Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Kiddushin 81: Seclusion and Relationships Between Women and Men

A man and a woman cannot be secluded.  Can two men walk with a woman down a street?  What if one man turns away to urinate?  The other might succumb to his temptations.  Is this same in a city and on a country road?  What if the two men are Torah scholars - can they be trusted to overcome their temptations?

We learn about the punishment of flogging, which is the consequence for seclusion.  Seclusion, and not intercourse.  Simply transgressing the halacha that is a fence is enough to warrant this consequence.  The appearance of impropriety is so important that some rabbis advocate flogging for being the victim of rumours about seclusion.  They would even put a donkey's bridle on these people while they were being flogged.  At the same time, the rabbis would call out the reason for the flogging.

The rabbis share a number of stories about how they overcame the urge to do evil.  One was halfway up a ladder to have intercourse with a beautiful woman captured from enemies [and without having been completed her time to mourn the loss of her family].  He pushed his legs against the sides of the laser and yelled "Fire!" to draw the attention of others.  Rabbi Meir was halfway across a rope bridge when he stopped himself.  Another rabbi dealt with satan in the form of a woman who followed him. And one rabbi had sex with a woman he thought was a prostitute when it was actually his wife.  He argued that he should still be punished because his intention was to transgress.

Can a man be secluded with his sister?  With his mother?  With his daughter?  The rabbis argue about the dangers of seclusion, even with these relatives.  Some argue that until the age of nine years and one day, girls might sleep beside their fathers.  However, they seem to agree that it is when a child reaches puberty - when s/he becomes aware of and embarrassed about his/her nakedness, it is the time to separate family members.

One point early in our daf stayed with me - there is no need to worry about a woman being secluded with a man if her husband is present - or even within the same city.  However, if she is friends with a man other than her husband (or if her husband warned her about seclusion with a particular man), she is not permitted to be secluded with him.

This suggests a couple of things.  First, that the rabbis believed that friendship between men and women could lead to temptations and to sexual relationships.  Second, the rabbis understood that men and women were sometimes friends.  Men and women were friends; they did not live completely separate lives.  This last point is an important fact to keep in mind as we read so much about the importance of separating men and women.  Clearly, in real life, people were interacting across the sexes.  The halachot suggest ways that people could live in order to minimize risk.  However, that is not how people lived, even in the times of the Talmud.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Kiddushin 80: Presumptive Status and Defence of One's Lineage

The Gemara continues to discuss the Mishna introduced yesterday regarding men who return from overseas with wives and children.  When do we need to determine the lineage of those women and children?  

The Gemara notes that in many cases, we assume that a person or thing has ha chazakot, the presumptive status, of its past state.  If a woman's neighbours know that she is menstruating, for example, and her husband has intercourse with her, he will be flogged without further investigation into her status.  Another set of examples are concerned with forbidden sexual relationships.  A case is described: a mother arrives from overseas with her son.  When he grows up, they have intercourse.  Both are brought to court and stoned for transgressing the Torah law prohibiting intercourse between a mother and son.  The rabbis suggest that she hold the presumptive status of the boy's mother, even if they were not related by blood, for the boy was clinging to her skirts. Their attachment was enough to create a presumptive status.

The Gemara also considers at length the example of a small child who is near unfinished dough.  Because it is the nature of a child to handle items within their reach, is the dough impure?  The rabbis teach us that the dough holds its presumptive status of purity unless there is a reason to assume that the child has touched the dough.  What is the likelihood that the child has done this, for we know that children handle things within their reach?  If the 'majority' suggests that the child has touched the dough, then the dough is considered to be impure.  

Another example is used in comparison: if a home has frogs and creeping animals in it, and the leg of one of those creatures is found in the dough, is it more likely to be the leg of a frog or a creeping animal?  This determination will help the rabbis know whether or not the dough can maintain its presumptive status.  A similar example is introduce involving chickens and a coloured liquid.  We are asked about dough that has holes in it and red liquid around those holes.  If the chicken was pecking at the dough, is it impure because the liquid has touched it?

One point that is unclear to me:  why doesn't the leg of a frog or holes from the touch of a chicken's beak enough to impart ritual impurity?  Would those types of contact make the dough fleishik?  Or would they be too small a part of the dough to 'count'?  

A new Mishna teaches us that a man may not be secluded with two women but a woman may be secluded with two men.  Further, a man may be secluded with his mother or daughter and they may sleep together, when the child is young, with bodily contact - without clothing - because there is no risk of intercourse.  Once the child reaches the age of majority, they must wear their proper garments and sleep in their own beds.  

The Gemara discusses why women are more "light of mind", as Eliyahu taught.  Does this mean that they are more susceptible to enticement?  How does this help us understand the Mishna's instructions?  The Gemara also discusses aninut, the stage of acute mourning that comes immediately after learning that a loved one has died.  In this state, people might do very bizarre things.  The rabbis describe cases where women allow themselves to be secluded with men for purposes including burying a baby and stealing a husband's body from the grave.  In these moments people are questioning the existence of and/or the justice of G-d.  The rabbis remind us that the life we have been given is sufficient for us.  

Our daf ends with reminders of our learning in Masechet Sota, where we also learn about seclusion.  On their way to Jerusalem to determine whether or not a wife has been adulterous, the couple is accompanied by two Torah scholars whose advanced morals will ensure that the couple does not have intercourse, which is prohibited at that point, on the journey.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Kiddushin 79: Determining When A Change Occurs in Status

A new Mishna (begun in yesterday's daf) teaches about what should be done when a man or his agent - and then his daughter or her agent - betroth the daughter.  If a man or his daughter send out an agent to betroth her, and the father or the daughter find a suitable husband while the agent is away, which betrothal is valid?  We are told that in both cases, the daughter should receive ketubot from both potential husbands.  If all agree, the daughter receive a ketubah from one man and may marry the other.

The Gemara focuses on what should be done if the daughter becomes a woman while the agent (or her father, or her father's agent) is away.  According to halacha, her father or his agent may betroth her while she is a katana, a girl up to age twelve and a half. From the age of twelve until twelve and a half, she is a na'ara, and her father can still betroth her.  At the age of twelve and a half, and/or when she develops two pubic hairs, she is a bogeret.  As a bogeret, her father no longer finds her husband; she betroths herself. *

So the question that we face: what if this na'ara becomes a bogeret while her father/agent is away, and she has betrothed herself while he is gone?  Is her status as a na'ara maintained?  If she is examined and found to be a bogeret, how long has she been a bogeret?  Since her father left?  Since her last examination where she was a na'ara or a katana?  Since three days before the examination?  

In their wisdom, the rabbis look to other circumstances that require similar determinations.  The mikvah, for example.  If a mikvah is found to be lacking the required amount of water required, are the previous immersions invalid after the fact?  In that  case, the mikvah is considered to be ineffective from the time that it was last checked.  However, only things immersed according to Torah law must be reimmersed.  Rabbinic immersions are considered to be valid.  Another example is a barrel of wine where some but not all teruma has been separated - and when it is checked again, the barrel has turned to vinegar.  In this case, the wine is thought to have been vinegar only for three days earlier.  

The rabbis understand that these examples are not perfectly analogous to a girl becoming a woman.  To ensure that her betrothals are valid, the rabbis go to great lengths.  

Our daf ends with a new Mishna that teaches us about a man who returns from overseas with a new wife, new children, or combinations thereof.  When does he have to bring proof of their lineage?  If a husband and wife leave and then return with children, they are believed to be these children's parents without proof of lineage.  If the wife is new or the children are new to the father, proof is required.  The rabbis note that children might hang on a woman even though she might not be their mother - she might have raised them, but not given birth to them.  Thus checks are required.

* It should be noted that our daf includes information about gender and education in antiquity: the rabbis assume that men are experts on lineage but that women are not.  Of course, everyone would know the rumours about everyone else's lineage.  However, men had the Torah learning about which forbidden relationships created which consequences and for how long.  Thus even though a woman was said to be able to choose her own husband, she could not be trusted with her choice as she was not given the information required to know the questions to ask about lineage.  

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Kiddushin 78: Priests Who Behave "Badly"

We are zeroing in on priests who marry or betroth or have intercourse with women who are not allowed to them.  These women might be widows, as suggested in the Torah.   They might be chalalot, or mamzerot, chalutzot, or other women who are forbidden to priests by rabbinic law.  Our daf begins, though, with a woman who is forbidden to a priest because of her relation to that priest.  What if a priest has intercourse with his sister?  The rabbis ask the next logical questions: which transgressions have been committed?  Does the first transgression cancel out the second and so there is only one consequence?  How do we determine which transgression came first?  If there are two or more consequences, what are they and how are they meted out?  

The Gemara offers us a number of different opinions.  The rabbis look to proof texts, some from Ezekiel and some from the Torah, to help them understand which transgression is punishable by which consequences.  They consider which statuses would apply to the offspring of different possible unions.  The rabbis even consider the case of a convert who is under/over the age of three years and a day.  Notable is an assertion we learned repeatedly in Ketubot: a girl's hymen will not fully develop until the age of three (and thus any previous sexual interference might not affect her status).  This erroneous understanding of anatomy continues to be upsetting to read, even when the writing is brief.

A new Mishna teaches us that when a man says that his child is a mamzer, he is not deemed credible. Even when both the father and the mother together say that the child is a mamzer, they are not deemed credible.  Rabbi Yehuda disagrees.

The Gemara questions whether or not a fetus can have an unflawed lineage.  They also wonder whether or not a person can own something that has not yet come into the world.  

Part of today's daf asks about the likelihood that a woman might become pregnant if a man does not complete the act with her.  They discuss the idea of "a drop of semen" and the power that that drop of semen might hold.  The notion of one's status being irreparably damaged by one drop of semen seems to lend itself to a larger truth.  That is, if parental status can be this difficult to determine, perhaps we are meant to interpret these worlds completely differently.  Perhaps we are meant to say that because the status of so many people is indeterminate, we are all priests and we are all lveites and we are all israelites.  Perhaps the Temple was meant to be destroyed so that we would be forced to collapse these systems of hierarchy.  Alas...

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Kiddushin 76: Whose Families are Investigated?

After ending discussion about our last Mishna regarding mamzerim and assimilation, we begin a new Mishna.  It teaches that when a priest marries a woman who is the daughter of a priest, her family must be investigated to four levels - her mother, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers.  That equals eight people; maternal and paternal lineages. 

If the woman is not the daughter of a priest but the daughter of a levite or israelite, the investigation continues through four additional generations.  Some exceptions are suggested by different rabbis: daughters of those Levites who sing in the Temple, daughters of those who hold pubic office and those in the Sanhedrin, daughters of charity-collecters, daughters of court witnesses, and daughters of royalty, to name a few.  Why investigate one's lineage when it has already been investigated?  

The Gemara questions why only women must be investigated over generations.  One of the explanations is that when men argue, they speak of each others' lineages.  When women argue, that information does not arise.  Instead, women argue about relationships.  Thus the status of men is public knowledge, while the status of a given woman might be unknown.  The rabbis extend this question to a priest who is new to an area and other similar examples.  When in doubt, the rabbis are lenient around this issue.  They suggest that it might not be necessary to investigate beyond certain levels for people whose lineage can be assumed due to their roles in society.

Sixteen people are investigated when an isarelite or a levite marries the daughter of a priest.  Sixteen!  I don't know the names of my female relatives beyond my great-grandparents.  I know some of the male figures' names because of the fame built around their Torah studies.  But the women in my family did not become famous scholars, and their names have been forgotten. How in the world could people be expected to investigate these undocumented, unknown relatives?  

The Gemara compares the treatment of a person with a flawed lineage to a levite or priest with a blemish.  The rabbis also question the authority of judges in these cases.  And, finally, our daf ends with the rabbis presenting a number of examples of men who might have been converts, or blemished, or otherwise suspect regarding their status.  Although they might not have been 'perfect', they were lauded; they were encouraged to continue their work.  The Gemara seems to suggest that perhaps there is a place for leniency in this area of halacha.

Kiddushin 75: Different Unions, Mamzerim, and Intermarriage

The Gemara discusses Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel's assertion that "Anyone whose daughter you may marry, you may marry his widow; And anyone whose daughter you may not marry, you may not marry his widow".  A number of different possible relationships are offered -- can this woman marry into the priesthood?
  • second generation Egyptian [man] with a Jewish woman
  • the offspring of a high priest and a widow 
  • the children of Ammonite men vs Ammonite women
  • Moabite convert, Moabite man, Moabite woman
  • priest and a widow of questionable lineage
  • Samaritan men marrying Samaritan women
The rabbis discuss the notion of a compound uncertainty.  This describes a case where a person has two sources of questionable lineage.  In these cases, the rabbis rule leniently.  We learn that Hillel the Elder taught that Jews of ten lineages ascended from Babylon to HaAretz, and all ten can marry into each others' families.  Immediately, the rabbis counter this idea with arguments of Rav and Shmuel regarding a woman who becomes pregnant while betrothed.  Is the child a shetuki?  A mamzer?  Who is s/he permitted to marry?  Is she credible regarding the father of this potential child if she says it was a priest?  Is it likely that she is credible based on the population of her town?  It is notable here that Rabbi Yehoshua says that she is not credible while Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Eliezer say that she is credible.

The Gemara wonders whether or not mamzerim are born from a number of different unions.  These unions seem to be examples of sexual intercourse outside of marriage, which was already a serious transgression for women. 

The rabbis seem to be struggling with themselves about the seriousness of intermarriage.  When I imagine that they could have simply decided on stringency, my thinking is flawed.  Just like today, people will intermarry.  Even more, people will have intercourse with each other outside of halacha.  If the rabbis were to impose the consequence of karet on all of those individuals, they might disrupt the actual cohesion of any one given society.  But the rabbis cannot be lenient without proof texts.  Even if Hillel says that intermarriage is reasonable, the rabbis must ensure that they can apply his recommendation to other situations in other times.

The exclusivity of the Jewish religion is one of the ingredients in anti-semitism, I believe.  It doesn't justify anti-semitism, but I can understand when people say, "what do you mean, I can't join your club?  You think you're better than me?"  Jews don't proselytize; we turn people away.  We hold ourselves to different, more stringent standards than others.  Why are we so afraid of intermingling?  Especially for those of us who are not orthodox - why would we hang on to ancient laws and mores about intermarriage and the maintenance of practices that we might not even care for?

Perhaps we know that Judaism will very quickly die without an exclusionary stance.  Our traditions, difficult and onerous at times, will be forgotten as we pick up the traditions of other cultures and religions.  But is it the worst thing in the world if Judaism dies?  Perhaps it cannot die, as it has already contributed so much to our world culture. Perhaps it will simply morph into something different -- and how do we know that G-d did not intend for that change to happen?  That G-d did not hope that eventually we would understand Hillel and allow us to intermarry.

The notion of stratified societies where people are designated to tasks based on birth rather than skill or inclination is a whole other story, too.  For another day.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Kiddushin 74: Credibiltiy; All of Your Flaws and All of My Flaws

Who is credible when they claim a person's status?  The midwife is credible while she is with the baby.  The mother is credible for the seven days following the baby's birth, for she does not leave the baby at all during that time.  From the eighth day forward, the father is credible.  Is a judge credible? A judge is deemed credible while the people in question are before him.  The rabbis tell us about the judge's discretion, where a judge might make an idiosyncratic decision that would not be repeated.  

The rabbis question the credibility of women.  If she is pregnant, unmarried, and saying that the father is a priest, is she believed?  That depends on where she lives - is more than half of the population made up of priests?  If so, she could be credible.   Further, is she credible when it comes to the status of her fetus?  Can she be taken seriously enough to justify her daughter's marriage to a priest? 

A new Mishna elucidates a disagreement between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Eliezer.   Anyone who is permitted to enter the congregation of the Lord is permitted to marry a Jew of unflawed lineage.  Who else are people allowed to marry?  Are mamzerim permitted to marry only other mamzerot?  Does the same rule apply for those with flaws that result from an uncertainty?  Or are those with flawed lineage able to marry each other across flawed lines?

The Gemara questions who exactly is permitted to enter the congregation of the Lord, and each status is questioned regarding who they should be allowed to marry.  And their children - the offspring of people of different statuses - who are they permitted to marry?  

Even writing the word 'flawed' is difficult to do without adding quotation marks.  A flaw is a mark that renders something less than perfect.  Thus we are all flawed. Even our lineage is flawed.  But the hierarchical nature of this line of commentary means that those with flaws are less than those who are 'unflawed'.  

Monday, 23 May 2016

Kiddushin 73: What is the Status of That Offspring?

The Gemara continues to walk us through who can marry whom.  They speak about who is permitted to enter a congregation and they provide examples of people of different status entering different congregations as proof.  The Gemara notes that most men and women are permitted to marry and that we will see more cases of uncertainty than of cases where people are forbidden to enter congregations.  In addition, certain congregations will be made up of people who are of uncertain lineage.  We learn that when a person is a mamzer based on uncertain lineage, s/he is permitted to enter certain congregations.  This is used to prove that these people are permitted to marry Jews of 'unflawed' lineage.

The rabbis speak very briefly about when something is fixed, it is considered to be half and half.  In this case it refers to a woman who may have had intercourse with a number of different men within one fixed place, i.e. a city.  She may have married someone who disqualifies her from marrying a priest.  Thus this 'half and half' probability allows her to marry a priest and to stay married if this is learned ab initio. However, the rabbis are discussing the case of a shetuki, and a shetuki is not permitted to marry a Jew of unflawed lineage.

The Gemara moves to the topic of foundlings.  Are they deemed to be mamzerim?  Shetukim?  Unflawed?  Based on these past considerations of our rabbis, I would have assumed that significant proof of lineage would be necessary to assume a foundling has unflawed lineage.  However, that is not the case.  The rabbis share a number of different signs that the infant has been cared for: it's eyes had salve on them, its arms/legs were adjusted (it seems that babies were tightly bound in an attempt to straighten their limbs), it was wearing a note or an amulet, or if it was adorned with rings.  Any of these things deems the baby not subject to the halachot of a foundling.  

Further, the rabbis share a number of other signs that the baby has been cared for - it has not been left in an isolated setting, it has been left where it might be found, if it is a famine year (and then that is taken back - but the suggestion is that a famine might have forced parents of unflawed lineage to give up a baby).   There are a few witnesses who may testify to the baby's status, as well: a midwife, the foundling's parents, and one who exempts one's friends from uncertain impurity.  A midwife is a valid witness in this instance as long as she saw that the baby was not exchanged for a different baby during those early moments.  

Midwives are not usually deemed credible to testify, and they are also able to testify to whether babies born at the same time are kohanim, levites or israelites.  One objection, though, and she is not deemed credible.  This is compared to a purchaser and seller - the purchaser must have the item in his possession to be a credible witness regarding the sale.

Instead of assuming that people are of questionable or flawed lineages, the rabbis work to justify the assumption that a foundling's parents are of unflawed lineage.  Were people giving up their babies regularly? Were the rabbis concerned about the number of unflawed babies being born in a given place?  Were the Torah based directives lenient enough that the rabbis could justify their own leniency?  What else might have been going on?  

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Kiddushin 72: Mamzerim; Who is Forbidden from the Congregation of the Lord

Amud (a) focuses on different towns and their residents' lineages.  Which towns have fewer or more mamzerim?  How do we know?  The rabbis discuss marriages that took place and didn't take place, the locations of different towns and the likelihood that people would be excommunicated to those places, rumours about peoples' status, and other guesses.  Even Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was said to reveal towns that house assimilated mamzerim when he was on his deathbed.  While the taboos against associating with mamzerim were very strong, the reluctance to 'out' a mamzer seems to have been equally powerful.

Amud (b) takes us on a tangent based on Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi's words.  Other rabbis also prophesized; in many circumstances, including that of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, it is said that a great scholar-to-be was born as many of the great Sages died.  

One of the questions raised by the Gemara involves a legitimate change in status.  If a slave is emancipated, he is no longer a slave.  If many of these slaves move to a certain town, is that town filled with slaves?  Of course not - they are free men.  But they might be referred to as slaves by outsiders, and thus their marriage options would be limited.

Our daf ends with an introduction to a new topic: the five congregations discussed into the larger Jewish community.  These are:
1), 2) mamzerim (Deuteronomy 23:3, twice) - cannot enter the congregation of the Lord to the tenth generation
3), 4) Ammonite and Moabite (Deuteronomy 23:4, twice) - cannot enter the congregation of the Lord to the tenth generation
5) Egyptians and Edomites - may enter the congregation of the Lord after the third generation (Deuteronomy 23:9)

It is notable that the sixth mention of the congregation of the Lord, those with maimed genitals or crushed testes, are not counted at this time for these injuries have no bearing on one's lineage.

We are reminded that while a convert cannot marry a mamzeret, a convert, an emancipated slave and a chalal are permitted to marry the daughter of a priest.  Even though a priest is prohibited from these unions, the daughter of a priest is permitted.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Kiddushin 71: A Deeper Consideration of Mamzer Status

It is noted that people can buy their way out of the status of mamzer.  If mamzerim have enough money, other Jews are willing to marry them.  That is because people tend to look aside when they see a wealthier person walk by.  And mamzerim who are wealthy assimilate into the larger Jewish community.  The result?  Over time, people don't know the lineage of their neighbours.  In today's daf, rabbis in Israel argue with rabbis from Babylon about which know the lineage of their communities.  

We learn that Sages did not wish to reveal who might be a mamzer if that person was wealthy, powerful, and assimilated into the community.  Perhaps they would share that information once every seven years.

This is then compared with the secret transmission of G-d's twelve letter name, and then G-d's forty-two letter name.  Priests would whisper these names to others while the his priestly brothers sung their sweet melodies.  They would transmit these names to people who were discreet, humble, in the middle of their lives, does not get angry, does not get drunk, and does not insist on his own rights but yields to others.  This would ensure that such a person would not repeat G-d's name in anger or drunkenness, but would guard it carefully.

The arguments about lineage sound similar to today's arguments about the rights of immigrants.  For example, both rabbis in Israel and Babylonia say that there is an assumed presumptive status of unflawed lineage for people of that place.  In Babylonia, people use a specific Arabic accent.  Anyone with that accent is understood to have come from that place where their lineage is assumed to be unflawed. However, we are told that "these days", people are unscrupulous and would put on a Babylonian Aramaic accent in order to hide their flawed lineage.

The rabbis provide us with colourful examples of families not joining through marriage due to these fears about flawed lineage. Rabbi Ze'eira was willing to carry Rabbi Yochanan on his shoulders over a puddle but was not willing to marry Rabbi Yochanan's daughter!  And one way that rabbis might determine who is of unflawed lineage is watching two people argue.  The first person to be silent is the one of unflawed lineage.  So the status of mamzer is not only associated with mistakes of the parents, but with poor interpersonal behaviour.

Similarly, the rabbis discuss certain places from which flawed lineage should be assumed. Our daf ends with a conversation about specific towns and small cities in and around Babylonia where people speak different dialects and perhaps have different customs.  The Gemara mentions where these places are located in relation to each other and in relation to certain rivers and bodies of water.

Talk about stigma!  But the seriousness of a transgression when it comes to marriageable status is very significant in the times of the Talmud.  Now, for example, we discuss inter-marriage as an issue. We are concerned about the dilution of Judaism.  But in ancient times, such a marriage would result in karet, a punishment that could mean death, death at the hand of heaven, or excommunication - 'cutting off' from the larger Jewish community.

What happens if we follow these laws regarding marriage and 'flaws'?  Those who choose to marry outside of these laws - which has obviously been part of our very long history - are distanced from the rest o the community. Their children are distanced even more from their community.  By the time these children have their own children, it is likely that they know nothing about their Jewish heritage. Is this 'cutting off' really helping us to strengthen those remaining in the Jewish community?  Or does it simply recreate a more insular community?  Is the solution to Jewish continuity the maintenance of these halachot?  Or more leniency with our prohibitions?  Or something else that we're all missing?

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Kiddushin 69: Escape from Mamzer Status; Who Can Marry Whom

Today we move into Perek IV and we learn two new Mishnayot.  The first Mishna, ending Perek III, teaches that there are ways to save one's children from being mamzerim for their entire lives.  To do this, a mamzer must marry a Canaanite maidservant so that the resulting offspring is a mamzer and a slave.  Then, later in life, this slave could be emancipated.  At that point this 'child' is permitted to marry any Jew.

The Gemara points out flaws in this Mishna.  Most obvious, these directions are about male children and not female children. In addition, this is dependent on the will of the slave owner.  The Gemara accept this leniency but not without significant arguments.

In Perek IV, we begin with a new Mishna.  This Mishna teaches us that there are ten categories of Jews, and each has it's own rule regarding marriage.  I will attach a chart that I will design to better explain this concept.
  Jewish Status
  Permitted to Marry
Kohenim, Levites, Israelites
Kohenim, Levites, Israelites
Kohenim, Levites, Israelites, Levites who are not priests, halalim, emancipated slaves, converts
Levites who are not priests
  Israelites, Levites who are not priests, halalim, emancipated
  slaves, converts

Halalim: kohenim whose parents were not permitted to marry
Israelites, Levites who are not priests, halalim, emancipated slaves, converts
Israelites, Levites who are not priests, halalim, emancipated slaves, converts, mamzerim, Gibeonites, shetuki, foundlings
Emancipated Slaves
Israelites, Levites who are not priests, halalim, emancipated slaves, converts, mamzerim, Gibeonites, shetuki, foundlings
Israelites, Levites who are not priests, emancipated slaves, converts, mamzerim, Gibeonites, shetuki, foundlings
mamzerim, Gibeonites, shetuki, foundlings
Shetuki: those who know their mother but not their father
mamzerim, Gibeonites, shetuki, foundlings
Foundlings: those who were found in the marketplace with no information about parentage
mamzerim, Gibeonites, shetuki, foundlings 

        information is based on Steinsaltz: Masechet Kiddushin 69 

The Gemara discusses the ascension of Jews from Babylonia to HaAretz.  They note that moving to Israel is not a geographical 'moving up', and thus it must be a spiritual ascension.  We continue to use these words to describe our experience of Israel - to move to Israel is to make aliyah, or to make ourselves go up. In these cases, the rabbis note that different groups of people were kept away from other groups of people.  Sometimes this was done to avoid "polluting" one of those groups.

Another indication of the maintenance of or a change in status is teruma.  Who was partaking of teruma?  Who was not?  This could teach us about whether or not the superior status of kohen was maintained at different points in time.

Again, the focus on this stratification of society does not sit right in the context of modern society.  

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Kiddushin 68: How to Create Exceptions to the Rule of Exclusion

The Gemara explores our past Mishna: how do we know that the children of certain kiddushin follow the status of their mothers?  A number of proof texts are offered to provide us with possibilities.  Some are verbal analogies - because the word im, with, sounds like the word am, people/nation, we can use one of Avraham's statements to prove who is a part of our nation.  Another proof text uses the verse, "If a man has two wives, and one is loved and the other hated", all of their offspring should be treated equally regarding inheritance, etc.  Who would be loved and who would be hated?  Because G-d loves all of G-d's people, the 'hated' wives are those who are prohibited to betroth their husbands.

Throughout today's daf we are offered different ideas regarding which relationships produce children that are included or excluded from the larger Jewish community.  What is most fascinating to me are the leniencies.  We learn that the children of women who are betrothed (through intercourse, I imagine) while menstruating, women who are accused of adultery as a sota, women who marry priests when they are non-virgins - are treated leniently.  Thus their children are not necessarily mamzerim.  Other, more vulnerable members of this ancient society, follow stringent guidelines.  An Egyptian who marries a Canaanite slave, for example.

Yes, it is true that the rabbis find proof texts to justify their decisions about children. But I argue that the rabbis could not be objective in their search for meaning.  They were creating the society that they wanted to create.  This means that while certain activities were forbidden - sex with a menstruating woman, sex with a sota, sex between a priest an a non-virgin, they were considered to be acceptable behaviours.  Why?

First: menstruating women.  There are many, many rabbinical laws regarding niddah.  There is an entire masechet dedicated to those halachot!  The rabbis must have understood that many couples would not follow those laws. In particular, a betrothal uniting two people who are ultimately permitted to be together might be difficult to revoke.  Would the community become irate if the laws were too punitive?

Next: a sota.  A sota is married to her husband.  Once he accuses her of adultery, having spoken with witnesses, he is not permitted to have sex with her until they make their way to the Temple and complete the ritual of the sota, exonerating her from this accusation.  The temptation to be intimate along the journey was addressed by insisting that a witness accompany the couple to Jerusalem.  However, the rabbis knew that a married couple might still succumb to their desire to be intimate.  Should that act be punished through a long-lasting mark on their child?  Isn't the entire sota ritual designed to ensure that men keep their jealousy in check; that husbands and wives stay together?

Finally: a priest and a widow or another non-virgin.  Such a union should produce a mamzer, but it produces its own special category of child: a chalal (also the status of the mother).  It is explicitly taught in Leviticus (21:7-15) that priests must not marry widows or divorcees.  How could the rabbis justify their decision to treat such relationships with leniency?  

My guess: priests had great power in ancient times.  If the rabbis were to tell priests that they could not marry widows, the priests might revolt.  Perhaps priests would argue that their wives had not had intercourse with other men whether or not that was the case.  Rabbinical authority was dependent upon its acceptance by the larger community.  The larger community's acceptance of Rabbinical law required that those in authority - the priests - accepted the rabbis' views.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Kiddushin 67: Punishing Children for the Transgressions of the Parents

Continuing from the Mishna introduced yesterday, the Gemara discusses the legal status of children born of different relationships.  If the father is a kohen or a levi and the parents are permitted to marry, the child's status follows the father.  If the parents are not permitted to marry, the child might be defined by that relationship.  For example, a child is called a chalal if the father is a kohen and the mother is divorced.  In other situations, that child might be defined by the mother's status.  For example, a Gentile maidservant's child would be a slave.  In yet other situations, such a child is called a mamzer.  A mamzer is the result of a Jewish woman has intercourse with one of the people forbidden to her, like her father, brother, etc.  A chalal is not a kohen and cannot marry a priest/ess.  A mamzer must marry another mamzer, and even their children are separated from the rest of the Jewish community.

The bulk of our daf tries to deconstruct rabbis' statements regarding some of these relationships.  How do we know that mamzerim are the result of incest?  What else helps us to understand how mamzerim are distinct?  Are all mamzerim the same?  Are the 'crimes' that produce mamzerim punishable in the same ways?  What does the halacha teach us about these intricacies?

Today's daf is absolutely irrelevant today if we simply look at the content of the Gemara.  Although some communities continue to honour kohenim and leviim, we can acknowledge that no-one truly knows who is a kohen and who is a levi.  And anyway, we have no Temple that might justify their special status.  

In our modern societies, we discourage distinguishing people based solely on the status of their parents.  So what if one's parents aren't married?  Or if they aren't of the same religions?  Their children should not be punished for having been born. Today's daf offers a pointed example of one of the major differences between the times of the Talmud and our current societies.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Kiddushin 66: How Many Witnesses?

How many witnesses are required when a transgression might disrupt a betrothal?  In order to understand the possible answers to this question, the rabbis consider similar questions.  How many witnesses are required when an animal is disqualified due to sexual activity with a person?  How many witnesses are required regarding a wife's adulterous behaviour?  How many witnesses are required to dethrone a king based on witnessing his mother's change of status? 

Generally speaking, two witnesses are required in these cases.  Why would the rabbis ever allow only one witness?  We are given the example of a blind man who is told that another scholar found that man's wife with another man.  Should he believe what another person has seen?  He is advised to divorce his wife if he takes the opinion of the witness to be as good as two witnesses.  If not, he should not divorce his wife.  Notes teach us that the rabbis took into account a number of other issues, including whether the man and his wife had been arguing recently, in which case he might be more likely to divorce her based on the testimony of a single witness.  

We are introduced to King Yannai, also known as the Hasmonean King Alexander Yannai who married his deceased brother's wife in accordance with the laws of yevamot and chalitza.  Yannai was a great leader who hosted huge celebrations after his victories in war.  He invited critiques at one of these feasts, and he was told that he should not be king, for his mother had been taken captive.  This would change her status and she would no longer be eligible to marry a priest.  Thus Yannai, also the high priest, was told to step down.

Yannai was already frustrated with the Pharisees, or the Sages' interpretations and halacha.  He was turning toward the Sadducees, who interpreted Torah law more literally.  This particular situation was a perfect example of his frustrations.  To have one's parentage and also one's position questioned - right after winning significant battles and offering everyone a feast - would arouse anger in any leader.  Yannai even poured water on his feet instead of the Altar, leading to his being pelted with etrogim, followed by a row that ended with thousands of people killed.

One of the rabbis' questions is whether or not witnesses are required at all to disqualify a consecrated object.  For example, if there are less than 40 se'a of water in a mikvah, it is disqualified.  But who is required to witness that transgression?  What IS witnessing, anyway?  Can't a person simply know something?  When are two witnesses truly required?

Personally I am powerfully drawn to this line of questioning in the Talmud.  So much of what the rabbis teach is a clear distinction between 'this' and 'that'.  To acknowledge the 'in between'; the cracks in the system, so to speak, is incredibly satisfying.

At the end of our daf, a new Mishna teaches us about patrilineal and matrilineal descent.  We are told that when a betrothal is valid and when there is no transgression of Torah law (ie. people marry people who are permitted to them), we follow patrilineal descent.  When there is a valid betrothal but there has been a transgression of Torah law (for example, a priest marries a widow), children will inherit the status of the parent with a 'blemish'.  Finally, in any case where a woman can marry some Jews but not others, the children of her union will be called mamzerim.  

We will have our hands full with the Gemara through tomorrow's daf, I'm certain.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Kiddushin 65: Previously Betrothed? Admitting a Transgression and the Need for Witnesses

The rabbis are still discussing the details of kiddushin when that kiddushin is in fact not permitted.  Today's daf introduces a new Mishna where two people disagree about a previous betrothal.  The man says that he and a woman are betrothed, but she says that they are not betrothed.  A woman says that they are betrothed but the man disagrees.  And a man says that he is betrothed to a woman but she says that he is betrothed to her daughter.  

In each of these cases, the Mishna states who is forbidden to whom.  When a person says that s/he is betrothed to another person, s/he disqualifies that person's family members from having relations with him/herself, as well.  However, when a person says that s/he is not betrothed, family members are permitted.

Interestingly, in these cases a woman's statement is taken as fact.  This is significant, particularly when we are talking about potentially forbidden relations that could result in mamzerim.  Usually, such a risk is dealt with stringently.  Why would the rabbis value a woman's opinion on whether or not she was previously betrothed?

The Gemara wonders whether there were any witnesses to the betrothal, whether the betrothal was performed overseas, whether there were multiple witnesses, and whether or not those witnesses saw merely seclusion or an act of sexual intercourse.  Beit Shammai say that witnesses of simple seclusion are valid witnesses, while Beit Hillel say that witnesses must have seen an act of intercourse.  

While this might seem to suggest that Beit Hillel are more stringent, in practice it would mean that Beit Hillel were more lenient.  In a court, judges would value the testimony of witnesses who saw an act of intercourse.  There would be few of these witnesses, and thus few cases of people insisting that they were betrothed when they were simply wishing to benefit from that status in some way (including intercourse with the woman in question).
Then again, this might disadvantage a woman who has in fact been betrothed but whose husband does not wish to support her or pay her ketubah.

Another example involves a woman, two men, and a bundle that arrive from overseas.  Each man says that the woman is their wife and the other man is their slave; that the bundle belongs to them.  The woman says that both men are her slaves and that the bundle belongs to her.  We learn that each is granted bills of divorce from the other (s in the woman's case) because of the uncertainty regarding betrothal.  Further, the woman is given her ketubah payment from the bundle.

After discussing whether or not there might have been witnesses to the betrothal of one of the couples above, the rabbis turn to the question of admitting one's guilt.  We are told that "witnesses are created only for liars", and that witnesses should not be questioned at all if one admits to a transgression.  

It is interesting that the rabbis were satisfied with the credibility of a person who admitted to his/her own guilt.  What if a witness might testify otherwise?  Perhaps the person who admits his/her guilt has been coerced to do so.  Or perhaps s/he is not a reliable witness due to mental health issues, memory impairment, or other reasons.  I have a feeling that today's daf is not the end of this conversation about the credibility of one who admits guilt.

Kiddushin 64: On Fathers Betrothing Their Daughters

Today's daf discusses three Mishnayot.  Each of them teaches us about fathers betrothing their daughters.

In the first Mishna, we learn that fathers are deemed credible when they speak about the marital status of their minor daughters.  However, when they speak about their daughters who are already bogeret, women eligible to be married as adult women. fathers are not deemed credible.  In part, the Gemara explores some of the reasons that fathers might speak falsely about their daughters who are adult women.  We are reminded of the power that fathers have over their daughters - and the ways that adult daughters hold power on their own.  For example, in arranging their own betrothals.

Our second Mishna teaches us that on his deathbed, a man is believed if he says that he has children. He is not believed if he says that he has brothers.  The Gemara teaches that this is not about inheritance but about chalitza.  Normally a childless married man knows that his wife will marry one of his brothers if he dies.  To nullify that obligation, the couple must be divorced before he dies, parents, or otherwise ineligible for chalitza.  A husband who wishes to manipulate the rules of chalitza might state that he has otherwise unknown children or brothers.

Our final Mishna tells us that a man must be careful about remembering whom he betroths.  A man might says that he has betrothed his eldest - or his youngest - daughter, but he has two sets of daughters with two different women. Which daughter is the eldest in this case?  Which is the youngest?  The Gemara debates some of the possible meanings of such betrothals.  For the most part, unsure betrothals are considered to be invalid.

The rabbis are limiting the power of men and women who attempt to use the halachot to better their own personal standing to the detriment of the larger system of halacha.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Kiddushin 62: More About Double Formulations in Betrothal; Can One Betroth a Fetus?

The rabbis continue their conversation about conditional betrothals that include double formulations. One of these is the example of a man whose offers a condition regarding a woman not having dirtied herself by lying beneath a man.  If she has not done so, she is free.  And if she has been with a man, she should choke and die.  These results - choking and dying or being free - are based on proof texts where two words are very similar to each other, a gezeira shava.  

A new Mishna teaches us that a woman is betrothed even if her husband believed he was marrying a priest but she is a levite, or vice versa.  As long as this omission was not intentional, the betrothal holds.  However, if a man says that he will betroth a woman after something else has happened - for example, if you/I convert, if you/I are emancipated, after your husband or sister dies, when you are able to perform chalitza, or when another man's wife gives birth to a female - in all of these cases, there is no betrothal.

A betrothal requires that both the man and the woman becoming betrothed are able to perform the actions of betrothal.  If betrothal is impossible at that point in time, the betrothal cannot take place yet.  A person may or may not have the power to convene a court of three judges to convert him.  He cannot force a woman's husband to divorce her, either, and thus he cannot say "I am betrothed to you when you are divorced".  

The rabbis compare this with offering teruma from produce that is still attached to the ground.  Although such produce is not to be tithed, it can be tithed.  Why?  Because it can be cut from the ground at any time by its owner, the person who is giving the tithes.  Produce would have to have grown to at least one third of its height to be detached as tithes.  As well, produce that is still attached to the ground could be offered as tithes for detached produce.  

What about a fetus?  It both exists and does not yet exist.  The rabbis discuss this conundrum and come to a compromise.  If the fetus cannot be seen, or if a woman is not pregnant, there is no betrothal when a man says, "If your wife gives birth to a girl, I betroth her".  However, if the fetus shows - like the fodder of an irrigated field, which also exists and does not yet exist - then the betrothal is valid.  It is hard to imagine the trauma that could come about from a betrothal to a fetus still inside my body as my husband makes deals with a grown man.  The idea of selling a fetus, or potentially sexualizing a newborn (for of course the betrothal suggests a later wedding, but a wedding suggests sexual activity.  And in today's modern thought, newborns and promises of sexual relations in the future just seems wrong.

The last note of our daf teaches that an item which has not yet come into our world can be acquired, if not betrothed very early on.  We'll learn more about how this might come into play.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Kiduushin 61: Complex Conditions; Double Formulations

If one wishes to buy one's field during the shemita, the Jubilee year (when all land and servants/slaves are freed from ownership), how is payment determined? Amud (a) focuses on the predetermined amounts that are paid for land. What if the land has deep crevices or large, tall rocks? What if the crevices are filled with water or the rocks are in one line? The rabbis have answers for everything. They create guidelines that ensure that usable land is priced fairly. They account for land that is difficult to use and land that seems to be parcelled in an undesirable layout. This discussion refers us back to their previous conversation regarding the use consecrated property, which is compared to the "use" of a betrothed woman.

A new Mishna is more than a bit confusing. It tells us that conditions should be doubled, based on the Torah example of a condition: the children of Reuven and Gad pass over the Jordan with the others in order to receive Gilead as a possession (Numbers 32:29). If they do not pass over, they will still receive some possession (Numbers 32:30). A note (Steinsaltz) explains that conditions are invalid unless they include:
  • doubled
  • positive formulation must precede negative formulation
  • result must be stated before the required action is stated
  • condition must be possible to fulfill
The Mishna continues, and rabbis argue about why that condition exists. Perhaps it is there to ensure that we understand that the children of Reuven and Gad will inherit, regardless of whether or not they fulfill the condition.

The Gemara responds with a conversation about compound conditions. The rabbis consider this example as well as other more generic examples, like a father who offers his inheritance to different sons based on different conditions. Their basic question seems to be whether or not it is necessary to state both sides of a "double formation": Once we say, "If x happens, here is the result", why is it necessary to say, "If x does not happen, there is no special result". Is this accurate or not?  Is this obvious or not?

Of course, our rabbis have a field day with this one. They suggest numerous examples that would suggest that it is necessary to state all parts of a double formulation; they are necessary and we cannot assume a given answer. They also offer a number of contradictory example where that same double formation is redundant, which is a no-no according to Talmudic hermeneutics. Thus there must be a reason for the usage of double formations in Torah text.

I found today's daf to be both exhausting and exciting. Such a daf would be great fun to learn over a good chunk of time. However, the nature of daf yomi creates a less than satisfying experience of this very complex text.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Kiddushin 60: Is She Already Betrothed?

Today's daf continues our rabbis' discussion of uncertain betrothals.  For example, if a man says to a woman that he betroths her now and in thirty days, is she betrothed immediately? After thirty days?  If another man betroths her before the end of thirty days, is that betrothal valid?  Or is she already betrothed and thus she cannot be betrothed again?  The rabbis consider gittin in this context.  If a man says that he will divorce his wife now and in thirty days, are they divorced at all?  And if he dies before the end of thirty days, is she divorced, in which case if they are childless, she is forbidden to his brother and thus they must perform chalitza?  Or is she still married when her husband dies, in which case she must be offered to his brother in levirate marriage?  Because of the uncertainty in this case, the rabbis suggest that chalets is always performed if the divorce is uncertain.

The rabbis give us examples of a woman being betrothed in this way, followed by a betrothal to another man who says that they are betrothed now and after twenty days, followed by a betrothal to another man who says that they are betrothed now and after ten days, followed by one hundred more men and and one hundred more betrothals.  Does each betrothal require a divorce? Do only the first and last betrothals require gittin, divorces?

The rabbis argue about conditional statements and retractions.  A conditional statement would require that the condition is met for the woman to be betrothed.  A retraction would mean that the man is putting off his initial betrothal and they may not be betrothed at all after thirty days.

A new Mishna shares some examples: if a man tells a woman that they are betrothed on the condition that he brings her two hundred dinars, then they are betrothed when he does what he said.  Similarly, if he says that they are betrothed when he gives her a certain amount of money over thirty days, they are betrothed at the end of thirty days only if he gives her, even in small payments, the amount of money stated.  If he says that their betrothal is conditional on the fact that he has two hundred dinars, then he must have that money for the betrothal to be valid.  And if he says that that their betrothal is conditional on him showing her two hundred dinars, that money must be shown - and it must belong to him.  The rabbis say that she would assume that the money was his, and thus he meets his condition by showing her his own money.

The rabbis discuss conditional statements in kiddushin and gittin.  They seem to wish to be stringent, for mistakes about whether or not a marriage is legitimate could result in generations of mamzerim; community members who cannot fully participate in society.  However, they speak about the importance of leniency when deciding about whether or not a betrothal or a get is valid.

A final Mishna teaches us that if a man betroths a woman on the condition that he has a certain amount of land, or that he has land in a certain place, he must be held to that condition for the betrothal to be valid.  He cannot own just a part of the land that he shows the woman he wishes to betroth.

Certainly the rabbis were considering the human capacity to exaggerate, to fib, to promise that we are something that we're not.  They were attempting to create legal requirements to curb bad behaviour.  But how can lying or misrepresentation be monitored?  I suppose that the rabbis were hopeful that their recommendations and creation of halacha would be enough to dissuade people from lying.

First of all, in our modern society, fearing G-d is not usually the best deterrent, but in ancient times it might have been more weighty.  Second, I wonder whether or not people were generally more compliant in ancient times than now.  Doubtful!  Were the rabbis responding to the bad behaviour in their communities?  Or were they addressing these issues preventatively?  I can only imagine that people were people, and so they tried to take advantage of each other.  But that in between place - where laws are created to address questionable actions - it is hard to understand how this played itself out.  Would women be accused of still being married?  Would men try to betroth women who were not permitted to them?  How would this get found out? What would the courts actually do?

Monday, 9 May 2016

Kiddushin 59: Wicked Agents and the Thought/Statement/Action Debate

Some agents can't be trusted.  One might betroth the same woman that another man sent him to find.  He might steal land he was sent to acquire on another's behalf.  What do we do in such situations?  The rabbis grapple with these questions in today's daf.

Some of the other questions discussed include:

  • is a conditional betrothal similar to a loan (halachically)?
  • can a woman retract her acceptance of a conditional betrothal?
  • can an action be nullified by a statement?
  • can a statement be nullified by a thought?
  • can a thought be offset by a statement?
  • can a thought be nullified by another thought?
  • vessels can become ritually impure through thought; they can become pure again only through an action
  • ki yuttan, if water is placed, and ki yittan, if one places, are similar and used to understand the process by which produce becomes ritually impure
  • can a betrothal that came into place through an action (ex. the exchange of money) be nullified by a simple statement of retraction?
  • if a person states a conditional statement, ex. I betroth you now and in thirty days, or I divorce you now and in thirty days, is the woman betrothed/divorced after two days?
  • if the man should die before the end of thirty days, is the woman betrothed/divorced? or is this uncertain?
A number of halachot regarding ritual impurity are assumed to be understood.  For me, it was the first time learning about produce becoming ritually impure if it becomes wet and touches a carcass.  I had never learned that an unfinished vessel is assumed to be ritually pure unless the potter decides to put it aside, in which case it is a finished vessel and now subject to ritual impurity.   Or that if the vessel is then finished, that action can change its status to one of ritual purity again.

Further, these rules about what trumps what are fascinating. An action is the most powerful representation of decisiveness around a change in status.  Next is a statement, and the weakest is a thought. Which has the power to affect the status of an item?  Again, these invisible lines and rules and structures are both formidable and perhaps unnecessarily restrictive.