Sunday, December 18, 2022

The fantastical justifications of Chazal

 In last weeks parsha וישב the Torah relates a very straightforward story. Yehuda is traveling, sees what he thinks is a prostitute (it's really his daughter in law), negotiates a price with her, gives her security, has sex with her, and then later tries to find her to pay her. Chazal and the מפרשים however, are bothered by a very simple question. How could one of the holy שבטים, the progenitor of the kingly dynasty and moshiach, sleep with a prostitute. Therefore the Gemara (Sota 10a) makes up a whole dialogue that it attributes to Yehuda to justify Yehuda's conduct.

רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָנִי אָמַר שֶׁנָּתְנָה עֵינַיִם לִדְבָרֶיהָ כְּשֶׁתְּבָעָהּ אָמַר לָהּ שֶׁמָּא נׇכְרִית אַתְּ אָמְרָה לֵיהּ גִּיּוֹרֶת אֲנִי שֶׁמָּא אֵשֶׁת אִישׁ אַתְּ אָמְרָה לֵיהּ פְּנוּיָה אֲנִי שֶׁמָּא קִיבֵּל בִּךְ אָבִיךָ קִידּוּשִׁין אָמְרָה לֵיהּ יְתוֹמָה אֲנִי שֶׁמָּא טְמֵאָה אַתְּ אָמְרָה לֵיהּ טְהוֹרָה

Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says: She provided eyes [einayim] for her statements, i.e., with her words she provided an opening [petaḥ] for Judah to solicit her. When Judah solicited her to engage in sexual intercourse with him, he first attempted to verify her status and said to her: Are you perhaps are a gentile? She said to him: I am a convert. He asked: Perhaps you are a married woman? She said to him: I am an unmarried woman. He asked: Perhaps your father accepted betrothal for you and you are unaware of it? She said to him: I am an orphan. He asked: Maybe you are impure? She said to him: I am pure.

Amazing, Chazal make up a whole dialogue out of nothing where Yehuda asked a prostitute is she an idolater, married, a nidda. Why, because they couldn't accept that Yehuda simply slept with a prostitute.

The מפרשים are still bothered by the question how could Yehuda have sex with a prostitute? I saw 3 answers in the מפרשים:

  1. He was מקדש her
  2. He was מיחד her so it wasn't זנות
  3. He took here as a פילגש

IMHO these sound like desperate rationalizations for Yehudas conduct. To think that Yehuda married (was מיחד, or took as a פילגש) a random prostitute he met on the road is ridiculous and contradicted by the text itself. When Yehuda searches for her to pay her (after he had sex with her) he asks the people where is the prostitute, clearly showing that he still considered her a prostitute. 

IMHO, this greatly impacts Chazal's credibility, we see that they made up all kinds of unbelievable rationalizations to justify sinful conduct by biblical figures. Where is their intellectual honesty? If they could make up stories like these what else did they make up?

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Civilian casualties in Halacha

This week's parsha וישלח has the story of the brothers and Shechem. The mefarshim are bothered by the brothers killing of everyone in the city not just Shechem and Chamor. The Maharal justifies the actions of Shimon and Levi, asserting that the Torah sanctions waging war when a nation attacks us. In such circumstances, we are permitted to respond to the other nation’s provocation. In responding, we attack the other nation and do not distinguish between the guilty members and the innocent members of that nation. Thus, Shimon and Levi appropriately responded to Shechem’s aggression. Once they responded, they were permitted to attack the entire nation, because this is the manner in which war is waged.This Maharal is quoted l'halacha by a number of modern day poskim including Rabbi JD Bleich who writes:

"Not only does one search in vain for a ruling prohibiting military activity likely to result in the death of civilians, but to this writer’s knowledge, there exists no discussion in classical rabbinic sources that takes cognizance of the likelihood of causing civilian casualties in the course of hostilities legitimately undertaken as posing a halakhic or moral problem."

This position is echoed by Rav Shaul Yisraeli, Rav Asher Weiss, Rav Herschel Shachter and others. According to them not only are civilian casualties not prohibited, it is prohibited to endanger Jewish soldiers in any way to minimize civilian casualties.

This approach is diametrically opposed to international law which treats civilian casualties as a war crime in many cases.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Riches of Moshe

The Gemara in Nedarim 38 (recent daf yomi) made the following statement:

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: אֵין הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַשְׁרֶה שְׁכִינָתוֹ אֶלָּא עַל גִּבּוֹר וְעָשִׁיר וְחָכָם וְעָנָיו, וְכוּלָּן מִמֹּשֶׁה. 


עָשִׁיר — ״פְּסׇל לָךְ״, פְּסוֹלְתָּן שֶׁלְּךָ יְהֵא.

The Gemara states that to be a Navi you have to be rich, and learns it out from Moshe. Moshe got rich from the luchos, when he made the luchos out of precious stone, he kept the extra which made him rich.

When we think about this it's quite difficult. 

1. There is no objective criteria to being rich, it is in relation to the people you live with. If everyone in a society lives the same can we call a specific member of that society rich?

2. Precious stones only have value because people assign them value. 

Both of these are relevant to the Midbar. 

1. What would it mean to be rich in the midbar? Food and water was provided free of charge by God. There was no land to buy, and everyone had a tent. So what exactly did it mean that Moshe was rich? How did his wealth express itself? They were in the midbar so there was nothing to buy either. So how was Moshe richer then anyone else?

2. What were precious stones worth in the midbar? They are only valuable because they are rare and have some use. Why would they have any value in the midbar? What use would they have?