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|Sunday, November 29th, 2015|
Sotah 31 – Parrot
A husband who jealously warns his wife not to seclude herself with a certain man is putting himself into a number of complications. If he hears that she did seclude herself with the man, even as told to him by a parrot, he then needs to divorce her. This is the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, who says that we would even believe the husband himself, so once the husband is sure about the seclusion, his warning is triggered. However, he has to pay her the money of the Ketubah, since he does not have any real proof, and it was his fault that he got into this situation.
Rabbi Yehoshua says that the evidence of seclusion must be stronger: if the affair is the talk of the town, so that women who get together to weave and chat at night discuss this, then the situation is certain to the point that the water drinking test will not work anyway. It is not, however, certain to the point of her loosing the Ketubah, so in that situation the husband still pays.
If the fact of seclusion is established, she gets exonerated by drinking bitter water in the Temple. However, if there are also witnesses that cohabitation has taken place during seclusion, then again the water test is not needed, and this time she gets a divorce and looses the Ketubah. This witness can be anyone who is normally not a good witness. Even those five close female relatives, like her mother-in-law, who would not be believed to testify about the death of her husband (because of their vested interest in her downfall) are believed here. Except that if these five women testify to the cohabitation, then she still keeps the right to the Ketubah payment.
Art: Woman With Parrot by Paul Cezanne
Sotah 30 – Purity, Song at the Sea, and other sundry questions
We mentioned that one special day saw a number of novel interpretations from newly-admitted students
. The list continues with Rabbi Akiva's rule of the degrees of ritual impurity.
Actually, a thing is either pure for Temple service or it is not. However, the Sages classified the impurity into six levels, from the dead body (called the grandfather of impurity), down to “father of impurity”, first level, second level, and all the way until fourth. For example, some say that if you have dough, from which the priest portion (challah) needs to be separated, then this dough has the same law as the challah itself and can becomes impure with the third degree of impurity. Others say that since the challah has not yet been separated, the dough can only become impure in the second degree, but not the third.
Another point that Rabbi Akiva explained was the way the Israelis sang the Song at the Red Sea. He said that Moses sang the phrase, and they repeated the summary. Others – that they repeated the phrase itself. For example, Moses said, “I will sing to God,” and they repeated "I will sing to God." Then Moses said, “Since He is exalted,” but they said, “I will sing to God.” Others say that they repeated “Since He is exalted.”
Art: The Israelites after the Crossing of the Red Sea by Hieronymous III Francken
|Wednesday, November 25th, 2015|
Sotah 29 – Can you ask him?
Earlier we saw a difference in the laws of purity between humans whom you can ask about the situation, and inanimate objects that cannot be questioned. If a doubt about purity arises in a yard (or another private area), then if it is about human, who can be queried, he is declared impure. But if it is about a piece of meat, say, then it is declared pure. We learned this law from the purity of a suspected wife, but there is yet another source for it.
“If sacrificial meat comes into touch with something impure, then it cannot be eaten, but otherwise a ritually clean person may eat it
The beginning of the phrase says that impure meat is not eaten. So we understand that doubtfully impure meat can be eaten. But the end talks about pure meat that may be eaten. And we can derive that doubtfully pure meat cannot be eaten. So now we have two contradictory indications, whether one can eat doubtfully pure meat. You can only explain it if you say that the doubt is prohibited when it refers to a human, who can be asked, and allowed if it refers to meat itself, which obviously cannot be asked at all.
Art: A pottery bowl, cuts of meat and onions on a table by French School
Sotah 28 – Laws of purity
Laws of purity are learned from the laws of suspected wife. Here's how. The reason her purity is in doubt is because she went into a private hiding place with a certain man. But if she was talking with him in public, her purity would not be in doubt.
In the same way, if there is a doubt about some other purity, such as, for example, a man who might have touched a dead rat, and the question now is whether he is considered ritually impure – if this happened in the street, he is declared pure, and if in a cave, then he is impure. This is a special law that goes beyond the regular rule of “let's treat it as a doubt.” Here there is no doubt, and he is definitely pure in the street but impure in the cave.
Another law can be learned by noticing that a suspected wife is a human being who can be asked about her status. So with other situations, the distinction between happenings in the street and in a cave applies only to a human who can be asked. For example, he is not sure whether he touched a rat or no. Then the rule about the street or cave applies. But if he is sure that he touched the rat, and the doubt is about the rat itself, such as whether it was alive at this time or already dead – then he is always declared pure, because a rat cannot be asked.
Art: Two Rats by Vincent Van Gogh
|Monday, November 23rd, 2015|
Sotah 27 – Just as she, so is he
We mentioned that the paramour of the suspected wife's does not go unpunished. What is the source for this statement? – In the phrase “The waters will go” the word “will go” is mentioned twice, once for her, and another time for him. So whatever happens to her in the Temple also happens to him - in whichever place he is.
The other word that is repeated is “became prohibited.” Why is that? The first time it tells us that after the husband warns his wife and she nevertheless hides away with a certain man, the husband cannot live with her any longer; he must either give her a divorce (Get), and take her to the Temple to be cleared of suspicions. The second repetition applies to the paramour – should he desire to marry the woman after the divorce, he cannot, because she is prohibited to him as well.
Rabbi Akiva derives the same law from an extra “and” (letter vav in Hebrew), that is “and
the waters will go.” Many more laws were expounded Rabbi Akiva and others on that day. What is the story of “that day”? It is the day mentioned in tractate Brachot
, when the Sages removed Rabban Gamliel from his control over the Sanhedrin and changed the policy of allowing only strictly selected students into the study hall. Now anybody who wanted could come in. As a result, many talented students could offer groundbreaking insights.
Art: Young lovers interrupted by Henry John Yeend King
|Monday, November 16th, 2015|
Sotah 20 – The importance of teaching one's daughter Torah
In order to exonerate the wife of a jealous husband, the Kohen prepared flour sacrifice and a drink as described before
. He then copies the words of the Torah concerning this onto a separate scroll. If she refuses to drink before these words are erased into the drink, the flour is burned as invalid, and the drink is poured out. If she refuses to drink after the scroll is erased, they help her, presuming that she is blameless, as she maintains, just became scared.
If her lover and she actually committed adultery, then he dies in whatever place he is, and she dies in the Temple. However, if she has merit related to Torah, it will protect her for a year, two or three. Because of this Ben Azzai said that a man is required to teach his daughter Torah – so that this will protect her, even if she has a problem with her husband.
Rabbi Eliezer, on the contrary, says that teaching Torah to women is frivolous. Incidentally, Kabbalah maintains that eventually women will desire and get the opportunity to learn Torah. Baal Shem Tov founded a secret society for teaching Torah to women.
Art: Elegant Couples In Interiors by Pio Ricci
|Wednesday, November 11th, 2015|
Sotah 15 – The sacrifice of jealousy
A husband who suspects his wife brings a sacrifice that is different from all other sacrifices. Usual flour offering use wheat, but this one is made of barley. Usual offering have oil and frankincense added to them, but this one is brought without. Why is it he, and not the wife, who brings it? – Because one should not be his or her own accuser. But why does the husband deserve this inferior sacrifice? – The wife is unfaithful when the husband is unfaithful or otherwise gives a reason.
Proceeding, the Kohen brings an earthenware cup and puts in it water from the purifying water of the priests. This large vessels stands in the Temple courtyard, for the Kohanim to pour on their hands and feet before they start their service. It is made of copper mirrors used by Jewish women in Egypt in order to look beloved to their husbands.
How much water does he put in? Half a log, that is, about 5 ounces. Rabbi Yehudah says that he takes only a quarter of a log, or about 2.5 ounces. Parenthetically, Rabbi Yehudah will also require a shorter text to be erased into this water at a later stage of preparation, The Kohen then enters the Temple building, turns to the right, and finds a special stone with a ring on it. He lifts up the stone, gets the dust from under it, and makes the dust float on the water.
Art: The Mirror by William Merritt Chase
|Wednesday, November 4th, 2015|
Sotah 5 – Haughty or humble?
When one is haughty – God's presence in this world sheds tears because of all the tribulations that will eventually befall him. Moreover, when someone is haughty, God says, “This world is too small for the two of us,” or more precisely, “One who is haughty and proud – him I cannot bear (says God)
And yet, a Sage must have a small measure of haughtiness. How much? One eighth of one eighth. And for a Sage it is an ornament, like the upper part of a wheat stalk. Rava said, “One who has it is damned and one who does not is damned.” But it is better to err on the side of humility.
When one prays though, she should definitely be humble. Follow this, “Humble spirit is like God's sacrifices
” – which means that a prayer with a humble heart is equal not to a specific one but to all sacrifices together.
Art: Old Man Praying by Rembrandt Van Rijn
Sotah 4 – How long do they need?
We learned that if a man gets especially jealous of his wife in relation to a particular fellow, he can warn her not to hide with that fellow. The warning is really for both, and later consequences may befall both. Now if they do hide, suspicion has grounds, and the husband is not allowed to live his life normally any longer but needs to clear her of the suspicions, in the Temple.
How long do they have to hide? - Enough to do the thing. What thing? - Cohabitation. And what is that? – We learned before that the beginning of it
– the touch of the genitals – is sufficient, the disagreement was only about was is considered a touch.
So how long is that? Rabbi Ishmael said, “The time it takes to mix a cup of wine.” Rabbi Yehoshuah said, “Time to drink it.” Ben Azai said, “Time to fry an egg.” Rabbi Akiva: “Time to swallow that egg.” Chanin ben Pinchas said, “The time it takes her to put a hand into a basket and take out a bread.” The Talmud discusses these and other opinions and changes them, for example, “Time to drink” really means “Time to mix and then drink.” It also wants to know, what kind of bread, wheat or barley, warm or cold, and what type of basket, but does not find an answer.
Every opinion came from personal experience, except perhaps for Ben Azai, who was never married, because Torah study took all his time. Then how did he know? Some say, he married but separated, some – that his teacher told him, and yet others – that God tells His secrets to those who are aware of Him.
Art: An elegant couple on a bench by a pond by Johann Heinrich The Elder Tischbein
Sotah 3 – Is jealousy good or bad?
Previously we learned
that a man can warn his wife not to conceal herself with a certain fellow. Is that jealousy good or bad? Some say that it is actually forbidden for a man to warn his wife in this way. He should always try to maintain peace. A warning of this sort will lead to strife between them, or to strife between her and neighbours. Others say that jealousy is caused by the spirit of purity and is a good thing.
Long time ago the spiritual level of men declined. Since men were not blameless themselves, the test of a suspected wife stopped working.
Even when circumstances warrant this, Rabbi Ishmael only permits a man to warn his wife, but Rabbi Akiva makes in an obligation. They have also disagreed in a similar way in another matter: a Kohen is not allowed to go to a cemetery and become ritually impure. However, he is allowed to do it for his relative. Here too, Rabbi Ishmael says that he is only allowed to do so, but Rabbi Akiva says that he should insist and bury his relatives.
Art: Couple at the window by Georg Friedrich Kersting
|Thursday, October 29th, 2015|
If a husband becomes particularly jealous of his wife in a regard to a certain fellow, he can warn her not to seclude herself with that fellow. If she does, she is suspected of adultery and needs to go to the Temple, together with her husband, to be cleared of the suspicion. The Talmud will discuss the details of this warning, but first it asks a question, how is the previous Tractate, Nazir, connected to this one?
The answer is that a man who sees such strife between a husband and wife should abstain from wine, because he too may become involved in similar affairs, and often through wine. This is not a good reason, however, because in that case Sotah should come first, and then Nazir. Rather, the connection is more roundabout: in Ketubot (Dowry) we mentioned one who vows in regard to his wife, from there we went to discuss Vows (Nedarim) and then Nazir, which is a type of vow, and finally we are back to Sotah, just as we said before, but in a different order.
In truth, man should blame himself for any marital trouble, since the wife one merits is in proportion to his own good qualities; in general, finding the right spouse is as hard in the eyes of God as splitting of the Red Sea. But why should it be so hard? We know that the spouse is predestined for every person when he or she is born!? – When we say that it is hard, we mean the second marriage.
Art: Portrait of a Couple by French Unknown Masters
|Tuesday, October 27th, 2015|
Nazir 66 – Is it better to bless or to be blessed?
About Samuel the prophet it says that a razor (“morah”) will not pass over his hair
. This means that he was a nazir, just like Simeon, about whom the same is said. This is the opinion of Rabbi Nehorai.
However, Rabbi Yose translates the word “morah” as fear and says that fear of man would never be upon Samuel. To this Rabbi Nehorai replies that Samuel was afraid once, when he said, “What if the king hears and kills me?
” The answer of Rabbi Nehorai is not given here.
The same Sages agree on something else though. Rabbi Yose says that the one who responds with “Amen” (which signals his agreement to the blessing) is greater than the one who says the blessing. Rabbi Nehorai said, “By Heaven, so it is! Look at a battle: regular soldiers starts, but champions seal the battle.” And yet, there is another Sage who disagrees and says that one should rush to say the blessing first, because he is then blessed from Heaven first, – and afterwards the one who answers “Amen” receives the same reward (but not greater).
And talking about battles, Sages through their Torah study increase piece in the world, since their war of arguments substitutes for the physical conflict.
Art: The Soldier's Return by Girolamo Induno
|Sunday, October 25th, 2015|
Nazir 62 – Willing slaves
A slave acquired by a Jew has to undergo circumcision and to accept on himself the majority of the mitzvot: he will be obligated too keep all the “don't do” prohibitions, but not all of the “do” commandments. Thus, his obligations are the same as a Jewish woman keeps.
What happens if a slave does not want to undergo circumcision or to accept the commandments? – The master is allowed to keep him for a year, to see if he changes his mind, but afterwards must sell him back.
Another uncommon feature of such slaves is that if the master, accidentally or on purpose, kicks out his tooth, eye, or finger – the slave goes to freedom. Once any slave acquires his freedom – he cannot be made slave again. In fact, he becomes a full Jew, with additional mitzvot of a Jewish man.
There is a difference between the laws of nazir for women and for slaves. For a woman, a husband can annul her vow, and in particular, a vow of becoming a nazir (nazirah). If they divorce or of the husband dies, the annulment is still active. However, with the slave it is not so. While the master can force the slave to drink wine and to go to a cemetery, this does not cancel the vow completely; when the slaves goes free, he needs to complete his term of nazir.
Art: Slaves on the West Coast of Africa by Francois-Auguste Biard
Nazir 61 – Who can become a nazir?
A Jewish man can become a nazir, but a non-Jew cannot. Also, a Jewish woman can become a nazir (nazirah), and one can even force his slave to become a nazir.
All three rules above are not obvious. Why is it that a non-Jew cannot become a nazir? – Because the Torah said, “Speak to the sons of Israel
” but not to other peoples. However, this cannot be a proof, because later the Torah uses the term “man,” which should mean, “any man.” In fact, a non-Jew can bring sacrifices in the Temple, so why can't he be a nazir?
Perhaps it is because a nazir is not allowed to bury even his father, and maybe for a non-Jew it is different? – Can't be, because laws of inheritance, applicable to all people, include inheriting from the father. Or perhaps it is because a nazir should avoid impurity, and a non-Jew, since he does not go to the Temple and does not have the concept of impurity, cannot be a nazir? – No, that is not convincing either: perhaps he does have a concept of impurity, just that he gets no punishment for being impure!?
The Talmud tries a few more attempts, but concludes that this rule is impossible to prove. Rabbi Yochanan summarized: this is a law told by God directly to Moses, and not written anywhere in the Torah.
Art: Burial on The Plains by Richard Lorenz
Nazir 59 – Two nazirs, complicated further
Continuing the story of two nazirs
, one of who became ritually impure, and who had to bring sacrifices together, making conditional statements about whose sacrifice it was, let us suppose that one of them dies. Now the surviving one does not have a friend with whom to make those conditions. What is he to do?
He must find someone “in the street” who is willing to help out. This volunteer has to put himself in a condition of doubt by saying, “I adopt to be a nazir, but conditionally. If the survivor was impure, then I am a nazir right away.” After thirty days they bring the same two sets of sacrifice, one required for a pure nazir and one for an impure one, and declare that if the survivors was impure, then the impure sacrifices are his, and the other ones are for the volunteer. But if the survivor was pure, then the pure sacrifices are his, and the impure ones are offered as sacrifices in doubt (since such category exists). Then the volunteer continues, "If the surviving nazir was pure, then my term of being a nazir starts after thirty days." Then they keep offering more sacrifices and making more conditions.
This was the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua. But Ben Zome asked, “Who will go out to this extent in order to extricate his friend out of his doubts?" Rather, the survivor should bring the minimal sacrifice that would allow him to conclude his being a nazir, even though they involve bird sacrifices, which is not standard - but it allows him to achieve his purpose. Even though Rabbi Yehoshua argued that this is not the preferred way, the Sages agrees to Ben Zoma as being more practical.
A question to Rabbi Yehoshua: "What is really wrong with Ben Zoma's solution?" - Actually, nothing; Rabbi Yehoshua just wanted to sharpen the minds of his students with a more complicated one.
Art: David Street in Jerusalem by Gustave Bauernfeind
Nazir 57 – One out of two nazirs
If two nazirs (correctly, nazirim) were walking together on the road, and somebody saw that one of them became ritually impure, they have a problem on their hands. The impure one must shave and bring sacrifices to purify himself, and the pure one simply continues being a nazir. But they don't know who is who.
Here is their way out. They both continue being a nazir until the end of their term. Then they both shave, because it would be required for both pure and impure nazir. Then they take two sets of sacrifices, one for a nazir who is pure, and another, different set, for a one who is a impure, and bring them together to the Temple.
Each one of them now says: "If I am really pure, and my friend is impure, then the sacrifices of purity are mine, and the other set is his." Then they bring both sets. But this works only for a pure nazir. Now they continue for yet another thirty days, and at the end they bring just one set of sacrifices – for the nazir who is pure. Each one says: "If I was the pure one – then this sacrifice is my friend's, and previously my sacrifice was already brought. But if I was the impure one, then this sacrifice is now mine."
The Talmud then asks: why is there any doubt at all? We know how to resolve all such doubts based on the laws of the doubts of a suspected wife (next Tractate). That is, if the suspected people hid, the doubt is confirmed. And if they they were in a public place, there is no doubt at all. Here they did not hide from the one who saw them!? – He was far, so it is as if they were hiding.
Art: Portrait of a Clean-Shaven Young Man by Lucas The Elder Cranach
|Wednesday, October 21st, 2015|
Nazir 55 – Nazir outside of Israel?
In order to discourage people form leaving the Land of Israel, the Sages decreed that anyone who leaves Israel would immediately become ritually impure. Ostensibly, this is because people who live outside of Israel are not as careful marking off graves (ground-based impurity), and one can pass over an unknown grave. However, maybe the Sages simply declared the airspace outside of Israel impure (air-based impurity).
Perhaps the laws of nazir will shed some light on this? A nazir who went outside of Israel becomes ritually impure and will have to continue his days after his purifies himself. We also saw that he purifies himself with the ashes of Red Heifer. Now, the ashes are only needed for the impurity of the dead. This proves that the out-of-Israel impurity was because of the unmarked graves, and it is a ground-based impurity, does it not? – Actually, no. It could be that this is sheer air-based impurity, and the ashes of the Red Heifer are mentioned only in regard to a plowed-over cemetery
, but not to anything else.
Art: Graveyard under Snow by Caspar David Friedrich
|Thursday, October 15th, 2015|
Nazir 54 – Not to shave!
There are cases when the ritual impurity does not really exist, but it was “decreed by the Sages.” Take, for example, a field where a grave was previously located, then the location of it was lost, and then the field was plowed over. Since anyone who is walking through the field can potentially touch a bone and become impure, the Sages said that such a field should be treated as ritually impure, and anyone who went through it without precautions will have to purify himself.
However, from the Torah point of view, accidentally touching a bone is unlikely, because a plow does not usually reach that deep, and so really the person is pure. A nazir who becomes impure should cut his hair and bring sacrifices, but a nazir who is pure is not allowed to touch even one hair. What is a nazir to do if he passed through a “field full of fragments” as it is called?
Here is what he should do: he should purify himself with the ashes of the red heifer on days number three and seven, and then continue being a nazir. The seven days of his impurity are taken out from his count, but otherwise, he continues to count as before. And he does not shave his hair or bring sacrifices, because in truth he is pure. Other similar cases, such as being under the same branch as a corpse (but not a real roof that transmits impurity) are treated the same way.
If, in addition to being a nazir, he became a metzora (spiritual leper), he purifies himself from that, but continues being a nazir, since metzora, even though it requires purification, is not the same as the impurity of the dead.
Art: Plowing ox By Rudolf Koller
|Wednesday, October 14th, 2015|
Nazir 52 – Skull and spine
If a nazir comes in touch with a dead body, he looses his previous days, has to shave, must bring sacrifices, and then restart. How much of a dead body? One of the example is a skull and spine – just bones, even if they have no meat on them.
There were actually two versions of this rule, one read “skull and spine,” but the other one – “skull or spine.” According to the second one, either a skull or a spine are enough for nazir to loose his days and shave. Which one is right?
The Talmud tries to resolve this in many ways. For example, since there are six questions related to nazir where Rabbi Akiva initially held a more stringent position but eventually conceded to the Sages, if his position was more stringent here too and read “skull or spine” - then the total count would be seven, not six. However, Rabbi Shimon says that there was another rule, about a “quarter-measurement of blood from two different dead” where Rabbi Akiva never conceded. This changes the count and ruins our proof.
Incidentally, Rabbi Shimon emphasized his points as follows, “While Rabbi Akiva was alive, he did not agree. And if he retracted after death, I don't know.” Unfortunately, this was not the most refined way of putting it. Rabbi Shimon felt remorse and fasted, to atone for it, until his teeth darkened.
Art: An old man, holding a skull by Jan Lievens
|Sunday, October 11th, 2015|
Nazir 47 – Who is more important, nazir or High Priest?
Both High Priest and nazir have this in common: they are not allowed to become ritually impure by touching a dead body. And yet, if any one of them finds an unattended corpse, so that on him devolves the obligation to bury the body, he should attend to it, even though he will become ritually impure.
What if a High Priest and a nazir find this corpse together – who is obligated to bury this dead, and thus preserve the other one from becoming impure? This should be the High Priest, because to purify himself he only needs to wait for seven days and get himself sprinkled with the ashes of the Red Heifer. By contrast, a nazir would need to bring special sacrifices before he can restart being a nazir. This is the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer. The Sages say that just the opposite, the nazir should bury, because his limitations are temporary, whereas the High Priest should be pure at all times.
In this argument the positions are clearly stated. But now the Talmud begins to compare other gradations, for example, of the Priest Anointed for War and a Deputy High Priest, who is more important? This is resolved as follows: to preserve the life of the Priest Anointed for War, he is more important, because he serves the needs of many people. But in regard to purity, the Deputy is more important, because he can be called to serve in the Temple any time that the chief High Priest becomes impure.
Art: Burying the Dead by Michael Sweerts