Thursday, December 3, 2015

Vayeishev--Graceful Exits

In this weeks' parsha, Yosef actually deliberately leaves evidence behind that actually can be [and is] used to frame him because a forceful removal of his top garment from the clutches of Potiphar's wife wouldn't have been "derecheretzdik".  Or, as Ramban notes, "proper respect" as the wife of his master "dictated this course of action".

Is that level of derech eretz actually yehareg veal ya'avor [he could have easily been executed]?  Aside from the fact that Potiphar's wife wasn't really acting commensurate with her station?

There are a few lessons to be learned here about graceful exits, particularly when one looks at some of the details leading up to the fateful encounter.

Rashi on 39:6 notes that Yosef started to twirl his hair "because he saw himself ruling", and G-d was moved to "incite the bear against [him]".  So aside from Mrs. Potiphar's conflicting inclinations [Egyptian immorality on one hand, her fuzzy prophecy about her descendants on the other] acting as a catalyst, Yosef had already begun to dig his own hole and deal with his own conflict: on one hand, having to remind himself that eshes ish was zayin mitzvos, swearing not to do it on top of that, and then finally actually being prepared to succumb--Yosef was conflicted enough once he summoned up the strength to make the less than graceful exit that he might have felt that he wasn't really in a position to violate the accepted cultural norms.  After all, but for the grace of G-d [and "demus dikyono shel aviv"], he might have misbehaved the way she was about to.   So he had to cut his losses.

Furthermore, just because SHE sullied her station, it would not have necessarily given him the right to aid and abet in said sullying, even if he had resisted the temptation [and we see that he might have come close to succumbing].  So at that point, Yosef's only salient exit strategy involved him making a statement about his OWN escape from the clutches of immorality, without necessarily making a parallel statement about his counterpart's behavior.  He had to give himself mussar without giving her mussar...hence his leaving his garment.

In theory, this would indicate that while one must sometimes clearly articulate when morality is being blatantly violated, one should avoid being ostensibly offensive about it.

Yet, to paraphrase my mara d'asra Rabbi Allen Schwartz, sometime the exit has to be emphatic.

When does one need to balance the forcefulness of the exit, and when must one lean towards the fully emphatic?

A personal story might be somewhat instructive.

In Jan. 2010 I and a friend who is considerably more doctrinally socially and politically conservative than I am went on a road trip to Indianapolis to see the AFC Championship game [Colts 30, Jets 17.  Too much Peyton].  After the game--the 3PM game--we left the stadium and searched for a bar to watch the 6:30 game.  We finally found what looked like a nondescript establishment with nothing on the facade but we could see several widescreen TV's showing the NFC contest, so we went in.

After about 90 seconds when several gentlemen in Colts jerseys one after the other kept asking me where I was staying for the night--and one made a rather graphic proposition--I figured out what kind of establishment I had walked into.

My traveling companion did not figure it out that fast.

Now, in theory, this was likely going to be one of those cases where I would have just made a rather quietly graceful exit without anyone noticing, had I been alone.  After all I had certainly entered the premises under somewhat false pretenses.  I would not have felt compelled to yell "Leviticus 18:20!!!" on my way out.  I actually might mot be too far off if I opine that such behavior would have  been contra to...well, derech eretz.

However, now I had a dilemma.  Time was going by and my counterpart was still not figuring out where he was--and I was operating under the assumption for some reason that if I did clue him in on it, whatever exit I had would be less than...graceful.

After about 20 minutes, when a female patron sitting at a table clued him in [she figured that he might want to know that, unlike him, the majority of the patrons in the bar were NOT acolytes of Sarah Palin], he reacted about the way I'd expected.  Thankfully the woman was nice enough to provide the graceful exit I was looking for: she told us where we could find the SPORTS bar we had been looking  for in the first place but hadn't been able to find.

[Thankfully, religion actually didn't visibly play into it.  We were both wearing Jets caps.  Maybe it just reflected somehow on Jets fans.  Chilul ha-Jets?]

Now, if I'd known exactly what kind of establishment it was, I would not have walked in [kal vachomer considering my counterpart].  I still ask myself if the way I handled it under the circumstances was both the most moral and least offensive.

Yosef, at the risk of his life and ultimately immeasurable cost to his freedom, did both because the circumstances leading up to that moment called for it.

Hopefully one can recognize which response are called for in which circumstance.



Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bereishis: Spiritual Competition



The fratricidal episode between Kayin and Hevel in this weeks parsha is of necessity one of the most enigmatic in the Torah.

Why would G-d so blatantly as it were “play favorites” in reverse when Kayin was ostensibly the first one to invent the notion of sacrificing to G-d, and then seemingly not only not get credit for the effort, but rather chastised for his failure?

My mara a’asra Rabbi Allen Schwartz recently said that the root of Kayin’s avera was that he engaged in competition rather than cooperation.  He might have had the original idea to serve G-d through sacrifice, but what kept him from sharing this idea with his brother?  Maybe he thought that G-d would grant him some sort of agricultural advantage; give him another sister/wife; give him something that his brother wouldn’t get because G-d would "like him better" if he sacrificed and his brother didn’t.

My take is that Kayin "originated" another idea: trying to use spirituality to one up an ostensible competitor, and that was why G-d not only "gave him mussar" but also in mida-k’neged-mida mode favored Kayin’s competitor to his face.   Kayin may never have even expected any response; in fact, one can imagine Kayin actually initially congratulating himself on just having the original idea and even chuckling to himself when his brother starts collecting sheep, thinking that not only is his idea better simply by virtue of its originality, but that his brother is wasting effort trying to outdo him….until the Fire comes down.  It may have been G-d’s way of delineating between “mitoch shelo lishmah bah lishmah” and  “hamasmilim bah sama demosa”: indicating where a spiritual competition might cease to be spiritual.  

[There might be several degrees between, say, Kayin’s spiritual one-upmanship even just in contemplation and the notion that “hatzo'ek al chavero hu ne’enash techila”.   But one can see how one might lead to the other.]

However, once he realized his efforts were not only rejected but that the rejection was compounded AND his “competitor” got all the credit while he was forced to watch, he became enraged. 

[Whether or not Hevel also copied the competition idea is unclear; the posuk does say “And Hevel brought also”, so he may have engaged in competition; however, he also might have been spurred by watching his brother’s effort without actually thinking along the lines that Kayin did, having no reason to assume that G-d would favor him and not Kayin’s offering.]

So why would the Torah open with such an enigmatic lesson that ostensibly goes so far as from what it initially appears to be saying?

The easy answers are a] that the Torah does this all the time and b] it does this precisely because it wants its learners to delve beyond the surface so that it almost tricks and/or forces its adherents to be “[me]haf[e]ch bah, [me]haf[e]ch bah” to get to the ultimate point, because if one stops too far short, the lesson drawn may be incomplete at best, and at times possibly incorrect [maybe even repeating Kayin's mistake, in a way].

Beyond all that, the Torah’s other lesson here to both Kayin and us might be that spiritual progression and striving isn’t linear, and also at times doesn’t have a guarantee of there not being a loss involved in the effort even if there is no palpable gain [G-d’s reference to a “pesach chatas”, again, implying that Kayin may have actually committed a sin with his sacrificial effort].   The CEO’s and financial captains who helped sink the economy in 2008 and walked away with golden parachutes might have learned a thing or two from Kayin, but it certainly wasn’t a spiritual lesson.

Counterintuitively, however, it also belies the notion that "Biblical morality" as practiced by certain other faith strains that use Biblical texts as foundations are actually necessarily salient just because they call it that.  We have something they don’t [“im yomru lecha yesh Torah bagoyim al ta’amin”] and often we fall into the trap of thinking that we need to make alliances out of the necessity to maintain “Biblical morality” [especially in the US] because the alternative has to be worse.  I’ve written elsewhere that this is mistaken thinking, and I would go further here: this is one area where “spiritual competition” may actually be warranted.  We certainly didn’t start it [viz. the midrashim about G-d "shopping" the Torah to everyone else and coming to us last, as well as most of the history of early Christianity], and the fact that G-d “turned to Hevel’s offering” indicates that sometimes one side actually does get the advantage granted.   It’s no longer as if we have ideas we aren’t sharing [which in the information age is well-nigh impossible].   Ain chadash; all the ideas are out there.  We can and we should be specific about what’s ours and not conflate them with what might no longer be."

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Shiur on the Agunah Inyan--and Its Almost Immediate Impact


In the current halachic battles surrounding the struggles of women to obtain Gittin from recalcitrant husbands, one never knows what might actually facilitate the resolution of a previously difficult predicament.  In the following story a well-timed shiur on the very topic actually leads to a breakthrough in what had been previously intractable proceedings.


Part I—The Shiur

Dayan HaRav Moshe Gutnick, in the New York area celebrating the recent birth of a grandchild, addressed an audience of nearly 90 participants on April 28 at the United Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Crown Heights, with a short lecture about Gittin and the halachic processes involved, which was then followed by a rather lively question-and-answer session that lasted for nearly two hours.

Dayan HaRav Gutnick began his lecture noting that the seeds for this shiur were essentially planted by one of his niece’s facebook groups where questions about Gittin arose, and it became apparent that people didn’t understand the the halachic process or Gett process; the misunderstandings had a tendency to lead to unrealistic expectations, or lack of awareness of available options.   “Knowledge of the halachic process is supposed to be empowering.  The Church l’havdil burned books to maintain power and keep the masses ignorant.  In our context  for Torah to have its proper place we have to know it, and understanding the process empowers us." 

Dayan Harav Gutnick illustrated the process by retelling the Talmudic story of the Oven of Akhnai in Baba Metzia and how the debate ended with the proclamation of “Lo bashamayim hi!" [“It is not in heaven!”], to underscore how “Torah is partnership:  Hashem gave the Torah to us; it’s our responsibility to find the halacha;  and that’s why Chazal and gedolim have grappled to always find solutions to help people.”  He explained this by saying that, while certain halachic issues could be called “neutral” in that they “don’t relate to people in terms of personal pain or the circumstances in which  they find themselves”, in other cases “crises developed with people having real difficulties and solutions where possible had to be found to help those people.”

He then addressed the core of the shiur: the issues surrounding the withholding of Gittin, the salience of a halachic prenup as a possible remedy, and possible communal responses to recalcitrant husbands which he considered to be the most effective tool outside of Israel.  Dayan HaRav Gutnick was unequivocal about the immutability of hilchos Gittin and kiddushin—specifically that the man always has to be the one to give both the kiddushin and the Gett, and the Gett has to always be given beratzon with drastic halachic consequences ensuing from a forced Gett (“This requirement that the man must give the Gett willingly creates all sorts of difficulties and we don’t know why Hashem created those difficulties but we must uncompromisingly adhere to His will.”)  He then elaborated on the halachic concepts of kofin and ma’us alai, their history and timeline, and the circumstances where they might apply, and the "difficulty of knowing those circumstances.   In the old days, If Halocho required a man to give a Gett, under the auspices of a Beth Din you would beat him until a Gett was given. Nowadays, allowing a husband to abuse his wife by not giving her a Gett when required to do so is apparently deemed by our secular society to be more civilized than allowing corporal punishment to force him into submission. We therefore need to find different solutions." 

As the evening progressed and the Dayan received questions, it became further apparent what he hoped would result—especially outside Israel:  “the only thing that works is that [a] community gets behind it and won’t tolerate it…[w]hen a woman doesn’t want to stay married I call that woman an aguna.  There are technical terminologies [], but the community has to view a woman who wants a Gett and doesn't get one immediately as an aguna.  Now of course there is a difference between a week and 6 months…everything is relative to particular circumstances.  However...a woman who wants a Gett is entitled to get one.  In an ideal world, the Gett is the last thing to be finalized between the parties, [but] using the Gett as tool is not acceptable; if a man uses any sort of settlement between the parties as a reason to unreasonably delay a get or uses it as a bargaining chip this should be totally unacceptable. Rav Moshe Feinstein said if there’s any delay, then it DOESN’T go last.”  Addressing the issue of prenups, the Dayan said “we need to work towards” a time where no chuppah is done without one provided the pre-nup is 100% halachically acceptable. 

Finally—in a way summing up the entire evening—a challenge was issued from the male side of the mechitza: “If you want to make the marriage work it will.” 

The Dayan replied: absolutely not. 

“How do you know?”  

“Because the Torah said so.  You hope every marriage will work.  But the get is there for a reason.  You can’t force two people to stay together against their will…Ain neshosenu shevuyos charev [“our women are not prisoners of war”].



Part II—Tali Roytman’s Story

Tali Roytman—a Crown Heights resident undergoing a divorce battle at the time of the lecture—described how Dayan HaRav Moshe Gutnick’s shiur opened up the possibility of exercising a previously untried halachic option in her own divorce battle.

“I've been waiting for my get over 4 years. We were involved with Rabbi Weismann at Beis Din Of America. In a weird twist it was my husband who 'invited' me there. I replied I would go but that I want a hearing. Rabbi Weismann called him to come in and sign arbitration - a normal process. But he didn't want to. Rabbi Weissmann actually called me very surprised. Usually the person who initiates the process doesn't have an issue with arbitration. So the BDOA was put on hold, making the process even longer.

“I knew in my mind I wouldn't be able to get him to an actual Beis Din in America. He is an avoider. He had signed and notarized agreements which he discarded. We had appointments for the get which he didn't show up for. Honestly no one really knows why he even went to BDOA or why he thought he would have it better there.

"There is an option of getting a Beit Din to issue an injunction to detain my husband for withholding the get in Israel - the Tzav Ikuv Yetsiya-a restraining order to leave the country. Some people mentioned that option to me in passing but I never gave it a second thought. I just didn't have enough knowledge or strength.

“My husband and I are both Israeli citizens and we married in Israel. We moved to NY soon after we got married. He went back for a family simcha, so he sent me a note with the children. The note said he would be away for 2 weeks. Within those 2 weeks - min hashamayim - Rabbi Gutnick spoke.

“A light bulb went on in my head when I heard Rabbi Gutnick's thoughts on this option. Then another friend told me: ‘If he is in Israel, why don't you look into this option?', which pushed me even further.

“I had some local connection contact Yad La-isha for me. We made it clear that it's time sensitive because he may or may not be in Israel for another week. Possibly, this connection who has some association with the government caused it to go quicker. I can't say for certain. But I believe within 3 days he was served.

“He wanted to leave Israel right away but clearly just wanted this over with…since we are both currently living in America with kids and any other issue must be taken care of in the US.

“I was then called to come to Israel right away.

“It was almost Shabbos so I checked flight possibilities. I confirmed with the Yad La-isha lawyer. She let the Rabanut know. They were ok with the court date which was on my birthday.

“I always feared that he would possibly change his mind, even this time. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that because he has his family in Israel he may just say 'forget leaving the country. I'm ok to stay here in Israel' and then I didn't know what the next step would be. But once he let the Rabbanut know he was coming to the Diyun, he would probably at least show up.


“Rav Shlomo Shtasman, Av Bes Din Rabbani Azuri Tel Aviv-Yaffo spoke to him privately and then to me privately. Within 2 hours it was done and I was a free woman. On my birthday. In Eretz Yisroel."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Emor: What Kind Of Mother…


Toya Graham, the Baltimore woman who became a media sensation when videoed beating her son about the head in the streets of Baltimore when she caught him about to throw a rock at the police while rioting with his peers, has been termed the “mother of the year” in certain circles [mostly conservative] and the paradigm of why American society is irredeemably white supremacist in other circles [mostly…other than conservative].   While very few people actually think that what she did at the moment was inappropriate, is it really the model of motherhood to exemplify?

In this week’s parsha, the megadef [blasphemer] has his maternal lineage delineated by the Torah [partly because his biological father was the ish mitzri Moshe killed—see below].   Shlomit [his mother] said “shalom” to everyone; Divri [his grandmother] was—for lack of a better term—ostensibly the quintessential Biblical yenta.

So they talked to everyone.  Was this a lesson in “tznius”?

Ostensibly, but not necessarily.  It’s more a lesson in being nondiscriminating.  Shlomit slept with the mitzri assuming it was her husband.  And the way the medrash and Rashi spells it out—he didn’t have to rape her [which was likely de rigeur in a slave society].   Aside from her apparently happy-go-lucky attitude displayed by the midrash, the way the narrative lays out about the mitzri beating the ish yisrael indicates that in most other cases the beating would have been unnecessary; a slave never has anything.  This was different.  He objected to the fact that his wife was willing if duped, and the power dynamic had to be reinforced.  So you have a clearer indicator of the wife’s inability to discriminate.

Being nondiscriminating in relationships—even without intent—was more than just sloppiness.  It might even be inferred that both Shlmoit and Divri might have pursued relationships with the masters of the time, or were willing to sleep with the enemy, and not necessarily because they felt forced.  While an enslaved population is definitely targeted to have their women exploited until they can’t figure out how to control their own lives, some women actually might go willingly to the enemy.  It therefore might be possible that this ben Dan was discriminated against because everyone knew what his mother and grandmother were about.    [The question remains why no one stepped in to try and help in out, but there doesn’t seem to have been too much time between the lawsuit and the blasphemy, so it became a moot point.]

Toya Graham—a single mother of six—clearly knew her son did not belong on the streets at that moment last week in Baltimore and, while society clearly frowns upon corporal punishment as a disciplinary method [as, for the record, does this author], at that specific moment it was not an issue of a teachable moment or even a disciplinary action.  It might very well have been a matter of life or death for him as she saw it: doing what she did to get him out of there.

Which means it’s the exception that proves the rule: the use of force as interventionary versus as disciplinary.   The real “teachable moment” is that not every disciplinary situation requires an intervention.  S’mmol docheh, yemin mekareves.

In the case of the megadef, we can see that there was a possibility that he had neither.  Obviously his mother was busy with other things.  His biological father was dead before he was born, although it was unlikely he would have acknowledged him or had anything to do with him.  And the text and midrashim seem to be silent about what happens to his mother’s husband after Moshe kills his oppressor, but we might gather that he didn’t want to have anything to with the future megadef either.

So here we have the ultimate unwanted child.  Furthermore, we see the nature of the discrimination against him.  And yet when he commits what might be considered one of the most serious Torah offenses, there is no hesitation about the punishment, although all manner of Torah due process is afforded [and may even be taught from the passage dealing with the incident.]  But he is dispatched with nary a word said about mitigating circumstances.

We see that there are times where no matter the ostensibly proximate causes—and no matter how pervasive—an egregious act can be taken completely out of any other context and treated as the offense that it is.  I would posit that principle applies in the case of rioting, which is ipso facto a metatstatic threat to public order and in Baltimore’s case is exacerbated by the plethora of sympathy from some quarters for that kind of reaction to perceived injustice.

Toya Graham was having none of it.  At that moment she staged an intervention.

Now it’s plausible the media plaudits that ensued were because people appreciated an apparent display of “tough love” in a zeitgeist where progressive educational theory that disdains anything “tough” holds sway, or as an antidote to the aforementioned riotsplaining.  But I think what we can take away from this incident without overplaying the socio-political implications are two things: one, she is obviously not an absent parent; two, there are times where an intervention is not only legitimate, but mandated. 

And: we can do that without lionizing the action as a disciplinary tactic because we don’t know that it was, nor does it say anything about whether her parenting skills up to this point are or aren’t admirable or whether lack of general discipline led to this point [like the possible complete lack of structure in the case of the megadef], when that moment arrived—in the case of the megadef, the court case, in this case, the riot—the mother was there in this case to make sure the authorities didn’t get involved.  The megadef wasn’t as fortunate to have that kind of mother.

As an aside and coda, there is a Biblical model for a WORSE mother that Shlomit bas Divri: the mother of Sisera, the Canaanite general and her koffeeklatch of female friends.   The Song of Devorah details how while she wailed about her missing son’s fate, her friends assured her that he was not only winning the battle but procuring his share of the requisite spoils, including the kind of extracurricular activity with captive females that was almost a job requirement of soldiery at the time.   It’s almost as if Toya Graham would have instead been encouraging her son’s riotous tendencies on the barricades; that’s the kind of mother Em Sisera was.  And yet—ironically—it’s em Sisera’s wailings from which we learn how to blow shevarim on Rosh Hashanah.  There might be the last difference between even the megadef’s mother and em Sisera: even if she obviously raised him wrong, em Sisera raised him.  The megadef’s mother seems to have not bothered.  

And: em Sisera didn’t switch sides.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Acharei Mos/Kedoshim: “Why Aren’t You Married?”


In a day and age where a lot of moral and cultural stock is being placed in a particular Supreme Court decision vis-à-vis marriage, Vayikra chapters 18 and 20 are once again being dragged to center stage.   But it might be no accident that this weeks’s double parsha—where the Torah’s sexual moralities are clearly legislated—begins with what might be death from non-marriage.

The deaths of Nadav and Avihu are attributable to—among a myriad of other factors—their unwillingness to marry because there was no one on their level.   This can be compared to Chizkiyahu HaMelech’s near-death experience because of his unwillingness to amrry at all.

Both used their spiritual standing for some form of illegitimate avoidance of relationships—Nadav and Avihu because c it would affect their standing as the next Kohanim Gedolim [and they were already restricted] and Chizkiyahu because his ruach hakodesh showed him Menashe’s future malevolence.   [Why didn’t G-d show him Yoshiyahu instead of saying “It’s none of your business”?  G-d was doubling down, as it were: bein letova bein leraa it wasn’t Chizkiyahu’s business.]

But even in that case there is a qualitative difference between the two.

On the one hand, the King was worried that he would be the cause of the eventual destruction and exile to befall the Jews because of Menashe’s sins [indeed, its hinted that the decree became irrevocable during that time], and he thought he was actually performing a public service; while Nadav and Avihu’s reluctance to wed may have been less of an issue of tzarchei tzibbur than their own self-assessments of their station and—when you look at the other attitudinal indicators in Rashi and the midrashim about what led to their deaths at the hands of Heaven—that they theoretically concluded that their potential mates’ fitness absolutely had to match their stations and responsibilities.

So why were Nadav and Avihu called “krovai” and worthy of the posthumous adulation the Torah accorded them, while Chizkiyahu was threatened with oblivion in the afterlife?

For one thing, the reluctance to marry was one among many spiritual imbalances in Nadav and Avihu’s case, and not the ultimate proximate trigger of their deaths.  Additionally, there’s no indication that they refused to marry EVER; it was that they hadn’t married YET, and the exegesis provides the explanation.  The Divine response to Chizkiyahu’s absolute refusal to marry and produce progeny might have been as draconian as Chizkiyahu’s decision.

Is this supposed to be a lesson to—for lack of a better term—“upper west siders” and ostensible perpetual singlehood?   It’s possible that it might serve as a teachable moment about certain attitudes in the singles community that might need adjustment; however, it does not indicate for any kind of support for the notion that we are undergoing a “shidduch crisis” deserving of crisis responses.  Furthermore, it’s the adjustments that are needed that essentially prove that this matza is nowhere near crisis mode.

One attitude that might need adjustment is willingness to “date”—even long term—someone one would never marry.   This might be a step up from the number of places in Shas where the gemara mentions tav lemetav tan du—that women will marry beneath their station just to have a man in the house, but said “settling” is almost accompanied by “vechulan meznaos vetolos beba’alehen”— some extracurricular activity and a concomitant pointing back to their husbands as the fathers of the resultant offspring.   However, in a day and age where men don’t have the polygamy option, one would see this kind of behavior way more from the male side, as exemplified by the frum unmarried male’s pursuit of self-contradictory goals so brilliantly described by R’ Arnie Singer here.  

Does this mean that people should get married even if they know there’s a mismatch in stations and that adultery and bastardy is the inevitable result?   Ironically, the gemara might have found the “vechulan mezanos” state of affairs [!] preferable to the one indicated in Kesuvos 82b, where the perceived inequities in the text of the kesuva led to a full-blown actual “shidduch crisis”: as Rashi explicitly states, women would not get married at all until Chazal acted twice to adjust the terms of the kesuva so the women and their families wouldn’t end up cheated out of marital assets.

So we see a few things from this: one, “settling” is not always the best idea, particularly when there really isn’t “settling”; two, sometimes the system itself is the problem and needs fixing; and three, while one can look askance as “frumsplaining” one’s reluctance to marry, particularly when the “’splaining” doesn’t match the “frum”, sometimes there are salient reasons to hold off.

And that may be indicated by the difference between what conventional wisdom holds “upper west siders” are doing and what Nadav and Avihu and Chizkiyahu were doing.   The kind of influence those eminences had on klal yisrael could very well have been policy setters—maybe their rationalizations for delaying or eschewing marriages might have been salient [though we way they ultimately were not], but the masses would have rationalized similar or analogous destructive behavior without the same level of justification [as we see from the tav lemetav and “shidduch crisis” gemaras].  Such a thing HAD happened before, when Amram divorced Yocheved after the Pharaonic decrees and EVERYONE ELSE followed. 

But those are the exceptions that prove the rule.   Conventional wisdom dictates that singles today “aren’t getting married”.  Whether a woman would actually say “tav lemetavbeferush nowadays is a different matter; we are certainly not at the level of “lo rotzos lihinasei”.   And we see that when there was a real “shidduch crisis”—as in Kesuvos 82b—no one invoked Nadav, Avihu, or Chizkiyahu to fix it.

Instead—they fixed it.





Friday, April 24, 2015

Tazria-Metzora: Alone Time [Yichud?]


The conventional wisdom has usually been that these two parshiyos are essentially about tzaraas.

The conventional wisdom has usually been that tzaraas and the attendant isolation and series of rituals designed to bring the leper back into the machaneh were mida kneged mida for lashon hara, if by degree: the negative talk had served to drive people away from each other, hence the speaker experiences this form of internal exile.

In other terms, the speaker made achdus difficult, if not impossible; therefore a form of “yichud” with oneself was the prescribed corrective.

Or was it just for that?

Julius Preuss in his 1911 classic Biblical and Talmudic Medicine lists—based on Arachin 16a, Yalkut 563, and Sanhedrin 107a—fourteen sins that lead to leprosy; but he reserves special mention for “lewdness”, giving David haMelech as the example from Sanhedrin.   [Preuss mentions Vashti’s leprosy as payback for making Jewish girls undress, pace Megillah 12b.]

In David haMelech’s case, while the tzaraas was one of the punishments Natan prophesied would be the result of his taking of Batsheva, there might have been another indirect payback by several degrees: the maaseh of Amnon and Tamar and the concomitant issuance of the gezerah of yichud with a penuyah that resulted.

If one reads Sandra Rapaport’s Biblical Seductions [as I did over Pesach] and gets the idea that Amnon icked up his predatory habits from his father—as she at least intimates there might be a hava amian for—you might wonder if, after David himself had unwittingly sent Tamar into Amnon’s lair to meet her fate and he was grappling for a response to a whirlwind of family tragedy [Rapaport does draw a parallel between David taking Batsheva and sending Tamar off—both the result of royal privilege].  So one might think that the gezerah was completely reactive, and punitive to the victims: “If such a great disgrace can occur even to the king's daughter, and all the more so to regular women” [Sanh. 21b].

If one looks at that statement again in light of what had happened, it might not be the case.  First one must remember—no matter how it seems like a whitewash—women in those days needed protection [and, after reading Rapaport, the royal women needed it especially.]  Second: if yichud is punitive, then it “punishes” everyone—but it especially punishes [or protects?] the men who want access, like Amnon, who would stop at nothing to get it.

So why the gezera on penuyot and not siblings? 

My mara d’asra, R. Allen Schwartz, had an interesting theory about Yonadav.  Despite the gemara there saying he was a “chacham for evil”, R Schwartz theorized that his entire plan to get Tamar into Amnon’s quarters and have her minister to her might have been to help Amnon get over his obsession—to see her as his sister, taking care of him as a sister would.  But it backfired: a man with Amnon’s character could turn the most benign action into something completely inappropriate; a man who would obsess over his sister might eventually obsess over his mother. 

[And if the incident hadn’t rendered Amnon impotent—as the gemara notes—he might not have stopped with this incident.  One wonders if this could have been another punishment by degrees: as a kerus shafcha, Amnon’s procreative options were now severely—nichras.  Which could not have been very flattering to the Crown Prince, who now had to live with a reminder of his criminal act for the rest of his life—which he had to spend in a sort of “yichud”.]

So all the circumstances of Amnon's crime were unlikely to repeat themselves in a situation where there shouldn't have been any kind of sexual miasma.  Other situations that lend themselves to that--this might have been the tipoff, however different it was from a "normal" course of events.

The gezera was to prevent a situation where there wouldn’t be a third party to possibly stop the proceedings; the palace incident might have called for a whole different set of safeguards.  Which is why—as counterintuitive as it was—the gezera made sense as a response to this incident.

Obviously this didn’t really help Tamar [Rapaport does try to imagine how she might have attempted to cope and rebuild her life].   And one probably won’t find satisfactory answers.  

But one can learn three things from the crossover—however limited—between tzaraas and yichud.

The first: EVERYONE has an obligation to behave equally.  The onus is on BOTH genders.  No one has illicit access to the other.

The second: as much as one might consider Torah and mida kneged mida a “behavior plan” of sorts, it’s never that simple [certainly, it’s not Pavlovian or ABA].  The prescribed correctives may not always seem to directly match the offense.  But somehow things seem to eventually add up.  [Gehazi, one of the more famous lepers in Tanach, was also one of the Talmud’s more noteworthy predators: several sources intimate that he essentially sexually molests the Shunammite woman.   So his leprosy—though not a direct result of this action—at least keeps him from trying that again].  The reaction to the Amnon incident didn't look like a direct corrective.  But it might make sense that it was the impetus.

Finally: everyone needs alone time.  It should never be imposed.  But even if and when it is—even in a social media age—it’s not always as bad an idea as it looks.   It’s been said [I’ve seen it but don’t remember the source] that the only people who actually contracted tzaraas were on a high enough level to actually appreciate a Divine message to decompress.  Hopefully we can do that by ourselves, however we do it.


[PS--following that line of thinking, the appreciation of the message to decompress was a more difficult test than that: the correctives took place in public, the metzora being exiled from the camp and in some cases having to call out so as to not contaminate passerby.  One only hopes that the more prominent individuals who might be in need of a public correction being able to take one if it comes.]