Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Gittin 37 - For the benefit of both rich and poor

The term "prosbul" is related to the Greek prosbuleibutei (a council to protect people from harm) and means "benefit or rich and poor." Rich - because they do not transgress - do not refrain from helping with a loan. Poor, because it helps them obtain a loan.

Prosbul works by assigning the loan to court for collection. It is then "as if collected," and such a loan is not canceled by the 7th year.

Only unsecured loans are canceled and thus require prosbul. Even if a debt is canceled by the 7th year, it is meritorious to return the money as a gift.

Art: The Thankful Poor by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Yevamot 78 - Can a mamzer survive?

A mamzer (bastard) is a child born from a union where the man and the woman were prohibited to each other and where the prohibition led to being spiritually cut off from the people. An example of this could be another man's wife or one's own sister. Once a man is a mamzer, he cannot marry a Jewish woman. That prohibition extends to all generations and applies equally to men and women.

From here, we start having divergent opinions. "Even until the tenth generation" is interpreted as "forever," but Resh Lakish says it literally means the tenth generation. They asked Rabbi Eliezer's opinion on this, but he answered, "Who can give me even the third generation mamzer, and I will purify him." He meant that Heaven watches over him and causes him to die before he produces the third generation - so that the Jews would not unknowingly intermarry.

That rule only applies to a mamzer who was not known publicly. But if he is known, people would not intermarry anyway. To support this, here is a story. There was one mamzer whose status was not known. Rabbi Ami announced his status to the public. The man went about crying. Rabbi Ami consoled him, "I gave you life!"

Rabbi Tarfon tells us how a mamzer can purify himself. Today, it is hard to prove that anyone is a mamzer.

Art: Two Sisters and a Brother of the Artist by Sofonisba Anguissola

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Yevamot 31 - Did I really marry you?

Several times, we have seen that if a man dies, his brother needs to marry the deceased man's wife or let her free. If he marries her, it is called a yibum, and if he lets her free, it is called a chalitzah.

The first complication may arise if the now-deceased had two wives, one of which happens to be forbidden to the live brother. For example, she could be the brother's daughter, the dead man's niece. The brother cannot marry his daughter, and the other wife is automatically released from either yibum or chalitzah.

The second complication may arise when we are in doubt whether the deceased man married his niece or not. This doubtful marriage is the focus of our investigation here. How could it happen? Here is how. Instead of giving his bride the betrothal document, he threw it at her, and it fell to the ground. Now, if it fell closer to her, she would be married. If it fell closer to him, she is not. If it fell in the middle, we have a doubt. 

The solution? The alive brother should release both wives and cannot marry either. Thus, he does the halitzah to both but cannot do a yibum.

Art: The Brothers Konrad und Franz Eberhard by Johann Anton Ramboux

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Yevamot 4 - Looking for a permission to marry one's daughter

The logic about not marrying one's daughter could be completely reversed. Here is what a man trying to find the permission to do so could argue.

He will marry his daughter off to his brother (the Torah law allows marriage with the niece.) Then, when his brother dies, he gets to marry his daughter as his brother's wife or a "yevamah." True, there is a prohibition against marrying one's daughter, but it is overwritten by a positive commandment to marry a yevamah.

His source? Two verses: "You should not wear wool and linen together" and next to it, "You shall fringes on your garment." For your fringes (tzitzit), you can use wool and linen together. In fact, that is what they did in the Temple, making the priests' belts. This teaches us that "do" overwrites "don't do." 

He seems to have built his case? We answer that "do" overwrite "don't do" only for relatively light prohibitions, such as wearing wool and linen together. Marrying one's daughter - or any other similar ban - is more strict. So even the mitzvah of yibum does not help him turn the forbidden into permitted.

Art: Henri Rouart and his Daughter Helene by Edgar Degas


Thursday, March 10, 2022

Yevamot 3 - Sleeping with one's daughter

Most people would agree that a man should not sleep with his daughter. However, this is not mentioned in the Torah directly. Instead, this prohibition is derived by connecting with another ban in two steps.

We are not talking about his legitimate daughter because she is "his wife's daughter," and it is indeed prohibited. Instead, we are talking about his out-of-the-wedlock daughter from his lover who is not his wife. Why can't he sleep with her? 

First, one should not marry a woman and her daughter because they are close relatives,  and it is a shame. Second, one should not sleep with his son or daughter's daughter because it is a shame. Since these two phrases include a similar word, "shame" or "heinnah" in Hebrew, we can combine the prohibitions and derive that sleeping with one's daughter, even born out of wedlock, is incest.

The teacher (Tanna) who taught this law loved involved logic. Since this law is a perfect example, the teacher has put one's daughter as the first in the list of the fifteen women who are automatically released from yibum or chalitzah.

Father and Daughter by Charles H. Moreau

Friday, February 18, 2022

Chagigah 9 - What is right and what is wrong

Jews traveled to Jerusalem three times a year, visited the Temple, and offered a sacrifice there. This sacrifice was called "Chagigah" or Celebration. Ideally, one should bring this sacrifice on the first day of the Festival. However, if he missed doing it on the first day, he can still complete the celebration by offering (and then eating) it on any of the remaining days of the Festival.

What happens if he went to Jerusalem, visited the Temple, but did not bring a Chagigah sacrifice, and the Festival is now ended? He missed his chance, and nothing can be done now. The following statement by King Solomon applies to him, "A crooked thing cannot be straightened, and a lack cannot be counted."

What are the other examples of irreparable losses? One misses the time to say the prayer of "Shema, Israel!" in the morning or evening. One who has relations with a woman who is forbidden to him (like a sister or another man's wife) and she gives birth to an illegitimate child (mamzer.) But some people do not agree that this phrase refers to these cases. They say to become crooked, one must start out straight. Who is this? - This is a Sage who went to the bad side.

Art: Motherly love by Albert Neuhuys

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Kabbalah of Chagigah 3

Chagigah 3 mentions two mute brothers. They wanted to learn Torah and attended the teacher's lessons. In the end, the teacher saw their desire and prayed for them, and they started talking. 

These two brothers were the reincarnation of Eldad and Medad. Eldad and Medad are among the seventy-two sages who prophesied in the camp. They were also brothers, sons of Yocheved whom she bore while being divorced from Amram.

There were two reasons why they were born mute in this reincarnation. Amram did not give Yocheved a Get with a whole heart. The second was that their prophecy was about Moses' death and thus inappropriate without permission. Thus, in the new incarnations, they were born mute, and they first suffered and then corrected this defect through Torah study. This, then, was their Tikkun (correction.)

Art: Two Brothers by Maurice Leloir