Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stolen Water is Sweet

(Nedarim 91b)A certain adulterer visited a woman. Her husband came, whereupon the adulterer went and hid himself behind a curtain before the door. There was some cress lying there that a snake had ate from while the husband was away, and now the husband was about to eat from the cress without his wife’s knowledge. The adulterer exclaimed, “Don’t eat from it, because a poisonous snake has tasted it!”

Rava said: The wife is permitted, for had he committed a sin, he would have been pleased that the husband should eat from it and die, as it is written: For they have committed adultery, and there is blood on their hands.

The Gemora asks: Surely that is obvious?

The Gemora answers: I might have thought that he had committed a sin, and as for his warning, that is because he prefers the husband not to die, so that his wife may be to him as stolen waters are sweet, and bread of secrecy is pleasant; therefore Rava teaches otherwise.

Tosfos explains that although it is true that “stolen waters are sweet,” an adulterer is not aware that this is the cause for his pleasure; rather, he thinks that his desires will be fulfilled if the husband dies and he can marry her publicly.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav M’Eliyahu explains as follows: The reason that “stolen waters are sweet” is because the forbidden pleasures which the sinner desires are out of his reach. Once he reaches it and brings himself to the gratification that he was seeking, he loses his desire for that enjoyment.

The sinner, however, does not realize this. He thinks that he is genuinely attracted to that forbidden pleasure. He therefore deludes himself into thinking that finding a legal way to enjoy this forbidden pleasure will bring him the gratification that he desires.

Rava understood that this man did not realize what the driving force behind his desires is. This is why he ruled that the woman is permitted. If he indeed was an adulterer, he would have chosen the simple way for him to fulfill his desires; let the husband die. He did not do that, and that to Rava was an indicator that he was indeed innocent.

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The Violation of a Kohen's Wife

The Mishna (Nedarim 90b) stated: At first they said that the following three women must be divorced and they also receive their kesuvah: One (a wife of a Kohen) who declares, “I am defiled to you (I have been violated forcibly by another man),” or “Heaven is between me and you (my husband is impotent),” or “May I be kept away from the Jews (a vow to have no cohabitation with any of them; such a vow is assumed to be the result of the pain that cohabitation may cause her, and therefore justified).” This ruling was afterwards retracted in order that a wife might not cast eyes upon another man and act immorally towards her husband. Instead, it was ordained that one (a wife of a Kohen) who declares, “I am defiled to you (I have been violated forcibly by another man)” must bring evidence in support of her statement; in respect of a woman who tells her husband, “Heaven is between me and you (my husband is impotent),” peace is made between them by way of a request addressed to the husband that he should treat his wife properly; and if a woman vowed, “May I be kept away from the Jews,” the husband revokes his part of the vow and she may cohabit with him, though she remains removed from all other Jews.

The Meiri writes that it became common for women to cast their eyes upon other men, and they would gain their release from their husband with these claims. Even in the case where she made a neder prohibiting cohabitation with all Jews, they were still concerned that she might later petition a sage to have the neder annulled.

The Ra”n asks: If with these claims, she is believed, and therefore, halachically forbidden to her husband, how did the Chachamim permit her to her husband? Where has the prohibition gone?

The Ra”n answers that the Chachamim have the authority to retroactively take away their marriage, and it would emerge that at the time that she was violated, she was unmarried, and therefore, she is legally permitted to her husband. The Chachamim have this right, for any marriage is contingent upon the consent of the Chachamim, and if they see a reason to nullify the kiddushin, they may do so.

The Ra”n suggests an alternative answer: In truth, the woman should not be believed with respect to these claims, because she cannot release herself from her obligations to her husband. The initial ruling believed her to be speaking the truth, for otherwise, she would not have disgraced herself with these claims. Afterwards, when their level of morality deteriorated, and they realized that the women were casting their eyes upon other men and falsely claiming that there were grounds for divorce, the Chachamim rejected her claim.

The Rishonim ask: Why don’t we apply the principle of “shavya a’nafshei chaticha d’issura,” one who states that something is forbidden, even if he is not believed in respect to everyone else, renders the object forbidden to him? If so, she should be forbidden to him, even if we do not believe her!

Tosfos quotes from Rabbeinu Eliezer that a Kohen’s wife who is violated is forbidden as a zonah, is only a prohibition on the Kohen, but not on her, so since she is not believed, she is permitted to remain with him.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Man and the Servant

In our Mishna (Nedarim 89a), when it says, “This is the rule” (once she enters into her own jurisdiction for even one moment, the husband cannot revoke her vows), it is coming to include a case where the father gave her over to the husband’s agents, or the father’s agents gave her over to the husband’s agents. From this point and on, the husband may not revoke any of his wife’s prior vows.

For once she was given over to them, her father no longer has any jurisdiction over her, because this handing over is regarded like nisuin. The husband may revoke nedarim that she makes from this time on, but with respect to her prior nedarim, he may not revoke them. He cannot revoke them in conjunction with her father either, because she has left her father’s jurisdiction, and he no longer has any rights over her.

Based upon this principle, the Pardes Yosef explains the following verse [Breishis 24:61]: And Rivkah and her maidens arose and rode on the camels, and they followed the man; and the servant took Rivkah and left. Why was Eliezer first referred to as “the man,” and afterwards, “the servant”?

We can answer as follows: As long as Rivkah was under the jurisdiction of her father, although Eliezer was the servant of Yitzchak, because Avraham gave over all his possessions to him, nevertheless, he was not the servant of Rivkah. Therefore, Eliezer (with respect to Rivkah) was called, “the man.” However, after Rivkah’s maidens, who were Lavan’s agents, handed her over to Eliezer, she entered into the jurisdiction of Yitzchak, for her father gave her over to the husband’s agent (Eliezer). Once she entered into her husband’s authority, Eliezer now became her servant, and therefore, the Torah refers to him as “the servant.”

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Within a Period of an Utterance

The Gemora (Nedarim 87a) issues a halachic ruling: The halacha is that a statement which follows another statement within the period of an utterance is regarded as if it were made together with the first one except in the case of blasphemy, idolatry, betrothal and divorce. (If one commits blasphemy or practises idolatry, and immediately, within the period of utterance, retracts, his retraction is unavailing, and he will still incur the death penalty. If a man betroths a woman or divorces her, and immediately thereafter changes his mind, such withdrawal is invalid.)

The Ra”n comments that he doesn’t know why these cases are different and from where did the Rabbis derive this. It would seem, he says, that in regards to other things that are not as serious, when a person does them, he doesn’t do them with absolute intent. Rather, his intention is that he will be able to retract them within the time it takes for an utterance. But these, since they are so serious, a person will not proceed unless he has made up his mind completely, and for this reason, retraction, even within the period of time it takes for an utterance, is not effective.

The Ramban in Meseches Bava Basra quotes Rabbeinu Tam who says that the halacha that within the time it takes for an utterance is regarded as a single utterance is a decree that the Rabbis made because of a student who is purchasing something and his teacher comes, so that he will be able to greet him. They issued this ruling for all things except for these.

The Ra”n asks: How could they make a decree in respect to nedarim which will permanently uproot something from the Torah in a manner that involves actively doing something?

The Imrei Binah answers according to the Radvaz, who says that we are more lenient with respect to nedarim because they can be annulled by a sage. Therefore, the Torah gave the power to the Chachamim to permit a Biblical prohibition, even when it involves actively uprooting it.

Reb Shimon Shkop asks on the Ra”n: If the logic that enables one to retract within the period of an utterance is because he lacks absolute intent, how can this apply to the halacha of rending one’s garments over a death? There is no intention required!

They explain as follows: The principle of “within the time required for an utterance” accomplishes that any act performed can be viewed as continuing for a further amount of time (“the period of an utterance”). Therefore, when he rends his garments and then, within the time required for an utterance, discovers who died, it may be regarded as if he tore his clothes at that time.

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