach us that in the latter case, rabbis continue to disagree - either karet or a lesser punishment may be levied.  It is undeniable that in these situations of 'lost' husbands and wives, men face much simpler circumstances than woman.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Yevamot II 93: Transfering Ownership of What Does Not Yet Exist; the Yevama's Feelings for Her Yavam

We continue yesterday's learning about a new principle and its applications.  The rabbis consider an entity that has not yet come into the world.  For example, the fruit that will grow on fruit trees or the earnings that one will collect in the coming months and years.  The rabbis share their different thoughts about whether or not a woman can make a vow that would exclude her husband from benefiting from the work done with her hands - vowing that her hands are sanctified.  

They also consider contracts based on this approach.  How should we understand the sale of a field that is not yet harvested, for example.   One example shows Rabbi Yannai separating tithes from his own garden just in case the fruit plate that regularly arrives before Shabbat should in fact show up on Shabbat itself.  This action allows him and his family to have access to the fruit plate on Shabbat.

The Gemara shares other transfers of the acquisition of entities not yet in the world.  Rav Nachman Bar Yitzchak suggests that if a man writes a note to a slave saying, "When I acquire you (as a slave) you are acquired by yourself".  Thus before the ownership is enacted, before the entity is in the world, ownership is transferred.

Rav Sheshet speaks to a case where a yevama marries her yavam with one witness claiming that her first husband has died.  Interestingly the conversation for the first time turns to the yevama's potential feelings for her yavam.  What if she loves him?  And, as our notes elaborate, what if she hates him?  Though our rabbis focus on the halachic implications on future children and on the credibility of witnesses, I find the emotional component more captivating.  The rabbis want to understand the emotional connection between the yevama and her yevam in order to understand her motivations and whether or not her decisions are to be trusted.  But for a beginner Talmud student, it is thrilling to find attention paid to a woman's feelings - whatever the motivation.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Yevamot II 92: Leniencies Regarding Lost Husbands and Yevamot

Before beginning with a new Mishna, the rabbis continue their discussions.  One concern is the number of times that a woman should be liable to bring sin offerings if she marries after believing that she has been widowed but the husband returns alive.  When her remarriage is an unintentional sin, she is required to bring an offering.  But what if she has married a number of times?  Each marriage requires a distinct sin-offering.  The rabbis consider whether she should bring an offering for each act of sexual intercourse with her second husband, for each was its own sin.  

This is something I've considered in the past.  What exactly constitutes a sin when the sin involves multiple steps?  For example, if I sin by serving non-Kosher food unintentionally, which part constitutes the transgression: misreading the label, choosing to buy the product, buying the product, putting it on my kashered shelf, putting the product in a bowl, mixing it with a spoon, pouring the mixture into a pan, heating the pan, putting the food onto a kosher plate, serving it to others, consuming it?  Is each step a separate transgression?  And do I make amends for each sin?  Or is one large apology enough?

A new Mishna speaks about how to address a woman who has remarried after her husband and son have gone abroad.  If she's told that her son died first there are different implications than if she's told that her husband died first.  If her son died first, then she becomes a yevama who has not performed chalitza and is thus illegally married to her second husband.  It also explains some permutations of these scenarios.  The rabbis teach us that the child, if he in fact survived, would be a mamzer.  So would any new children born with the second husband.  They also speak of differences between a woman who is remarried and a woman who is betrothed.

The Gemara shows us that there is no mamzer from a yevama, though rabbinical law would allow such a designation to a child born to a mother who did not know that her husband was still alive and could have performed chalitza.   It also teaches us our rabbis thoughts about a yavam who is a kohen or an Israelite.  The rabbis seem to struggle with the proper behaviour of a yevama, as the Torah offers contradictory options for her.  

Is betrothal permitted for a yevama who believes that her husband has died?  The rabbis consider a number of answers to this question.  Rabbi Akiva introduces the idea that a man can transfer an entity that has not yet come into the world.   That is, his 'late' performance of chalitza can enable her betrothal to her second husband to become 'active', or valid.

The extent to which we are focusing on the husband 'lost at sea' makes me wonder how often this occurred.  Certainly travel was dangerous, took a great deal of time, and offered not solid means of communication.  Did husbands frequently go missing for a year while their wives waited and kept their eyes open for other possible partners?  Not how I have pictured our ancient relatives, but it makes sense. If a 17 year old girl is looking forward to her husband's return, should she wither away while she waits?