Thursday, December 18, 2014

Yevamot 76 – The congregation of Israel

We mentioned earlier that one who has his testicles wounded or crushed, and also one whose member is severed cannot “enter the congregation of Israel,” that is, he cannot marry a Jewish woman who is born as a Jew. However, he can marry a convert. Although converts are Jewish in every respect, they are not encompassed by the term “congregation.” Their children, however, will be called “congregation.”

There is also another view, that of Rabbi Yehudah, according to which converts are also included I the “congregation,” and accordingly our man discussed above cannot marry anyone. The source for this law is found in the Torah here.

Similarly, a convert from the people of Amon or Moav is prohibited to marry into the congregation. This was only true when these peoples lived as a separate nation. After king Sennacherib expanded his empire and resettled entire peoples, they all got mixed, and the law stopped being applicable. Even when it was applicable, only male converts had the prohibition, but not female, since the Torah formulated the prohibition in terms of “Moavi” - which implies the male, but not “Moaviyah” which would imply a woman.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Yevamot 70 – An uncircumcised Kohen

Generally, a Kohen and his family can eat the priestly portion of the grain (terumah), separated by Jews in the Land of Israel. This is also true for slaves that he acquires. However, if this Kohen is uncircumcised or ritually impure, then he cannot eat terumah. This does not change the status of his family, and they can continue to eat terumah just as they did before - because they are still his family and did not change in any way.

When a Kohen is uncircumcised, we are not talking about a willful violator, because the Talmud usually does not talk about this group of people, as applicable to the rules of the law. Rather, his two older brother have previously died as a result of circumcision, which left him with the presumption that circumcision is dangerous to his health and should not be done. Still, when he becomes healthy, and experts assert this, the mitzvah of circumcision is again incumbent on him.

The situation is reverse for a Kohen who has wounded or crushed testicles or whose member is severed. He is prohibited from marrying and cohabiting with a Jewish woman, but this does not take away his status as a Kohen. Therefore, he may still eat terumah. However, his wife is different: once he cohabits with her, she looses the right to terumah, because she had a cohabitation with someone unfit for her.

Art: Self Portrait with Father and Brother by John Hamilton Mortimer

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Yevamot 65 – Claiming a refund

If a woman was married to someone for ten years and divorced because she had no children, then she is entitled to the full Ketubah (divorce settlement), because it is presumed that it is the husband's fault, as we learned before. If that happens the second time, then on the third time the presumption changes and, since three times is considered an established rule, she is established as not being able to have children. The third husband can divorce her without a Ketubah payment. Can the previous husband now claim a refund of his earlier Ketubah payment? – No, for she can claim, “It is only now that I have grown weak, but before it was your fault.”

If she was then married the fourth time and had children, can she claim the Ketubah from the third husband? – Here we apply the rule, “Your silence is better than your speech.” For he can counterclaim and say, “Had I known that your were fertile, I would never divorce you. So it was not a divorce, and you are still married to me, and your new children are mamzerim.” However, the court can say, “Even if she is silent, if that is the truth, then we must act!” Rather, the correct claim is that it is only now that she became healthy and fertile, but at the time of divorce she was unable to conceive, and therefore the third husband is not liable to pay.

We implied that it is the man's obligation to procreate. Why? – The Torah said “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and conquer it,” - it was talking to men, who in general engage in battles and conquer. Another opinion is that both a man and a woman have this mitzvah, because the word “Be fruitful (p'ru)” is plural imperative. What does the first one answer? – That the word “conquer” is missing a letter “u” in the way it is written, and can be read in singular.

Art: A Family Resting Before A House, With A Mother Silencing Her Husband Sleeps by Abraham Willemsens

Yevamot 64 – Ten years without children

If a man was married to a woman for ten years, and they did not have any children, in the times of the Talmud he would have to divorce her or marry another wife, so that he can fulfill the mitzvah of procreation. This is only true if he did not children before. It also assumes that they don't know who is at fault. However, if the man is sterile, there is no point for him to divorce her, since he cannot have children with anybody else anyway. After he divorces her, she has no presumption of not being able to have children, and when she marries to another man, the new husband needs to also count ten years before applying the rule above.

In deciding whether she gets the payment of Ketubah, the question of whose fault it was comes up again. Here the blame is assigned to the man: since the mitzvah of procreation is on him, it is assumed that not being to have children is his fault – in the absence of any other indicators – and therefore she, not being at fault, is entitled to full payment of her Ketubah.

Art: Family with a Bird by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Yevamot 63 – Man must have children

A few teachings of Rabbi Elazar about a man and his wife: one who does not have a wife is not a whole man, because “God created them male and female, and called their name Man;” a wife is called “helper against him” – if he deserves, she is a helper, if not – she is against him; “God brought her to Adam, and Adam said, “this time it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” teaches that Adam has approached every animal, but his mind was pacified only with with Eve.

As Rav was leaving Rabbi Chiya, Rabbi Chiya asked him, “What is worse than death?” Rav searched for the answer and found it, “I found – bitter than death – a bad wife.” Rabbi Chiya intended to save Ra from a bad wife, but his prayer was not successful, and Rav's wife used to aggravate him, cooking the opposite of what he asked. Rav's son, Chiya, started reversing Rav's requests, so that when the wife cooked a different dish, Rav would get exactly what he wanted. Rav said, “Your mother has improved her ways!” Chiya confessed that he was reversing orders. Rav said, “I could have learned from you! And yet, it is not good to say a lie.”

A teaching of Ben Sira: “A beautiful wife – happy is her husband, the number of his days is doubled.”

The Messiah will only come when all the souls originally present in Adam will have a chance to be born. Accordingly, one who does not engage in procreation, is considered as spilling blood, and diminishing God's image.

Art: A Portrait Of Nobleman With His Wife And Two Children by Johann Hulsman

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Yevamot 62 – How many children must a man have?

A man is obligated to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. How many children are sufficient? – Two sons – these are the words of Beit Shammai. What is their logic? Moses had two sons, and after that he abstained from having relations with his wife. However, Beit Hillel say that a man must have a son and a daughter. Why? – Just like God created a male and a female, so is this mitzvah. Incidentally, all agree that it is not proper for a man to be without a wife, even if he has fulfilled the obligation to be fruitful, because the Torah said, “It's not good for a man to be alone.”

Why don't Beit Shammai learn from the creation of the world, just as Beit Hillel do? – They answer that there it was impossible to do otherwise: Eve had to be created in order that Adam has a wife; however, in our context, if a man has two sons, there are many women in the world that they can marry.

Then why don't Beit Hillel learn from the life of Moses, as Beit Shammai do? – They answer that Moses' situation was unique, and he separated from his wife on the his accord. What was his logic? He reasoned thus: if the children of Israel, with whom God spoke only one time, while giving the Torah, had to stay away from their wives, then I (Moses), with whom God speaks at all times, how much more so I have to stay away from my wife? – and God later agreed with him, saying “Tell them to go back to their houses (wives),” which we understand to imply, “But you are correct in staying here with Me.”

Actually, there were three cases where Moses did things on his own accord, and God later agreed. Another one was breaking the Tablets. Moses reasoned: if the Passover offerings – which is only one commandment in the Torah – is forbidden to one who is a “estranged” from the Torah, then the whole Torah is of course forbidden to the Jews who worship a Golden Calf. God later agreed, saying “Tablets, which you broke.” The word “which,” “asher,” can be understood as “yasher koach” – correct that you did it.

Art: Mrs. Arthur Knowles and her Two Sons by John Singer Sargent

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Yevamot 61 – Whom the High Priest can marry

A Kohen may not marry a woman who converted to Judaism. However, Rabbi Shimon, who usually understands and ascribes reasons for the laws of the Torah, says that the reason here is that a convert may have had relations with someone prohibited to her. Therefore, if a girl converts before the age of three, her cohabitation - even if she is violated - does not carry the disqualification power of an adult, and she can marry a Kohen.

Another lenient law from Rabbi Shimon: an idolater's grave does not spread ritual impurity under a roof, so that a person in this situation remains pure. Why? – The Torah said, “Man (Adam), when he dies under a roof...transmits impurity.” And only Jews are called “Adam,” because their souls all come from reincarnations of Adam's soul – which is not true for idolaters.

If a Kohen betrothed a widow (whom he is allowed to marry), and then he was appointed a High Priest, then he can go ahead and fully marry her (which would not be allowed for a regular High Priest). This is learned from the words “... only a virgin shall he take,” where the words “shall he take” are extra, alluding to a special case like this where he marries a widow.

This situation actually happened with Yehoshua ben Gamla, who betrothed a widow Martha daughter of Baitos, was then appointed High Priest, but proceeded with marriage. In fact, Martha was influential in his appointment: she bought the place of High Priest for her husband with many many pounds of gold coins. But in the end Yehoshua restored Torah study and is remembered for good, as we have learned elsewhere.

Art: A Marriage Portrait by Pieter de Grebber