Eruvin 18-19 The Stalker ,making women feel safe , and wasted semen

Until recently, the atmosphere in the Western world has made it extremely difficult to teach certain areas of Torah which appear to be unnecessarily stringent in an open society where members of the opposite sex mingle and interact completely freely.

Although modern society is certainly not alone in terms of its hedonistic excesses, for much of history, in most moral societies, it was understood and accepted that human nature is such that certain strict lines need to be drawn to avoid total moral breakdown.

For decades, since the cultural revolutions of the 60’s, Western society has lived in a state of ethical dissonance- On the one hand, the feminist movement has fought for equality for woman and the lines between the genders have been slowly blurred, yet in practise, girls and woman have been treated as badly or worse than any time in history, with “liberal” Hollywood turning woman into nothing other than sex symbols, and the most “respectable” of institutions turning a blind eye to rape, child abuse, and just about every outrage imaginable.

Many a young actress or businesswoman has literally had to sleep her way up the ladders of fame, and the rich, powerful and famous have carried out the worst abuses with virtual impunity.

A pornography industry has flourished that treats people like absolute garbage, taking advantage of the desperation of so many young people to sell them as commodities to serve people’s over-indulged libidos.

It is now, in recent years, with the advent of the much to talk about “me too” movement, that Western society is starting to come to terms with at least some of its excesses, and realize something that the Torah has always taught: true liberty is not the ability to give in to whatever selfish urges come your way, but rather the ability to control those urges and use them in a way that doesn’t harm the weak and the vulnerable but rather brings good to the world.

Reading these two daf, it is absolutely impossible not to think of the horrific events of the past week here in our beloved Israel, where in a scene reminiscent of the biblical פלגש בגבעה (concubine of Giv’ah who was gang-raped and murdered) a gang of teenagers and young adults reportedly stood in line outside a hotel room in Eilat waiting their turn to rape a drunk 16 year old girl.

In contrast to the biblical story which ended in a tragic civil war between the tribe of Binyamin who refused to stand up to those responsible, and the other tribes who demanded justice, the condemnation across our society and demand for change has been unanimous- whether anything will actually be done in practise is something only time will tell.

Yet despite people’s shock, how many of us have internalized the fact that such occurrences are a likely direct result of decades of subtle and not so subtle sexualization of woman and children in the media and on the streets?

The fact that it took an event like this for the city of Tel Aviv to finally remove an outrageous mural painted on a beach change-room of some “macho guys” peaking into the girls change-room, speaks volumes of where society has been.

The bastion of so-called liberalism has been absolutely ok with such a disgraceful “piece of art” which is only one of many such pieces of junk being produced by our subculture.

On our daf, the view is expressed that the first man and woman were created as one entity, with a male face on one side, and a female face on the other.

The Gemara asks which side was on front, and answers that the male side was probably in front.

This is because we have learnt in a Beraisa that a man should never walk behind a woman, even his own wife, and if he meets a woman on a single-file bridge, he should ask her to move to the side so that he can pass her.

The same Beraisa concludes that anyone who follows a woman in a river has no share in the world to come.

The question one immediately needs to ask is what exactly is so terrible about walking behind a woman.

The modern person’s first reaction might be to get defensive and say that this is an example of old-fashioned chauvinism that has no place in modern society- after all, were we not always taught as kids that “ladies go first?”

Indeed, a first glimpse at Rashi on the first statement of the Beraisa, who says that it is גנאי לו, loosely translated as “degrading for him,” might strengthen this claim, if we take it to mean that it is beneath the honor of a man to be behind a woman

Another important think to note is the difference between the first parts and last parts of the Beraisa- the former instruction not to walk behind a woman applies even to one’s own wife, but does not get the forceful condemnation of the later.

The later statement discusses following a woman in a river, does not mention one’s own wife, but issues a far more severe condemnation.

A look at Rashi’s comments on this later statement shows that he understands this to be referring only to another man’s wife, a view that seems to be accepted by the consensus of the Rishonim. He explains that the concern here is that she removes her clothes while washing or bathing in the river.

However, even an adulterer has a share in the world to come, so why would someone who follows someone else’s naked wife into a river forfeit this share?

As one continues down the daf, one sees that the suggestion that our Gemara makes light of woman is completely incorrect.

The Gemara labels Manoach, father of Shimshon, as an עם הארץ ignorant person(, for following his wife, when he should have gone first, but then counters this claim by pointing out that the prophets Elkana (father of Shmuel) and Elisha also “went after their wives.”

The Gemara notably seems to take for granted that a prophet cannot possible be an עם הארץ (c.f. 12a B.B. וחכם עדיף מנביא ” אבל אכמ”ל”) and concludes that they did not literally walk behind their wives which would be wrong, but rather went after their wives’ words and advice.

Given that Chazal were at the least ok, and possibly full of praise, for one who follows the advice of his righteous wife, something we have already seen both in the Torah , where Hashem tells Avraham to do whatever his wife says )(Beraishis 21/14) , and in Midrash (think, for example און בן פלת who was saved by his wife’s advice not to follow Korach -Sanhedrin 109b,) it is impossible to make the superficial claim that they denigrated woman. (There are admittedly some other statements of Chazal that might seem at face-value to do so, but this is not one of them.)

It is far more likely that this has more to do with the well-known concept of כל כבודה דבת מלך פנימה – the honor of a princess is all inside )Tehillim 45/14.)

When it comes to giving advice, woman might be considered more intuitive than men, in many ways the “brains” behind everything.

One does not send one’s most precious resources at the front of the battle as a pawn, one looks after them carefully.

For a man to walk behind his wife, making her walk ahead into the unknown dangers ahead on the road, might be degrading, not because she should be treating him with more respect, but on the contrary, because he should treat her with more consideration, paving the way for her.

It is thus precise that when it comes to walking behind one’s wife, the Beraisa specifically mentions -“בדרך” “on the road.”

It is possible that such considerations would not apply to opening the car-door for one’s wife before entering oneself, where in general no such concern for her safety should apply.

When it comes to another woman, and even more so another man’s wife, the consideration is completely different.

Here the concern could be both that one might make her feel uncomfortable and arouse himself unnecessarily, and at worst, come to rape her, chas veshalom.

This form of premeditated stalking might be even worse than a consensual affair, and in the case of someone’s else’s wife, combined with the additional severe of adultery, results in one’s losing one’s portion in the world to come, assuming this statement is to be taken literally.

For decades, the price of feminism has been that women have to ignore their natural female sense of vulnerability and just accept the fact that the nature of men has not and will not change, and that the guy behind them might just be that stalker she has always had nightmares above.

Hopefully, the balance will be restored to the point where women are revered, cherished and respected , but allowed to feel safe, without men harassing them constantly, the way the Torah has taught us.


The Gemara brings the words of Rabbi Yirmiya ben Elazar who tells us that after the sin of אדם הראשון (the first man) , he was “excommunicated” by Hashem for 130 years, and during this time, he gave birth to “רוחין, שידין, וליליו ” , understood by Rashi as various types of מזיקין (harmful entities, whatever that means…)

The Gemara questions how this was possible, given that Rabbi Meir has already taught us that he was a חסיד גדול (a pious person) who when seeing that he had been sentenced to death, fasted and separated from his wife from 130 years.

If he had separated from his wife, how could he have given birth to these “harmful entities.”

It answers that the entities were created from the wasted semen that he spilled unintentionally during this time.

This seemingly bizarre statement raises many questions that I have no time to analyze today, but which we will hopefully address in future posts:

  1. What exactly were these מזיקין that he gave birth to?
  2. Was this a natural process of some kind or was it supernatural?

If it was natural, how can it be explained naturally? If it was supernatural, then why was the Gemara bothered by the fact that he had separated from his wife, given that the process was supernatural anyway?

  1. Is the assumption that given his pious nature, he could not have intentionally spilled seed during this time, so the only possible option is that the מזיקין came from unintentional spill (מקרה לילה)? If so, how do we understand that someone who was now even more flawed than before the sin was able to withstand this strong temptation in the absence of his wife for so long? Furthermore, assuming he had reached such a supreme level of control that he was able to avoid intentionally spilling his seed at all during this time, what more could be expected of him? Why should harmful entities be the result of what would have arguably been essentially the greatest long-lasting act of self- control in history?

It is known that Chazal (see Niddah 13b) had very strong things to say about “המוציא שפחת זרע לבטלה” – (spilling seed in vain ;obviously the definition of לבטלה needs careful study), comparing it (probably metaphorically) to idol-worship, murder, and adultery.

It does not say such things about unintentional spill, and though a man who experiences such an emission becomes impure ,and one is also not supposed to intentionally have impure thoughts that might cause this to happen, it seems obvious that something beyond someone’s control should not be condemned in any way.

It seems more likely that the “מזיקין” were not a punishment in any way for unintentional spillage, but rather a result of his original sin itself, and the unintentional spillage was merely the means that they came about through.

However harsh Chazal seem to be in their condemnation of intentional wasting of seed, the Shulchan Aruch (E.H. 23/1) claims that this is the most severe sin in the Torah

Though this claim is very difficult for multiple reasons, and many other authorities (see B.S and C.M there for example, quoting Sefer Chasidim) have either disputed this ruling or clarified that it is not to be understood literally, the Zohar (p arshasVayechi 219b) seems to have gone further and claim that this is the only sin for which one cannot repent and whose perpetrator cannot “see” the face of Hashem’s shechina( whatever that means.)

This shocking statement was used by non-other than one of the leading Torah scholars of his time, Rav Yaakov Emden (mitpachas Seforim 1/on Vayechi) as one of multiple “proofs” for his controversial claim that parts of the Zohar contradict the Talmud and cannot possibly be authored by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai!

His points out that Chazal taught us that nothing stands in the way of teshuva and always went out of their way to encourage teshuva. It is also not even listed in the more serious categories of sins which are subject to Kareit or death in court and require more than just repentance and Yom-Kippur to atone for.

Though I am certainly not qualified to get into this debate, which seems to hinge partly on how literally such statements in a very non-literal work are meant to be taken, and which is only the domain of experts in both the Talmud and the Zohar, there certainly seems to be one such proof from Daf 19 here in Eruvin that one can certainly do Teshuva for this sin.

The Gemara (I am admittedly merging a number of statements that the Gemara see as inter-dependant for the sake of brevity) relates how the sinners amongst the Jewish people all do Teshuva at some stage, and are “pulled out” of Gehinom by Avraham Avinu himself.

One exception given is a yisroel who has relations with an idol worshiper – Rashi’s clarifies that (probably to to impress her), he covers up his circumcision and Avraham can thus not recognize him.

Whatever the symbolism behind this exception is (which in no way means that a person cannot repent in his lifetime for such a deed,) it is clear that one who spills his seed is certainly not excluded even from this last-minute repentance and “rescue” operation, how much more so one who has made the effort to fully repent in his lifetime.

As mentioned above, only people well-versed in both the Talmud and Zohar might be qualified to comment on the claims of Rav Yaakov Emden, but assuming the Zohar was never intended to be taken literally in the first place, this would not an issue either way.

Shabbos 156 Astrology, Mazal, and acceptable risk-taking

In an earlier post (Shabbos 129,) I promised to find an opportunity to deal with a fascinating sugya on that daf that I was not able to cover at the time.

The grand finale of Shabbos is here, and with it, on the penultimate daf, the opportunity has come to revisit the question of mazal and astrology, as well as its relevance to risk-taking.

First, lets go back to 129b, where The Gemara rules that for astrological reasons, it is dangerous to let blood on a Tuesday, and one should thus avoid it.

This is because “Mars” is dominant during even hours of the day, and the combination of the dangers of זוגות (pairs- see Pesachim 109b) and Mars makes it a particularly dangerous time for doing so.

The Gemara points out that it is equally dangerous on a Friday, but notes that seeing as it has become the norm for people to do so, it is not forbidden, and we apply the verse שומר פתאים השם”“ -Hashem protects the foolish.” )Tehillim 116/7)

Rashi explains that people are under pressure to let blood before shabbos, seeing as the large fish eaten on shabbos helps to replenish one’s blood supply, and they thus accepted the risk, which made it permitted.

This “leniency” has been applied by various later authorities to permitted engaging in activities with some level of risk, if the population of a whole has voted with their feet that the need for the activity outweighs the risk, and rely on the fact that Hashem will or at least might protect them.

In truth, it is clear from the everyday life described in the Mishna and Gemara that people took calculated risks in their day to day life, particularly while pursuing their livelihoods, and going to study Torah or perform other mitzvos, and with the exception of situations of clear and definite danger, this was barely criticized.

We find that workers said Shema while working up in trees or building platforms )Brachos 16a), and do not see any suggestion that they should not take the risk of working in such risky positions in the first place.

Although travel in general, and going out to sea in particular, was fraught with dangers, to the point that one said a prayer for a safe journey and sometimes said a special blessing of thanks (הגומל) when returning, we do not see any prohibitions against doing so.

Yet using our case of the bloodletting as a precedent is extremely problematic, as it assumes that danger or assumed danger based on astrological factors is equivalent to physically observable danger.

While it is true that even “rationalists” such as Meiri (Shabbos 129b) seem to have believed that certain effects of the stars alignment were not supernatural at all but simply a part of nature, it would be almost impossible to entertain such a suggestion in light of today’s scientific knowledge.

Even if we assume that Chazal, or some Chazal truly believed in the power of the stars, and even if we ourselves followed that belief to the extent that Chazal seem to have permitted doing so, it is clear from the Gemara that the concern regarding blood-letting had to do with the general concern of things that go in זוגות (pairs,) and Chazal were very clear that in times where people were not concerned about them, their effect was also negligible (see Pesachim 110b.)

It therefore stands to reason that if דשו בו רבים (the people have ignored the concern,) the danger is simply not there anymore, and one can then rely on Hashem’s protection (why the term “fools” would then relevant, does admittedly required some explanation.)

However, with physically observable dangers, simply ignoring them does not make them go away at all- the risk remains the same.

As such, although for the others reasons mentioned above, it is clear that society-drawn lines in acceptable risk-taking certainly are a factor, it seems less clear that this particular case where the principle of דשו בו is mentioned could serve as any real proof for the existence of this line and where it be drawn

Despite the above, this sugya and its idea of כוין דדשו בו רבים, שומר פתיים ה seems to have become the gold standard for evaluating what risks are acceptable as part of daily life, and those of us who prefer to see the entire idea as metaphorical, in the line of Rambam’s usual methodology with such things, could perhaps simply relate to the entire precedent as metaphorical for publically accepted risk.


Our daf begins its long discussion on the subject of “mazal” with the views of two Amoraim, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and Rabbi Chanina, who both hold that the time that a person is born plays a major impact on their personality and their future.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi held that the day of the week on which a person was borne was the critical factor, whereas Rabbi Chanina held that it was the star/planet dominant at the time of birth that was significant.

One often-quoted example of the later, that has its origins here, is the idea that someone born under מאדים (Mars -the red planet) will be predisposed to spilling blood (note the reference to red or blood in its name.)

Rav Ashi comments that such a person could either be blood-letter, a thief (according to Rashi, a robber who kills people), a butcher, or a moheil.

Even if we follow a literal reading of this passage, It seems to follow from this comment that although Rabbi Chanina believes that a person’s personality is predetermined by his “mazal,” what he does with his personality traits is not preordained, and he may choose to use them for good or for bad. (I have taken the liberty of assuming that this is Rav Ashi’s intention, though it is also possible that Rav Ashi is not suggesting that a person has a choice in the matter, but simply that these are all possible things that a person’s fate might lead him to become if he was borne under this “mazal.”

The Gemara narrates how the leading Amora of his time, Rabbah, had objected to this claim of Rabbi Chanina, pointing out that he was borne under the mazal of “mars” and was certainly not a spiller of blood.

His student, Abaya, retorted that Rabbah himself had also punished and killed before.

The simple meaning of this is that it is a reference to Rabbah’s role as a judge, which we know from a recent daf (Shabbos 153) was known to have been particular uncompromising, to the point that the people of his home-town Pumbedita “hated” him.

Although there was no capital or corporal punishment in Rabbah’s time, and his main authority was in monetary matters and verbal rebuke (the later being stressed by Rashi over there,) it is possible that he made use of the permission given to the courts to hand out exceptional capital or corporal sentences when deemed necessary for the stability of society, a rule formulated (Sanhedrin 46a) as ב”ד מכין ועונשין שלא מן התורה .

Another possibility is that this refers to the case (Megila 7b) where Rabbah, while making a Purim feast together with Rabbi Zeira, attempted to follow the reported dictum לאבסומי בפוריא(to drink wine on Purim to the point of inability to distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.”)

The Gemara related how he became inebriated, and in his stupor, slaughtered Rabbi Zeira, his co-host.

The Rabbis prayed for mercy and Rabbi Zeira survived (or came back to life, depending how the story is interpreted), but the lesson was learnt the next year by Rabbi Zeira, who declined Rabbah’s invitation to feast together once more.

If this is what Abaya was referring to, it could be that even if a person is able through his sheer greatness to completely control his predetermined personality to the point that it does not impact at all on his actions, it remains dormant and asserts itself at times when the person is under the influence.

It might be possible for those who reject there being any truth in astrology (the Rambam being the prime example) to interpret this entire sugya symbolically, and say that all reference to the stars or days of the week are simply metaphors for a person’s innate personality traits, which people cannot totally change, but can certainly direct towards good or bad.

However, the precise wording of the statements, and the continuation of the sugya, which brings various stories to illustrate the power of astrology and of tzedakah to change it, does seem to show that Chazal did indeed believe in it, even if they held it was forbidden to base one’s actions on it.

The Gemara brings the statement of Rabbi Chanina, that “mazal causes wisdom, mazal wealth, and יש מזל לישראל (there is Mazal for Israel.)

In contrast, Rabbi Yochanan rules in contrast that there is no “mazal” for Israel, a position that Rav Shmuel, and even Rabbi Akiva himself are then shown to have accepted.

The view of Rabbi Yochanan that “there is no mazal for Israel “could initially be understood in various ways:

i. The Jewish people simply do not believe in the power of astrology at all.

ii. The idea of Mazal does apply to people in general, but the Jewish people are completely unaffected by it.

iii. Although everyone can be affected by Mazal, the Jewish people are able to change their mazal through repentance and good deeds, such as giving צדקה (charity.)

The stories brought from Rav, Shmuel, and Rabbi Akiva respectively to illustrate and support the view of Rabbi Yochanan are both examples of cases where a Jewish person’s “astrology” predicted something, yet it did not come to pass.

Rav interprets the passuk ויוצא אותו החוצה (and he took him outside) to mean that Hashem took Avraham Avinu out of the limits of his astrological fate, which involved remaining childless, by realigning the stars so that they should let him have a child.

By deriving from this statement that Rav agrees with Rabbi Yochanan’s rule of אין מזל לישראל, the Gemara indicates that Rabbi Yochanan accepts the power of the stars, believes that even Jews are technically subject to it,

yet holds that when they deserve it, Hashem intervenes and changes their “mazal” in their favor.

The next story, involves the leading Amora Shmuel sitting next to a lake with Avleit, identified by Rashi as a non-Jewish wise-man and astrologer.

Some people headed into the lake, and Avleit predicted based on the stars, that a specific one of them would not return, but would be attacked by a snake and die.

Shmuel commented that if the man was Jewish, he would return safely.

The man indeed returned as Shmuel predicted, and they found a snake inside his bag, cut into two!

Shmuel asked him what he done to merit this miracle this, and replied by describing an act of chesed he had done.

Shmuel went out and used this case to apply the passuk וצדקה תציל ממות – “charity saves from death.” )Mishlei 10/2;11/4)

It seems clear from this story that Shmuel also believed that Jews were also subject to the power of the stars, but they could bypass this power through their good deeds!

A look at the final story, the famous case of Rabbi Akiva’s daughter on her wedding day, seems to reveal the same conclusion. As such, it seems clear why Rashi chose this rather limited way of explaining the idea of אין מזל לישראל.

Putting all the modern scientific evidence against the entire concept of the star’s power aside for a moment, the biggest issue with this belief comes from our own classical sources.

The Torah) Devarim 18/1) warns us against superstitious beliefs and practices, including מעונן , which is identified among others things (Sanhedrin 65b) as believing that certain times are good for certain things, something that sounds a lot like astrology.

Those who take a more literal view of our sugya need to address this prohibition, and show somehow that astrology is different, perhaps because it is a part of nature itself and not supernatural, an idea entertained at least for a short time by the Meiri (Shabbos 129b.)

Those who take this prohibition at face value and hold that it refers to astrology might differentiate between believing in the power of the stars, which is legitimate, and basing one’s actions on what they predict, which is not. They could hold that because a Jew is able to change his mazal through his actions, he needs to do exactly that rather than follow what his mazal says blindly.

This view is extremely problematic, seeing as a person has no way of knowing whether his deeds will be good enough to merit this intervention, and it is forbidden in any case to rely on miracles- after all, even Yaakov Avinu was afraid of Esav, according to Chazal (Brachos 4a) because he feared that his sins would stop him from meriting the divine protection promised to him.

How could one then rely on Hashem’s intervention and perform an action against his astrologer’s advice?

Alternatively, one could assume that the halachic sugyas that deal with the prohibition against astrology are the עיקר שמעתתא (main sugyos) and the largely aggadic sugyos that seem to assume the truth of astrology to be secondary, either viewing them as completely non authoritative or interpreting them symbolically in a way that they do not contradict the Torah’s disdain for such beliefs.

The former would be controversial, to say the least, and the later would require a great degree of creativity.

I should also be noted that the earlier sugya on daf 129b seems far from aggadic and seems to involve a halachik discussion as do some other sugyos on the subject.

Whereas Rashi on our daf and the Ramban (Devarim 18/9-12) clearly seem to accept the legitimacy of astrology in some way, taking the more narrow interpretation of Rabbi Yochanan’s dictum, a reading of the Rambam’s views on the subject (A.Z. 11/9 for example) will reveal that he takes the approach of completely negating any truth in astrology.

Identifying which approach he takes to dealing with all these sugyos that assume its truth, takes us out of the scope of this post!

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.

Shabbos 61 Amulets for healing and protection


The Mishna tells us that one may not go out on shabbos wearing an amulet that does not come from an expert.
On the other hand, an amulet from an expert may be worn, and is considered a valid garment and not a burden.
The Gemara says that these rules apply to both amulets which have potions in them as well as amulets which contain holy verses from the scriptures.
The Torah, in Parshas Shoftim, prohibits various types of superstitious behavior, amongst them following or practicing omens, charms, calculating special times, magic, etc., and tells us to be “perfect with Hashem”- i.e. believe in and follow Hashem alone and no other supernatural powers or forces.
The Mishna and Gemara in Sanhedrin (perek 7) and describe these prohibitions in great details, and they are taken very seriously by all.
There is also a well-known dispute regarding the efficacy of these practices .
The Rambam and others of his school, appear to deny the existence of any supernatural forces in the world, and consider all these actions to be completely ineffective, in addition to being prohibited, calling them absolute foolishness.
On the other hand, the Ramban, and others mainly of the Kabbalistic school, believed that there are supernatural forces in the world , and that many of these actions can in fact work , but that as Jews, we are prohibited from following them.
The first Mishna in perek Cheilek lists someone who is “לוחש על המכה”, whispers holy verses to heal a wound, as one of those who have no share in the world to come .
The Rambam )Avoda Zara 11/12) , as is his way, explains that turning words of Torah into magical charms is the ultimate disgrace to Torah, in addition to the fact that they do not work.
So how does our daf make allowance for amulets with holy pesukim in them, on the basis that they have been shown to be effective?
Surely everyone would agree that even if they are effective, this is forbidden as per the Mishna in cheilek and the above prohibitions?
And how would the Rambam who believes that such things have no real affect at all, explain and rule on this explicit Mishna and Gemara which allows wearing such an amulet on shabbos?
In addition, amulets with potions in them should also be forbidden, based on the prohibitions of superstitious behavior, and according to Rambam’s approach, of course, also considered useless.
Please share your thoughts, and I shall try give some of mine in the comments section or in a later post, as this theme comes up again a little later in the perek.
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 .