Monday, January 26, 2015

Yevamot 105 – Rabbinical test

In order to cut the connection between herself and the brothers of her late husband, the widow performs chalitzah: she read verses from the Torah which explain what she is doing, she unties and removes his shoe, and she spits in his direction. Of these actions, only the removal of the shoe is absolutely essential; the other two, while important, will not invalidate the chalitzah if they were not done.

Levi was recommended for a Rabbinical post in a certain village by Rabbi Yehudah the Prince. When Levy arrived, they put him on a platform and asked his the following questions. Can a woman with amputated hands to chalitzah? If she spits blood instead of saliva, what is the law? Levy did not know. They asked him a non-legal question: when an angel tells Daniel “I will tell you what is inscribed in truthful wording,” can there be untruthful wording in Heaven?

Levy went to ask in the Academy. They told him, “Does it say that she shall remove the shoe with her hand? – No! So she can do it with her teeth. Furthermore, does it say that she spits with a spit? – No, it just says that she spits, in any manner.” Regarding the last question, the wording is given the appellation of “truthful” when it was accompanies with an oath and cannot be changed. The Talmud then discusses when a Heavenly decree cannot be changed and when it can.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Yevamot 104 – Which part of the leg is good for chalitzah?

If a part of one's leg, up until the knee, has been removed, he can still do a valid chalitzah; however, if it was amputated above the knee, this chalitzah is invalid. But this does not seem right! When one goes to Jerusalem on a Festival, such as Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, which are also called “Regalim,” to indicate that one goes on foot, only people who have feet (“regel”) have to go, and one with prosthetic foot does not. This tells us that “regel” is a foot, and without it chalitzah should not be allowed! - No, chalitzah is special: since Torah says, “From above his foot”, “Me-al regel,” this tells us that the part of the leg above the foot but below the knee is also included. But if so, let's include also the thigh! – No, the thigh would be “above above” the foot, and that's too much.

And yet, there are five places where thighs are also called “regel,” such as in the story of Yael. When general Sisera came to her tent, and she offered him “milk in royal vessels,” he subsequently had intercourse with her seven times, as indicated by the verse “He fell between her feet (regel), bent, fell, lay...” where the variation of “fell” is mentioned seven times. So thighs are also called ("regel")?! – No, in truth thighs are not called “regel”, but here it was done for propriety, out of respect for the righteous Yael and her deed, weakening Sisra and killing him in the end.

Incidentally, why does Yael deserve so much praise? Granted, even though she was a married woman, yet her transgression was a permitted, and even righteous deed, since she intended to help the whole Jewish people. Still, she derived some pleasure from the act!? At least we should remove the words “More praiseworthy than all women (meaning Matriarchs) is Yael!” – No, since we have a rule that even a minor benefit from the wicked is abhorrent to the righteous, it can be said that Yael derived no pleasure whatsoever.

Art: Yael and Sisera by Artemisia Gentileschi

Monday, January 19, 2015

Yevamot 103 – Did Jews receive chalitzah from God?

A certain argumentative person asked Rabban Gamliel a question. Since Hosea said that “With their sheep and cattle they will come to see God, but won't find, for He has withdrawn ('chalatz') from them.” Thus, God has ended His special relationship with the Jews. Rabban Gamliel answered him, “You are a fool! The words are not 'He has given chalitzah' but 'He has chalitzah from them.!' That is, they tried to give chalitzah to God. But if a woman in this situation removes her shoe, does she remove the bond from the brothers of her husband? Certainly not!” Thus, the Jews may have acted incorrectly, but the bond remains.

Additional details of chalitzah: it cannot be done with a sock, but a shoe fit for walking is needed. And, since she has to “remove it from his foot,” an amputee whose leg was cut off above his knee, cannot give a chalitzah. The one whose foot was amputated can with difficulty walk on it, and thus his chalitzah would be valid.

Art: Mending father's socks by William Baater Collier Fyfe

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Yevamot 102 – A shoe used for Chalitzah

Chalitzah is the procedure required to release a widow from her connection to her late husband's brothers and to permit her to marry anyone she wants, rather than one of the brothers (which marriage would be called “yibum”).

Chalitzah requires five people: three to act as judges and two – to make the fact well-known. The Kohanim then will know not to marry her, and other people, by contrast, will know that she is available.

Part of the procedure is for her to remove his shoe. The shoe should be proper, made from leather, and fit to be worn. As an enhancement, they add a strap to the shoe, so that that the two actions – untying the strap, and the removing the shoe – leave no doubt in the validity of the procedure.

Rabbi Yannai asked, “What if she tore the shoe of his foot, or burned it off his foot? Do we need the foot to become exposed – and that is achieved – or do we need proper removal?” – To this there was no answer.

Art: The New Shoe by Elizabeth Nourse

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Yevamot 101 – Details of paternity

In the previous case of uncertain paternity, what are the circumstances? If both men were Kohanim, one would be marrying a divorcee and his child would loose his status of a Kohen, so he would be allowed to go to a cemetery. Since the ruling prohibits this, it cannot be talking about not waiting after a regular divorce.

In the same vein, the Talmud excludes all other cases and is left with one: she lived with each man without any legal framework, had a child from one of them, and the term “husband” was not meant literally but only for the clean language. Incidentally, if this child strikes both husbands, he is not punished, because we don't know who the real father is, thus cannot give him a proper warning, and punishment does not exist without a warning.

Now for the mitzvah of chalitzah. The woman recites the verses about the brother not wishing to “establish his brother's house,” the man confirms that he does not want to marry her, then she removes his shoe, spits toward him, and recites “so it will be done to a man who will not build his brother's house.”

Art: Waiting For Father's Return by Philippe Lodowyck Jacob Sadee

Monday, January 12, 2015

Yevamot 100 – Questionable paternity

If a woman did not wait for three months after her separation from a husband, and married another man and gave birth – then the paternity of the child is in question.

If, in addition, with both men she had more sons, then it is not clear if the child is the brother of the first family or of the second one. Therefore, if he marries and dies childless, there is a question of who should do yibum with his widow. The answer is that both sets of brothers have to give her a chalitzah, because he may have been their full brother, and she is therefore part of the family.

However, nobody can do a yibum with her. That is because he may have been only from the same mother, but not from their father, in which case his widow is forbidden as a former wife of their brother, while the mitzvah of yibum exists does not apply, because it is only for paternal brothers.

Art: Dressing The Baby by Jacob Simon Hendrik Kever

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Yevamot 97 – Riddles

If one's father violated or seduced a woman (or otherwise had an affair with her), then the son can still marry her. The prohibition to marry the wife of one's father does not apply here. Rabbi Yehudah forbids the son to marry such a woman. The verse itself is talking only about a legal wife, but Rabbi Yehudah derives his additional prohibition from the context. Even the first teacher will agree that the Sages later prohibited such marriage.

Now a few riddles. Who can say about a man that he is “my paternal brother but not a maternal one, he is my mother's husband, and I am his wife's daughter?” This can happen legally following the first teacher, but not Rabbi Yehudah, as follows. A man (Jacob) violated a woman and had a daughter with her. Reuven (Jacob's son from another woman), married the woman whom his father violated. Reuven's daughter can say that Reuven, her paternal brother, married her mother.

Another one. A woman says: he is my brother, and he is my son. I am the sister of this child of mine whom I carry on my shoulders. Answer: a man had relations with his daughter, and fathered a son by her. The child is at once her son and her paternal brother.

Yet another one: a woman says, “Peace to you, my son; I am your sister's daughter.” Answer: one had relations with his daughter's daughter and fathered a son. She is at once the child's mother and its paternal sister's daughter.

Why do we need such riddles? Some say – to sharpen the minds of the Torah scholars, while others – that Queen Sheba posed these riddles to King Solomon, to test his wisdom.

Art: Sisters In The Sewing Room by Fritz von Uhde