Thursday, December 12, 2019

What are the Determining Factors Defining a Sexual Encounter as Rape?

Parashat Vayislach
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Can a Person be a Rape Victim even if She Didn’t Protest?
Rape, abuse and harassment of women is unfortunately more common than we may realize. Besides the many cases reported daily in the news, numerous instances of rape go unreported due to the shame and embarrassment of the abused or her parents. In many cases the victim is a minor who may not even understand the nature of the traumatic experience that just happened to her. According to the statistics:  One in four girls will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. 96% of people who sexually abuse children are male. One in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female, and 9% are male. Once, when I taught the story of Dinah, the topic of blaming the victim came up. How do we know if a woman was actually raped or if she played her part by either egging the man on by the way she dressed and/or flirted? Perhaps she complied or even enjoyed herself? There is absolute consensus among the commentaries that Dinah was definitely raped and had no pleasure whatsoever from the sexual encounter with the prince of the land. When I explained to my students that rape, according to halacha, is contingent on the rape-victim screaming or in other ways protesting, I encountered the outrage of my students. They knew several women who had been completely numbed when being molested and thus incapacitated from reacting in any way. Nevertheless, they were still raped. Since rape includes an element of trauma, it’s not surprising that rape victims sometimes suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Among other symptoms, this includes psychic numbing and a diminished responsiveness to the external world (See, for example, Mary P. Koss and Mary R. Harvey, The Rape Victim: Clinical and Community Interventions (Sage Publications, 1991), pp. 78-79). I decided to look into the definition of a sexual encounter as rape, according to Halacha. Is there halachic evidence for defining a sexual encounter as rape even in the case when the victim was unable to protest?

Did Dinah Scream?
When Dinah is raped by Shechem her reaction isn’t recorded in the Torah:

ספר בראשית פרק לד (א) וַתֵּצֵא דִינָה בַּת לֵאָה אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לְיַעֲקֹב לִרְאוֹת בִּבְנוֹת הָאָרֶץ:
(ב) וַיַּרְא אֹתָהּ שְׁכֶם בֶּן חֲמוֹר הַחִוִּי נְשִׂיא הָאָרֶץ וַיִּקַּח אֹתָהּ וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֹתָהּ וַיְעַנֶּהָ:
“Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Ya’acov, went out to look about among the daughters of the land. 2 When Shechem the son of Chamor, the Chivite, the prince of the land saw her, he took her, lay with her, and violated her” (Bereishit 34:1-2).

Here, the Torah portrays many of the dynamics of rape. In the story of Dinah, the Torah shifts from treating her as the grammatical subject in the first verse to grammatical object in the next. She is described as such no less than four times in in the second verse. This alludes to how the rapist treats his victim as an object. During the rape, her intentions and words do not matter. The rape is a jarring blow and many women take a great deal of time to recover from it. Some never recover. These women may continue to feel that they are objects, and that they cannot speak. Society reinforces these effects by encouraging silence on the part of women who have been raped. Some women take years to speak about their rape; some never do. The story of Dinah reflects this dynamic. This may be an indication of numbness and withdrawal (Rav Uri Cohen, What Can the Torah Teach Us About Rape). The story of Dinah reflects these real-life dynamics.

Did anyone ask Dinah about her experience, or how she feels? Is it possible that Dinah tries to recover her sense of self in silence and isolation?  According to Ramban, Dinah definitely screamed. He learns this from the Hebrew word וַיְעַנֶּהָ/vay’aneha – “and defiled her” which clearly refers to rape as Ramban explains:

…Every intercourse that is forced is called ענוי/inui – ‘affliction.’ Likewise, “You shall not treat her as a slave, because you have afflicted her (­­­עִנִּיתָהּ/initah)” (Devarim 21:14).  “and my concubine they forced (עִנּוָּ/inu) and she died” (Shoftim 20:5). Scripture praises her by informing us that she was raped and was not interested in the prince of the land (Ramban, Devarim 34:2).
Ramban continues to describe how Dinah screamed and cried constantly. Otherwise Shechem wouldn’t have needed to ask his father, “Take for me this girl for a wife” (Bereishit 34:4). The girl was already in his possession and as the prince of the land, he had no need to fear that anyone would take her away from him. Yet because of Dinah’s resistance towards him, Shechem tried to bribe her family to convince her to concede willingly to the match (Ramban, Bereishit 34:12)

Is the Torah Blaming the Victim?
There are commentaries who explain Dinah to be somewhat at fault, as it states, “Dinah went out.” Had she stayed within the Jewish camp, in accordance with the ways of modest daughters of Israel, she would not have been molested (Tzror HaMor, Bereishit 34:1).Yet, the majority of commentaries refrain from blaming Dinah. She is called “daughter of Leah” to tell her praise. Dinah is compared to her mother in righteousness and modesty. Just as Leah went out in holiness towards Ya’acov to conceive more tribes, so did Dinah have pure intentions (Arbabanel ibid.). In contrast, the Torah has no mercy for the perpetrator of rape. Not only is rape of a married woman a capital crime (Devarim 22:25), the rape of any woman is compared to murder (Devarim 22:26). As such, it is not only permitted but actually a mitzvah to kill a rapist who is pursuing a woman, in order to save her from being molested (Sefer HaChinuch 600). The rapist of an engaged or married woman incurs the death penalty, whereas the rapist of a single woman must pay reparation for damages, as well as for her suffering, embarrassment and emotional anguish. This shows the Torah’s compassion and insight into the psychological injury of the rape victim (Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 39a-b). It is not the Torah but the rape victims themselves who, at times, become prey to the natural phenomenon to blame themselves. Guilt feelings of the rape victim is a type of psychological poison or venom that the attacker leaves with his unfortunate victim. Since the Torah determines that rape is like murder – “This is no different from the case where a man rises up against his neighbor and murders him” (Devarim 22:26) then it obviously doesn’t blame the victim. Does someone murdered in cold blood by terrorists need to do teshuvah for what they did to him?

If She Doesn’t Scream, It Isn’t Rape
It is vital to define rape from a halachic perspective, as it may determine the difference between adultery and abuse in the case of a married woman. If the woman in question was married to a non-Kohen, she is permitted to her husband after being raped. However, if the sexual encounter with another man is not considered rape, the woman is forbidden to her husband, and moreover liable for the death penalty as an adulterous wife (Devarim 22:22). A court in Italy recently acquitted a man who raped his coworker, finding that because she did not scream, it could not be proven that she did not give her consent. In a shocking verdict, despite the woman’s testimony at trial and a psychological evaluation corroborating the rape, the Court acquitted the defendant. The Court found that the woman did not scream, cry, call for help, or ask the assailant to leave her alone in order to prevent the rape. According to the Court, the victim’s response was too “weak” to show that she did not consent to sexual contact.

The Torah distinguishes between a girl in the city and in the field. If the rape took place in a public place “the penalty shall be imposed on the girl because she did not cry out in the city, and on the man, because he violated his neighbor’s wife” (Devarim 22:24). Yet, in a desolate place, she is not expected to scream since no one would hear her. “After all, [the man] attacked her in the field, and even if the betrothed girl had screamed out, there would have been no one to come to her aid” (Ibid. 27). It seems to me, that most rapists today would choose a rather desolate place to commit their crime, in order to avoid finding themselves behind bars. Even a city may today be considered as a field, since most homes are insulated with noise-proof walls, through which the neighbors may not discern if anyone screams. As long as the rape victim could assume that nobody would help her, there would have been no point in her screaming. Even in an apartment in the city, where there are neighbors who would have heard the rape-victim scream, the rapist may have muffled her mouth or threatened to kill her if she would scream. “According to Rambam, every woman in the field is considered raped until a witness testifies that she willingly consented to have intercourse. Every woman in the city is considered seduced [rather than raped] because she did not scream, until they witnessed that she was raped. For example, the rapist pulled his sword and told her, ‘if you scream, I will kill you.’ Ra’avad wrote, I do not know what difference it makes whether witnesses come to testify or not…”  (Tur, Even Haezer 177). In cases of doubt, the beit din (rabbinic court), must give the benefit of the doubt to the rape-victim, who is not to be embarrassed with any punishment whatsoever (Rabbi Yerucham Fishel Perla, Commentary on Sefer HaMitzvot of Rabbenu Saadia Gaon, Vol. 3, #37 p. 363). I will venture to suggest that in cases where the woman declares that she was molested in a city, a psychologist’s testimony to the fact that she was numbed and unable to scream, even if this doesn’t qualify to punish the rapist, it should suffice to verify that the woman was raped and therefore exonerated from any guilt.  

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Why did the Torah Permit Polygamy?

Parashat Vayetze
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The Original Divine Model of Marriage was Monogamous
The other day, while I was teaching how the relationship between husband and wife reflects the relationship between Hashem and His people, Israel, one of my students asked how then the Torah permitted polygamy in the first place. I explained that Hashem created Adam with only one wife – Chava, thus the original model of marriage was monogamous. Our holy forefathers only took additional wives for specific reasons. Avraham married Hagar only at Sarah’s selfless initiative. She cared that Avraham would be able to fulfill his divine mission to be a father of many nations, even though she hadn’t yet been blessed to bear Avraham’s children. Therefore, she convinced him to take Hagar as a concubine. Yitzchak never had any wife but Rivkah. In fact, their relationship is considered an ideal marriage of equal partners (Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky). Ya’acov only married Leah because he was tricked by Lavan who had exchanged his beloved Rachel for Leah. When he married Bilhah and Zilpah, it was only at the request of Rachel and Leah, who desired to bear children through them. Thus, we see that polygamy by our role-models in the Torah was always through the initiative of their first wife and or due to extenuating circumstances.

Polygamy: Never a Torah Ideal
Throughout Tanach, most polygamous relationships were problematic. Therefore, two cowives are called צרות/tzarot – ‘rivals’ (I Shemuel 1:6). Polygamy is a recipe for strife, jealousy, never-ending grief, distress and confrontation. We know this from the relationship between Sarah and Hagar, Chana and Penina, and from the rivaling of half-siblings, like the sons of Ya’acov and King David. Due to King Solomon taking too many wives, his kingdom was split, eventually resulting in the destruction of the Temple. The first example of polygamy teaches us how marrying more than one wife is regarded as immoral in the Torah. Lamech designated Ada to bear his children and deal with the housework, while Tzila would remain beautiful, child-free and available. Rashi characterizes Lemech’s marriage to two women at once (Bereishit 4:19) as part of the morally reprehensible practices that brought Hashem to destroy the world through the flood. “So was the custom of the generation of the flood, one [wife] for propagation and one for marital relations. The one who was for marital relations would be given a potion of roots to drink, so that she should become sterile. Then he would adorn her like a bride and feed her delicacies, but her companion was neglected and was mourning like a widow” (Rashi, ibid.). “To divide the wifely roles of mother and lover is to objectify women based on utility (Rabbi Ari Kahn, aish.com). What kind of reflection of the relationship between Hashem and Israel would such a triangle relationship generate? Certainly not one of unity and ultimate devotion.

Ya’acov’s Four Wives Builds the Nation of Israel
Ya’acov was destined to marry four wives because Ya’acov’s family built the Jewish nation. By taking several wives and giving birth to numerous children, Ya’acov was able to transform his extended family into a nation with a special covenant and relationship to Hashem. Thus, Ya’acov’s wives and children became the microcosm of the Jewish people. When Rachel and Leah offered their handmaids to Ya’acov, it was because, “The Matriarchs were prophetesses who were aware that twelve tribes would be born to Ya’acov, and that these twelve would descend from four wives” (Rashi, Bereishit 29:34).This is learned from Leah’s naming of Levi, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, for I have borne him three sons; therefore, He named him Levi” (Bereishit 29:34). Thus, Leah proclaimed that Ya’acov could no longer harbor any complaints against her, since she had provided him with her full share of three sons (one quarter of the 12 tribes). The Matriarchs possessed an intuitive superconscious realization that they had the task and privilege to propel the historical process forward to eventually culminate in establishing the Israelite nation. Creating the Jewish nation is the patient product of generations of cultivation and nurturing through immense struggle and pain. Great indeed are the women who are perceptive enough to comprehend that their labor of child rearing also constitutes nation building. (Based on https://www.etzion.org.il/en/download/file/fid/3305).

The Four Holy Wives of Ya’acov Represent the Unity of the Four Dimensions
The Zohar goes even deeper explaining that Ya’acov had to marry four wives in order to reveal all the manifestations of existence. These aspects are represented by the four primeval rivers in Eden, the four archangels, the four directions, the four elements, and the four camps of the Shechina, and the four letters of Hashem’s name:
זוהר חלק ב דף רנו/ב
 ורזא דמלה, יעקב נטיל ארבע נשין, וכליל לון בגויה, ואף על גב דאוקימנא להאי מלה ברזא אחרא, דאיהו קיימא בין תרין עלמין, ורזא דכלא, כד יעקב נטיל האי היכלא דאיהו שתיתאה, נטיל וכליל בגוויה כל אינון ארבע נשין, ארבע מלאכין, וכלהו דבקי בהיכלא דא, אלין אינון ארבע רישי נהרין, דכתיב (בראשית ב י) ומשם יפרד והיה לארבעה ראשים, אלין ארבע רישין, אינון ארבע נשין דנטיל לון יעקב, ונטיל היכלא דא.
The secret of the matter: Ya’acov took four wives and included them within him. Though we explained it through another mystery, NAMELY, that he stands between two worlds OF ATZILUT, CALLED ‘RACHEL AND LEAH;’ NEVERTHELESS, the secret of the whole matter is that when Ya’acov took this chamber, the sixth one, he included in it these four women, who were four angels, all attached to this chamber. These are the four sources of the rivers, as it is written, “and from thence it was parted, and branched into four streams” (Bereishit 2:10). These four branches are the four women Ya’acov married, who took this chamber (Zohar 2,156b).

The Zohar explains that the souls of Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah, were really four parts of one soul, called “Rachel.” This concurs with the tradition that all four were sisters. Rachel and Leah were even twins (Seder Olam Rabbah 2). The rectification of creation requires the reunification of all four parts into one soul. This is similar to how Ya’acov absorbed Esav into his being by first buying the birthright, and then receiving the blessings. The four holy wives of Ya’acov represent Ya’acov’s mission in the world to unify all these elements and thus rectify Adam, whose sin caused the fragmentation of the world. For the sake of this lofty rectification, Ya’acov had to marry four wives and deviate from the command not to marry two sisters. By joining together with one husband and overcoming the natural tendency of rivalry, Ya’acov’s four holy wives became as one unified person, enacting the highest tikun of creation.

Restrictive Laws Concerning Polygamy Since Talmudic Times
Since Talmudic times, the sages disparaged marrying more than one wife. Already by the fourth or fifth century of the common era, the practice was discouraged or banned, and none of the rabbis named in the Talmud had polygamous relationships. In order to limit it, they decreed that polygamy was permissible only if the husband was capable of properly fulfilling his marital duties toward each of his wives. The opinion was also expressed, that if a man takes a second wife, he must divorce his first wife and pay her ketubah if she so demands (Yevamot 65a; Alfasi, Piskei ha-Rosh; Shulchan Aurch, EH 1:9). Similarly, according to Talmudic law, a man may not take a second wife if he has specifically stipulated in the ketubah that his first wife would be his only one (Shulchan Aruch, EH 76:8). Taking a second wife is also forbidden wherever monogamy is the local custom, since it is presumed that she only wishes to marry in accordance with local custom (Shulchan Aruch, EH 1:9; Beit Shemuel, ibid., 20; Chelkat Mechokek, ibid., 15, 76:8). Generally, the husband can only be released from this restriction with his wife’s consent (loc. cit.; Darchei Moshe, EH 1:1, n. 8; Shulchan Aruch, EH 76).

The Takana (Legislation) of Rabbeinu Gershom
Approximately one thousand years ago, the noted German scholar Rabbi Gershom, “the Light of the Diaspora” banned polygamy for Ashkenazi Jews. That ruling was subsequently accepted also by many Sephardic communities. This ban was instituted to prevent people from taking advantage of their wives and to avoid the inherent rivalry and hatred between rival wives.
Rabbi Gershom was also concerned lest the husband be unable to provide properly for all his wives. In exceptional circumstances, where a wife is physically or mentally incapable of accepting a get (bill of divorce) from her husband, the ban allowed the rabbinate to occasionally permit a man to remarry through “permission from 100 rabbis.” Certain authorities believed that the validity of the ban applied only until the year 1240. Others, however, held that it had no time limit. Even according to the first opinion, the ban remains in force after 1240, since later generations accepted it as a binding takanah. Accordingly, the ban now has the force of law for posterity (Resp. Rosh 43:8; Shulchan Aruch, EH 1:10; Aruch ha-Shulcḥan, EH 1:23; Otẓar ha-Poskim, EH 1:76).

The Law of the Land
At a national rabbinical conference called in 1950 by the chief rabbis of Israel, an enactment was passed making monogamy (apart from the above-mentioned permissions) binding upon all Jews irrespective of their communal affiliations. Thus, polygamy has been illegal in Israel since 1977, when a law made the practice punishable by up to five years in prison and a monetary fine (Penal Law Amendment (Bigamy) Law, 5719–1959). It is hard to understand why today in Israel there are still Rabbis who not only condone polygamy but even promote it. Rabbi Yehezkel Sopher, who heads the organization, Complete Jewish Family, placed an advertisement in a popular pamphlet, handed out at synagogue, calling for the return of plural marriage. He erroneously claims that the 11th-century polygamy ban expired in 1240. Sopher also claims that the reason the Israeli chief rabbinate opposes polygamy is their receiving state salaries. Personally, I know one woman in Israel, who became a second wife to a man who was 25 years her senior. This man, her Rabbi, convinced her that by becoming his second wife, she was doing a great mitzvah and speeding up the redemption. You can only wonder about the motivation of such men who condone polygamy.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Is it a Halachic Problem for Parents to Will Each of Their Children to Inherit Equally?

Parashat Toldot
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How Can the Torah Exclude Daughters from Inheriting?
The matter of firstborn rights is the red thread of Parashat Toldot. The Torah law of bequeathing a double portion to the first-born son, and even more so, that of excluding daughters from inheriting when there are sons, clearly goes against our sense of fairness and justice. In our time, and even centuries back, it has long been the custom of parents to divide their possessions equally among their children, whether they be sons or daughters, firstborn or not. I was a bit shocked to discover that Torah law, even today, obligates the father to bestow a twofold inheritance to his firstborn son. What if the younger son is poor and needs the money more? And what about the daughters? Not receiving a full part of the parents’ inheritance could cause resentment, family strife and reduce a young woman to poverty. Furthermore, according to Torah law, a wife does not inherit from her husband; only the sons do. However, most husbands and fathers today rather than leaving their inheritance to their sons – who may be too young to take care of financial matters – would want their wife to inherit all their possessions and let the children inherit from her at the appropriate time when they become mature adults. In practical terms, this implies that, for example, if a husband and father of three sons and three daughters dies, and leaves possessions worth $100.000, he bequeaths his firstborn $50.000, his additional sons $25.000 each, but leaves nothing for his widow and daughters. Why would the Torah have such seemingly unfair laws? Is there no way today according to halacha to allow each of the children to share equally in the inheritance of their parents?

Legal Transactions Overriding Torah Laws of Inheritance
The first person who actually amended the Torah law of inheritance is no other than Ya’acov, who fashioned a legal transaction which transferred the law of the firstborn to the younger son, in exchange for a bowl of lentil soup:

ספר בראשית פרק כה פסוק לג וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב הִשָּׁבְעָה לִּי כַּיּוֹם וַיִּשָּׁבַע לוֹ וַיִּמְכֹּר אֶת בְּכֹרָתוֹ לְיַעֲקֹב:
“And Ya’acov said, ‘Swear to me as of this day;’ so he swore to him, and he sold his birthright to Ya’acov (Bereishit 25:33).

From Ya’acov, we learn that it is possible to make specific agreements in order to determine who inherits what. Perhaps Job learned this principle from Ya’acov when he bequeathed his daughters with an inheritance along with his sons:

ספר איוב פרק מב פסוק טו וְלֹא נִמְצָא נָשִׁים יָפוֹת כִּבְנוֹת אִיּוֹב בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ וַיִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲבִיהֶם נַחֲלָה בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵיהֶם:
“Nowhere in the land were women as beautiful as the daughters of Iyuv to be found, and their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers”” (Iyuv 42:15).

I haven’t found any commentaries that criticize Job for overriding the Torah laws of inheritance.  On the contrary, Rashi explains, “Because of (their esteem and) their beauty, he gave them an inheritance with their brothers.” Perhaps, we can say that today all women are esteemed, along the lines of the Rama in Shulchan Aruch, “All our women are important,” regarding whether women should lean during the Pesach Seder (Orach Chayim 472).  
Dynamic Torah Adapts to Changes in Society
The Torah is a Tree of Life. It is dynamic and adaptable to various situations throughout the ages. As history and time unfolds, there are epic shifts in society. The daughters of Tzelafchad were the first to point out the injustice that daughters were unable to inherit, when there are no sons. Hashem responded in their favor:

במדבר פרק כז פסוק ז כֵּן בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד דֹּבְרֹת נָתֹן תִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲחֻזַּת נַחֲלָה בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אֲבִיהֶם וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ אֶת נַחֲלַת אֲבִיהֶן לָהֶן:
“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘the daughters of Tzelafchad speak properly. You shall certainly give them a portion of inheritance along wither their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer their father’s inheritance to them’” (Bamidbar 27:7).

The dynamic features of Chazal deal with real-world problems. When situations arise that could introduce strife into families or leave vulnerable people impoverished, the rabbis must figure out and tinker with the system in a way that is consistent with halacha and Torah values, while taking into account the realities of society. The way wealth is passed from generation to generation changes over time. Likewise, the way people organize their economic affairs in an agricultural economy is vastly different from how the economy works in a mercantile society. “Indeed, the rabbis must always be on their toes to balance the changing times with Torah law” (Rabbi Rabbi Shlomo Weissman, Director of the Beth Din of America). 

Torah Laws Consider the Wellbeing and Security of Women
Just because certain Torah laws are at odds with the modern Western way of thought, doesn’t make them unfair. These laws need to be understood in their proper context. When discussing the Torah law regarding inheritance, we must realize that according to the Torah, the man is exclusively responsible for the financial welfare of the family. The Jewish marriage contract (ketuba) obligates the husband to financially support his wife, while the wife is not required to contribute financially to the family. Until recently, it was no different even in the Western World. The Talmud considers first and foremost the wellbeing and security of the women, ensuring that men support them adequately: “One who dies and leaves sons and daughters – when the possessions are abundant, the sons shall inherit, and the daughters shall be maintained. If the possessions are sparse, the daughters shall be maintained, but the sons shall beg [for support] from door-to-door” (Bava Batra 139b). The primary duty was to ensure that the women be taken care of. The men –more easily than the women – can go to work. If that is not feasible, sad as it may be, it is still better for a man to beg than for a woman. So even if according to Torah law the wife and the daughters do not inherit when there are sons, the sons are required to ensure that they receive an adequate stipend that supports them according to their customary standard of living. 

How Can a Daughter Inherit Her Parents According to Halacha Today? – Writing a Will
As we approach the final redemption, the woman’s role is shifting and the curse of, “…To your husband shall be your dependence, and he shall rule over you” (Bereishit 3:16) is being undone.  Today, the need for independence overrides the need for security for most women. Along with women’s financial independence comes the natural requirement for daughters to inherit equally with their brothers. Although we may not transgress the Torah’s command, there are ways of choosing one’s beneficiaries which are both religiously and legally legitimate. There is an age-old custom among many, that while the father is still alive, he drafts a document referred to by Halacha as Chatzi-Zachar for his daughters, thus entitling them to a portion of his estate. This is especially a worthy thing to do if one’s daughter has built her household on the tenets of Torah and Mitzvah observance, and her family is going through a difficult financial time, in which case it is a Mitzvah to help one’s daughter and son-in-law to continue in their service of Hashem with some financial respite (Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, Halacha Yomit). The laws of inheritance according to the Torah are quite complex and when wishing to choose our beneficiaries it is advisable to consult with a prominent Torah scholar or a religious lawyer who deals with estate planning. However, it is good to know that with proper guidance in the process of transferring inheritance, it is possible to grant a portion of our estate to the wife, daughters and younger sons.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Does the Torah Have Guidelines for Finding our True Soulmate?


Parashat Chayei Sarah
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Hashem – The Ultimate Matchmaker
The shidduch process is not always easy, neither for singles nor their parents. I was lucky and blessed to meet my husband at a Shabbat table and get married at 20 without ever needing to consult a matchmaker. My mother took off work and flew to Israel to check out to whom her wild teenage daughter had become engaged. It could have been a crazy hippy without any education, but it turned out to be a doctor like her husband and herself, from a very good family. Clearly G-d was behind the scene. When we were young and carefree, all that mattered to us was the feeling of connection and attraction. Family and education seemed so insignificant. Now, when we’re on the other side, marrying off our children, such matters do have great importance. Yet, it seems that most tweens whether religious or not, don’t give a hoot about the family of their prospective. They aren’t interested in the siblings, or in the profession of the parents etc. They are looking for connection and attraction, just like we did, when we were their age. Unfortunately, many singles remain unmarried well past their prime. Again, I don’t think it makes a difference whether they are Torah observant or not. Looking for a partner at parties, bars and dance clubs doesn’t always bear fruit. Neither does going on shidduch dating. Hashem is the ultimate matchmaker. He has his own plan and His timing is not always understandable to us. Yet, without proper guidelines for seeking our other half, we are left in the dark. This can require a painful process of confusion, betrayal and abuse. However, the Torah has guidelines for everything in life, from the moment you open your eyes in the morning till you close them again at night. So, there must be proper guidelines for finding a marriage partner in the Torah. What does the Torah recommend regarding investigating the family before beginning to date?

Seeking a Marriage Partner in the Most Suitable Places
Parashat Chayei Sarah describes the process of finding a wife for Yitzchak. The selection of Rivkah and their subsequent marriage is a prototype that sets the parameters for Jewish matchmaking in the Torah. This is according to the principle, “The deeds of the fathers are a sign to their children” (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 34a).

ספר בראשית פרק כד פסוק ב-ד וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם אֶל עַבְדּוֹ זְקַן בֵּיתוֹ הַמּשֵׁל בְּכָל אֲשֶׁר לוֹ שִׂים נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי :(ג) וְאַשְׁבִּיעֲךָ בַּהָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וֵאלֹהֵי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לֹא תִקַּח אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי מִבְּנוֹת הַכְּנַעֲנִי אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּקִרְבּוֹ :(ד) כִּי אֶל אַרְצִי וְאֶל מוֹלַדְתִּי תֵּלֵךְ וְלָקַחְתָּ אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי לְיִצְחָק:
“Avraham said to his servant, the elder of his house… I will make you swear by Hashem…that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose midst I dwell. But you shall go to my land and to my birthplace, and you shall take a wife for my son, for Yitzchak’” (Bereishit 24:2-4).

Avraham sent his trusted servant to seek a bride for Yitzchak from Avraham’s country and birthplace because he knew that people from there had good midot (character-traits). From this, we learn to seek a marriage partner from the places that are most likely to have people who possess the good qualities we desire. Looking for a girl from a certain midrasha, that seems to be compatible with the way of a certain Yeshiva seems to be included in this principle.

Which is the Most Important Character-Trait to Seek?
We can also learn from the selection of Rivkah which character trait is most important when looking for a marriage partner:

ספר בראשית פרק כד פסוק יד וְהָיָה הַנַּעֲרָ אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיהָ הַטִּי נָא כַדֵּךְ וְאֶשְׁתֶּה וְאָמְרָה שְׁתֵה וְגַם גְּמַלֶּיךָ אַשְׁקֶה אֹתָהּ הֹכַחְתָּ לְעַבְדְּךָ לְיִצְחָק וּבָהּ אֵדַע כִּי עָשִׂיתָ חֶסֶד עִם אֲדֹנִי:
“And it will be, [that] the maiden to whom I will say, ‘Lower your pitcher and I will drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ her have You designated for Your servant, for Yitzchak, and through her may I know that You have performed loving kindness with my master” (Bereishit 24:14).

Rashi commented: She is worthy of him for she does deeds of benefaction. This episode is juxtaposed to the episode of Ephron the Chitite, for he too was a descendent of Canaan… Ephron had an evil eye; therefore, Hashem commanded to keep the Canaanites at a distance, as they were masters of the evil eye. For money will answer and bear witness to everything, and every person is recognized by his pocket, whether his deeds are pure and honest. …Knowing this, Eliezer examined Rivkah only regarding this character-trait [loving/kindness], whether she had a good eye and performed deeds of benefaction. This is why, he asked, “I will only request from her to give me a drink, and if she will answer me, ‘Drink, and also your camels shall I water,’ certainly she is a master of benefaction, for she is giving me more than I ask.” Therefore, “She, you have designated for my master Yitzchak,” for his house is clothed in kindness for others” (Kli Yakar (Rabbi Ephraim of Luntshits) b. 1550, d. 1619).

Kli Yakar tells us that the nature of a person is recognized through the way he uses money and does deeds of חסד/chesed – ‘loving/kindness’ to others. Therefore, Eliezer tested Rivkah specifically in this character-trait, whether she had a good eye and performed deeds of חסד/chesed. We can determine the rest of her character according to the חסד/chesed she performs. This is because מידת החסד היא בנין אב לכל המידות/midat hachesed hi binyan av l’chol hamidot – the character trait of chesed is the foundation of all other character-traits.

What About Family Lineage?
Although my husband is from the USA and I hail from Europe, our family background is very similar. I’ve always believed that “likes attract likes.” (This is a poor translation of the original Danish expression, which literally reads, “equal children play best”). Perhaps, that’s how it worked out that my husband and I just clicked, without even giving a thought to each other’s family background. Yet there is a limit to how much investigation of the family is necessary. Too much focus on family lineage, rather than upon the prospective marriage partner may even be disadvantageous, as we know ‘some apples do fall far from the tree.’ Although it turned out, that Rivkah was related to Avraham’s family, a close reading of the text reveals that Avraham never specifically made this a requirement (See Meshech Chachma 24:4). Moreover, both Rivkah’s father and her infamous brother, Lavan were tricksters. Therefore, Rivkah was called “a rose among thorns” (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 63:4). Thus, it seems that extensive checking of family background before allowing the young man and woman to meet, can be counterproductive and over-controlling, as if trying to force Hashem’s will. It is very possible that the true zivug (soulmate) is from a completely unexpected family background. Furthermore, it is interesting to note, that Eliezer actually gave Rivkah gifts of jewelry before inquiring about Rivkah’s family (See Bereishit 24:23-24). This strongly indicates that the selection of the prospective marriage partner(s) should be based (primarily) on his or her own merit, rather than that of their parents and their yichus (lineage). Going overboard checking the family lineage is not a prerequisite for seeking a suitable match for one’s children. There is certainly room for differences in how much and in which way parents should get involved in selecting suitable marriage partners for their children. Everyone needs to find the right balance and what is suitable for them.

What is the Torah Way of Dating?
There is a wide spectrum of ways for young people to find their soulmates. In the past, and still in many Chassidic circles today, the parents from compatible families – after having checked on the prospective marriage partner for their son or daughter – meet to arrange their marriage, even before their children have become of age. Then, when the time comes, the young prospective couple meet, usually in the dining-room of one set of parents. If the girl finds favor in the eyes of the boy, he proposes to her on that first date or soon after. Since everything else has already been found compatible by their parents in advance, all the young couple needs to find out, is whether there is connection and attraction between them. That usually takes no more than three dates. In a way, I find this way of shidduch dating very beautiful. It offers the maximum protection for the young inexperienced youths who lack the life-experience of their loving parents, and who really care and know what their children need. Yet, this way isn’t suitable for many young people today, and certainly not for older singles. Ba’alei Teshuva, for example, are too sophisticated for this kind of dating. Their parents also are unsuited and unfamiliar and with the shidduch investigation process. Matchmakes take their place and are often successful in pairing up young people, but on the other hand, going out on one blind date after the other, without success, can be very discouraging. Then, there is online dating, which I recommend, especially for singles above the age of 30, because they can save much time and aggravation by checking possible matches on their own without being dependent on intermediaries. But again, none of these shidduch methods safeguard singles from the painful experience of being set up with weirdoes.

What Could be the Problem with Meeting a Guy in a Café?
Whether using matchmakers, online dating, suggestions from friends or parental pre-arranged marriages, the story of Rivkah teaches us that it is prohibited to marry off a daughter without her consent:

ספר בראשית פרק כד פסוק נז וַיֹּֽאמְר֖וּ נִקְרָ֣א לַנַּֽעֲרָ֑ה (כתיב לנער) וְנִשְׁאֲלָ֖ה אֶת־פִּֽיהָ:
“And they said, ‘Let us call the maiden and ask her’” (Bereishit 24:57).

And ask her: From here we learn that we may not marry off a woman except with her consent. — [Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 60:12]; (Rashi).

We may wonder, what made Rivkah agree to marry Yitzchak, before even meeting him? Perhaps, she had heard about him and his famous parents and yearned to be part of this holy family who had such a strong connection with Hashem. Today, no one would agree to marry a person they had never met. Actually, the halacha teaches that it is prohibited for a man to marry a woman before he has seen her (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 41a). Perhaps, this is the reason for the custom of the groom to lift the veil of the bride before the chuppah (wedding canopy). Some people prefer meeting their prospective spouse on their own, without any intermediaries. It can work out beautifully, meeting in a more natural setting, such as the Shabbat table. Yet, the problem with meeting a guy in a café, party or on the bus is that it is impossible to know the intention of the other, whether, he is serious about meeting to marry. Many men are looking for a temporary fling, which is not always clear at first. Over the years, I’ve counselled numerous young women that became attached to a man who enjoyed their company and their infatuation, without being interested in ever marrying them. They may keep a young woman on the hook without moving the relationship forward into a more serious stage. Thus, the poor attached woman, who doesn’t have the guts to end the relationship, closes herself off from finding her true soulmate. She might have been better off going on a shidduch date with a guy whose integrity and good intentions for marriage had been checked out by people whom she trusts. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

When is Welcoming Guest a Woman’s Mitzvah?


Parashat Vayera 
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To Host or not to Host?
“Greater is the mitzvah of welcoming guests than receiving the Divine Presence” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 127a). Avraham was in the midst of receiving Divine revelation when he noticed three potential guests. In order to welcome his guests, he politely requested of G-d to wait for him until he had tended to their needs: “My Master, [addressing G-d] if only I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass on from beside your servant [please wait for me until I return from my guests]…” (Bereishit 18:3). Hashem waited for Avraham, thereby imparting the eternal, overriding value of the mitzvah of hospitality. I recall our excitement to welcome guests, in the old days, when we were a young, newly observant couple. Almost no Shabbat went by without our table being filled with all kinds of interesting people, ranging from truth-searching strangers and seminar girls to young, newly religious families. Fast forward 30 years and I find myself so stressed out with all my responsibilities during the week, that I treasure a quiet Shabbat rest, home alone with my husband. As the years go by, I crave my own space and privacy more and more, in order to recharge and have energy to teach, write and counsel. Shabbat is supposed to be a time of rest, but this is not always so for the woman, when hosting many guests. Thus, the mitzvah of welcoming guests often leaves me with conflicting feelings. On the one hand, we have a beautiful home and garden and it’s lovely to serve Hashem by sharing His gifts with numerous guests. Yet, on the other hand, it is hard. For example, last week, the first Shabbat getting back to daily routine after the holidays, I received the following email: “Hello Rebbetzin. My name is Shmuel and I just joined the Yeshiva here in Bat Ayin. I’m very much interested in holistic medicine and I also loved the videos of your Midrasha. Can you please have me and two friends for the second meal on Shabbat day?” 15 years ago, I would have been exhilarated by such an opportunity to host and teach, but this time, I was looking forward to a quiet Shabbat with my husband. Without Shabbat guests, we had time for a beautiful nature hike, which our busy lives otherwise do not afford. So, I offered to arrange Shabbat lunch for the Yeshiva boys somewhere else and invited them to eat with us in two weeks’ time, when our son would be home from Yeshiva. It wasn’t easy to let go of the opportunity to do the important mitzvah of welcoming guests, but in retrospect I believe I did the right thing.

Finding Our Personal Balance between Outreach and Recharging
We all need to find the right balance between chesed and gevurah – hosting and privacy. This balance can change from year to year, and even from week to week. Despite, the fact that Avraham, our father’s hospitality par excellence is a model towards which we must aspire, we also must realize that we are not necessarily an Avraham or a Henny Machlis z”l. If we don’t recognize the level we are on, but keep trying to reach beyond our capabilities, we may simply burn out. The mitzvot we perform halfheartedly, taking them on because we are supposed to, or worse, in order to please others or “keep up with the Joneses,” never come off right. Who wants to be a guest of someone who would have preferred their personal space? Yet, on the other hand, we still need to constantly grow and ‘up’ our ability to say “Yes!” with our full heart. It’s a constant רָצוֹ וָשׂוֹב/ratzo vashov – ‘running and returning’ – to jump a bit out of our comfort zone, and then return to recharge. We all have a unique mission and a set of particular mitzvot to fulfill in this lifetime, but if we try to live up to all the amazing Biblical role-models in every endeavor of life, we may be spreading ourselves too thin, and neglect fulfilling our own personal mission. I often come across the trend of lack of focus among women today who are ‘all-over-the-place.’

Avraham and Sarah – The Ultimate Hospitality Team
Having said all this, I don’t want to belittle the mitzvah of hospitality, celebrated in Parashat Vayera and in Jewish communities the world over. Of all times of the year, now is the occasion to aspire to become the ‘Hostess with the Mostess.’ Welcoming guests is certainly a mitzvah not limited to men. Although Avraham is most famous for his hospitality, what about Sarah? What part does she have in this mitzvah, if any? Avraham is known for his chesed – loving/kindness, so he is the natural hospitality whiz. Yet, Sarah is known for her gevurah – setting boundaries. So, we may imagine her telling Avraham: “Do we really need 500 guests for Friday night? Perhaps 400 would do?” However, nothing could be more in the wrong.

The angels asked, “Where is Sarah your wife” (Bereishit 18:9), to teach us the importance of the wife’s participation in hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests). The presence of the woman makes the guests feel welcome, when her gestures indicate that she is pleased with their visit (Beer Mayim Chaim). The angels weren’t only inquiring about Sarah’s physical whereabouts, but also asking, “What are her good deeds that makes her worthy of a son?” The famous answer is, “behold in the tent” (ibid.) – the level of her modesty makes her worthy to conceive Yitzchak. Yet, “the tent” moreover represent the mitzvah of welcoming guests, which also imparts the merit of bearing children. When we actively show our love for others by hosting and welcoming guests, it follows that we are ready to behave lovingly to the guests of our womb (Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion p. 13).

ספר בראשית פרק יח פסוק ו וַיְמַהֵר אַבְרָהָם הָאֹהֱלָה אֶל שָׂרָה וַיֹּאמֶר מַהֲרִי שְׁלשׁ סְאִים קֶמַח סֹלֶת לוּשִׁי וַעֲשִׂי עֻגוֹת:
“Avraham hastened into the tent of Sarah and said: hurry make ready three measures of fine flour, knead it and make cakes” (Bereishit 18:6).

Just as Avraham is known for his kindness, so is Sarah, his faithful partner, steeped in deeds of chesed, as she busied herself with the endless task of preparing food for their numerous guests. Sarah supported Avraham’s work in every way. As the ultimate hospitality team, they both merited to build the house of Israel.

What is a ‘Halachich Guest’?
Performing Hachnasat Orchim properly merits children, as we learn from Avraham and Sarah, who, after feeding their guests, were told about the forthcoming birth of their son (Bereishit 18:10); (Tanchuma Ki Tetzei 2). This is also inferred from the Shunamite woman, who after hosting Elisha, was promised a son (Ibid.). Our sages emphasize the great merit of hospitality, “When the Temple is standing the altar atones for a person; now that the Temple has been destroyed, a person’s table atones for him, for his feeding of needy guests atones for his sins” (BT, Chagiga 27a with Rashi). Yet, not all hospitality qualifies for such merit. While it is nice hosting neighbors and friends for a Shabbat meal, these guests may not meet the criteria of ‘halachic guest.’ The Rema explains that a halachic guest is someone who truly needs a place to sleep and eat, such as a traveler away from home (Shulchan Aruch, OC 333:1). All the great virtues and rewards for welcoming guests described in the Talmud, moreover, apply specifically to the poor, who cannot afford to buy food or may even be homeless.

The Merit of Performing Hachnasat Orchim Today
How can we perform the mitzvah of hospitality today, when most people can afford to feed themselves? According to Rav Melamed, although today, there are hardly any people hungry for bread, and very few homeless, many people today still need help and encouragement. In our generation, there are no less depressed people. Although the standard of living has risen materially, to some extent, physical abundance has caused an increasing number of people to suffer from feelings of loneliness and alienation. Opening our homes to these lost souls can relieve their torment and provide them much needed emotional and spiritual support. Good, sympathetic, warm hospitality can bring back the belief that there is value to the lives of those who have lost their direction in life, despairing of themselves and their future. Feeling that people value them, are happy to spend time with them and want to help them gives them much needed encouragement. In addition, the many young people who come to Israel to study, may suffer from a feeling of homelessness. Especially those who have decided to make Aliyah, despite the opposition of their parents, need the family warmth that hospitality can afford them  (Peninei Halacha Between People 7:6). So, although we may sometimes need a break from guests, in order to recharge, let us not forget that the mitzvah of welcoming guests engenders blessing in this world and the next, as it states, “Rabbi Yoḥanan said: There are six matters a person enjoys the profits of in this world, and nevertheless the principal exists for him for the World-to-Come, and they are: Hospitality toward guests, visiting the sick, consideration during prayer, rising early to the study hall, one who raises his sons to engage in Torah study, and one who judges another favorably, giving him the benefit of the doubt” (BT, Shabbat 127a). After learning all this, I’m certainly grateful for the opportunity to host guests this Shabbat.