Why Can’t You Just Move On?
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph addresses the exemption of a minor from capital punishment, even when they are the offender in an adultery case. Tosafos pose the question of why there should even be a debate, since minors are generally exempt from punishments. Tosafos in Arakhin (3a, “Limutei”) suggest another line of thought, contemplating whether even a minor should be executed due to “Kalon,” which can be translated as “disgrace.” What precedent do Tosafos reference? In a case where a person engages in sexual relations with an animal, the animal is put to death due to Kalon (see Sanhedrin 55b). Although this initial comparison might seem startling or offensive, a different perspective will shed light on it soon. For now, it’s sufficient to mention that the law mandates destroying the animal to erase any lingering disgraceful memory of the act. Consequently, there’s at least a notion that the Torah might also prescribe execution for a minor who commits adultery. In the end, however, the ruling does not align with this idea.
Yet, there’s a lesson about human dignity that emerges from this Rabbinic contemplation and ethical analysis. The effort to prevent any further reminders of a disgraceful sexual act is so potent that just as an animal subjected to sexual perversion is put to death, so too, there might be an inclination to consider the same fate for a minor.
This notion brings to mind the intricate and challenging situations that families of survivors of sexual abuse often face. When the perpetrator is a close relative, the inclination to mend relationships can be strong. Indeed, there are cases where young, impulsive, or misguided perpetrators or other genuine mitigating circumstances emerge, making it possible to assert that the family member who committed the act no longer poses a threat. This is reasonable and could provide comfort by allowing family reunions, participation in weddings, and shared Yamim Tovim. However, utmost sensitivity must be exercised to genuinely respect the victim. Some victims might never regain comfort in the presence of the perpetrator, even if the latter has taken appropriate steps to make amends. Family members might pressure or manipulate the victim into “moving on.” I’ve even come across situations where the victim was forced to leave their own home instead of the perpetrator. This is an unjust and unkind expectation, and we recognize a strong Torah ethic that comprehends how reminders of sexual transgressions can be tremendously disruptive. While there might be instances where the minor offender is innocent in certain respects due to their age, this does not absolve the family or the minor from showing due consideration or empathy toward the victim.
Self Sacrifice vs Self Preservation
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph delves into the profound measures one must undertake to demonstrate respect and dignity towards their own slave:
The passage continues: This means that there shall not be a situation in which you eat fine bread and he eats inferior bread [kibbar], bread from coarse flour mixed with bran, which is low quality. There shall not be a situation in which you drink aged wine and he drinks inferior new wine. There shall not be a situation in which you sleep comfortably on bedding made from soft sheets and he sleeps on straw. From here the Sages stated: Anyone who acquires a Hebrew slave is considered like one who acquires a master for himself, because he must be careful that the slave’s living conditions are equal to his own.
Tosafos (ibid) rules that if you have only one pillow or one portion, you must give it to the slave, even if it personally deprives you. Tosafos deduces this from the fact that the Gemara likens the slave to a master, not just a peer. Therefore, to properly care for the servant, one must be willing to make sacrifices and compromise their own comfort.
Some may question how this aligns with the teaching in Bava Metzia 62a:
The Gemara inquires: And Rabbi Yoḥanan, how does he interpret the verse: “And your brother shall live with you”? The Gemara answers: He requires the verse for the following baraisa: If two people were walking on a desolate path, and one of them has a jug [kiton] of water, and the situation is such that if both drink from the jug, both will die due to insufficient water. However, if only one of them drinks, he will reach a settled area. A dispute arises regarding the halakha. Ben Petora taught: It is preferable that both of them drink and die, preventing either from witnessing the death of the other. This was the accepted opinion until Rabbi Akiva came and taught that the verse states: “And your brother shall live with you,” indicating that your life takes precedence over the life of the other.
In this situation, where only one person can have their need met, the owner’s well-being takes priority.
Two distinctions arise between the case of the Jewish servant and this scenario. The first distinction lies in the equal obligation of each person to save the other’s life, creating a circular dilemma. If you were to offer your jug of water to the other person, they would then feel equally obligated to return it to you. Conversely, in the case of the servant and master, one wields power over the other, making it reasonable for the Torah to emphasize caring for the underprivileged. The second important distinction pertains to the gravity of the matter. In the life-or-death situation, temporary sacrifices become reasonable. In contrast, sacrificing an entire life might not be as reasonable.
Rav Kook, in Moreh Nevukhei Hador (3:2), suggests that one must discern the default principle and the exception between these scenarios. In Torah ethics, he contends that the default is to sacrifice for others. The exception to this rule arises only when a matter pertains to literal life or death, permitting one to prioritize their own well-being before others.
Lav at First Sight
Our Gemara on Amud Beis initiates the discussion on the laws of Eishes Yefas Toar, a woman taken captive during war, and the permissibility of marrying her. Given the intense and primal urges that often emerge during the heat of battle, the Torah, rather than tolerating rampant sexual violence in wartime, outlines specific conditions under which a captive woman may be taken as a wife.
The Sages taught: Concerning a captive, the verse states: “And sees among the captives,” indicating that this law applies only when he notices her during her captivity. The term “a woman” implies that even if she is married, she is permitted. The phrase “a beautiful woman” suggests that the Torah introduced this law only in response to the evil inclination, acknowledging that his desire is due to her physical beauty. But why does the Torah permit this?
The Gemara goes on to explain that the reasoning behind this permission is to provide a controlled outlet in situations that would otherwise result in more severe and abusive violations.
One of the conditions outlined is that this interaction must be spontaneous, not premeditated. Various opinions exist regarding the halakhic interpretation, but in essence, it must be a response to an immediate circumstance. This understanding is derived from the phrase “and you shall see her among the captives,” indicating a spontaneous and immediate reaction.
Arvei Nachal (Bereishis 5:49), influenced by Chassidic theology that views even negatives as containing sparks of good, suggests that the captive woman serves both as a metaphor and a reality. In life, actions that might seem wrong or sinful under certain circumstances can be redeemed or turned into something positive. Even in the case of the actual captive woman, though her circumstances are typically morally reprehensible, she might embody a hidden spark of a Jewish soul that seeks redemption. He further explains that the desire for the woman, as mentioned in the verses, is to “bring her into the home.” This indicates that the desire is not solely for a sexual encounter but also for a deeper connection as a wife. If this instinctual desire is immediate upon seeing her, it might indicate the potential for a spiritual redemption by bringing her into their home.
Although contemporary practices have evolved beyond these considerations, the concept speaks to the idea that attraction between two individuals can extend beyond mere physical lust, signifying a profound soul connection. While discerning between a superficial crush and a deeper connection might be challenging, feelings should not be disregarded.
- Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation
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