Strong and Weak Women in the Bible

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For many people, engaging in modern biblical scholarship means ignoring all previous attempts to understand the Bible. The exegesis of the ages must be replaced with a methodical, scientific study. Recent trends, however, incorporate modern and ancient explanations, allowing the contemporary scholar to join the commentarial discussion with his new tools and perspectives.

Midrash is a broad genre but much of it consists of filling in the blanks of the biblical narrative, adding in a back story based, sometimes tenuously, on textual clues. Some find this frustrating because the midrashic tale seems a rabbinic invention. Others cherish the additions to biblical stories that are otherwise lacking depth of character and plot. But what do we do when, even after the insights of midrash and classical commentaries, we still see only a partial story?

Sandra E. Rapoport, in her recent book Biblical Seductions: Six Stories Retold Based on Talmud and Midrash, resolves this dilemma through a combination of literary analysis and creativity. Rapoport builds on midrash and classical commentaries to tell these biblical stories in full color, studying in detail the characters’ motivations and feelings at each step. And where the classics still leave unanswered questions, Rapoport fills in the holes through modern literary analysis and creative storytelling. Without overreaching (generally), she suggests possible motivations and emotional reactions of the characters that fit in with the overall plot development. The result is a sensitive, penetrating analysis of biblical stories often overlooked.

The value of this impressive volume is somewhat undermined by the provocative title and subject, necessitating hiding it from children. Rapoport does not fully explain why she selected for extensive study these six sexual stories — Lot’s daughters, Dinah’s rape, Yehudah & Tamar, David & Bassheva, Amnon & Tamar, and Rus & Boaz. It is true that schools generally skip these stories, thereby creating a need for someone to teach them, but Rapoport’s penetrating analysis can offer much to any biblical story. While the skeptical reader might suggest that salacious stories are more marketable in our prurient society, the author’s care with words and avoidance of innuendo undermine such an accusation. Clearly, Rapoport’s career as a sexual harassment attorney informs her choice. Perhaps there is also a feminist motive in the study of women who were unusually active or passive, heroes or victims.

Does Rapoport succeed in joining the conversation? She selects between and builds on midrashim and commentators in her process of literary reconstruction and analysis. In that sense, she succeeds in continuing age-old Jewish Bible study, adding a new perspective and recent methodologies. If anything, she may have joined too much. Despite her hesitant language full of disclaimers and suggestions, her creativity in filling holes in the story and suggesting plot details based on her understanding of the narrative seem overly bold. Similarly, her consistent attribution of guilt and flaws to the biblical characters seems to lack the reverence of the classical commentators, even those who adopt that general approach. And at least in one place, her misreading of and moralizing against Rashi was simply off-putting.*

Overall, though, despite my conservative bent in biblical commentary, I found Rapoport’s book refreshing. Her writing is compelling and her questions are always important points around which to analyze the text. The book is simply indispensable for anyone studying these biblical stories.


* Rashi (Gen. 34:1) states that Dinah is called the daughter of Leah because she “went out” into public like her mother. Rapoport (pp. 73-76, 91-92) reads this as blaming Dinah for her rape, an idea she calls “morally reprehensible” and against which she argues at length. Rashi did not intend to blame Dinah anymore than I would be blaming a mugging victim by pointing out that he should not have walked around the inner city while counting money in his wallet. Neither deserve the crime committed against them even if their under-cautious actions made them vulnerable. In explaining Rashi, R. Shmuel Goldin (Unlocking the Torah Text, Bereishit p. 198) writes: “Nothing can mitigate Shechem’s guilt over his abduction and assault of Dinah. By no means should we ever blame the victim of a violent crime. Nonetheless, the Torah reminds us that, at times, we contribute to our own downfall. Surrounded by a dangerous world, Dina should have been more careful. Her tragic misstep alerts us to the care that must be exercised in each era as we and our children relate to an often perilous environment.” If anyone, Rashi (Gen. 32:23) seems to blame Ya’akov and not Dinah. While I do not object to disagreeing with Rashi, even based on a misundertanding (it happens), I cringe at the phrase “morally reprehensible” when applied to a giant of our tradition. This was, however, an exception in the book and certainly not the rule.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

86 comments

  1. I don’t know who this author is, but I can pretty much anticipate what her take on tznius would be just based on your synopsis of the book. It’s the old feminist argument of why should women be relegated to the status of being responsible for what men think and do. They want to be able to walk down the street half naked and if a man attacks her, then she has no culpability at all. This is not the Torah way of thinking. If you walk into a lion’s den, you don’t get to complain about being bitten. The responsibility is a shared one. And her career specialization speaks volumes in relation to what I’m saying. If a woman comes to the work place dressed in the modern style of leaving nothing to the imagination, and a man ogles her or even makes a comment, it’s not entirely a case of harassment that he should be found guilty of. God understood the nature of man when He gave us the rules of conduct and dress.

  2. So, help me understand this. You’re insecure that you can’t control yourself, so women should be kept in their place?

  3. I’m not sure what your assumption of the author’s take on tziyut has anything to do with the topic at hand. You have no proof for any of the assertions you’ve made, which seems IMO to be motzei shem ra.

  4. It’s a stretch to say that Rashi’s (and according to my chumash his source is Breishis Rabba) implicit criticism of Dina being a “yatzanis” is because it’s a dangerous world out there. I think it’s obvious it’s because of a lack of tzniyus (hence the comparison to Leah’s going out to meet Yakov). So I can see why a feminist would have problems with that.

  5. Is it completely clear from the pasuk that it was rape?

    As to Mike, I certainly wouldn’t agree when it came to rape. But yeah, if a woman is clearly displaying herself, she should be prepared for at least some remark. (Men too, of course, although somehow men avoid dressing like that.)

  6. A friend of mine has a business and several years ago, a male employee inappropriately touched a female employee, and then disappeared never to be seen again. The female employee – presumably egged on by a molestation lawyer – sued my friend for over a million dollars.

    Obviously I do not justify for a moment what that man did, but the fact that a woman could even think of receiving that much money for this kind of incident says something about where harassment law has taken us to.

  7. trivia question-anyone know which elementary school the author attended?
    KT

  8. just a thought- I certainly have the right to cross the street in midtown without looking both ways when I have the green light, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
    KT

  9. While it may be that the Chumash, as Rabbi Goldin claims is criticizing Dinah only for a lack of caution rather than a moral failing, I don’t think one can read Rashi that way. Leah was not exhibiting any lack of caution in going out to Yaakov Avinu; Rashi is unquestionably criticizing a lack of modesty. What Rashi did not do, certainly not explicitly, is suggest that this is the cause of her subsequent rape; he is only explaining the use of the matronymic. As R. Student correctly points out, Rashi’s only comment suggesting a cause of the incident refers to yaakov hiding Dinah from Esav.

  10. Interestingly enough, Malbim takes precisely the opposite tack to Rashi. he says the matronymic is to show that Dinah was tzanua like her mother.

  11. “The value of this impressive volume is somewhat undermined by the provocative title and subject, necessitating hiding it from children.” why is it undermined? are you so puritanical.

    does “the particulars of rapture” by zorenberg also need to be in the closet too. the title of rapoport book is not offensive or provocative – it may be the author of the post protest too much that says volumes about his atitude.

  12. Mike: I think you are being way too presumptuous about the author’s views.

    Natan: where is the hotza’as sheim ra? He didn’t say anything about how the author acts.

    JS: I think it’s simple peshat that Rashi was criticizing Dinah’s action but not blaming her for the rape.

    Nachum: It is entirely clear from mefarshim and midrashim that Dinah was raped.

    Ruvie: Yes, I am that puritanical, although we Jews call it tzanu’a.

  13. Nachum,

    As far as I know, the Tanach only uses the term עינוי and ויעניה in the context of rape (see for instance pilegesh bagiv’a). So, yes, it is clearly a case of rape.

  14. JS: I think it’s simple peshat that Rashi was criticizing Dinah’s action but not blaming her for the rape.

    As Mike S. notes, your post somewhat misrepresents the type of criticism. You suggest that yetziah was bad because uncautious. Rashi, on the other hand, suggests it was un-tznius. (Unless the whole point of tznius is really to “protect” women, which would itself be extremely problematic.)

    So according to Rashi the pasuk says “Dinah was untznius, a man saw her and raped her…” You are correct that this does not spell out causation (though causation is strongly implied), but then you _did_ say that Dinah’s actions caused, or were a partial cause, of the rape. That constituted “blaming” the victim in my book, which is not at all inconsistent with _also_ blaming the perpetrator.

  15. I got up from my chair and looked up the source. There’s a footnote in my Braishis Rabba to Yerushalmi Sanhedrin (end of perek 2), and I think Rashi’s peirush here is following the Yerushalmi (which also doesn’t spell out causation). However, Braishis Rabba seems to criticize Dinah more forcefully. When I try to interpret a Medrash I usually get in wrong so I’ll leave it at that.

  16. And see this post about Rapoport’s prior book, which I enjoyed: https://www.torahmusings.com/2008/06/women-on-miriam/

  17. Ruvie: Yes, I am that puritanical, although we Jews call it tzanu’a.

    gil – puritanical is a derogatory term implying repressive or censorious moral beliefs especially about pleasure and sex. if that is what you are – its ok by me [therapy does work you know;)]. but its not tzanu’a. the word you would use would be modest or modesty – which btw, is a relative notion that changes depending on the era you live in.

  18. Shades of Gray

    In some instances, one can fulfill both to an extent: conveying much of the idea through language, while being modest, or at least not sensational.

    An example,perhaps, was a decision by the newly appointed, though much debated, YU Events/Censorship Committee. They changed the first title of a speech, apparently given at Stern, to second title, as reported in the student newspaper.

    “What Your Mother (And Father And School) Never Told You About Sex; Or Maybe They Did.”

    However, when Dr. Marcus arrived to speak, the sign outside the lecture hall read, “Gender Roles, Body Images, and Societal Concepts of Sexuality.”

    For what it’s worth, I have no problem with such “censorship” in this situation, especially since the second title conveys both the ideas clearly, and is restrained, even if imperfect. Obviously, one can’t always satisfy both clarity and modesty, and in such cases a decision must be made based on the situation and context.

  19. One wonders if the debate on cannonizing Shir ha’Shirim occurred today, whether it would be accepted.

  20. IH: I didn’t say anything about being kept in their place, you made that up.
    A woman who has a career based on defending women or prosecuting men for sexual harassment already has an agenda when writing about women, especially Biblical women, for whom the general feminist opinion is that they are treated as property and second class citizens. This is patently false. So yes, I think it is entirely reasonable to draw certain conclusions about the author’s stance on some issues based solely on her profession. I didn’t say it was Dinah’s fault. But clearly our Sages placed some contributory negligence on her behalf.

  21. Mike– ” agenda” when will you learn that one can be a woman and look at issues from their -woman-perspective is not the same as agenda driven. Unless you would agree that men have agenda driven issues as well. Who says she is a feminist? Ah yes, women have equal rights in the bible, not property, put on that famous pedestal…..

  22. It is great that we have educated men and women who can write sefarim, and books on areas of TSBP, Halacha and Parshanut. However, viewing the statements of Gdolei HaMfarshim through a contemporary and retrospective POV as “morally reprehensible” is a highly problematic perspective. As far as Shir HaShirim is concerned, the bottom line is and has always been that one cannot learn Shir HaShirim solely on a Pshuto Shel Mikra basis.

  23. Yep, all the “Ani le’Dodi ve’Dodi Li” jewelery and wall hangings bought are expressions of faith in God rather than the love between romantic couples…

  24. Rafael Araujo

    Yep, because such jewerly and wall hangings should be the basis for how we are to approach and interpret this Megillah.

  25. IH: Precisely. I know you’re being facetious, but I believe what you poke fun at to be entirely true. And it’s quite obvious to me that she is a feminist because the entire sexual harassment issue that she represents is a feminist circus. And having the chutzpah to write a “commentary” on nashim tzidkanios as viewed thru the eyes of Western feminism is just wrong. Neither God nor His Torah have any semblance of chauvinism or misogyny anywhere, and if it seems so, it’s because the viewer’s glasses need washing.

  26. steve b. – “viewing the statements of Gdolei HaMfarshim through a contemporary and retrospective POV as “morally reprehensible” is a highly problematic perspective.”

    why problematic? it is what is.they had viewpoints that toda seem less than desirable.
    lets take the rosh (as oppose to the rambam) for example on the thought of women being able to divorce their husbands if he “repels” her. he writes: let her not have sex with him and remain a straw widow to the end of her days! in any case a woman is not commanded to have children….in this generation, the daughters of israel are impudent and if a wife will be able to extricate herself from under her husband by saying ‘he repulses me’ NOT A SINGLE DAUGHTER OF ABRAHAM WILL REMAIN WITH HER HUSBAND, rather they will FASTEN THEIR EYES ON ANOTHER AND REBEL AGAINST THEIR HUSBANDS!(rosh, responsa 43.8) – ah yes the good old days when gedolim viewed woman and their motives in such positive light (all they want is sex) – its better not to have sex for the rest of her life and be miserable than force a husband to give a divorce.

  27. Shades of Gray

    “Neither God nor His Torah have any semblance of chauvinism or misogyny anywhere, and if it seems so, it’s because the viewer’s glasses need washing.”

    Somewhat parenthetically, how would you explain this gender difference from the Ramchal?(see link, which I believe is based on the Rambam):

    “… But this type of fear befits only the ignorant and women, who lack sufficient strength of mind; it is not the fear of sages and of men of understanding.”

    http://www.shechem.org/torah/mesyesh/24.htm

  28. Have we really reached the point where Shir ha’Shirim can’t be enjoyed BOTH for its sensuous pshat AND for its allegorical drash?

  29. Lawrence Kaplan

    Shades of Gray: The issue is not whether the second title was better than the first. It is 1) second guessing Dr. Marcus; and 2) treating the Yeshiva and Stern College students as children.

  30. Ruvie:

    It isn’t puritanical to want to hide from children a book discussing incidents of sex and rape, especially one titled Biblical Seductions. The author of the review doesn’t have “repressive or censorious moral beliefs…regarding pleasure and sex.” Many of us have small children in our households. That we think of their needs constantly—even when writing book reviews—is a sign of the centrality of family in our daily lives. Perhaps you can’t relate to that.

  31. Ruvie wrote:

    “steve b. – “viewing the statements of Gdolei HaMfarshim through a contemporary and retrospective POV as “morally reprehensible” is a highly problematic perspective.

    why problematic”

    Simple-None of us have the ability to shine the shoes of Chazal and Toshonim,let alone sit in judgment on their POVs.

  32. IH -perhaps, if you enjoy the Pshat of Shir HaShirim, which we are told by Chazal not to, then you should consider the follpowing link,
    http://www.guardyoureyes.org/

  33. Steve — just to understand you, so all the historical kettubot with “Ani L’Dodi ve’Dodi Li” — like today’s jewelery and wall hangings — are not expressions of the romantic pshat? Or, they are in opposition to Chazal, as you understand them?

  34. And why would I want to guard my eyes from the beauty of God’s creation? I don’t get an erection when I walk in the streets during the summer; do you?

  35. “One wonders if the debate on cannonizing Shir ha’Shirim occurred today, whether it would be accepted.”

    The most explicitly sexual line in shir hashirim is שמאלו תחת לראשי וימינו תחבקני. Despite all the notoriety, its actual content would probably meet even Victorian standards.

    “And why would I want to guard my eyes from the beauty of God’s creation? I don’t get an erection when I walk in the streets during the summer; do you?”

    Is being desensitized to sexual stimuli which you constantly encounter really the ideal?

  36. “And why would I want to guard my eyes from the beauty of God’s creation?”

    Do you watch porn?

  37. Steve b. — do you agree or disagree with the rosh”s reason not to force a man to give a get if he repels her? I did not ask you if you were zicjeh to shine his shoes.
    Either you agree or try to explain away things you don’t like. Therefore, you really have no ability to analyze anything.

  38. Shlomo — porn is not beauty. And sensuality is not sexuality.

    By many accounts, in any case, there appears to be a serious porn problem in frum communities, not to mention serious sexual abuse as well. So I’m really not sure I understand the association you are making.

  39. Lawrence Kaplan

    IH: The second sentence of your 4:54 comment was completely inapproriate and uncalled for. I hope Gil will delete it.

  40. Apologies if any offense was caused. It was not intended in that manner, rather to illustrate the point that one can appreciate sensual beauty without a sexual response.

  41. Shlomo on March 6, 2011 at 5:13 pm
    ““One wonders if the debate on cannonizing Shir ha’Shirim occurred today, whether it would be accepted.”

    The most explicitly sexual line in shir hashirim is שמאלו תחת לראשי וימינו תחבקני. Despite all the notoriety, its actual content would probably meet even Victorian standards.”

    And, yet, Steve states we are told by Chazal not to enjoy the pshat of Shir ha’Shirim, despite all evidence that Jews have been doing just that for centuries…

  42. IH may have crossed aline, but i think the first line as crossed was the one where steve suggested that someone who thinks you can appreciate the mashal of shir hashirim as well ass the nimshal should sek help for an internet porn addiction. huh?

  43. For those interested in a historical analysis of pshat vs. allegorical reading of Shir ha’Shirim, see pp. 29-35 in http://tinyurl.com/5vgylaw. My thanks to Steve for prompting me to look at my bookshelves.

  44. Did the Gra, R chaim volozhin and or any authentic non mussarnik, telz ,slabodka free misnagid appreciate the literal sensuality the aformentioned song of songs appears to be singing about. If the answer is in the affirmative, then in what way.

  45. The issue is not so much as the Pshat versus the Drush of Shir HaShirim but recognuizing and be aware that Shlomoh HaMelech chose a particular style of demonstrating Ahavas HaShem and Ahavas Yisrael. If one reads the Pshat of Shir HaShirim without that awarenness, such a person is missing that message. I think that one can compare the message of Ahavas HaShem that is conveyed through Shir HaShirim with the language of the Rambam in Hilcos Teshuvah 10:2-3, 6.

  46. Rubie-we are not in a position to question why any Tana, Amora, Rishon or Amora used a certain means of expressing himelf, especially if the same seems not to pass our puny moral stature. We do lack the abilities to shine their shoes in any way orn to evaluate their comments from our perspectives which illustrate our Yeridas HaDoros, even as we live in a technologically and scientifically advance generation .Our responsibility is to understand the content, message and transmit the same. “WHY”, as RYBS emphasized, is a question reserved for Tishah B”av.

  47. Setve b. – I thought we always why? We compare severas all the time as the under pinnings of Halacha. When they fail sometimes we decide we the better severa eventhough it was originally rejected. I find your understanding to circular — do you always follow reasons that you can”t question because it’s a rishon?

    On yeridat hadarot– you realize that there as many gemeras that state the later generations were greater than the former. And this not agreed upon by everyone as a true statement.

  48. Lawrence Kaplan

    Emma: You are right. Both Steve’s and Shlomo’s insinuations were entirely inappropriate.

    IH: I have nothing against your reformulation of your point. I only wish you had phrased your point that way to begin with.

  49. Steve b- I apologize for the typos( in the car). Why is why on tisha b’av? Tisha b”av is questioning Hashem. What does this have to do with our conversation? I am perplexed.

  50. Shlomoh commented:

    “And why would I want to guard my eyes from the beauty of God’s creation? I don’t get an erection when I walk in the streets during the summer; do you?”

    Is being desensitized to sexual stimuli which you constantly encounter really the ideal

    Unfotunately, we have lost sight of the fact that we are supposed to be sensitive to Avizurahu DArayos-especially in that time of the year when the dress code unfortunately on the street is “Less is More,’

  51. Ruvie-questioning a sevara is a far cry from appying your sense of propriety to what a Tanna, Amora, Rishon or Acharon said that makes no sense in your limited mind.

  52. Ruvie-we have an obligation to learn and comprehend to the best of ourn limited abilities. I think that Yeridas HaDoros is a very important concept because we need to renmind ourselves that despite all of the tools that we have to aid us in Talmud Torah, we are indeed farther away from Matan Torah.

  53. Ruvie wrote:

    “Steve b. — do you agree or disagree with the rosh”s reason not to force a man to give a get if he repels her? I did not ask you if you were zicjeh to shine his shoes.
    Either you agree or try to explain away things you don’t like. Therefore, you really have no ability to analyze anything”

    No-I never try to explain that which is beyond my limited abilities. I don’t pretend to think that I can explain everything either via Lomdus or dismissing that which a contemporary POV might find distasteful by cherry-picking comments from Chazal and Rishonim. Living with doubt and the inability to explain anything is what RYBS called a critical element of being a Torah Jew. A poor explanation is worse than no explanation.

  54. Ruvie-See RH 25b-why else would the Talmud state Yiftach BDoro KShmuel BDoro?-not because Yitach was Shnmuel’s equal, but because Yiftach ,for his generationm[, which was nowhere near the same level as that of Shmuel, served the same purpose as Shmuel.

  55. “Unfotunately, we have lost sight of the fact that we are supposed to be sensitive to Avizurahu DArayos-especially in that time of the year when the dress code unfortunately on the street is ‘Less is More'”

    Steve — it has become glaringly obvious, le-da’avonenu, there is no correlation at all between tzniut and sexual depravity.

    There are perfectly reasonable reasons to promote tzniut, but not for this reason.

  56. steve b – yiftach b’doro has nothing to do with yiridat hadorot. please try again. it just that each generation there is a leader to decide not that each generation is less and less than the previous generation at all times.

    this has nothing to do with living in doubt. it amazing that you can parse the rav’s words to mean nothing to what he meant. you are conflating too many topics into one.

    again yiridat hadorot is not the end be all to explain that you do not understand – according to your words “anything” (“inability to explain anything”)

    in case you miised why i chose the rosh’s reasoning – its the opposite of the rambam’s who felt it was unfair for a woman to chained to a man she despises and compels the beit din to beat him to a pulp till he gives a get “of his own free will” -. diiferent point of view about women and their sexual desires and motives became two opposing solutions. so pov do count and do shape halacha.

  57. s m – “It isn’t puritanical to want to hide from children a book discussing incidents of sex and rape, especially one titled Biblical Seductions. The author of the review doesn’t have “repressive or censorious moral beliefs…regarding pleasure and sex.” Many of us have small children in our households. That we think of their needs constantly—even when writing book reviews—is a sign of the centrality of family in our daily lives. Perhaps you can’t relate to that.”

    although i recently became an empty nester – i can relate to that but am troubled (which i didn’t make my self too clear in the earlier post)but the following sentence in the post/review:” The value of this impressive volume is somewhat UNDERMINED by the provocative title and subject, necessitating hiding it from children. ”
    i don’t get it. either the content and analysis is good or not. what does that have to do with the provocative nature of the topic and ridiculous line of hiding it from children. this tends to cast badly on the reviewer whether he can write a cogent, thoughtful and scholarly review.
    do i hide judaism and homosexuality (by rapaoport)from the children or must a jew believe in anything (by kellner)…how about romeo and juliet or shakespere’s love sonnets (reminder- must ask ral next time in town). scanning my library – should i burn – lolita by nabokov too? how about catcher in the rye? should i rip out from the tanach tamar and yehudah , david and batsheva? or censor my talmud in avodah zara where the tanna visit every prostitute in every land – over 7 mountains – which the rav qouted in his teshuvah lecture? provocative titles engage – its what written in them that counts. children don’t care about these topics till they are much older – but if you want to feed them the “little midrash saya” their whole life – thats ok with me – just don’t review other books.

  58. Shlomo, there are lines in Shir HaShirim a *lot* more explicit than that.

  59. Ruvie wrote:

    “yiftach b’doro has nothing to do with yiridat hadorot. please try again. it just that each generation there is a leader to decide not that each generation is less and less than the previous generation at all times”

    I think that your comment represents a misreading of the Pshat of the Talmud in RH25b. Obviously, Yiftach, by his own behavior and actions, wasn’t in the same league as Shmuel HaNavi.

  60. IH wrote:

    “Steve — it has become glaringly obvious, le-da’avonenu, there is no correlation at all between tzniut and sexual depravity.

    There are perfectly reasonable reasons to promote tzniut, but not for this reason”

    Really? Have you read A Return to Modesty? I think that is exactly the point of the book.

  61. Ruvie wrote in part:

    “this has nothing to do with living in doubt. it amazing that you can parse the rav’s words to mean nothing to what he meant. you are conflating too many topics into one.

    again yiridat hadorot is not the end be all to explain that you do not understand – according to your words “anything” (“inability to explain anything”

    I think that Yeridas HaDoros and being able to live in doubt without answers to every comment in a Tana, Amora, Rishon or Amora that you can cherry pick and view as unacceptable to your POV are concepts that are interrelated and are in need of reinforcement, especially those of us who think that because we live in a scientific and technologically advanced age, we simply “must” have “answers” that assuage our feelings,regardless of the quality of the same, instead of simply living with doubt and realizing that we have no obligation or need to focus on every such comment. RHS once commented that one can find such comments of a Mishegossen nature in Chazal and many Rishonim. However, it takes a certain Misheguneah ability to collect them, let alone focus on their meaning or lack thereof, which in turn detracts from the essence of Talmud Torah.

  62. Rubie-see the notes to the Minchas Yerusahalayim edition of the Minchas Chinuch on the Mitzvah of Lo Sasur, where the sugya of Yiftach BDoro is stated to be the source of the Shitas HaChinuch that Lo Sasur applies to the rabbinic ordinanes of the Chachamim SheBchechol Dor VaDor.

  63. Rubie wrote:

    “either the content and analysis is good or not. what does that have to do with the provocative nature of the topic and ridiculous line of hiding it from children. this tends to cast badly on the reviewer whether he can write a cogent, thoughtful and scholarly review.
    do i hide judaism and homosexuality (by rapaoport)from the children or must a jew believe in anything (by kellner)…how about romeo and juliet or shakespere’s love sonnets (reminder- must ask ral next time in town). scanning my library – should i burn – lolita by nabokov too? how about catcher in the rye? should i rip out from the tanach tamar and yehudah , david and batsheva? or censor my talmud in avodah zara where the tanna visit every prostitute in every land – over 7 mountains – which the rav qouted in his teshuvah lecture? provocative titles engage – its what written in them that counts. children don’t care about these topics till they are much older – but if you want to feed them the “little midrash saya” their whole life – thats ok with me – just don’t review other books”

    I think that there are major differences between how one treats Tanach and Shas, and issues raised by the interaction of Torah and the secular world, which elevate the material into matters of spiritual concern,and/or struggle with the interaction between the sacred and the secular, and works of a secular author, whose motivations, Lhavdil Elef VAlfei Havdalos, have no such concern-especially the authors that you cited.

    Like it or not, Shakespeare, Nabakov, and Salinger are not a Cheftzah Shel Torah, and do not really aide one in understanding the Torah. Content, analysis, and whether the same is cogent, thoughtful or scholarly are the first, but not the only steps in determining whether any particular work is age appropriate for children who would otherwise not be expected to read or appreciate the details of a book. It would be akin to reading Shir HaShirim in its Pshat only without asking why Shlomo HaMelech chose that means of expression. As far as R D Kellner’s book, may I suggest that you read R D D Berger’s review of the same that was published in Tradition a few years ago?

  64. steve b. – i think you misunderstand that gemera – its alll about authority:
    the Gemara in Rosh ha-Shana testifies (25b):

    Scripture also says: “And Shmuel said to the people, Is it the Lord that made Moshe and Aharon” (II Shmuel 12:6). And it says: “And the Lord sent Yeruba’al and Bedan and Yiftach and Shmuel” (ibid. v. 11). Yeruba’al is Gid’on. Why is he called Yeruba’al? Because he contended with Ba’al. Bedan is Shimshon. Why is he called Bedan? Because he came from Dan. Yiftach is Yiftach. It says also: “Moshe and Aharon among His priests, and Shmuel among those that call on His name” (Tehilim 99:6). [We see therefore that] Scripture places three of the most questionable characters [lit., “light ones of the world”] on the same level as three of the most estimable characters [lit., “heavy ones of the world”], to show that Yeruba’al in his generation is like Moshe in his generation, Bedan in his generation is like Aharon in his generation, Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his generation. [And] to teach you that the most worthless, once he has been appointed a leader of the community is to be accounted like the mightiest of the mighty.

    from a sichah of r’ moshe lichtenstein on the haftorah of korach.

  65. steve b – i was referring to the need to hide books from the children. i don’t see a difference between the sacred and profane in hiding books – where should i put my wife’s art history books – l’havdil.

    the issue that this would UNDERMINE the book – to me is what is childish.

  66. Ruvie-I think that your parsing of a Sicha of RML proves my case-Yiftach in his generation was considered to be a leader worth following, and deserving of a role of an authoritative nature, despite the fact that he would never have been considered of the same moral stature as Shmuel HaNavi. That is the Pshat of Yitach BDoro KShmuel BDoro.

  67. steve b. – yireidat hadorot – or at least those that believe that can be found – but its not as clear as you make it sound -in tb shabbat 112b. try yrushalmi gittin6.7 then try yerushalmi 5.1

    the question remains do these passages talk about the intellectual decline or spiritual ones? are there text that suggests the superiority of the later generations? of course. but that is for another time. its not black or white – like most things in our religion there is a lot of gray. never simple but always interesting.

  68. Ruvie wrote:
    “steve b – i was referring to the need to hide books from the children. i don’t see a difference between the sacred and profane in hiding books – where should i put my wife’s art history books – l’havdil.”

    This illustrates what R Meir Shapiro ZL once said-American Jews know how to make Kiddush, but not Havdalah. It is indeed sad that the inability to make such a basic distinction, especially in your case, with regard to much of the AZ, Pritzus and worse that is the subject of the development of what is considered “art” is beyond your abilities to recognize that the contents of art history books should be viewed as works that are inappropriate for most adults, let alone children of an impressionable age,

  69. steve b – on rosh hashanah 25b-see rashi there on the spot – it seems the decline is spiritual and not intellectual. see tosafot – for a different view. its not clear cut. the fact is that people can read theory into the gemera whenever they want. lastly, the decline of the generations as a theory only appears – i think – for the first time in the 10th century. i aslo think the rambam believed in a equality to a certain degree with the previous generations.

  70. Ruvie wrote:
    “Steve b- I apologize for the typos( in the car). Why is why on tisha b’av? Tisha b”av is questioning Hashem. What does this have to do with our conversation? I am perplexed”

    Actually Tisha B”Av, RYBS pointed out is the one day reserved for asking HaShem “why”, which is the ultimate means of questionning HaShem’s Judgment on the national and individual level. Throughout the year, such an inquiry is simply beyond the pale of inquiry.

  71. Ruvie wrote:

    “steve b – on rosh hashanah 25b-see rashi there on the spot – it seems the decline is spiritual and not intellectual. see tosafot – for a different view. its not clear cut. the fact is that people can read theory into the gemera whenever they want. lastly, the decline of the generations as a theory only appears – i think – for the first time in the 10th century. i aslo think the rambam believed in a equality to a certain degree with the previous generations’

    Thanks for the Mareh Mkomos. Yes, we all read theories into the Talmud to justify what we do, but I am not comfortable with that approach, which tends to turn the Pshat of the Gemara and Rishonim into a pretzel to suit a preordained conclusion.

    Many view the Chinuch and the Ran’s reading of Lo Sasur as isolated shitos. I think that the simple unadorned reading of Rashi, Rambam in the Hakdamah to the Yad and the Mareh Mkomos cited in the Frankel edition thereat and in the Shinui Nuschaos , by his emphasis on the need to adherence to the rulings of the Chachamim of every generation as being rooted in Lo Sasur, as well as the Mharsha in the Chiddushei Agaddos prove that the decline in point is both spiritual and intellectual, and that the Shitos of the Chinuch and RaN are not exactly isolated in their understanding of Lo Sasur.

    There are many other Sugyos where Chazal state that their spiritual level is far less than that of the prior generations. One can find even Mishnayos in Avos where the disciples of Hillel are evaluated as to their intellectual and spiritual abilities.

    I think that the notion that the same is a 10th Century post Talmudic early version of Daas Torah cannot be reconciled with the many sugyos that state and imply that we are in a state of spiritual and intellectual decline at least with respect to our closeness to the source of TSBP and the Mesorah, regardless of our scientific and technological advances.

  72. Ruvie-Here is a question that Rashi discusess and offers two conflicting views-would Noach have been considered a Tzadik in the generation of Avraham Avinu? I think that the case can be argued and proven in the negative because of the post Mabul conduct of Noach and his children-for more see an excellent essay of R Sir Jonathan Sacks who describes Noach as a survivor, but not someone who could inspire others, let alone effectuate change in their personalities. Thus, eons before Shmuel and Yiftach, we see evidence of the Talmudic concept of Dor Dor VDoshav, Dor Dor VChachamav-each generation has leaders, who may very well be on vastly different spiritual levels.

  73. i am not following the steve-ruvie discussion at all.
    steve seems to assert (1) we must follow the sages in every generation and (2) yeridas hadoros. He seems to see these as logically related, which is odd, since it seems the proper relationship is (2) we are in a state of decline BUT (2) we must follow the sages in every generation.

    Yiftach bedoro… only supports (1). Yiftach is clearly set out as inferior to shmuel, but yiftach was before shmuel! (no?) the point is that even if he was inferior he was still binding in his time. there is no suggestion that we, post-shmuelites, should look back to yiftach as a truer connection to the mesorah simply because he was earlier.

  74. steve b – again- i think – you are mixing different and separate theories into a mishmash of sayings that one finds in parts of the orthodox world today. but you never mention the gemerot that attest to the superiority of the later generations. maybe we are just dwarfs on the shoulders of giants and can see further (coined by the hacham david nieto (d.1728).

    for our generation is greater than the previous – see rabbah’s claim of his generation superiority over r’ yehudah – bt taanit 241-b and bt berachot 20a. also, reis lakish argument with r’ yochanan in bt yoma 9b. see also bt sukkah 28b – hille hazakan and his students were a s great as moshe and some as yehoshua – not to shabby for a later generation.

    there are more but the talmud across the board did not have a consistent theory about the matter – no doubt that this theory of the reduction of the generations – whether spiritual or intellectual – was adopted very post talmud and read into as a theory into the talmud selectively. lastly, it has been shown that the rambam did not buy into this while the maharal and many others did – but today is unfortunately as a backlash to the reform movement 200 years ago became more accepted as dogma unfortunately.

  75. Emma-There is a well known story about R Velvel ZL that someone in his shiur asked a very sharp question, which R Velvel ZL thought had to have been asked in a prior generation. R Velvel ZL investigated further and the question was that of a Tanna in a Tosefta, as opposed to a Rishon or Amora. The closer that a question is in termes of its proximity to Har Sinai helps us understand the blank space in all of the conveniently printed aspects of the Talmud- far more so all of the wonderful study aides, encyclopedias, etc and collections of Halacha, etc.

  76. what does that have to do with yiftach bedoro?

  77. emma – steve b. started on his usual that we should never questioned gedolei hameforshim on reasoning that today we found problematic (or reprehensible) (to say the least). i questioned his rationale and the weakness of his argument – that created the give and take. i also found that certain line in the review questionable that the title and subject undermined the book.
    he believes one never can question the reasoning of these people – post talmud in this case the rosh comments on wives desires – in their halachik or otherwise approaches. he then pulls the yridat hadorot card and thinks it makes his case. on both issues i believe he is suspect and is not always accepted by everyone as a dogma in yahadut (he uses it as if its dogma that i oppose to).

  78. Ruvie-thanks for the clarification for emma, although I would not have used the terms “card” or “dogma”.

  79. thanks.
    so what does yiftach bedoro have to do with yeridat hadorot?

  80. Shachar Ha'amim

    your use of ashkenazis with respect to names that are commonly written in English with sefardic pronunciations is very off-putting.
    It comes off sounding very childish – like a 16 year old mesivta bochur who still thinks that jews in Egypt wore shtreimels or felt fedora hats.

  81. That’s a matter of personal experience and preference. I merited spending some (too little) time around R. Dovid Lifschitz who communicated to us solely in Ashkenazic Hebrew.

  82. >It comes off sounding very childish – like a 16 year old mesivta bochur who still thinks that jews in Egypt wore shtreimels or felt fedora hats.

    Pardon me, but “Rut” looks no better than “Rus,” and “Ruth” is English (or Temani), not Sefaradit. One could argue that mixing Ruths and Batshevas is off-putting, but not consistency.

  83. “Shlomo — porn is not beauty. And sensuality is not sexuality.”

    It’s very easy to say that what YOU indulge in is beauty and what OTHER people indulge in is lust.

    I understand the distinction between watching porn and making love to your spouse, but gazing at people you don’t know on the street seems closer to the former category.

    “By many accounts, in any case, there appears to be a serious porn problem in frum communities, not to mention serious sexual abuse as well. So I’m really not sure I understand the association you are making.”

    My experience is that porn consumption is near-universal in secular communities, and thus much more widespread than in frum communities. Sexual abuse is present in all communities, and I have seen no evidence that it’s more common in frum communities (though of course the attempts to hush it up are unforgiveable). So I’m not sure I understand why you went on this tangent.

    ===========
    “Pardon me, but “Rut” looks no better than “Rus,” and “Ruth” is English (or Temani), not Sefaradit.”

    The problem with Rut/Rus is that the expected pronunciation of the vowel changes drastically, and it brings up associations of either unpaved roads or eastern Europeans. So the spelling Ruth should always be used, no matter how you say it.

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