Friday, June 06, 2014

The Pew Report and the Orthodox Community (and Other Assorted Comments), part 1

The Pew Report and the Orthodox Community (and Other Assorted Comments), part 1
Marc B. Shapiro

1. Here is a short piece I wrote a right after the appearance of the Pew Report. (The endnote is not part of the original article.)

There has been a great deal of discussion in the wake of the recent release of the Pew Research Center’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans.” Some have focused on the report’s evidence of increasing intermarriage and lack of any Jewish connection of many in the younger generation. Others have zeroed in on some of the survey’s anomalies and results that are simply not correct. For example, the survey informs us that 1% of Ultra-Orthodox Jews had a Christmas tree last year. I would be willing to bet that in the entire world there isn’t even one Ultra-Orthodox Jew with a Christmas tree, and 1% means at least a few thousand Ultra Orthodox households have Christmas trees. After adding in the Modern Orthodox, we are told that 4% of Orthodox Jews have Christmas trees. Being that the survey places the Orthodox at 10% of the Jewish population, and also tells us that there are 5.3 million adult Jews (another one the survey’s surprises), this leads to the result that more than 21,000 adult Orthodox Jews have Christmas trees in their homes.

Since these results are not just improbable, but impossible, it raises the general question of how reliable the survey is when it comes to the Orthodox. Can anyone believe the survey when it tells us that in the 18-29 age bracket the Modern Orthodox only account for 1% of the country’s Jews while the Ultra-Orthodox account for 9%, or that in the 30-49 age bracket, the Modern Orthodox are 3% and the Ultra Orthodox 10%. We are also are told that 24% of Ultra-Orthodox Jews handle money on Shabbat but only 19 percent of Modern Orthodox Jews do so. (Who was it that said the Ultra-Orthodox are frummer than the Modern Orthodox?!)

When you read results like these you can only wonder what went wrong, and I hope we get some explanation as to how such results were generated. (Professor Jonathan Sarna has written to me that all surveys have absurd results for various reasons, and “one is to look at broad trends and ignore absurdities.”) Perhaps there was confusion about the way the questions were asked. Such confusion is the only way I can explain that only 64% of the Ultra-Orthodox agree that a person can be Jewish if he works on the Sabbath. The truth is that every Ultra-Orthodox Jew knows that a person who works on the Sabbath is still Jewish (albeit a sinning Jew). I presume that those who answered “no” to the question understood it to be asking if one can be a “good Jew” and work on the Sabbath. (In case anyone has been wondering, I use the term “Ultra-Orthodox” since that is what the survey uses. I don’t know why no one told the survey directors that this term is no longer regarded as appropriate.)

The sort of anomalies I have mentioned appear to be confined to matters of religious life, and other areas seem more believable. For example, we are told that 37% of Modern Orthodox households have incomes in excess of $150,000, which places them in the top ten percent of Americans. This strikes me as on the mark and illustrates one of the great problems with Modern Orthodoxy in the United States. Anyone who has been to Israel knows that there are non-haredi Orthodox Jews in all areas of life. You see men with kippot who are bus drivers, security guards, and doing every other job imaginable. Yet in the United States, Modern Orthodoxy has become largely an upper middle class phenomenon. The cost of a Modern Orthodox lifestyle, which includes expensive schools and camps, is simply beyond most people’s reach. I believe that this cost is a major reason why the Modern Orthodox camp has not picked up much in the way of ba’alei teshuvah.[1]

I have no doubt that many of the non-Orthodox admire the Modern Orthodox lifestyle, and would be willing to try it out, before learning the cost. Many non-Orthodox would also be happy to send their kids to Modern Orthodox schools, but they are not going to sacrifice a middle class lifestyle for this. Those who grow up Modern Orthodox and remain in the community are prepared to make the financial sacrifices (as well as limiting how many children they have). But for those who are not part of the community, the entry fee is simply too high. Needless to say, there are also those among the Modern Orthodox who drift away because of the financial cost, and this drifting often begin when the first child is enrolled in public school. As I see it, the financial burden is the great Achilles’ heel of Modern Orthodoxy, and what prevents it from any real growth. By the same token, those of us in the Modern Orthodox world must recognize that one of the great strengths of the haredi community is that there is room in it for everyone, from the wealthy real estate developer to the blue-collar worker. If, as so many predict, the future of American Orthodoxy is with the haredim, money (or lack of it) will play an important role in this story.

* * * * * *

The Pew Report reported very high levels of intermarriage in the Jewish community.[2] Yet even among those who would never dream of intermarrying, we know that some engage in sexual relations with non-Jews. There is an interesting responsum in this regard by the late R. Moshe Stern, the Debrecener Rav, Be’er Moshe, vol. 4 no. 141.

R. Stern testifies to receiving numerous questions regarding this matter by the very people engaged in such behavior. For those who don’t know anything about R. Stern and who asked him questions, I can tell you that these were definitely not Modern Orthodox people or members of the Lithuanian yeshiva world.[3]

This volume of Be’er Moshe was reprinted in 1984 without any changes. However, sometime after that the volume was reprinted again. There is no indication of when this took place, as the title page is the same as the 1984 edition. (Presumably, the reprint was after R. Stern’s passing in the summer of 1997.)

Someone called my attention to how the responsum appears in this most recent reprint.

The censorship of this responsum can only have one purpose, namely, so that people don’t learn about how some members of R. Stern’s community (the Hungarian hasidic world) are having sexual relations with non-Jewish women.

What is the remedy for these men who are intimate with non-Jewish women? Repentance, of course. Yet there is a very strange opinion as to how to go about this repentance. R. Solomon Ephraim Luntshitz, in his Keli Yekar[4] to Numbers 19:21, says something which is so “out of the box” that I am shocked that it has not yet been censored from the Mikraot Gedolot. (Yes, I realize that it is just a matter of time.)

R. Luntshitz is discussing the statement in Yoma 86b: “How is one proved a repentant sinner? Rav Judah said: If the object which caused his original transgression comes before him on two occasions, and he keeps away from it. Rav Judah indicated: With the same woman, at the same time, in the same place.” In context, this means only what it says, but not that someone should actually put himself in this situation. Yet this is exactly the lesson R. Luntshitz derives.

He refers to Berakhot 34b, “In the place where penitents stand even the wholly righteous cannot stand.” R. Luntschitz cites an opinion that the ba’al teshuvah (penitent) of a sexual sin has to put himself in the exact same situation as he was before, that is, to be alone with the very same woman and overcome his inclination. This is not permitted to one who is “wholly righteous” since he is forbidden to put himself in this situation. But the penitent needs to do this in order for his repentance to be complete, and this explains how a wholly righteous one cannot stand where the penitent stands, since the penitent has to put himself in a situation that would be forbidden for the righteous one. R. Luntshitz explains that the very act of repentance, i.e., being alone with the woman, “makes the pure [the tzaddik] impure and the impure [the sinner] pure.”

This is a strange passage for any number of reasons, not least of which that the action of being alone with the woman is itself sinful, even if it never leads to any sexual activity. Yet R. Luntshitz tells us that in this case we have an exception, and true repentance requires intentionally putting oneself in the exact same situation one was beforehand and this time overcoming one’s inclination. Of course, there is no guarantee that the person will emerge successfully from this self-imposed test. R. Israel Isserlein reports such an occurrence, where an individual put himself in this situation in order to achieve proper repentance, but ended up sinning again![5] Sefer Hasidim earlier warned against falling into precisely this trap.[6]

R. Luntschitz’s point is also found in his Olelot Ephraim, vol. 2, no. 228, showing that he was entirely convinced of his position.

R. Luntschitz was the rabbi of Prague, yet a later incumbent of this position, R. Ezekiel Landau, strongly rejects R. Luntschitz’s point. He acknowledges that many shared R. Luntschitz’s error, which I think is interesting since I can’t imagine anyone having such an opinion today.[7] R. Landau doesn’t tell us who else advocated R. Luntschitz’s view, but R. Mordechai Harris,[8] R. Dovid Yoel Weiss,[9] R. Yaakov Levi,[10] and Nahum Rakover[11] provide sources. Among these sources are R. Joseph ben Judah Loeb Jacob, Rav Yevi (Netanya, 2012), to Psalms 36:3, who quotes the Baal Shem Tov as offering the same approach as R. Luntschitz.

Jewish men getting together with non-Jewish women is, of course, not a new thing. The Talmud, Sanhedrin 82a, already refers to this possibility with regard to Torah scholars (!), concluding: “If he is a scholar, he shall have no awakening [i.e., teaching] among the sages and none responding among the disciples.”[12] Avodah Zarah 69b-70a deals with the status of kosher wine on the table when Jewish men are sitting together with a non-Jewish prostitute. Yom Tov Assis, in his article “Sexual Behaviour in Mediaeval Hispano-Jewish Society,”[13] discusses the situation in Spain where it was not uncommon for Jews to have non-Jewish mistresses.[14] Avraham Grossman also deals with this matter and his discussion includes other parts of medieval Europe as well.[15]

In R. Judah ben Asher’s responsa (Zikhron Yehudah, no. 91), we are told about the problem of Jews having sex with their non-Jewish slave girls (and also having impregnating them). A few centuries later, R. David Ibn Zimra testifies that there were men, learned in Torah, who even thought it was permissible for them to have sex with their slaves.[16]

The fact that the prohibition on occasional sexual relations (דרך זנות) with non-Jewish women is only rabbinic[17] no doubt contributed to many not taking it very seriously.[18] Maimonides, Hilkhot Issurei Biah 12:2, writes:

אבל הבא על הגויה דרך זנות מכין אותו מכת מרדות מדברי סופרים גזירה שמא יבוא להתחתן. ואם ייחדה לו בזנות חייב עליה משום נידה, ומשום שפחה, ומשום גויה, ומשום זונה. ואם לא ייחדה לו אלא נקרית מקרה אינו חייב אלא משום גויה. וכל חיובין אלו מדבריהן.

R. Moses Isserles [19] even mentions the view of the Tur that intermarriage itself (דרך אישות) is only a rabbinic prohibition.[20] The Bah explains the Tur’s view, Even ha-Ezer 16, as follows, leaving no doubt as to the matter:

אבל בשאר אומות . . . אין בהן איסור כלל מן התורה ואפילו בא עליהן דרך אישות אלא גזירה דרבנן.

This approach, incidentally, could explain how Esther married Ahasuerus, as the prohibition on intermarriage was not yet established.

Maimonides disagrees with the Tur and assumes that there is a biblical prohibition to marry any non-Jew (דרך חתנות), not simply the seven Canaanite nations. Therefore, he claims that Solomon converted all the women he married.[21] However, R. Raphael Berdugo disagrees, and states that there was no halakhic problem with Solomon marrying these women without converting them.[22] This leads him to discuss the story of Pinhas killing Zimri and the whole concept of kana’in pog’in bo. R. Berdugo explains that kana’in pog’in bo only applies when dealing with sexual relations that are public, promiscuous, and the woman is an idolator.[23]

ולא אמרו קנאין פוגעין בו אלא דרך הפקר ועובדת ע"ז ובפרהסיא.

According to R. Berdugo, following the Tur, Jews who are married to non-Jews are only violating a rabbinic prohibition. I mention this since I recently met someone who thought that in messianic days intermarried Jews will be subject to kana’in pog’in bo. I originally thought that this was a clear error. If you look at Maimonides’ formulation, Hilkhot Issurei Biah 12:4, you find that contrary to R. Berdugo he indeed includes all non-Jews, not just idolators, as subject to kana’in pog’in bo. (And see his very strong words against Jewish-Gentile sexual relations in Hilkhot Issure Biah 12:6-7.) Yet he is just as explicit that the sexual intercourse has to be public, just like with Zimri.

כל הבועל גויה בין דרך חתנות בין דרך זנות אם בעלה בפרהסיא, והוא שיבעול לעיני עשרה מישראל.

Based on this, it was clear to me that according that according to Maimonides (following Avodah Zarah 36b) an intermarried Jew is not subject to kana’in pog’in bo, as living together is not the same thing as שיבעול לעיני עשרה. Even if one were to reject this point, in the very next halakhah Maimonides states:

ואין הקנאי רשאי לפגוע בהם אלא בשעת מעשה כזמרי . . . אבל אם פירש אין הורגין אותו.

This means that the act of zealotry must take place during the actual sexual act, or at least this is what I thought. But when I investigated a bit I learnt that while my understanding is shared by many, there are also many who assume otherwise. For example, the always interesting R. Shemariah Menasheh Adler states that an intermarried man is indeed subject to kana’in pog’in bo.[24] He claims that Maimonides’ statement just quoted only refers to one who is engaged in an act of promiscuous sex in public. With such a man he can only be killed in the act, but Maimonides is not referring here to a man who is publicly living with a non-Jew. In such a case, R. Adler claims, there is no need for the zealotry to be בשעת מעשה. As for Maimonides’ explicit words כל הבועל גויה בין דרך חתנות R. Adler claims that this only refers to the first act of marital sexual intercourse, and that it needs to be in public for kana’in pog’in bo to be applicable, but not once they have already established a home and are living together. R. Adler also quotes R. Solomon Kluger[25] as agreeing with his basic point, and I have found others as well.[26]

We have seen lots of strange stuff in recent years. Is it only a matter of time before someone disgusted with the high rate of intermarriage decides to act the part of kana’in pog’in bo?

It is also worth noting that most commentators and halakhists assume that kana’in pog’in bo only applies when there is a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman, not the reverse. Despite this, we indeed have some examples in Jewish history of “honor killings”. For example, in 1311 a Jewish woman who married a Christian and became pregnant was killed by her brothers.[27]

In 1557 an Italian Jew killed his sister because her alleged sexual activity embarrassed the family. Elliot Horowitz, who mentions this case, adds: “Azariah Finzi, the girl’s father, saw fit to defend this action by his only son, asserting that it was ‘inappropriate for one calling himself a Jew, especially a member of one of the best families, to suffer a veil of shame upon his face, being mocked by all who see him for the blemish attached to his family’s reputation.’”[28]

In Teshuvot Hagahot Maimoniyot to Sefer Nashim, no. 25 (found in the standard printings of the Mishneh Torah), there is a responsum which describes how a woman cheated on her husband, apparently with a local non-Jew, and became pregnant. According to her father, she also killed her baby (“the mamzer”[29]) after it was born. Her father, worried that she would apostatize, asked, indeed pleaded with, the local rabbis to permit him to kill his daughter by drowning her in the river. The rabbis turned the request down.

בא אביה של שרה לפני שנים ממנו החתומים למטה ובא לימלך בנו להורות לו אם מותר להרוג בתו לטובעה בנהר ולאבדה מן העולם . . . [אמר אביה] אני מבקשכם בכל מיני תחינה שתתירו לי להורגה.

The case is actually quite sad since she was probably a teenager in over her head. The responsum describes how she would run away from home but her mother would convince her to come back. When her father rebuked her for her behavior, her reply was, “I am not the first woman who did something bad.”

R. Asher Ben Jehiel, She'elot u-Teshuvot ha-Rosh 18:13, deals with a case of a woman who was intimate with a non-Jew and became pregnant from him. R. Asher affirms the local rabbi's decision to cut off her nose. (See also R. Matityahu Strashun, Mivhar Ketavim [Jerusalem, 1969], p. 158 n. 3.)

Also relevant is a very strange story recorded in Ta’anit 24a. It begins by telling us that R. Yose ben Abin left his teacher, R. Yose of Yokeret. His reason was, “How could the man who showed no mercy to his son and daughter show mercy to me?” Let’s leave aside the story of R. Yose of Yokeret and his son. Here is what the Talmud records about him and his daughter.

He had a beautiful daughter. One day he saw a man boring a hole in the fence so that he might catch a glimpse of her. He said to the man, "What is [the meaning of] this?” The man answered: "Master, if I am not worthy enough to marry her, may I not at least be worthy to catch a glimpse of her?" Thereupon he exclaimed: "My daughter, you are a source of trouble to mankind, return to the dust so that men may not sin because of you."

Although he did not physically kill his daughter, he did express the wish that she die (according to some it was an actual curse), and in the opinion of many commentators this is exactly what happened (see Hagahot ha-Bah, ad loc.). What makes this text so shocking is that the daughter was entirely innocent of any improper behavior. In other words, it was her very existence as a beautiful woman that created the problem, and as such it was better that she simply exit this world before any more men were led into sinful thoughts. I see no way that this story can be brought into line with mainstream rabbinic thought, despite many attempts to do so.[30] (At a future time I can present some lessons that contemporary moralists have derived from this story, which also are quite shocking.)

Returning to the matter of Jewish-Gentile sexual relations, while the Shulhan Arukh, Even ha-Ezer 16:1, following Maimonides, Hilkhot Issurei Biah 12:2, tells us that occasional sexual relations (i.e., no marital relationship) with a non-Jewish woman is only rabbinically prohibited,[31] R. Nissim of Gerona disagrees. Yet if we are indeed dealing with a Torah prohibition then what does the Talmud[32] mean when it states that the Hasmonean Beit Din decreed against sex with a non-Jewish woman? If it was already forbidden according to the Torah, there would be no need for such a decree.

R. Nissim suggests that the Hasmonean Beit Din’s decree was designed to add an additional penalty onto an already existing prohibition. It is not that occasional sex with a non-Jewish woman was banned by the Hasmonean Beit Din, but they merely added the penalty of lashes. The reason for this, R. Nissim points out, is that sometimes people are not concerned about heavenly punishments like karet, but they are concerned with an earthly punishment.[33]

Yet this is a minority view, and the standard approach is that there is no biblical prohibition on occasional private sex with a non-Jewish woman. Here is how the Encylopedia Talmudit sums up the matter[34]:

הבא על הגויה דרך זנות, איסורו מדברי סופרים, גזרה שמא יבוא להתחתן.

(In case people are wondering, I don’t think that this is the sort of information that should be spread among the masses, precisely because that some people might decide that violating a rabbinic prohibition is not such a big deal.)

I keep stressing Jewish men and non-Jewish women, since the situation of Jewish women and non-Jewish men has its own issues that should be postponed to another post. But with regard to Jewish women who are intermarried, let me note that according to R. Ovadiah Yosef, such a woman should be told to go to the mikveh. He also adds that she should not tell the mikveh lady about her situation (I assume because she might then be refused entry).[35]

To be continued.

* * * * * *

In an earlier post here I mentioned some of the shocking things said by R. Chaim Kanievsky about R. Shmuel Auerbach. Someone asked me if I could put together a list of the harshest things said by Torah scholars about their contemporaries. This would be an interesting project, and we can also find some very harsh things in this regard in talmudic and midrashic literature. I must stress, however, that often these shocking (to our ears) statements are not as harsh as they sound, since they were not meant to be taken literally. Some rabbis use figures of speech that everyone understands are simply part of a literary genre.

Here is one such example. R. Abba Mari of Lunel, in his attack against the Jewish rationalists, tells us that if he had the power he would do as follows to his opponent[36]:

אקרע סגור לבו להיות בדמו ממרס.

This means “I will cut open his heart so as to stir his blood.” I am sure people in medieval times would also be offended by such a statement. Yet its meaning then was far removed from what it would mean today, and if any of our contemporaries spoke like this we would assume he needed to be institutionalized.

After reading the post, some also wrote to me to express dissatisfaction with the rabbinic leadership in the haredi world. Contrary to what some think, this sort of feeling is not new, and in every generation people have been disappointed with the rabbinic greats. Here, for example, is what appears in the anonymous letter printed at the beginning of R. Mordechai Benet’s Parashat Mordechai.

ואף הגדולים וחכימי דרא לא משגיחים רק לעצמם בלחודוהי לזכות עצמם בלחוד אבל לא לזכות דרא לעורר תשובה בעלמא.

Finally, a couple of people corresponded with me regarding the stories of great rabbis who had totally sublimated their emotions. There are other stories that could be told of rabbis who were not even (at least outwardly) emotionally affected by the death of a child. This is sometimes held up as an example of piety and acceptance of God’s decree. Yet R. David Ibn Zimra (Radbaz) had an entirely different perspective.[37] Regarding one of the “gedolei ha-dor” who when his son died did not shed a tear, Radbaz was asked if this is a good characteristic or not. In his reply, Radbaz does not mince words about how wrong this is, seeing such “piety” as cruel, un-Jewish, and evidence of a psychological problem (to use a modern formulation):

זו מדה רעה מורה על קושי הלב ועל רוע תכונת הנפש והיא מדת אכזריות והוא דרך הפילוסופים האומרים כי זה העולם הכל הוא מעשה תעתועים

[1] Alan Brill has recently written as follows:

Centrism requires its members to live in the top six percent of U.S. income. The community is known for kitsch engagements and weddings, and other signs of conspicuous consumption in the name of religion. In the face of the recent economic downturn many will remain in the community and follow whatever guarantees survival in suburbia.

“The Emerging Popular Culture and the Centrist Community,” in Yehuda Sarna, ed., Developing a Jewish Perspective on Culture (New York, 2014), p. 30. As with everything else Brill writes, this essay is well worth reading. On this same page he refers to the fact, noted by others, that for most Centrist Orthodox Jews, their Orthodoxy has nothing to do with doctrine but is about lifestyle and family values.

Being Orthodox is about family on Shabbat, shiva calls, hospital visits, sharing simchas, and helping others. They consider the warmth of the community as their Orthodox Judaism, yet are oblivious to doctrine and practice demarcations. . . . Many define faith as “everyday morality” rather than institutional commitment or theological Orthodoxy. 

I would add that not only is this not new, I believe it is how traditional Judaism has always functioned and is applicable to much of the haredi world as well. In other words, many in the Orthodox world would agree with the Reconstructionist saying, "Belonging is more important than believing." See Mel Scult, The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan (Bloomington, 2014), p. xiii.

From Brill’s article I learnt that Aish Hatorah put on a recent Purim megilah reading “that featured as emcee and guests of honor the non-Jewish Chris Noth, who played Mr. Big on Sex and the City, and Snooki, of the MTV show Jersey Shore.” See also here. Brill uses this example, and others, to show the influence of contemporary culture.

I am fascinated by how the haredi world tolerates this sort of thing in the name of kiruv. I personally am very turned off by this, but am apparently in the minority. When I told a couple of twenty-somethings that I think that the following Aish video, with almost three millions hits, makes a mockery of what Yom ha-Din is all about, they thought I was simply out of touch. Yet as I noted to them, contrary to the implication of the video, Rosh ha-Shanah is indeed about spending the day in synagogue in prayer, not about having fun and breakdancing to non-Jewish music.

[2] See my earlier discussions of intermarriage here and here.

Regarding another type of “intermarriage”, see Francesca Trivellato, The Familiarity of Strangers (New Haven, 2009), p. 94, that Sephardim in seventeenth-century Amsterdam were forbidden by their community to marry Ashkenazim. (Poor Sephardim were also given a higher charity subsidy than Ashkenazim.)
[3] See Be’er Moshe, vol. 4, no. 146:26-27, where R. Stern speaks very strongly against the practice in Boro Park and Willamsburg of  men and women going for walks on Shabbat on Yom Tov, as this leads to a mingling of the sexes.
[4] For some reason the title of this commentary is almost always written as Keli Yakar, yet the second word should be Yekar, as appears in Prov. 20:15.
[5] Leket Yosher, ed. Kinarti (Jerusalem, 2010), Hilkhot Yom ha-Kippurim, p. 304.
[6] Sefer Hasidim, ed. Margaliyot, no. 167. While preparing my Torah in Motion classes on R. Joseph Hayyim I found a strange passage in his Ben YehoyadaSotah 36b. Although the Talmud, ibid., records the view that Joseph intended to sin with Potiphar’s wife, R. Joseph Hayyim says that this is not to be taken literally. Rather, Joseph’s intention was to inflame his lust for her so that would then be able to overcome it which would be a great spiritual victory. He says the same thing about King David and Abigail. Although the simple meaning of the Talmud, Megillah 14b, is that David wished to have sex with her, R. Joseph Hayyim states that here, too, all David wished was to arouse his lust in order to then overcome it.

וכן היה הענין אצל דוד הע"ה, בענין אביגיל כשתבע אותה דודאי חלילה לנו לחשוב על אותו צדיק אשר לבו חלל בקרבו, שביקש לחטוא בא"א, אלא כוונתו היתה לעורר התאוה בקרבו, ולהעביר אש החשק בלבבו, כדי שבעת שיגיע לנקודת המעשה ינתק עבותות התאוה, ויכבה אש החשק כרגע, ויחדל ויפרוש מעשות רע

(R. Luntshitz, in the passage from Keli Yekar I cited, specifically states that only one who has already sinned in such a fashion and is engaged in repentance can put himself in this situation, but a tzaddik is absolutely forbidden to do so).

R. Joseph Hayyim’s comment reminds me of the notion that one who has not sinned, and thus has nothing to repent for, should purposely commit a sin. This will then allow him to fulfill the mitzvah of teshuvah, which he would otherwise not be able to do. In a future post I will discuss this.

Regarding King David, I found something quite strange in Etan Levine, Marital Relations in Ancient Judaism (Wiesbaden, 2009), p. 129. Levine writes: “And though the sages hardly regarded extramarital affairs as meritorious, their antipathy to divorce led some of them to opine that extra-marital relations with an unattached, sexually-permitted female was preferable to terminating a marriage.” This might be true, but no valid source is cited to support this idea.. In his note to the quoted passage, Levine writes: “King David’s case was interpreted as proof: it was to prevent his divorcing any of the 18 wives permitted to a king that he was allowed to sexually tryst (יחוד) with Abishag without marrying her (I Ki. 1:1f.). See the Babylonian-born Simeon bar Abba (d. ca. 310CE), a disciple of Rabbi Johanan whose homily he cites in Tb Sanhedrin 22a.” To begin with, R. Shaman (שמן) bar Abba is not quoting R. Johanan in Sanhedrin 22a. What he says is that the fact that David was permitted yihud with Abishag shows how much divorce was disapproved of, for otherwise he would have divorced one of his wives and married Abishag. But where does Levine get the notion that yihud means “sexually tryst.” The Bible itself (!) is explicit that David “knew her not.”
[7] Derushei ha-Tzelah (Warsaw, 1886), derush 1, no. 11.
[8] Yad Mordechai (Jerusalem, 1955), pp. 43-44.
[9] Megadim Hadashim: Berakhot (Jerusalem, 2008), pp. 360-361.
[10] Gan Naul (n.p., 2009), pp. 108ff.
[11] Takanat ha-Shavim (Jerusalem, 2007), pp. 588ff., 595ff.
[12] The Talmud’s teaching (quoted by Shulhan Arukh, Even ha-Ezer 16:2) is very clear, and events of recent years have shown us that even Torah scholars are not immune to such behavior. Yet I can’t say I was surprised to find that even these clear words are distorted. R. Gedalyah Axelrod, Migdal Tzofim, p. 148 (parashat Pinhas), states that the Talmud and Shulhan Arukh couldn’t really mean that a Torah scholar might have sexual relations with a non-Jew. Therefore, he explains that they really mean that the Torah scholar causes others to do so, by performing fraudulent conversions, and these “converted” women (who are still halakhically non-Jewish) then marry Jews. This is very nice darshanut, but how can anyone take this seriously as an actual explanation of the Talmud and Shulhan Arukh? The Maharal knew better, and in Derekh Hayyim 4:4 he gives the following example:

עשרה תלמידי חכמים יושבים ואחד נכנס לבית זונות ולא נודע איזה שזה מחלל שם שמים בסתר.

See also R. Hayyim Vital, Sefer ha-Hezyonot, ed. Eshkoli (Jerusalem, 1954), p. 33:

ליל שבת שעברה שכב תלמיד חכם הנקרא בעדת הספרדים "חכם" עם גויה אחת 

[13] In Ada Rapoport-Albert and Steven J. Zipperstein, ed., Jewish History: Essays in Honour of Chimen Abramsky (London, 1988), pp. 25-59.
[14] See Sefer Hasidim, ed. Margaliyot, no. 701, that the level of Jewish sexual morality will mirror what appears in society at large.

כמו שמנהג הנכרים כן מנהגי היהודים ברוב מקומות כגון אם הנכרים גדורים בעריות כך יהיו בני היהודים הנולדים באותה עיר.

See also R. Solomon Ben Adret, She’elot u-Teshuvot ha-Rashba, vol. 1, no. 1209:
ובנות ישראל צנועות הן אלא שהדור מנוולתן.

I was surprised to see Michael Satlow write: “There is no rabbinic law against intercourse with a prostitute.” Tasting the Dish: Rabbinic Rhetorics of Sexuality (Atlanta 1995), p. 166. This is incorrect, as Sanhedrin 82a explicitly states:

בית דינו של חשמונאי גזרו הבא על הכותית [ס"א הגויה] חייב עליה משום נדה שפחה וכו'

See also Geoffrey Alderman’s article, “It is Not a Sin to Visit a Prostitute,” in his The Communal Gadfly (Brighton, 2009), pp. 267-268. I don’t know how he can write such nonsense as the following:

As far as I am aware, there is no general halachic prohibition on Jewish men sleeping with prostitutes, unless the whore is herself Jewish. If not, then, according to the Talmud, a Jewish man who feels the need to visit a prostitute must simply take care to do so in a town in which he is not known – which strikes me as very sound advice.

If the whore is Jewish, however, we are faced with the certainty of multiple acts of adultery [!], all of which are prohibited. This is because intercourse is itself a form of marriage. So the first Jewish man a prostitute consorts with becomes her husband [!]; if she wishes to consort with anyone else, this first Jewish customer will have to give her a get [!]. So will the second, and so on. [!] (I am ignoring for my present purposes, considerations of mikveh, since I have yet to learn of any brothel that has one.)

It is actually a common kabbalistic view that one who has sex with a non-Jewish woman will be reincarnated as a Jewish prostitute. See e.g., R. David Ibn Zimra, Metzudat David, no. 612.
[15] Hasidot u-Mordot (Jerusalem, 2001), pp. 229ff.
[16] She’elot u-Teshuvot ha-Radbaz, vol. 1, no. 48.
[17] See Sanhedrin, 82a, Avodah Zarah 36b, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Issurei Biah 12:1-2; Shulhan Arukh, Even ha-Ezer 16:1, and the commentaries ad loc. R. Moses Isserles, Darkhei Moshe, Hoshen Mishpat 34:4, writes:

בא על הגויה לא מיפסל רק מדרבנן דהא אינו אלא מגזירת בית דין של חשמונאי.

R. Shlomo Goren, Mishnat ha-Medinah (Jerusalem, 1999), p. 142, points out that sex with a non-Jewish woman does not fall under the category of arayot, even rabbinically.

ועל אף חומר האיסור אין זה מגדרי איסור עריות אפי' מדרבנן.

R. Joseph Kafih, commentary to Mishneh TorahIssurei Biah 12:2, raises a problem with the standard understanding of Maimonides that occasional sex with a non-Jewish woman is only a rabbinic prohibition. Even though Maimonides, Issurei Biah 12:2, writes ולא אסרה תורה אלא דרך חתנות, what is one to do with halakhah 9 [no. 8 in R. Kafih’s edition] which implies the opposite? R. Kafih writes

ומה יעשה בדברי רבנו לקמן הל' ח שגויה הנבעלת לישראל תיהרג מפני שבאה תקלה לישראל על ידה, ולדבריו [דברי המעשה רקח] שאין אסור דאוריתא איזה תקלה באה על ידה?

Presumably, Maimonides in halakhah 9 is only referring to a public sexual act, which would be regarded as a biblical violation.
[18] After writing this sentence I found that R. Solomon Ibn Verga said the same thing. See Shevet Yehudah (Jerusalem, 1955), p. 134:

כבר התחילו בספרד לתת עיניהם בבנות הארץ מרוב ההרגל וקצתם לקחו היתר לאמר כי אין בו אלא מלקות

I don’t mean to imply that there wasn’t sexual immorality involving Jewish men and Jewish women, as there was plenty of this as well. R. Asher ben Jehiel, Teshuvot ha-Rosh, nol. 37:1, even speaks about the practice of engaged couples living together (לדור ביחד) before marriage. He tells us that the women did not go to the mikveh since they were embarrassed to do so before marriage. But they weren’t embarrassed to live together before marriage.
[19] Even ha-Ezer 16:1.
[20] Since the consequences of intermarriage are so devastating, one must wonder why there is no explicit biblical prohibition. Be that as it may, in coming years watch for the Conservative movement to halakhically legitimize intermarriage by relying on the view that it is only rabbinically prohibited. As with other rabbinic prohibitions previously abolished by the Conservatives, they will argue that this too can be set aside for important societal concerns.

Maggid Mishneh, Hilkhot Ishut 1:4, recognizes that one cannot logically explain why certain sexual acts are biblically prohibited and others had to wait for the Sages to prohibit them.

ואל תתמה היאך תהיה הישראלית ביאתה בזנות בלאו והגויה מדברי סופרים לפי שאיסור העריות הוא בגזירה ודבר שאין לו טעם בכל פרטיו. והנה תראה שאם חמותו היא בסקילה [צ"ל בשריפה] ואם אמו מדברי סופרים בלבד ונדות בישראלית הוא מן התורה בכרת ובגויה אין נדות כלל אלא מדברי סופרים.

Regarding the Tur’s assertion that there is no biblical prohibition to marry women who are not of the Canaanite nations, this has been hard for many to accept. The Arukh ha-Shulhan, Even ha-Ezer 16:2, states that “it appears to me” that even according to this opinion, if the Jewish man and non-Jewish woman actually live together there is a Torah prohibition. How could the Arukh ha-Shulhan say this when the Tur, Even ha-Ezer 16, states explicitly that contrary to Maimonides, sexual relations דרך אישות with contemporary non-Jewish women does not incur a biblical penalty? Is there a real distinction between sexual relations דרך אישות and living together as husband and wife?. Here are the Arukh ha-Shulhan’s words (following which he cites a talmudic proof for his understanding):

ומ"מ יראה לי דאפילו להחולקים על הרמב"ם מ"מ אם היא בביתו ובועל אותה תמיד כדרך איש ואשתו חייב עלה מדאורייתא

For others who argue that despite the simple sense of his words, the Tur must hold that there is still a biblical prohibition for a Jew to marry a non-Jew, see Otzar ha-Poskim, Even ha-Ezer 16:1. See also R. J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. 2, p. 273.

Nevertheless, the severity of the stricture against intermarriage tends to indicate that, even according to the Tur, some form of biblical prohibition against intermarriage with non-Jews who are not members of the Seven Nations must exist. The question to be resolved is the nature of the biblical prohibition.

With reference to those who have argued that intermarriage (and even non-marital Jewish-Gentile sexual relations) violates Torah law, Shaye J. D. Cohen writes: “This may be good halakhah and good preventative medicine, but it is bad history and bad exegesis.” “From the Bible to the Talmud: The Prohibition of Intermarriage,” Hebrew Annual Review 7 (1983), p. 30.
[21] Hilkhot Issurei Biah 12:2, 13:14.
[22] Mesamhei Lev (Jerusalem, 1990), commentary to ch. 1 (p. 229).
[23] See Hilkhot Issurei Biah 12:5 that there is no kana’in pog’in bo when it comes to a ger toshav.
[24] See Geulat Yisrael (London, 1950), pp. 95ff.
[25] Commentary to Even ha-Ezer 16:2, in the standard eds.
[26] See also R. J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. 2, pp. 275ff., who argues that intermarriage is the equivalent of a public act of sexual intercourse, and thus biblically forbidden according to all.
[27] See Renée Levine Melammed, “The Jewish Woman in Medieval Iberia,” in Jonathan Ray, ed., The Jew in Medieval Iberia 1100-1500 (Boston, 2012), p. 272.
[28] “Jewish Confraternal Piety in Sixteenth-Century Ferrara: Continuity and Change,” in Nicholas Terpstra, ed., The Politics of Ritual Kinship (Cambridge, 2000), p. 159.
[29] Although her father called the baby ממזר מן הגוי, the term was only being used colloquially, since a child of a non-Jew is not halakhically a mamzer.
[30] R. Samuel Edels, Maharsha, ad loc., states explicitly that R. Yose of Yokeret was wrong in cursing her so that she die. )How many other examples do we have of commentators criticizing talmudic sages?) However, I don’t think Maharsha’s approach will make matters much easier for many readers, because he suggests that instead R. Yose should have cursed her that she become ugly!

ולא יפה עשה לקללה שתשוב לעפרה בשביל כך אלא כי אם לקללה שתשוב לשחרוריתה.

R. Mordechai Karvalho of Tunis, Meira Dakhya (Livorno, 1792), ad loc., also wonders why the daughter had to die. After all, “are we commanded to kill everyone who is beautiful?” He suggests that R. Yose should have kept her inside the house so no man would ever see her.
ובתו ג"כ היא לא עשתה שום עבירה וא"כ היל"ל להחביאה בחדרי חדרים שלא יראה אותה שום אדם ולא ימיתינה וכי מי שהוא יפה תאר מצווין אנו להמיתו

This idea, of keeping unmarried women off the street, is found in various Jewish sources. In his recently published Asaf ha-Mazkir, p. 61, R. Meir Mazuz refers to R. David Kimhi's commentary to 2 Sam. 13:2:

ודרך הבתולות בישראל להיות צנועות בבית ולא תצאנה החוצה

R. Mazuz also refers to R. Asher ben Jehiel, Piskei ha-Rosh, Ketubot 7:15, who says that in Spain the בנות, which I assume also means unmarried women, would only go to the bathhouse in the middle of the night, since they were accustomed not be seen outside. In order to show that this was the practice of the pious women of medieval Spain, R. Mazuz cites another source, Tikunei Zohar, no. 58:

צריכא ברתא דאיהי בתולה למהוי סגורה ומסוגרת בבית אביה

With reference to my question at the beginning of this note, R. Mazuz, Asaf ha-Mazkir, p. 128, cites the great R. Raphael Joseph Hazan, Hikrei Lev, vol. 1, Yoreh Deah, no. 26 (p. 29b), that R. Simeon ben Yohai was mistaken in thinking that animals are subject to individual providence: 

דרשב"י לא ידע . . . אבל האמת אינו כן

R Mazuz cannot accept this sort of language when dealing with R. Simeon ben Yohai:

דמה כוחנו לחלוק על רשב"י בסברא בעלמא, ומה ידענו ולא ידע

Not noted by R. Mazuz is that R. Hayyim Palache cites R. Hazan without objection. See Amudei Hayyim (Izmir, 1875), p. 101a.
[31] In Hilkhot Issurei Biah, 12:6 (followed by Shulhan Arukh 16:2), Maimonides writes that if one who had sex with a non-Jewish woman is not killed by kana’im or given lashes by beit din עונשו מפורש בדברי קבלה שהוא בכרת. The context of this halakhah, and the previous ones, is an act of public sexual relations, the sort that is a Torah violation and subject to kana’in pog’im bo. Yet some understand Maimonides to be also referring to private sexual relations דרך זנות. See Beit Shmuel, Even ha-Ezer 16:4. This position is hard to understand, since as has been pointed out by others, how can there be karet on a rabbinic prohibition? A punishment of karet would seem to imply that we are dealing with a Torah violation, yet Maimonides is explicit that this is not the case with non-public and non-marital sexual relations with a non-Jewish woman. This problem leads R Yosef Rein, Penei Yosef: Sanhedrin (Bnei Brak, 2009), p. 648, to offer the original suggestion that Maimonides is talking about כרת מדרבנן. To complicate the matter even more, in Sefer ha-Mitzvot, neg. com. no. 52, Maimonides indeed states that there is karet for non-public sexual relations with a non-Jewish woman, which contradicts his position in the Mishneh Torah. R. Kafih, in his commentary on Sefer ha-Mitzvot, explains:

כלומר שעונשו חמור כחייבי כרתות

Needless to say, this is a very unlikely explanation, and if Maimonides wanted to say what R. Kafih writes, he could have easily done so instead of speaking of actual karet.
[32] Sanhedrin 82a, Avodah Zarah 36b.
[33] See Hiddushei ha-Ran, Sanhedrin 82a, and also R. Aryeh Leib Heller, Avnei Miluim, Even ha-Ezer 16:1:3. R. Simhah Lieberman, Bi-Shevilei ha-Amim, no. 14, has a very good discussion of the matter. See also the sources showing the seriousness of the offense in R. Michael Bacharach, Arugat ha-Bosem, Even ha-Ezer 16:2. R. Aviad Sar Shalom Basilea also argues against those who claim that occasional sexual relations with a non-Jewish woman is only rabbinically prohibited. See Emunat Hakhamim (Mantua, 1730), ch. 29. Among the points he makes is if occasional sex with a non-Jewish woman is only rabbinically forbidden, then what is the point of the yefat toar law? This is a special law that permitted what otherwise was already forbidden. He also quotes R. Judah Briel that sex with a non-Jewish woman is included as part the prohibition of wasting one’s seed. (It is not clear if R. Briel is speaking homiletically or halakhically. See also Torah Shelemah, Ex. 20, no. 334, for the midrashic statement that one who has sex with a non-Jewish woman violates fourteen [!] separate Torah prohibitions. Regarding this statement, see also Louis Epstein, Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism [New York, 1967], p. 176.)

R. Basilea’s point about yefat toar can easily be refuted. See e.g., Mizrachi to Deut. 21:11 who suggests that the entire point of the law is to permit sex with a married non-Jewish woman, something that otherwise would be forbidden. It implies nothing about occasional private sex with an unmarried non-Jewish woman, which was permitted in the days of the Torah.

כיון שבבית שהוא בצינעה בא עליה הביאה ראשונה למה לי קרא להתירה הא לא אסרה תורה אלא דרך חתנות אבל דרך זנות בביאה ראשונה שאינה אלא מפני יצרו הרע אין איסורה אלא מדברי סופרים ולמה לי קרא למשרייה ושמא יש לומר דמשום אשת איש איצטריך קרא להתירה וצ"ע . . . כל הפרשה הזאת לא נכתבה אלא באשת איש . . . מדאצטריך קרא להתירה בשעת שביה מכלל שבאשת איש דאסירא בעלמא קמיירי, דאי בפנויה [שריא] אפילו בעלמא, כ"ש בשעת שביה, וזהו הנכון אצלי

According to some, another novelty of the yefat toar law is that it also permits rape, which otherwise is forbidden.

See also James Diamond, “The Deuteronomic ‘Pretty Woman’ Law: Prefiguring Feminism and Freud in Nahmanides,” Jewish Social Studies 14 (Winter 2008), pp. 61-85.

I previously discussed yefat toar here and here.

To the sources I cited, add R. Eliezer of Metz, Sefer Yereim, ed. Schiff, no. 20, who specifically states that a yefat toar cannot be raped ([called to my attention by R. Chaim Rapoport], and see Toafot Re’em, ad. loc., note 13, that this is already a talmudic dispute).

On the other hand, Maggid Mishneh, Hilkhot Ishut 14:17, states:

וענין יפת תואר חדוש הוא ולא התירה אותה תורה אלא כנגד יצר הרע . . . ובעלה בעל כרחה

R. Pinhas Horowitz, Ha-Makneh, Kiddushin 22a, understands Rashi to permit rape of a yefat toar (I haven’t seen others who agree with this).

מה שפירש"י ז"ל דקידושין תופסין בה אין לפרש שיכול לקדש אותה בע"כ דלא מצינו קידושין בע"כ כי אם ביבמה אלא דע"כ הכי קאמר קרא דלאח' הגירות בת ליקוחין היא אם מתרצית להתקדש לו ואם לא מתרצת יבא עלי' בע"כ דהיינו שהתירה התורה נגד היצה"ר

It is precisely with these sorts of passages in mind that, as I have quoted on a number of occasions, R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg states that when there is a dispute among the early authorities, we should decide the halakhah in accord with contemporary sensibilities.

ואגלה להדר"ג [הגרא"י אונטרמן] מה שבלבי: שמקום שיש מחלוקת הראשונים צריכים הרבנים להכריע נגד אותה הדעה, שהיא רחוקה מדעת הבריות וגורמת לזלזול וללעג נגד תוה"ק (כתבי הגאון רבי יחיאל יעקב וויינברג, חלק א סי' לב).

See also my post here.

There are a number of laws in the Torah that are not in line with modern conceptions of morality (the one most in the news these days deals with homosexuality). But I think yefat toar is unique in that I have never seen an English language discussion of the law in an Orthodox publication that actually deals with its parameters in any detail, and cites what the rishonim say about the law. (Searching on the internet I found Jacob Bernstein, “Eshet Yefat To’ar: A New Look” here, but this too does not elaborate in sufficient detail on the morally difficult aspects of the matter.) Could it be that this law is more morally problematic for moderns than the laws dealing with homosexuality and slavery of which we have seen endless discussions? And if so, why?

Here is one final source regarding yefat toar. R. Reuven Katz, Duda’ei Reuven, vol. 2, p. 217, states explicitly that the heter of yefat toar is not proper or ethical, but nevertheless in necessary. While this is a quite provocative formulation, it really reflects the outlook of the Sages. Nevertheless, I don’t know if any contemporary halakhic authorities would write this way (emphasis added).

אמנם קיים בנסיבות מיוחדות היתר לדבר שאינו הגון ומוסרי, כיון שהתנאים אינם יכולים להתעלם מתופעה זה

Regarding rape, there is one other strange thing I would like to share. Maimonides, Hilkhot Ishut 15:17, forbids marital rape. In a case where a woman is in a situation of yibum, and she does not want the Levirate marriage, she is not forced and instead the man must take part in the halitzah ceremony (although according to Maimonides she is regarded as a moredet). See Hilkhot Yibum ve-Halitzah 1:2, 2:10. However, there is a special halakhah when it comes to yibum that even if the man forces her to have sex, it is still a valid yibum and she becomes his wife. (Hilkhot Ishut 2:3).

R. Isaiah of Trani (the Elder), Teshuvot ha-Rid, ed. Wertheimer (Jerusalem, 1987), no. 59, responds to an unnamed questioner who thought that it was permissible for a levir to force his sister-in-law to have sex with him (i.e., to rape her). R. Isaiah expresses his surprise that anyone could make such a mistake (although he acknowledges having heard of others who also erred in this way):

מה שכתבתה [!] למה אין כופין את היבמה להתייבם לא נכונו הדברים האלה לומר לאיש חכם, שלא עלתה על לב אדם שנכפה את היבמה להתייבם . . . אם היבמה אינה רוצה להתייבם והיבם רוצה שנכוף אותה לפניו לא היה ולא נברא

R. Isaiah then states that if the levir was chasing after the woman to rape her (in order to fulfill the mitzvah of yibum), we are commanded to save her from him, even if we have to kill him. (See R. Avraham Shapiro, Shiurei Maran Ha-Gaon Rabbi Avraham Shapiro: Yevamot, Gittin [Jerusalem, 1995] p. 170.)
So far we haven’t seen anything surprising. But in his note to R. Isaiah’s responsum, the editor, R. Avraham Yosef Wertheimer, writes as follows:

ומש"כ רבינו דמצוה להצילה מידו זה חידוש גדול דהא עכ"פ הוא מקיים מצות יבום ולמה עלינו למנוע ממנו אותה מצוה

Wertheimer doesn’t understand why R. Isaiah thinks it is necessary to stop the levir from raping the woman, since after all, he is intending to perform a mitzvah. How Wertheimer could write this after seeing what R. Isaiah explains in his responsum is beyond me.

In a future post I will discuss how the commentators deal with Maimonides, Hilkhot Melakhim 4:4, which appears to be saying that the king may take women as his wives and concubines even against their will.
[34] Vol. 5, s.v. goy, col. 297. See also vol. 3, s.v. boel aramit.
[35] Ma’yan Omer, vol. 7, p. 26. See, however, ibid., p. 294, that on another occasion R. Ovadiah saw no need to instruct intermarried women to go to the mivkeh (and see ibid. for the editor’s explanation of the different answers). See also R. Rafael Evers, Va-Shav va-Rafa, vol. 3, no. 147, for R. Yitzhak Shmuel Schechter’s responsum stating that an intermarried woman should go to the mikveh. This is a very practical question today. Pretty much every outreach minyan has attendees who are intermarried or living with non-Jews. I have also come across people in such circumstances in regular Modern Orthodox synagogues.

When it comes to sexually active single women, both R. Ovadiah and R. Moshe Sternbuch believe that they should be allowed to use the mikveh if they so desire. See Ma’yan Omer, vol. 7, pp. 234, Teshuvot ve-Hanhagot, vol. 1, no. 484. See also Ma’yan Omer, vol. 7, p. 261, that we should not advise women to do this (i.e., it is only if they come on their own that they should be allowed to use the mikveh).
[36] Teshuvot ha-Rashba, ed. Dimitrovsky, vol. 1, p. 639. See Neuman, The Jews in Spain (Philadelphia, 1944), vol. 2, p. 125.
[37] She’elot u-Teshuvot Ha-Radbaz, no. 985. See also R. Solomon Schueck, Torah Shelemah (Satmar, 1909), vol. 2, p. 114b-115a.

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