Thursday, February 08, 2007

Daf Yomi - Taanis 31 - UGLY IS BEAUTIFUL

Contributed by Rabbi Karr

We learned in a braisa: The pretty ones among the maidens would say: "Pay attention to beauty alone, because a woman is made only for beauty." Those among them who were from a distinguished family would say: "Look to a distinguished family for women are but made to bear children.” The homely ones among them would say: "Make your selections only for the glory of Heaven, but provide us with gold jewelry and pretty clothes."

It appears to be very strange to end the Gemora on a “bad” note. First, since when are any Jewish maidens “ugly”? Chazal tell all Jewish girls are beautiful. Second, even if you want to say this, Chazal also tell to say everything using a “clean" language (i.e. if something is not kosher you don’t say its tama but instead say it isn’t tahor, even if this uses more words and its a longer expression). Therefore, the Gemora should say the maidens are not beautiful. Third, why does the braisa start with the beautiful maidens? Is beauty the best attribute? Is it even better than distinguished lineage? Fourth, why does the Gemora suggest that one should adorn the “ugly girls with gold jewelry and make that a necessary condition to the marriage. Do only ugly girls get jewelry? Why is it a necessary condition?

I would like to suggest, therefore, an allegorical interpretation. The Gemora is talking about three types of people that you should look for in a shidduch. The first type is beautiful persons. Beauty refers to mitzvahs. Girls are beautiful in their mitzvos. They have no sins. These are your first choice. Next, are the distinguished ones that have some sins but have z’chus avos to help them and their family learn the proper path to follow. The third level is Balai Teshuva, who have their sins from the past. It’s the sins that make them appear ugly. However they do Teshuva out of love and turn the sins into mitzvahs. These maidens remind us that they did Teshuva for the sake of heaven. Their former sins are turned into golden jewelry. Perhaps these last girls are, in fact, the best and the Gemora saved the last for best (Based on Sefer r’sisay lalah 63)


David said...

Some of these questions are based on the notion that beauty is not really so important, thus forcing the allegorical interpretation. But the reality is, beauty IS important. There is no getting around the subject. All of the women in tanach are described with regard to their physical charachteristics. And not just facial beauty either - the pessukim also speak of the figure {"yefeh toar") bustline ("shadayim kamigdolos")eyes, and more.

Tanacah was written for adults, with the expectation that adults would act like adults. Ackowledging that beauty is important in a woman is not "dirty", or something to run away from by using allegories; it is life itself.

Anonymous said...

yes, but Gaon writes on sheker hachein vehevel hayofi that real beauty is in yiras shamayim. By the way, Gemara states that bnso yisreol are beautiful but poverty makes them abhorrent, so this Gemara fits beautifully.

Avromi said...

Gaon there seems to say that yofi is beauty and that is a truth in contrast to chein which is sheker. Shlomo hamelech is saying that yofi which is beauty is hevel.

however the gaon does seem to say elsewhere that yefei mareh is midos tovos.

David, while I agree with some of what you wrote, Mishlei does say hevel hayofi. Also, even if all the places in Tanach (or most) mean physical beauty (which I would assume to be correct), it doesnt say that this is what they were looking for, so the poshut pshat in this gemora, although it might not be shver causes me to wonder as to what the pshat really is.