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.

Eruvin 17 The army and spiritual challenges

We have pointed out various times during our posts how everything in Torah is related, and that very often that relationship stands out so clearly that one is absolutely awestruck.

The direct connection between our daf and this weeks parsha is certainly one such example.

The parsha opens with the highly unusual law of אשת יפת תואר, the beautiful captive girl taken in war.

In an unprecedented ruling, the Torah permits the soldier who falls for an enemy captive to begin a process whereby he will be able to marry her and even gives him permission to sleep with her once before this process begins, in order to satisfy that lust.

The explanation for this most unusual capitulation to human sexual desire on the part of the Torah is that לא דברה תורה אלא כנגד יצר הרע – “The Torah only spoke against the evil inclination. “

In the heat of war, the Torah understood that if a soldier was not permitted any outlet for his desires, he would carry them out anyway, and thus came up with a permitted way that allowed him to do so if necessary, while never encouraging it.

There is much to discuss about this idea, and the first question that jumps to mind is why is this extreme lust treated any differently to other extreme situations of lust?

The Torah always insists that people have free will and are responsible for their actions, no matter what the temptations, yet here, suddenly it acts completely differently.

Is the lust of a soldier at war really so much stronger than a man whose wife is a Niddah, a homosexual man who has no permitted outlet for his passions, or a single man who isn’t even permitted to masturbate to satisfy his urges, let alone carry on a sexual relationship with someone outside marriage?

Even if we argue that this is a question of פקוח נפש, given the emotional pressures that a soldier is under, we have found that a person is not permitted to practise forbidden sexual relations even to save his life (Sanhedrin 74a,) one of three great transgressions which one may not even transgress with a gun to one’s head.

In the case where the danger to his life comes from his emotional state caused by his desires, this could apply even to a non-married Jewish woman!

We see this from the case (Sanhedrin 75a) where a certain man fell so badly for a woman that he became desperately ill from desire.

The doctors opined that he would never heal unless he got to sleep with her.

The Rabbis ruled that it is better to let him die than to allow him to sleep with her, or even “talk with her from behind the fence.”

Clearly, the fact that a person gets himself into an emotional state that endangers his life does not justify illegitimate sexual behaviour.

It might be possible to distinguish between the two cases in a few ways, among them:

  1. The reason given by the Gemara why such a harsh ruling was given even in the case of un unmarried Jewish girl (who was not even a Niddah) was either because of פגם משפחה (damage done to the girl and her family) or שלא יהו בנות ישראל פרוצות בעריות (so the daughters of Israel would not be engaged in sexual immorality. )

The former reason focusses on the individual girl and her family whereas the later focusses on societal needs – The good of society takes precedence than the good of this individual, as we need to uphold a moral society at all times.

The case in our parsha is different given that the girl is an enemy captive, and neither of those two concerns apply, at least on a technical legal level.

The fact that the soldier is away from society also lessens the impact on society.

  1. In the case mentioned in Sanhedrin, the threat to the person’s life came from his lust itself. We cannot allow our girls to become the “medicine” for every person who is unable to control himself. In the case of the solder, the danger is from the war, the lust simply increases that danger, and the permission given by the Torah simply removes that extra danger allowing him to focus on the prime directive of survival and most important, victory for the nation as a whole.

Despite the above, given the extreme stringency with which the Torah usually treats these matters, there is little doubt that the situation of war should be treated as the exception rather than the rule, and however we try our best to understand it, it is likely that it cannot be applied to any other situations and אין בו אלא חדושו .

On our daf, we see that this is not the only allowance made for people at war.

Our Mishna tells us that there are 4 areas in which Chazal were lenient went it comes to soldiers in an army camp:

  1. They may collect wood from anywhere, even if it does not belong to them.
  2. They are exempt from washing hands before eating bread.
  3. They are permitted to eat דמאי (produce bought from an ignorant person who might not have taken tithes.
  4. They are exempt from putting aside an ערוב חצירות (though they still need basic מחיצות in order to carry within a designated area.

With the exception of the first which involves the biblical prohibition of stealing (probably permitted through the rule of הפקר בית דין הפקר,) these are all rabbinical laws that are waived, but the facts that such allowances were made also makes it clear how much of a need Chazal saw to allow soldiers to focus on the sacred task at hand of achieving victory without having to allocate too much energy to other things that were not practical at the time.

In an even larger concession, the Gemara (Chullin 17a) says that during the wars to conquer the land, the soldiers were permitted to eat forbidden foods if they are hungry, even pig!

What all these things have in common is that the Torah and Chazal have waived certain very important halachik requirements in order to allow soldier to focus on the battle and not use all their energies battling hunger, the evil inclination, or circumstance.

In the context of all of these things, it seems that the although the Torah only spoke against the evil inclination in the case of the captive girl, this is not because the Torah allows people to sin “legally” in order that they not come to sin “illegally,” but because of the unusual situation soldiers face in war where survival and victory has to be their only goal and the Torah therefore chooses not to make them spend their energy fighting their evil inclination in almost certain losing battles.

One of the major objections raised by many in the Torah world against religious youth going to the Israel army involves the spiritual dangers that they face there, given that much of the army is irreligious.

One of the strongest arguments against this comes from the many extreme allowances that the Torah itself makes for those at war, to the point of permitting some very serious transgressions- what it does not do is in any way discourage soldiers from going to fight, whether the war is obligatory or voluntary in nature.

If this is the case in situations where religious life is not possible, how much more so, we could argue, should it be in a Jewish army where so many allowances are made for religious soldiers, such as kosher food, Shabbos observance, and even time to pray and study.

On the other hand, one could counter that there is a difference between leaving one’s own camp to go into battle or to enemy territory, where the religious threat is from the outside, and being in a Jewish camp where the religious temptations come from the inside, from one’s own side.

The former is more likely to be a temporary setback, whereas the chance of long-term assimilation into secular society poised by being part of an irreligious unit is on a completely different level.

One can argue back and forth on this issue, but one thing that we see for sure on our daf is that certain leniencies were applied by Chazal even INSIDE our own camp.

The army certainly does not seem like a place for imposing extra stringencies above the basic requirements of the law, and even certain laws themselves, namely the 4 mentioned in our Mishna, are pushed aside even while in the מחנה itself.

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 140 Domestic matters- from the dining-room to the bedroom


 
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!

2
 
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.
     
     

Shabbos 62 Important women versus the “cows of Bashan”

In a recent post, we discussed the ancient Talmudic  concept , extremely “progressive” in its time,  of an  “important woman” or אשה חשובה, one who due to her profession, wealth, or religious stature is not subservient to her husband and has obtained a status of equality, if not similarity , to the men of society .

We also noted how poskim in the past millennia, long before the modern drive for feminism, have noted that the woman of our society ALL have this status .

This is no way contradicts the biblical prohibition of cross-dressing between males and females (I am not addressing the issue here of transgender people, who are very likely a completely different category,) also sometimes extended to symbolizing the importance of unique roles assigned to each gender, and many halakhoth based on the “equal but different” mantra are still in force – women are allowed and expected to be women, and men are allowed and expected to be men.

Little girls should not be pushed to play with fire engine toys and little boys should not be pushed to play with dolls- gender is part of nature and biology and the Torah expects us to recognize and honor that, while still leaving the door open for certain exceptions based on the individual , so long as certain boundaries are not crossed.

Yet at the same time, there is a toxic side to femininity, just like there is a toxic side to masculinity.

Whereas the latter is often expressed in unnecessary violence and acts of war (which our sages considered to be “degrading” to the point that a sword is not considered to be a valid form of garment or adornment to be worn on shabbos ), as well as in rape and other physical abuse, the former  is often expressed in overly ostentatious and provocative dress, designed to make women into sexual  objects , as is so common in Hollywood.

The above excesses are not elegant and classy, like the “Jerusalem of Gold” worn by the ” Isha Chashuva”, of the likes of Rabbi Akiva’s wife Rachel, and Yalta, wife of Rav Nachman, but pure hedonistic and overtly sensual  displays of wealth and/or immorality.

These are the “cows of Bashan”  that the prophet Amos ( chapter 6 ) cries about, who anoint themselves with the best oils, sleep on beds of ivory AND oppress the poor, rather than show the acts of kindness these “important women” are known for ( recall How Rabbi Akiva’s wife initially slept in a barn for so many years and waited for her husband to come back from the studying she had pushed him to do )

These are the girls and women of Jerusalem that Amos mentions and Chazal elaborate on, who would intentionally try to seduce young lads to sin, and their equally perverse male counterparts, who would swop wives with each other and walk around the house naked , urinating on the floors as they were too lazy to get dressed to go out to the toilet.

Judaism does not reject beauty- Jewish women  are allowed to look attractive, and supposed to ( see Kiddushin  30b re how a father must make sure his daughter is attractive.), without compromising their modesty, as are men in their own way .

but it certainly rejects “over the top” ostentatious and hedonistic behaviour, which can destroy an otherwise observant Jewish society .

It’s a delicate but essential balance for us to strive for, the difference between building a Torah world, like the wife of Rabbi Akiva merited to do, and destroying the first commonwealth, as Amos’s  “cows of bashan”  played a major part in doing

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