Monday, June 20, 2016

Engaged Couples, צעירים, and More

Engaged Couples, צעירים, and More
Marc B.Shapiro
Continued from here
1. Regarding engaged couples having physical contact, this is actually the subject of a section of the book Penei Yitzhak by R. Hezekiah Mordechai Bassan. Here is the title page.
This book was published in Mantua in 1744 by Menahem Navarra who was a descendant of R. Bassan. Navarra, who was at this time a doctor, not a rabbi, was nevertheless very learned in Torah matters. (He would later be appointed rabbi of Verona.[1]) Navarra included three essays of his own in the volume, the second of which is called Issur Kedushah. In this work he criticizes members of the Jewish community for allowing engaged couples to have physical contact before marriage. Here are the first two pages of the work.

Navarra and the others I have referred to are only dealing with an engaged couple touching before marriage, but not with actual sexual relations. Yet this too is mentioned many centuries before Navarra. Ezra 2:43 and Nehemiah 7:46 refer to בני טבעות. A commentary attributed to R. Saadiah Gaon[2] explains this as follows:
בני טבעות: שקלקלו אבותם גם [צ"ל עם] ארוסותיהם קודם שיכניסו אותם לחופה והיו סומכין על קדושי טבעות ומקלקלין עם ארוסותיהן.
What this means is that after kiddushin, which was effected by aטבעת  (ring), but before actual marriage (the two used to be separated, sometimes for many months), the engaged couple would have sexual relations. The children who resulted from this were referred to negatively as בני טבעות. As S. H. Kook points out,[3] R. Saadiah’s explanation is also mentioned by R. Hai Gaon.[4]
R. Hayyim Benveniste, in seventeeth century Turkey, also speaks about how engaged couples would have physical contact. This shows again that there was a divergence between what the halakhah requires and what the people were actually doing (much like you find in a large section of Modern Orthodox society today). Here are R. Benveniste’s words:[5]
להתייחד שניהם כמו שנוהגים פה תירייא ואיזמיר, שאחר השדוכין אחר עבור קצת ימים מתייחדין החתן והכלה ומכניסים אותה לחדר וסוגרין אותן הסגר מוחלט כמו שמסגרין הנשואה אחר ז' ברכות, מנהג כזה רע ומר הוא, ואיכא איסורא מכמה פנים . . . ועוד שנכשלים באיסור נדה, וברוב הפעמים תצא כלה לחופתה וכריסה בין שיניה, וכמה מהם הודו ולא בושו שבאים עליה שלא כדרכה. אלא א-להים הוא יודע שטרחתי הרבה לבטל מנהג זה פה תיריא ועלה בידי, ועשיתי הסכמה בחרמות ונדויים על זה, ולסבת בעלי זרוע בעלי אגרופין אשר אין פחד א-להים לנגד עיניהם חזר המנהג לסורו רע.
There are a few different points that are of interest in what R. Benveniste writes. The first is that he says that in the majority of cases the bride arrives at the huppah וכריסה בין שיניה. This means that she is pregnant. Even if there is some exaggeration here, R. Benveniste is telling us that many Jewish women were getting pregnant before marriage. Readers might recall my post here where I mentioned R. Ovadiah Bertinoro’s assertion that most Jewish brides in Palermo were pregnant at the time of their wedding.
R. Benveniste mentions how he was able to improve matters by using the power of the herem to keep people in line, but that his success was short-lived as powerful members of the community were able to undermine his authority. This shows us, just as we saw in the text I quoted from R. Eleazar Kalir, that parents were often happy when their children had physical contact before marriage, and they opposed what they regarded as the overly puritanical approach of the rabbis. When R. Benveniste refers to those who באים עליה שלא כדרכה, this means that some of the couples had a sexual relationship, but wanted the woman to be a virgin at the wedding.
R. Jonah Landsofer (Bohemia, died 1712) also testified to the problem we have been discussing:[6]
בבית ישראל ראיתי שערוריה איכה נהיית' כזאת שאין איש שם לבו להוכיח בשער בת רבים על התקלה וקלקלת שוטי' שקלקלו והרגלו הרגל דבר עד שנעשה טבע קיים לבלתי הרגיש ברעה אשר ימצאם באחרית הימים והוא אשר נעשה בכל יום ערוך השלחן וצפה הצפית מיום שגומרין שידוכין בין בחור ובתולה מושבים אותם יחד ומוסרי' הבתולה לזנות בית אביה בחיבוקים ונשוקים ומעשה חידודי' וכל הקרואים והמסובי' מחזיקי' בידו.
Because the masses had no interest in what the rabbis had to say about this matter, R. Landsofer concludes that one need not even rebuke them, as they won’t listen anyway. Not long ago I heard a rabbi going on about the holy communities of Europe of a few hundred years ago, about their support of Torah, the respect they gave to the rabbis, and their commitment to halakhah. All of this is true, but if you look a little closer you find that these communities were actually very much like contemporary Modern Orthodox communities, in that together with a commitment to halakhah, many people also felt that they could determine which halakhot could be ignored. Or perhaps they didn’t even think they were violating halakhah. Maybe they assumed that the rabbis were making their lives difficult with extreme humrot. Either way you look at it, it is very obvious that there were many in traditional Jewish societies who created their own standards of practice which did not always correspond to what the rabbis insisted on, and they had no interest in changing their ways because of what the rabbis were saying.[7]
While the standard rabbinic view has always been that bride and groom are not to have any physical contact until after the wedding ceremony, the rabbis in Germany were a little more lenient. Sefer Maharil records that the practice was for the bride and groom to touch before marriage, but only on the morning of the wedding, a time that also included celebration.[8]
בעלות השחר ביום הששי היה קורא השמש לבא לבה"כ . . . ומביאים הכלה וחברותיה. וכאשר תבא עד פתח חצר בה"כ הלך הרב והחשובים והיו מוליכין את החתן לקראת הכלה. והחתן תופש אותה בידו ובחיבורן יחד זורקין כל העם על גבי ראשן חטין ואומרים פרו ורבו ג"פ. והולכין יחד עד אצל פתח בה"כ ויושבין שם מעט ומוליכין הכלה לביתה.

This detail, that the groom held the bride’s hand prior to the wedding, is found in a number of other German sources.[9] I don’t know how this practice of holding the bride’s hand before the wedding ceremony can be reconciled with what appears in Tractate Kallah, ch. 1:
כלה בלא ברכה אסורה לבעלה כנדה.
The word כלה here means a woman who is betrothed but not yet married.
R. Hayyim Joseph David Azulai, Kisei Rahamim, Kallah, ch. 1, comments on this passage:

כלה בלא ברכה אסורה כלומר אפי' לחבק או ליגע בה כנדה.

I also find it noteworthy, and strange from our perspective, that Sefer Maharil tells us that for the wedding ceremony the rabbi would bring the bride to the groom, holding her by her robe:[10]

והרב היה תופס אותה בבגדיה והוליכה והעמידה לימין החתן.

R. Israel David Margulies (19th century) cites this text from Sefer Maharil and correctly notes that in medieval times the brides were much younger than in his day. He assumes that the typical bride was under 12 and a half years old, and therefore there was no problem of impure thoughts with such brides.[11]

ואיזה הירהור יהי' בכלה קטנה או נערה כזאת, ולכן לקח אותה הרב בעצמו אצל מפתן הבית מן יד הנשים, והביאה אל החתן ושארי הנשים נשארו ולא היה להם שום עסק בבהכ"נ ולא היה חשש הרהור במקום קדשו.

2. Recently I heard a shiur where the rabbi said that if there is a Torah or rabbinic commandment to do something, only the talmudic sages can, as an emergency measure, forbid the action. The classic example is the Sages telling us not to blow the shofar if Rosh ha-Shanah falls out on Shabbat. There is nothing controversial in what the rabbi said, and I think most would agree, even if there some exceptions to this general rule. The rabbi further noted that post-talmudic authorities cannot make gezerot as this power is also reserved for the talmudic sages. This viewpoint is shared by many, yet there are important authorities who disagree, and perhaps more significantly there is evidence of post-talmudic gezerot.
I mention this now, after Passover [this post was written a few weeks ago], since those who reviewed the laws of Pesach would have seen Shulhan Arukh 453:5 which states:
האידנא אסור ללתות בין חטים בין שעורים.
“Nowadays, it is forbidden to moisten either wheat or barley [for grinding].”
If you look at the Mishnah Berurah he explains that while the Sages forbid moistening barley because it will easily leaven, according to the Talmud it is permitted to moisten wheat. In fact, according to the Talmud, Pesahim 40a, Rava held that it is an obligation to wash the grains of wheat: מצוה ללתות.
The Mishnah Berurah explains that it is the geonim who forbid moistening wheat since we are not expert at doing it properly, and it might come to be leavened, or we might delay removing the wheat after the moistening (before grinding) and this might lead to leavening. If the geonim forbid something that the Talmud permitted (or even required), isn’t this to be regarded as a gezerah?
3. Let me now mention something relating to Sukkot, which I had hoped to post closer to the holiday, but as the rabbinic saying goes, מה שהלב חושק הזמן עושק.
Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 649:4 states:
גנות הצעירים של עובדי כוכבים וכיוצא בהם מבתי שמשיהם מותר ליטול משם לולב או שאר מינים למצוה.
[Regarding what has grown in] the gardens of the צעירים of idolators and similar [gardens] of the houses [or: buildings] of their attendants, one is permitted to take from there a lulav or the other minim for the mitzvah.
Who are the צעירים of the idolators? The Taz states that he does not know:
איני יודע פירושו, אבל הוא ענין ממשרתי עבודת אלילים.

It is not just the Taz who doesn’t know, as none of the traditional commentaries have a clue. The Feldheim English translation of the Shulhan Arukh with Mishnah Berurah (which I make use of when I provide translations) doesn’t translate the word הצעירים, and instead simply transliterates it.[12]

In fact, I  am sure that R. Joseph Karo, living in the Muslim world, did not know what the צעירים are either. You might find this a strange assertion. After all, if R. Karo recorded the halakhah, how could he not know what he was writing? However, in this case R. Karo was just recording what appears in R. Aaron Hakohen of Lunel’s Orhot Hayyim (Florence, 1750), Hilkhot Lulav, no. 8, in the name of the Ritva:

כתב הר' יום טוב אשבילי ז"ל בשם רבו ז"ל הוי יודע שגנות הצעירים והדורסים וכיוצא בהם מבתי הכומרים אינם משמשי ע"ז ולא נויי ע"ז ופירותיהם וכל אשר בהן מותרין בהנאה ומותר ליטול משם לולב או שאר מינין למצוה עכ"ל.

From a halakhic standpoint the importance of the halakhah is that it tells us that one can take a lulav and other other minim from the garden of an idolator, and it is not important exactly what type of idolator the צעירים are.

As mentioned, the halakhah in the Shulhan Arukh is taken from the Orhot Hayyim. It is first quoted in the Beit Yosef, Orah Hayyim 649, where it cited more exactly from the Orhot Hayyim than what appears in the Shulhan Arukh:

כתוב בארחות חיים ]הל' לולב סי' ח[ נגות הצעירים והדורסים וכיוצא בהם מבתי הכומרים מותר ליטול משם לולב או שאר מינים למצוה.

In the Beit Yosef (and also in Orhot Hayyim) it says הצעירים והדורסים. Furthermore, instead of מבתי שמשיהם that appears in the Shulhan Arukh, we have מבתי הכומרים, which means the houses (or buildings) of the priests. I have no doubt that the the word שמשיהם is a censor’s replacement of the original הכומרים. In the first printing of the Beit Yosef, Venice 1550, the sentence quoted above appears in its entirety. Yet when the Beit Yosef was next printed, Venice 1564, the entire sentence was deleted, obviously a requirement of the censor. The Shulhan Arukh was first printed in Venice, also in 1564. It thus makes sense that the deletion of the word הכומרים is due to censorship, and it could be that it was this alteration that prevented the entire halakhah from being deleted.

Before we get to הצעירים, what is the meaning of הדורסים that appears in Orhot Hayyim and is copied in the Beit Yosef? If you look at the Ritva that the Orhot Hayyim is citing, he states:[13]

והוי יודע שגנות השעירים והדוכסים וכיוצא בהם מבתי הכומרים, אינם משמשי ע"ז ולא נויי ע"ז, ופירותיהם וכל אשר בהם מותרים בהנאה, ומותר ליטול משם לולב או שאר מינין למצוה וכן קבלנו מרבותינו ז"ל הלכה למעשה.

The first thing to notice is that instead of הצעירים we have the word השעירים. This is a clear mistake, and the editor notes that the word הצעירים appears when the passage is cited in Orhot Hayyim. Unfortunately, the editor doesn’t note that are also least two other places where in speaking about benefit from avodah zarah the Ritva refers to גנת הצעירים.[14]

The text from Ritva quoted above also has, instead of הדורסים which appears in Orhot Hayyim, another strange word, הדוכסים. This means “dukes” (or noblemen, princes, rulers, etc.) and makes no sense here since the context is avodah zarah which has nothing to do with a duke’s garden.

So we now have to explain not just what צעירים means but also דורסים or דוכסים. R. Hayyim Joseph David Azulai[15] suggests that צעירים is derived from Zechariah 13:7: והשבתי ידי על הצוערים, “And I will turn my hand upon the little ones.” It is hard to see how telling us that צוערים is related to צעירים helps us to understand the point of the Shulhan Arukh. R. Azulai also refers the reader to Rashi’s commentary on Zech. 13:7:

על הצוערים: על השלטונים הצעירים מן המלכים.

Perhaps I am missing something, but I don’t see what this passage adds other than showing us thatצוערים  and צעירים mean the same thing. Why does R. Azulai have to tell us this? The wordצעיר  is found elsewhere in the Bible, so we already know what it means.

R. Azulai’s short note also refers the reader to Abarbanel’s comment to Zech. 13:7. It is Abarbanel who will help us to understand what is going on with the word צעירים. (As R. Azulai was commenting on the Shulhan Arukh, he did not attempt to explain דורסים/דוכסים which is only found in the Beit Yosef. We shall return to this word soon.)

Abarbanel writes:

והשיבותי ידי על הצוערים שראוי שיפורש כפי זה הדרך על כומרי אדום הדורשים להם אמונתם וכזביהם והם עצמם נקראים אצלם צעירים להורות על ענוותנותם ושפלותם כי בעבור שאלה חטאו והחטיאו את אחרים בלמודם ודרושותיהם [!] אמר השם שישיב ידו ומכותם עליהם.

While this passage has nothing to do with the Shulhan Arukh, R. Azulai saw the relevance of it as Abarbanel makes the connection between צוערים and צעירים as we saw already with Rashi. Abarbanel also specifically connects this to Catholic priests, telling us that these priests would call themselves צעירים as a sign of modesty.

From this we can understand that when the Shulhan Arukh refers to gardens of the צעירים he means gardens belonging to Catholic priests. But who in particular are the צעירים? To answer this question let’s return to the Beit Yosef which referred to both צעירים and דורסים/דוכסים. As already noted, this entire passage is taken from the Orhot Hayyim.

In 1902 R. Moses Schlesinger published the second volume of the Orhot Hayyim. In the introduction he included a helpful list of all the times that the Beit Yosef cites the Orhot Hayyim. When he comes to our example, p. xv, he has a note in which he cites the great Abraham Berliner[16] that the proper reading is גנות הצעירים והדורשים. In other words, instead of דורסים/דוכסים, which appears in the Ritva and the Orhot Hayyim, it should say דורשים. When he wrote the Beit Yosef, R. Joseph Karo probably just copied the word דורסים that was in his copy of the Orhot Hayyim without knowing exactly what it meant (as its exact meaning, while of interest to historians and Seforim Blog readers, is not relevant to the underlying halakhah).[17]

So what does הצעירים והדורשים mean? Berliner explains this as well (and it was actually earlier explained by Leopold Zunz[18]). The two most important medieval Catholic orders were the Franciscans and the Dominicans. The actual name of the Franciscans is the “Order of Friars Minor.” They were often called “Little Brothers” or “Minorites.” Thus, when the Ritva and Orhot Hayyim refer to the צעירים this is just the Hebrew translation of "Minorites”, i.e., the Franciscans. As Abarbanel correctly pointed out, this term was adopted as a sign of humility.[19]

As for the דורשים, the meaning of this is obvious (after Berliner and Zunz have enlightened us). The actual name of the Dominicans is the “Order of Preachers,” so דורשים (preachers)=Dominicans. What the Ritva and Orhot Hayyim are telling us is that when it comes to the mitzvah of lulav, one can use that which grows in the gardens of the Franciscans and the Dominicans (and the same halakhah would apply to other Catholic orders. The monasteries would often have gardens and Jews would be able to purchase things from there.) 

In Nahmanides’ Disputation[20] he too refers to theצעירים  and the דורשים.

והיו שם ההגמון וכל הגלחים וחכמי הצעירים והדורשים.

In his note, R. Hayyim Dov Chavel identifies the צעירים as the Franciscans. However, he doesn’t know that the דורשים are the Dominicans, and he therefore explains that the word means הנואמים. In his English translation, Chavel writes, “Among them were the bishop [of Barcelona] and all the priests, Franciscan scholars, and preachers.”[21]

It is noteworthy that the fifteenth-century R. Solomon ben Simeon Duran, who lived in North Africa, was apparently also unaware of the meaning of צעירים, and therefore applied it to all young Catholic religious figures, not merely Franciscans. )At least, that is what I think he means, as opposed to understanding his use ofצעיריהם  to refer to young men as a whole.) After contrasting the sexual purity of the Jews with what occurs in surrounding society, he writes, in very strong words:[22]

וצעיריהם הם כולם מטונפים בעריות מנאפים עם נשי רעיהם ובאים על הזכור והטוב שבהם מוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה בידו וזה מפורסם אצלם.

4. Since in a prior post I discussed Jacob’s love of Rachel and Leah, let me share a strange interpretation I recently found, involving love and Jacob’s brother, Esau. The general understanding is that Esau loved Isaac. Indeed, it is very difficult to read the Torah and conclude differently. Therefore, I was quite surprised to find that the medieval R. Abraham Bedersi is of the opinion that, after Isaac gave Jacob the blessing intended for Esau, not only did Esau not love Isaac, but he was ready to cause his death! This would be accomplished by killing Jacob, since Isaac’s great sorrow would bring on his end. To arrive at this interpretation, Bedersi offers a novel understanding of Gen. 27:41: יקרבו ימי אבל אבי ואהרגה את יעקב אחי. The standard understanding of these words is that when the days of mourning for his father arrive, then Esau will kill Jacob. As he didn’t want to cause his father pain, he decided to wait until he was dead to kill Jacob. However, Bedersi understands ואהרגה to mean, “when I will kill Jacob” this will cause my father to die.
Here are his words from his Hotem Tokhnit:[23]
ועשו הרשע ידוע שלא היה אוהב יצחק אביו כמו שתראה שאמר יקרבו ימי אבל אבי ואהרגה את יעקב אחי וביאור נכון בו אהרגה את יעקב אחי ובאמת יקרבו ימי אבל אבי שהוא יצטער על בנו וימות.
As mentioned, this is a strange interpretation so I Iooked around to see if I could find a similar approach. I didn’t see anything in Torah Shelemah. I looked in the ArtScroll extended commentary to Genesis (not the Stone Chumash) and it does not bring any interpretations that suggest that Esau intended to cause Isaac’s death. However, the commentary states as follows:
Ralbag interprets similarly:[24] Even if it accelerates my father’s death [lit. brings near the days of mourning for my father] I nevertheless will kill my brother Jacob (cited by Tur).
I don’t know where they got this from, as Ralbag does not say what is attributed to him. All Ralbag says is that Esau wished to kill Jacob after Isaac’s death. The Tur, who was a contemporary of Ralbag, does not cite him. 
R. Abraham Bedersi’s Hotem Tokhnit focuses on Hebrew synonyms and in an era before concordances and computers would have required an enormous amount of work. It found on, but it is not on Otzar ha-Hokhmah

Among the many interesting things you will find in Hotem Tokhnit is that he says that unlike the word יהודי, the word עברי is only used in the Bible in the context of slavery, and he provides examples of this (p. 152). With this in mind, I can see why some people would prefer the term Mishpat Yehudi instead of Mishpat Ivri.
On p. 202  he quotes an otherwise unknown comment of Ibn Ezra that the meaning of the word סלה is “truth”.
כי ענין סלה אמת ונכונה ועל זה אמר אשרי יושבי ביתך עוד יהללוך סלה (תהלים פ"ד ה') באמת וביושר.
Beginning on p. 1 in the second section, there is a long letter from Samuel David Luzzatto. He refers to an unnamed scholar who could not accept that Rabad, in his comment to Hilkhot Teshuvah 3:7, would say that people greater than Maimonides thought that God had a physical form. He therefore suggested changing גדולים וטובים ממנו to גדולים וטובים מעמֵנו (tzeirei under the mem). 

Luzzatto completely rejects this point, arguing that גדולים וטובים מעמנו means people greater than our nation, i.e., non-Jews. Furthermore, he adds, where do we find Rabad, Rashi, etc. using the word עמנו to refer to the Jewish people.

On p. 2 Luzzatto records the following lines from one of Bedersi’s poems, in which one word summarizes each of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles:

נמצא כיִחודו והֶבדלו                    קדמות עבודתו נבואתו
משה ותורתו אֲנצחַ                       ידע גמול גואל בהחיותו

Luzzatto also publishes a long poem from Bedersi together with Luzzatto’s commentary, without which it would be very difficult to understand much of what Bedersi was saying. One of my favorite lines is found on p. 13:

ולא תבין שפת כל-עם בשירים        לבד טרחם, כפז על גב בעירי

What this means is that poems are difficult for the masses, of every nation and language, to understand. They regard them as a burden, much like an animal, if you place gold on its back, won’t appreciate what it is carrying. It will only feel the burden of the weight.

5. Since I mentioned Mendelssohn in the last post, let me note the following. I recently saw that Eliezer Segal, in his wonderful book, Introducing Judaism (London and New York, 2009), p. 110, uses a picture of Mendelssohn. You can see it here. (Copyright prevents me from posting the picture.) We are told that the image is from the 18th century, yet there is no doubt that this is not a picture of Mendelssohn. You can look at authentic pictures of Mendelssohn here and they look nothing like this image. Incidentally, in a student’s description of Mendelssohn’s 1777 meeting with Kant, he is described as  having a goatee.[25]
6. In a comment to my last post, Maimon wrote: “On the subject of R. Bachrach's responsum - it bears noting that the pre-reform homogeneous [should be: heterogeneous] Jewish society (especially in Germany) contained people of varying levels of observance from across the spectrum and as such many behavioral patterns that would be unthinkable in contemporary Orthodox society are detailed in the Halakhic writings from that era.” Maimon is correct, and it is not only in recent centuries or in Germany that one finds communities with people of different levels of religious observance. This is how Jewish societies have always been, in every era and place, at least until the second half of the twentieth century and the creation of haredi societies. I have already cited numerous examples that justify this statement, but let offer one more that shows how even in medieval times young men and women would socialize in a way that Maimon might say “would be unthinkable in contemporary Orthodox society.” I would only add that instead of “contemporary Orthodox society,” I prefer to say “contemporary haredi society,” since as mentioned already, Modern Orthodox society still has significant variations in level of observance. (When I speak of variations in level of observance, I have in mind bein adam la-Makom halakhot. I am not referring to halakhot having to do with monetary issues and dina de-malchuta dina, regarding which I believe the Modern Orthodox community is superior to what we find in the haredi world.)

R. Meir of Rothenburg was asked about young Jewish men and women who were drinking together. As a joke, one of the young women asked one of the men if he would betroth her. He took a ring and threw it to her, and recited the text of kiddushin. (At a future time I can discuss the halakhic arguments that R. Meir used to free the woman from having to receive a get.) One cannot overlook the fact that the way the young men and women were socializing together, much like you would find among kids at Modern Orthodox high schools, shows that there was no strict separation between the sexes. Here is the question, as it appears in Irving Agus, ed., Teshuvot Ba’alei ha-Tosafot, no. 85.

R. Meir of Rothenburg’s answer is found in She’elot u-Teshuvot Maharam mi-Rothenburg, Prague ed., no. 993.

7. Two people have asked me to comment on Rabbis Yitzchok Adlerstein's and Michael Broyde's article here arguing that hasidic schools shouldn't be forced to offer secular education. While the Seforim Blog is not the place for commenting on these sorts of matters, after reading the article I felt I had to make one point. Adlerstein and Broyde cite the famous Supreme Court case which allowed the Amish to opt out of secular education and they apply this logic to the hasidic communities. While it is true that if it went to court the hasidic communities would probably prevail, there is a big difference between the Amish and the hasidic communities. The Amish do not take welfare, food stamps, and other forms of government assistance. Thus, they make choices and live with the consequences. However, the hasidic communities refuse to provide their children with the basic skills needed to function in the modern economy, and as a result rely heavily on the welfare state. No one who believes in limited government and is opposed to the welfare state can support a situation where kids are allowed to grow up almost guaranteed to be in need of public assistance.[26] 

[1] Regarding Navarra, see Cecil Roth, “Rabbi Menahem Navarra: His Life and Times. 1717-1777,” Jewish Quarterly Review 15 (1925), pp. 427-466.
[2] Perush al Ezra ve-Nehemiah (Oxford, 1882), p. 30.
[3] Iyunim u-Mehkarim (Jerusalem, 1959), vol. 1, p. 259.
[4] Ginzei Kedem 4 (1930), p. 52. While there is no historical evidence for this explanation, it does show that the practice of using a ring for kiddushin existed already in the geonic period. For other sources from this era, see Mordechai Margaliot, ed., Ha-Hilukim bein Anshei Mizrah u-Venei Eretz Yisrael (Jerusalem, 1938), no. 25. For a very detailed discussion of use of a ring for kiddushin, see Pardes Eliezer: Erusin ve-Nisuin (Brooklyn, 2010), vol. 4, ch. 30.

Only in Yemen did the practice of using a ring not become widely accepted (though even there it was used in some places). See R. Yitzhak Ratsaby, Shulhan Arukh ha-Mekutzar, vol. 7, pp. 27-28. There is no mention of using a ring for kiddushin in the Talmud. It does, however, appear in Tikunei Zohar, nos. 5, 10 (as pointed out by R. Moses Isserles, Shulhan Arukh Even ha-Ezer 27:1), but Tikunei Zohar does not date from the tannaitic or amoraic period. The Sefer ha-Hinukh, no. 539, says that the reason we use a ring for kiddushin is so that every time the woman looks at her hand she remembers the following things (which apply to all means of kiddushin, but wearing a ring allows her to remember them).

שהיא קנויה לאותו האיש ולא תזנה תחתיו ולא תמרוד בו ותתן לו יקר והוד לעולם כעבד לאדוניו.

Regarding what I have underlined, even if today some men like being treated like that, going into a contemporary marriage expecting to get this sort of treatment is a recipe for marital disaster.

The ring for kiddushin has nothing to do with the engagement ring. I always wondered why the practice of giving a diamond engagement ring was not condemned as hukkot ha-goyim, especially by those who have an expansive understanding of this halakhah. Even if it is not halakhically forbidden, it is clearly a practice that came from non-Jewish society. How is it that people who refuse to have anything to do with things like Mother’s Day or Thanksgiving have no problem giving a diamond ring as an engagement present? R. Chaim Rapoport pointed out to me that R. Zvi Hersh Ferber of London (d. 1966) condemned the giving of engagement rings as hukkot ha-goyim. See Kerem Tzvi: Bereishit, vol. 1, p. 132.

As for wedding rings for men, R. Meir Mazuz states that there is absolutely no problem with a man wearing a ring. See Asaf ha-Mazkir, p. 194, Bayit Ne’eman, pp. 441ff. He calls attention to Shabbat 62a, וחילופיהן באיש, from which we see that this was not regarded as a problem. He also quotes Kaf ha-Hayyim 161:31 who writes (summarizing an earlier source):

דת"ח שתורתם אומנתם וכן בעלי בתים שעוסקים במו"מ ואין להם מלאכה גרועה א"צ להסיר הטבעות בשעת נט"י אע"ג דמהדקי טובא.

R. Mazuz states that on his wedding day his father, the great R. Matzliach Mazuz, gave him a ring to wear, and that in Tunisia this was the general practice, that a groom received a ring and wore it for the rest of his life. However, upon coming to Israel R. Mazuz saw that it is not accepted for talmidei hakhamim and “fearers of heaven” to wear a ring so he stopped wearing it. (This is his language in Asaf ha-Mazkir. In Bayit Ne’eman he writes that the haredim do not wear rings.) R. Mazuz adds that he does wear the ring on the night of Passover to commemorate the words of Genesis 15:14: “Afterward shall they come out with great substance.” (“Great substance” includes jewelry.)

R. Mazuz notes that in a picture of the Moroccan sage, R. Isaac Bengualid (1777-1870), author of the responsa work Va-Yomer Yitzhak, he is wearing a ring. Here is the picture.

He also mentions a picture of R. Elijah Hazan (1848-1908) of Alexandria, author of the responsa work Ta’alumot Lev, where he is wearing a ring. I have not been able to find this picture. See also here where S. has a picture of R. Bernard Illowy wearing a ring as well as a picture of R. Samson Wertheimer's wedding ring.

R. Hayyim Amselem, here (from May 5, 2105), writes very strongly against those who oppose wedding rings on religious grounds, using the opportunity to once again blast the Ashkenazic haredim.

איפה ההגיון הבריא?
הבוקר בעתון ישראל היום ובערוץ 7 מפרסמים בהבלטה ובהתפעלות פסק הלכה "חדש" המתיר ואפילו ממליץ בעידן המודרני לגברים נשואין לענוד טבעת נישואין, בעולם הדתי והחרדי, שוללים זאת כי זה "מנהג גוים", לדעתם וכו' וכו' .
מה שהם אינם יודעים שאין כאן כל חדש ובעדות הספרדים היה זה מנהג פשוט שרבים מאוד מהגברים ענדו על ידם טבעת נשואין, או טבעת בכלל ולא היה פוצה פה ומצפצף, ידועות כמה תמונות של גדולי תורה והלכה שבאצבעם טבעת כגון תמונתו של הגאון רבי יצחק בן וואליד רב ודיין בעיר תיטואן במרוקו, וכן עוד רבנים, שכך עשו מעשה, עיין בספר אסף המזכיר עמוד קצ"ד.
מה הבעיה? הבעיה היא שהרבנים האשכנזים ובעיקר החרדים, מה שהם חושבים בדעתם שזה אסור, ובמיוחד אם זה דומה להנהגה לא "חרדית" אז זה כבר אסור וחילול השם וכו' והם לא מסוגלים להכיל בסובלנות דעה אחרת, מה גם שהם בטוחים לגמרי שהתורה היא רק שלהם ואין לאחרים זולתם כלום, וכמובן ההמון הפשוט שומע ונוהה אחריהם בעינים עוורות.
גם אם תוכיח להם שאפילו בתלמוד כך משמע [עיין מסכת שבת (דף ס"ב ע"א)] לא יעזור כלום, ואם תעיז גם להביע את דעתך, אוי ואבוי אתה חולק על גדולי ישראל? אתה נגד "ההשקופע" החרדית, דמך בראשך.
איי איי איי איפה היהדות השפויה והמתונה נעלמה?

[5] Keneset ha-Gedolah, Even ha-Ezer 66, Tur no. 1.
[6] Meil Tzedakah, no. 19.
[7] In the prior post I gave examples of takanot forbidding an engaged man to enter the house of his fiancée. For another example from 1594 in Italy, see R. Solomon ha-Levi, Divrei Shlomo (Venice, 1594), p. 299a. R. Hayyim Palache mentions that in nineteenth-century Izmir they also proclaimed such a takanah. See Hayyim ve-Shalom, vol. 2, no. 89, Masa Hayyim, ma’arekhet shin, no. 124 (p. 27a). R. Elijah ha-Levi (16th century) of Constantinople, Zekan Aharon, no. 117, discusses the matter as well. He states that in his community there is no “evil practice” of having the engaged couple spend time together at her home, which leads to all the problems that have been mentioned.However, he notes that this was an old practice in some places in the Ottoman Empire, and therefore in order to prevent serious sins the rabbis instituted that at the engagement the wedding blessings were recited and the woman would also go to the mikveh at this time.

Regarding the engaged couple before the wedding, it is also worth noting that among some hasidic groups from the Chernobyl line, there is a festive meal, called a חתן מאהל, the evening before the wedding. At this time, the future bride and groom dance together using a long handkerchief or gartel. At the wedding itself, the practice in a number of hasidic groups (and not only among the Hasidim) is that the bride and groom dance together actually holding hands. See Pardes Eliezer: Erusin ve-Nisuin, vol. 5, p. 538; Ohel Moshe 6 (Kislev 5750), p. 67. Here are two examples of this from Youtube.

Regarding dancing while holding hands, I found something quite interesting in R. Joseph Hahn (d. 1637), Yosif Ometz (Frankfurt, 1928), p. 344:

המספר מעות לאשה כדי להסתכל בה אף על פי שמלא תורה ומעשים לא ינקה מדינה של גיהנם וכל שכן הנוגע בידה ממש, ובמחול של מצוה המדקדקים כורכים סביבות ידיהם בגד שקורין וטשינלן, ואם יודע בעצמו בודאות שלא יבא לידי הרהור שרי.

R. Hahn tells us that during a Mitzvah dance, when there are men and women dancing together, those who are careful about halakhah would wear a type of glove. This means that even if they held hands with a woman they would not touch her skin. R. Hahn says that one who knows that he will not be driven to sexual thoughts is permitted to do this.

R. Ezekiel Feivel, Toldot Adam (Jerusalem, 1987), ch. 15 (p. 215), says that R. Shlomo Zalman of Vilna (the brother of R. Hayyim of Volozhin) used to dance with brides holding their hand. A handkerchief or something other covering ensured that he didn't touch their skin::

אחז ביד החתן ודבר עמו דברי תורה אשר זורו במזור האמת והאמונה . . . אחר כן רקד עם הכלה אחוזי יד על ידי מטפחת בנועם לב ופנים מאירות ובסדר מתוקן ונעים מאד.

R. Abraham Hayyim Schorr, Torat Hayyim: Avodah Zarah 17a, was very opposed to this practice of holding the bride’s hand, even if separated by something like a handkerchief, which he says was done by some talmidei hakhamim. (He means actually holding hands with the handkerchief ensuring that skin does not touch. He is not referring to when the man and woman each hold a different end of the handkerchief. See R. Yosef Rapoport’s letter in Or Yisrael 24 [Tamuz 5761], p. 245.)

ונר' דאסו' ללכת במחול עם הכלה בשבעת ימי המשתה אפי' אינו אוחז בידה ממש אלא בהפסק מטפחת כדרך שנוהגין מקצת ת"ח שבדור הזה אפ"ה לאו שפיר עבדי.

I will deal with the larger issue of mixed dancing, and the rabbinic responses, in a future post.

Regarding R. Shlomo Zalman covering his hands, we are told that he never touched the pages of a sefer with his bare hands. He always turned the pages while wearing gloves or with a handkerchief. One time he didn't have either with him, and he turned the pages with his lips. See Toldot Adam, p. 214.

We are also told that when he slept he wore gloves in order that his bare hands not touch his body. This way when he woke up he could start studying Torah immediately without washing his hands, so careful was he not to waste even a moment away from Torah study. See Toldot Adam, p. 218. This approach of R. Shlomo Zalman ignores the main reason offered for washing in the morning, namely, that it is to remove the ruah ra'ah. Therefore, R. Hayyim Eleazar Shapira could not believe that the story of R. Shlomo Zalman wearing gloves was true. See Nimukei Orah Hayyim, 4:1

על כן אין להאמין על אותו צדיק טעות ומעשה כזה
See also R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yabia Omer, vol. 4, Orah Hayyim no. 2:8-9; and R. Moshe Yehudah Leib Rabinovich's letter at the beginning of R. Zev Zicherman, Otzar Pelaot ha-Torah, vol. 1 (Brooklyn, 2014)..
[8] Ed. Spitzer (Jerusalem, 1989), p. 464.
[9] See Yaakov Yisrael Stall’s note in R. Judah he-Hasid, Sefer ha-Gematriot (Jerusalem, 2005), p. 309 n. 71. (R. Judah he-Hasid states that the groom would lift up his future bride.)
[10] Sefer Maharil, p. 465.
[11] Har Tavor (Pressburg, 1861), p. 33b. Regarding the age of Jewish brides in medieval times, See Avraham Grossman, Hasidot u-Mordot (Jerusalem, 2001), ch. 2. He makes the following interesting point (Pious and Rebellious, trans. Jonathan Chipman [Waltham, 2004], pp. 47-48):
The phenomenon of beating wives may also have been exacerbated by marriage of girls at an early age. The fact that at times the wife was extremely young led the husband to relate to her as he would to his own daughter. This was particularly true in those places where young girls were married to husbands significantly older than themselves, which was, as we have seen, a common phenomenon in Jewish society, and particularly in Muslim countries. Moreover, it may well be that the beating of the wife, which was a part of the life of the young couple, also continued thereafter.
[12] R. Yihye Moses Abudi, Magen Ba’adi (Jerusalem, 1904), vol. 2, p. 30b, also doesn’t know what the word means. What he thinks is the obvious meaning is, as we will soon see, mistaken.

ול"נ פשוט כיון שהם קורין לה גנות הגדולים אנו מכנים להם שם לגנאי לקרות להם גנות הצעירים.

[13] Hiddushei ha-Ritva: Sukkah 29b, Mossad ha-Rav Kook ed., cols. 278-279.
[14] Hiddushei ha-Ritva: Avodah Zarah 51b, Mossad ha-Rav Kook ed., col. 259; Hiddushei ha-Ritva: Rosh ha-Shanah 28a, Mossad ha-Rav Kook ed., col. 264.
[15] Birkei Yosef, Orah Hayyim 649:3. R. Moses Sofer also refers to Zech. 13:7. See the Makhon Yerushalayim ed. of Shulhan Arukh, ad loc.
[16] Abraham Berliner was an outstanding representative of German Orthodoxy. He was a member of R. Azriel Hildesheimer’s separatist Orthodox community, and he taught for many years at the Rabbinical Seminary of Berlin. Nevertheless, the annual Yerushatenu, which is devoted to the study of all aspects of German rabbinic history, prayers, customs, etc., saw fit to publish a letter which attacks Berliner and places him in what the letter-writer regards as the “anti-Torah” camp. See Yerushatenu 3 (2009), p. 396. This was an unfortunate lapse in judgment by the editors of what is otherwise a fabulous publication. The editors intended to show their open-mindedness by publishing even the nonsense of an extremist, but the job of the editors is to ensure the high quality of their publication, and this means that they have to reject that which is unsuitable.
[17] Unfortunately, the Makhon Yerushalayim edition of the Beit Yosef simply points out that instead of דורסים the text should perhaps read דוכסים. In other words, the editors were unaware that דורשים is the correct reading. Hopefully, in the next printing they will correct this matter. If they do so, based on this post, it will be my second “contribution” to this magnificent edition. Here is the Makhon Yerushalayim TurEven ha-Ezer 173, p. 539.

In note 3 at the bottom of the page it refers to a קושיא גדולה printed in the journal Or Torah in 1992 (Heshvan 5753, no. 23). This was a question I asked R. Meir Mazuz and he replied that instead of ונשא בתו the text should apparently read ונשא בת אשתו .
[18] Zur Geschichte und Literatur (Berlin, 1845), p. 181.
[19] In his defense of R. Moses Hayyim Luzzatto and his circle, R. Jacob Hazak uses the phrase גנות הצעירים to make a nice melitzah. See Iggerot Ramhal u-Venei Doro, ed., Shriki (Jerusalem, 2008), p. 357:

ואל יחשבו אותנו כמורדים וכפושעים ח"ו, וכל מי שתורת אלקיו בקרבו, ואהבתו ית' גברה בו, ילבש בגדי קנאה ולא ישמע גנ"ות הצעירים.

[20] Kitvei Rabbenu Moshe ben Nahman, ed. Chavel, vol. 1, p. 308.
[21] Ramban: Writings and Discourses (New York, 1978), vol. 2, p. 668.
[22] Milhemet Mitzvah (Leipzig, 1855), p. 14.
[23] (Amsterdam, 1865), p. 16.
[24] The word “similarly” makes no sense here, as the commentary does not previously cite an interpretation similar to the one given by “Ralbag.”
[25] See Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz, eds., The Jew in the Modern World (Oxford, 1995), p. 61.
[26] According to the last census, Kiryas Joel has a higher percentage of residents receiving food stamps than any other city or town in the entire country. See here. The taxpayer should never be required to subsidize communities when the poverty is self-imposed.


Aryeh Shore said...

Since you mentioned the Arbarbanel, you must have noted his bringing a robust defence of concubines and how the concept of כלה בלא ברכה אסורה לבעלה כנדה
has its limitations.

cm said...

Re the claim of the Hotem Tokhnit that "the word עברי is only used in the Bible in the context of slavery" - how does he explain verses such as ויבא הפליט ויגד לאברם העברי (Gen. 14:13) as well as Yona's statement, עברי אנכי?

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