“The bed is too short for stretching, and the cover is too narrow for gathering.”
Today’s Daf Yomi portion attempts to explain why both Temples were destroyed. We are told that the First Temple – Solomon’s Temple – stood for four hundred and ten years and was overseen during that period by only eighteen High Priests. The Second Temple stood for four hundred and twenty years and was surprisingly overseen by three hundred Priests. We are presented with an arithmetic quiz of priestly terms.
Shimon HaTzaddik served in the second Temple for forty years, Yoḥanan served eighty years, Yishmael ben Pavi served ten years, and Rabbi Elazar ben Ḥarsum served eleven years. These men are characterized as “righteous” who were “privileged to serve extended terms.” The remaining priests failed to serve a year in office, “as the number of remaining High Priests is greater than the number of years remaining.” Their short tenure is compared with the Tabernacle in Shiloh that was destroyed due to “forbidden sexual relations and degradation of consecrated items.”
The sins attributed to the time of the Tabernacle do not seem so great. Eli’s sons, who seemed a bit wild, caused a delay of the sacrifice of bird-offerings by women who came to the Tabernacle as part of a purification process following childbirth. They delayed the offering and prolonged the separation of these women from their husbands. Although they never slept with Eli’s sons, the women spent the night under the same roof before they were able to return home. Eli’s sons also demanded that meat be handed over to them that was slated for sacrifice, which “treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt.”
And so, from the time of Eli sons to the Rabbinic period following the destruction of the Second Temple, we are told that the “sins of the Jewish people” continued through generations. During the time of first Temple there was the common catalog of human sins – idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed. Idol worship is compared to a “bed that is too short for stretching” and a cover that is “too narrow for gathering.” This suggests that idol worship and righteous service cannot co-exist under the same roof.
Today’s passage devolves into an explanation that blames improper sexual relations on women who walk with their head held high and with “outstretched necks, and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go and making a tinkling with their feet.” These “daughters of Zion” wear blue eyeshadow and place myrrh and balsam in their shoes as they walk through the marketplace of Jerusalem. We are told that “once they approached a place where young Jewish men were congregated, they would stamp their feet on the ground and splash the perfume toward them and instill the evil inclination into them like venom of a viper.”
The suggestion is that the young men could not help themselves but to enter into illicit sexual relations with the women who captivated them so. This is an extreme example of blaming women for sexual wantonness due to how they dress and travel through the world. In this case, the destruction of the first Temple is attributed to their behavior. Imagine the message passed down to generations of women, who are blamed for the destruction of the Temple and as a result, are expected to become imprisoned in their own bodies. The suggestion is that they should walk with their eyes cast down, and with large strides, so as not to cause further destruction in the world.
Once the Rabbis determine the cause of the ruin of the first Temple, they turn to an explanation of what destroyed the second Temple, since it was a time of “Torah study’ and “acts of kindness.” We are told that it was destroyed due to hatred that existed at the time. The hatred is attributed to leaders who “harbored baseless hatred for each other.” There is some consolation – perhaps – that women are not blamed for the destruction of the second Temple.
There was a recent article in the New York Times about women in Afghanistan who killed their husbands after suffering abuse.(https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/26/magazine/afghan-women-prison.html). Many of these women were married off while young girls to much older men, who were abusive and treated them as property of their household. They endured years of pain and true torture, and out of desperation, a few killed their abusers. They were sentenced to prison terms where they found some sort of peace for the first time in their lives. The prison that was featured in the article housed many other women who were there for so-called moral crimes, including engaging in sex outside of marriage and even for being the victims of rape. The prison was for many of these women a respite from their hard lives where they were able to find some sort of peace.
Imagine a world where a prison is the one place that a woman can find peace. There are still women who are not yet able to gaze upon the world with their head held high. The stories of the women in Afghanistan who live under so many restrictions is a reminder that we are not free as women and human beings, until we all are free to own our bodies and our lives.