Thursday, November 19, 2009

Toldos—Tired Of Dating?

Conventional wisdom holds that this week’s parsha’s focus is on the family, as evidenced from its very title. I’m going to attempt to turn that notion on its head and try to show that the parsha is trying to tell us something about the nature of communication between the sexes and possibly how the lack thereof before a marriage can cause problems later in the marriage.

In a day and age where a molestation victim killed himself the night after his wedding because he realized he wasn’t anywhere near ready [1], and there is still some “da’as Torah” circles that insist that homosexuality is cured by marriage [R’ J.D. Bleich insisted this must be true because “ein hakadosh baruch hub a be-tiryona im biryosav”], the urgency of “communicating” this seems to have become more pressing.

As an unabashed “modern” and [too] long upper west sider, I basically heard the “da’as Torah” world’s insistence on dating exclusively for tachlis as so: if you let the “system” handle all the potentially messy elements of “dating” [e.g., you don’t go on “real” dates], you’ll avoid the messes inherent in relations between the sexes; you’re practically guaranteed to have the “yud” and the “heh” between the “esh” of “ish” and “ishah”. [R’ Pinchas Stolper’s “The Jewish Way In Love, Dating And Marriage” is one such publication that hews close to this line].

The stories of the avos’ marriages should actually place this notion to bed. Avraham and Sarah’s marital difficulties were legendary, not least due to Hagar/Yishmael and “achosi hi” ; Yaakov’s harem was bound to be problematic [and see my Vayetzei on last year for my take on the wedding night and the Rachel/Leah switch]. However, Yitzchak and Rivkah’s difficulties are more instructive, particularly as, since I pointed out last week, they make up the only monogamous relationship of the three. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin [2] mentions Yitzchak’s conflicted emotions toward his father which was, indirectly at least, a driving force behind the story of how the shidduch with Rivka was executed.

More interestingly, however, was a shiur I heard in 1996 from Avivah Gottlieb Zorenberg about the Rivka seeing Yitzchak for the kaddosh that he was at first sight [and she was so startled that she fell off the camel—see last week, 24:64]. This made her more than occasionally diffident about approaching him directly in communication, as evidenced in this week’s parsha by “le’nochach ishto”, by the fact that she went to Shem for advice—and that she couldn’t tell Yitzchak what she REALLY knew about Esav except by having Yaakov steal the brachos. Even when she did manage to “break the distance” when she had to send Yaakov away, she couldn’t even be candid about the reasons with Yitzchak.

What we see is that anyone who marvels at the “shidduch” system to the point that they portray it a panacea are actually causing more damage than they prevent. [And the special sibling rivalries that resulted.]

Beyond all that and back to my original gripe, it’s as if the worst thing about the “shidduch crisis” is not that people aren’t getting married, it’s that [gasp!] they’ll have to go on “dates”—and they might go on some “real” ones. One might think that, as far as thses people are concerned, all “real” dates end up like Esav coming back from the field tired [according to the medrash, from ravishing a na’arah me’urasa and killing her intended.] One forgets Esav, as midrashim in this parsha relate, was the first “faker” of frumkeit, outwardly portraying a conspicuous religiosity that ostensibly fooled his father, up to the point of his “shidduch” at 40 [Rashi; “My father married at 40…”], when by all rights the ruse should have been uncovered [and was, to a point, but really lasted until after the Yaakov stole the Brachos, when Esav finally dropped the pretense entirely.]

I think what this incident with Esav [the ravish and the murder—sex and death] sums up is, indirectly, what I once said [not here] about the relationship curse of “b-ze’as apecha tochal lechem” [interchanging “lechem” with “pas b’salo”]: it isn’t the “sweat” of work that’s necessarily the curse; it’s the “headache”, the special “ze’as apecha”, that’s the true “pain” of “work”—and the curse is that relationships are going to take work.

No matter what kind—“holy” or otherwise.



Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chayei Sarah—Family Values?

In Vezos Habracha I raised the possibility that the Torah set the “family” values priority lower than one might think. I didn’t visit the issue in as much detail there, nor in the first few parshiyos of Bereishis, where—as I mentioned three weeks ago—the Torah deals mostly with the “world at large”.

My Mother sent me an email a few years ago headed “Would Yeshivish People Date Anyone From The Torah?” [I’ve included the detailed text at the end of this bit.] But even taking a more serious angle the families are hardly nuclear and certainly dysfunctional:

*Avraham’s [and, later, Yitzchak’s] “sister” line when faced with a monarch casting eyes on their spouse [a theme that will repeat itself later, in a different form, re David and Batsheva];

*Avraham’s taking of a concubine at Sarah’s insistence, then chasing her out [and causing her to miscarry], taking her back in, then chasing her out again….

*…when, among other things, a teenage Yishmael either tries to kill and/or molest his half-brother Yitzchak [“metzachek” has a dual connotation], resulting in his [and his mother’s] SECOND exile from the Abrahamic household;

*and, to close out the first leg of the cycle, the strong link between the death of Sarah following [if not as a direct result of] the Akeda, and the story of how Avraham and Eliezer arrange the shidduch between Yitchak and Rivkah.

[In another link to the theme of “Its Good Ta Be Da King” above re Pharaoh and the Avimelechs, Besuel himself was an ardent practitioner of the droit de signeur, or the right of the local magistrate to ritually deflower a virgin before her wedding night [“Besuel” can be not necessarily loosely translated as “Lord of the Virgins”], and the midrash relates that Besuel was under pressure to administer said defloration to his own daughter by the locals who were rather perturbed at the possibility that she might be exempted. Apparently, one of the reasons for his Divinely-executed sudden death during the night [Rashi on 24:55] was that he was more inclined to actually assert his privileges.]

I mentioned in Noach re the incident between Noach, Cham and Cannan how the Torah seems to make an inexorable connection between same-sex relations and violence. In an only slightly more subtle sense, this whole series of events may show the Torah’s rather dim view of the exercise of power in sex [Rashi on 24:57, s.v. “nish’ala es pihah, where we learn the halacha of “ein masi’in isha elah mida’ata”.] I would take this a step further: while the Torah is likely inevitably patriarchal, it does not necessarily view this as a good thing [see my Vayetzei from last year, and].

In what might seem to be a tangential point, I would actually use the Torah’s discomfort with the admixture of sex and power as one of the reasons that it insists so strongly upon matrilineal descent. While almost all other familial halachos are patrilineally determined, the Torah does not want the establishment of its “family” to be based upon a simple equation of evolutionary biology and raw tribalism. When you contrast between the fact of the machinations behind the shidduch and the fact that Yitzchak and Rivkah made the only monogamous marriage among the Avos, this parsha may actually serve as a stronger support for this notion than one might think.

And now, the email I promised:

Would Yeshivish People Date Anyone From The Torah?

There's Avraham Avinu: He seems to be frum but really he's a BT and his father made idols, not our

Yitzchak Avinu: Well his grandfather made idols, there was all that nastiness with Lot and is half brother in an arab.

Yaakov Avinu: His great-grandfather made idols, his brother went off the derech, his mother comes from a very treyfe family and he wasn't shomer negiah with Rachel Imeinu before they were married and he spent a lot of time with his uncle, who's mammesh a rasha.

Yosef HaTzaddik: His mother had an idol once and she died early, plus he's a slave and his brothers don't like him, must be something in that and with all the issues with Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak and Yaakov Avinu...better not to.

Moshe Rabbeinu: Oy, what a maaseh!!!! His parents separated, then they got back together, his parents abandoned him, put him in a basket, he was raised by goyim...not our kind for sure. He may be close to Hashem but his background is so problematic we wouldn't want him in our family!

Caleb's descendants: We don't want to marry into that family. Enough said.

David HaMelech: Descendants from a Geyoret, not our kind of people. Sure a few generations have gone by but all things being equal shouldn't we look for someone with mor e 'jewish' background.

Shlomo HaMelech: See above, all his mother's marriage was very dubious, he is rich though but the yichus and family background is very tricky

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Vayera—A Proposed Akeda

The Akeda is symbolic of two ostensibly contradictory impulses in Judaism.

The first is how it is supposed to embody the strength of our relationship with G-d as exemplified by our willingness to sacrifice everything for Him. So much so that we recite the passage daily and implore G-d to “squelch His anger the way Avraham squelched his mercy” [which somewhat amplifies its self-contradictory nature].

The second impulse is Yirmiyahu 19:5 quoted in Taanis 4a, where the Akeda, Yiftach’s sacrifice of his daughter, and Mesha Melech Moav’s sacrifice of his son to Moloch are all referred to as what G-d had “neither commanded, nor spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind.” Many an analogy has been made with current Islamist practice of suicide bombing as the modern-day equivalent of Moloch worship.

I originally was all set to use this notion as a jumping-off point to the recent tragedy at Fort Hood and the continuing reluctance of most media outlets to refer to the religion of the perpetrator. I’ve always said, at times, we have to thank G-d for the fundamentalist strains in other religions; they make us look good.

Then I came across this recent story:“A rabbinical court imprisoned a man because of violence and his refusal to grant a divorce. Yet the court differentiated between "regular beatings" which does not merit a hiyuv get [a rabbinical mandate to force the man to grant a divorce], and beatings that can kill, which does in fact merit a hiyuv get (see haDin ve-haDayan 4[3]). In the opinion of the rabbinical court, it seems that "regular" beatings are something that a woman is capable of living with, and in any event, divorce should not be imposed because of it. An act that constitutes a criminal offense in the State of Israel does not constitute grounds for divorce in the rabbinical court. “

Their justification?

“…in this new reality, in which [the civil courts] want to bind the hands of the rabbinical courts so that they will be unable to continue to rule on agreements that they ratified [the woman's appeal to the Supreme Court], and in which civil courts enjoy easily nullifying decisions of the rabbinical courts, this situation has the potential to cause serious harm...".

Apparently, “extra-halachic” considerations motivated the bes din to impose their own “akeda” upon the woman/women suffering in these marriages. Better to take one for the team even if it leads to the halachic sanction of wife-beating [which this is].

I propose we conduct an akeda of our own. 

I would go as far as finding out:

  • who their own poskim and rabbinic mentors are;
  • where they learned in Yeshiva;
  • where they teach and who is responsible for hiring them;
  • whether they have published sefarim and/or shailos/tshuvos, and who publishes them;
  • if any of them are marei d’asra or serve in any shul leadership capacity, have this tshuva posted in their shuls and neighborhoods so that their kehillos know that they condone wife beating. [Let them deny it.]

I wouldn’t limit it to the above; I might actually have a criminal investigation opened up, alleging that domestic violence is being condoned [if not advocated].

There’s a story which may or may not be an Orthodox urban legend about a group of women who, upon hearing that a certain individual in their community was withholding a get, took it upon themselves to not go to mikvah until the get was granted. That may have been the best modern day example of halachic civil disobedience.

This is different.  It is not a case of a “theoretical” halachic decision, or a rabbi musing about a world that is not sympathetic to halachic concerns.  These people need to be “sacrificed” for the impression of Torah they give, as the kind of people who lead to our being equated with the reactionary elements in other religions. And, in light of their justifications of their psak, it’s mida kneged mida.