On this daf, we find some statements of Chazal which seem to throw a curveball at certain aspects of our modern frum society.
I wish to focus on two of these:
There is a tendency amongst young adults who become more “frum” (observant) than their parents or Rabbis to take on new stringencies at the expense of their relationships with their seniors.
For example, many yeshiva students or Kollel students return home and although their home has always been halachically kosher, refuse to eat their parents food seeing as it is not up to the “higher standards” of kashrut they have taken on.
Sometimes such students even refuse to eat at the homes of their community Rabbis or high-school mentors, or insist that they buy food with a specific hechsher (kosher certification) that they eat.
Some people even refuse to let their children visit their grandparents on their own or eat in their homes, even though they have always been strictly kosher and shabbos observant.
Whereas there is certainly space for taking on chumros (extra stringencies) under certain situations, so long as it does not make one appear arrogant, or undermine accepted authorities, it is clear from various statements of Chazal that this should never be at the expense of appearing to make light of one’s parents or Rabbis, and that it is better to compromise on these stringencies when necessary rather than offend them or imply that their standards are not high enough.
There is a dispute at the beginning of our daf regarding mixing mustard that has already been “kneaded” before shabbos with its own liquids.
There are 3 opinions:
1. One may mix it further with water but only with one’s hands
2. One may fix it further with water even with a kli (instrument)
3. One may not mix it further at all
Although there might be no actual melacha of לש ( kneading,) seeing as it is already in kneaded form, it appears that there is a concern for עובדין דחול , things that resemble weekday activities, a topic for another discussion.
The Gemara tells how Abaya’s mother made such a mixture for him on Shabbos and he refused to eat it.
It then tells how Zeira’s wife made such a mixture for his student, Rav Chiya bar Ashi, and he too refused to eat it.
Zeiri’s wife did not take this lying down, and reprimanded him strongly with the words: “I made it for your Rebbe (her husband) and he ate it, and you won’t eat it?”
We see a similar idea in a מרגלא בפומיה (favourite statement) of Rava (Brachos 17a):
מרגלא בפומיה דרבא: תכלית חכמה תשובה ומעשים טובים; שלא יהא אדם קורא ושונה ובועט באביו ובאמו וברבו ובמי שהוא גדול ממנו בחכמה ובמנין
“It was a pearl in the mouth of Rava: the goal of wisdom is repentance and good deeds- that a person should not learn verses and Mishna and kick aside his father, and his mother, and his teacher, and one who is greater than him in wisdom and numbers”
Rava makes it clear that the end result of growing in Torah learning needs to be practically recognized in one’s good deeds, not a new-found sense of arrogance where he views himself as superior to his parents, teachers, and superiors.
Such “frumer arrogance” does no service to his learning, but makes Torah look like something elitist and offensive, and is to be rigorously avoided.
In another sugya (Yevamos 114a,) the Gemara discusses whether one is obligated to prevent a child from eating forbidden foods.
However one learns the conclusion, one case that is agreed upon is that if a חבר (Torah scholar’s) son goes to visit his עם בארץ (ignorant) grandparents, he need not be concerned about him being fed possibly untithed produce by less observant grandparents.
The assumption was generally that most עמי הארץ (ignorant people) separated their tithes, but a significant minority did not, and Chazal thus decreed that any produce brought from such people , known as דמאי , needs to be tithed out of doubt before eating.
Yet in such a case of children visiting their grandparents, they were lenient and allowed them to eat in their homes without such a concern.
Although it seems from the context that we are dealing with minor children who are not yet obligated in mitzvos, the fact that even those who require one to stop children from transgressing waived the rabbinical concern of דמאי while they visiting their less observant grand-parents is telling.
Let us recall that we are dealing here with grandparents who kept some level of kashrut, but were also suspected of using untithed produce!
If Chazal told Torah Scholars to allow their children to visit grandparents in the category of עמי הארץ , despite real halachik, albeit rabbinical, concerns, how much more so should this apply to grandparents and teachers who are fully observant, but simply do not follow additional chumros that they have taken upon themselves!
Another phenomena we find in parts of the religious world, is a total avoidance of discussing anything sexual in nature, particular with children and teenagers.
There are some Torah schools that even forbid the study of biology, seeing as it includes sections about human anatomy and the reproductive system, and many frum parents and teachers refrain from giving their children a healthy, Torah- based sex education, because of the false belief that such things are inappropriate for anyone, at least before marriage while sexual activity is forbidden.
Not only does such an attitude foster an unhealthy sense of self in teenagers and young adults, it is also totally contrary to the view we see both in Tanach and Chazal.
Although the Torah is very clear about what types of sexual behaviour are permitted and what is forbidden, and Chazal stress in many places the importance of modesty and avoiding temptation, there is an equally strong emphasis on educating people about such things, from a relatively young age. Although they use euphemisms wherever possible, they do not do so at the expense of the clarity of the message being given over.
From the beginning, the young child is taught how, amongst other things,
- the first man ‘knew’ his wife and had children
- the generation of the flood behaved immorally
- Noah’s son Ham “saw” his father’s nakedness, interpreted by one view in Chazal as sodomizing him
-Sarah was abducted and taken to Pharaoh’s house
- Reuven slept with his father’s concubine (or mixed up his beds at best)
- Dina was raped by Shechem
-Yehuda’s two sons, Er and Onan, died for spilling their seed on the ground rather than impregnating their wife
- Yehuda went to someone he thought was a prostitute
- Yoseif was seduced by Potiphar’s wife and according to a view in Chazal, almost gave in.
The above is just in Sefer Beraishis, usually completed in the early years, if not first year, of primary school.
A tour through the rest of Chumash, and of course the rest of Tanach, reveals an equally uncensored view of life, some striking examples being
– The section on forbidden relationships read on Yom Kippur afternoon
– The mass seduction of the people by the Mideanites and the case of Pinchas
– The gruesome story of פלגש בגבעה (concubine of Giv’ah)
– The rape of Tamar by David’s son Avner
– David’s seduction by Avigail, as interpreted by Chazal
– David’s sin with Batsheva
– Shlomo’s excesses with his many wives
– Many references to sexual excesses in the later Neviim.
– The parable of the prostitute in הושע
– The allegorical שיר השירים (songs of songs,) filled with sensual imagery.
– The highly sexualized narrative in מגילת אסתר (the book of Esther.)
Ironically, the neglect of Tanach study in certain sections of the religious community has led to a high level of ignorance of many of these incidents, as has a sanitized form of studying them.
The later is perhaps most symbolized by the Artscroll’s “non literal” translation of Shir haShirim with the excuse that it was never meant to be understood literally, is all parable, and “holy of holy”- forgetting the fact that there is a reason the book is written with such metaphors in the first place
Yet while the Tanach has been neglected, often using the non-authoritative testament of Rabbi Eliezer (see Brachos 28b and Rashi there) as an excuse, while ignoring the clear halachik requirement to divide one’s Torah-learning hours into 3, including a third for Tanach study (Kiddushin 30a), the same cannot be said for Talmud study, which occupies most of the time of the young Ben-Torah.
It is impossible to learn even the first masechta in the Shas from cover to cover without encountering numerous explicit sexual discussions.
One of the most graphic, is the description of Rav Kahana hiding under his teacher, Rav’s bed while he was engaged in enthusiastic sexual foreplay with his wife, justifying his action to the infuriated (and obviously mortified) Rav by the need to learn Torah (how a Ben-Torah should act in the bedroom. Brachos 62a)
It is doubtful that anyone in the Torah world would, or should , even consider such a direct form of sex education today, but it just goes to show how far Chazal were prepared to go in order to educate themselves about such matters, at the correct time, so long as it was with holy intentions.
In a similar vein, our daf has another mind-blowing graphic description of how Rav Chisda prepared his daughters for their married life (let us recall that one of his daughters married the leading Amora of the next generation, Rava!)
It tells precisely how he told them to engage in arousing foreplay with their husbands, and although it is a clear Gemara, I will show enough respect to our more sensitive readers to refer them back to the Gemara itself for more details…
These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.