What is Talmud Tweets?

What is Talmud Tweets? A short, personal take on a page of Talmud - every day!

For several years now, I have been following the tradition of "Daf Yomi" - reading a set page of Talmud daily. With the start of a new 7 1/2 year cycle, I thought I would share a taste of what the Talmud offers, with a bit of personal commentary included. The idea is not to give a scholarly explanation. Rather, it is for those new to Talmud to give a little taste - a tweet, as it were - of the richness of this text and dialogue it contains. The Talmud is a window into a style of thinking as well as the world as it changed over the centuries of its compilation.

These are not literal "tweets" - I don't limit myself to 140 characters. Rather, these are intended to be short, quick takes - focusing in on one part of a much richer discussion. Hopefully, I will pique your interest. As Hillel says: "Go and study it!" (Shabbat 31a)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Shabbat 64 – Lust and the Wandering Eye

The majority of this page is taken up with technical arguments about when or if a woven good is liable to being defiled (by a reptile or by being in the presence of a corpse).

But there is an aside which deals with a verse from Numbers having to do with certain kinds of jewelry:
And we have brought the Lord's oblation, what every man hath gotten, of jewels of gold, ankle chains, and bracelets, signet-rings, ear-rings (‘agil), and armlets (kumaz) to make an atonement for our souls before the Lord. (Num. 31:50)

This is the booty from the war with Midian. Now, the rabbis ask, what is that the Israelites had to make atonement for? After all Moses was instructed by G-d to Avenge the people of Israel of the Midianites (31:1).

Of course, it has to do with sex.

The rabbis translate the word ‘agil as “a cast of female breasts” and kumaz as “a cast of the womb.” They were innocent of taking sexual advantage of the Midianite women during and after the war, but – according to this midrash, the soldiers say:

‘Though we escaped from sin, we did not escape from meditating upon sin.’

Just looking at these castings of female body parts (armor? Or a metaphor for seeing naked prisoners?)  constituted a sin worthy of atonement.

The School of R. Ishmael taught: Why were the Israelites of that generation in need of atonement? Because they gratified their eyes with lewdness.

And then – the famous lesson:

Whoever looks upon a woman's little finger is as though he gazed upon her genitals.

And THAT is perhaps why signet rings are not allowed on women in public on Shabbat! If men stare at the ring on her finger, who KNOWS where they will stare next!

As is often seen, even today – women are restricted in their clothing because of men’s inability to avoid leering.

This imposition of modesty, so prevalent in the Traditional world of many societies, reminds me of the old story about Golda Meir:

When the (Israeli) Cabinet was trying to deal with a series of assaults on women, a minister suggested barring women from the streets after dark. The Minister of Labor (Golda Meir) protested: "Men are attacking women, not the other way around. If there is going to be a curfew, let the men be locked up, not the women." (NY Times Obituary, Dec. 9, 1978).

Go, Golda!

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