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)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Eruvin 100 – Sex: Let Her Initiate

I’d love to talk about the case of a tree that grew up through a skylight – it is not allowed to sit on a root or branch of a tree above three handbreadths over the ground on Shabbat (not that there is any problem with physically climbing a tree, that is not “work.” But one might be tempted to pluck fruit or twigs. That is.). So what about the part that extends through the skylight – if it is less than three handbreadths from the top of the roof can you sit on it? I’d love to talk about that. But there’s more interesting stuff here.

For example – walking through grass. No, really:

Rami b. Hama, citing R. Assi, ruled: A man is forbidden to walk on grass on the Sabbath, because it is said in Scripture: And he that hasteth with his feet sinneth. (Prov. 19:2)

The problem here is not the walking but that unintentionally, one might pull up some grass, either caught in shoes (particularly if there are nails sticking out) or barefoot between the toes! But after discussing these options the conclusion is given:

Nowadays, however, since we have it as an established rule that the law is in agreement with R. Simeon, it is permitted to walk on grass in all the cases mentioned

Rabbi Simeon having established the principle of unintended consequences.

But the Proverbs quote reminds the rabbis of an issue of sexual ethics:

Rami b. Hama citing R. Assi further ruled: A man is forbidden to compel his wife to the [marital] obligation, since it is said in Scripture: And he that hasteth with his feet sinneth.

In fact, not only can a man not force his wife to have sex with him, there is a high value placed on waiting for the woman to initiate:

R. Samuel b. Nahmani citing R. Johanan stated: A woman who solicits her husband to the [marital] obligation will have children the like of whom did not exist even in the generation of Moses.

An interesting proof is given from the biblical example of Leah who “hires” her husband (Gen. 30:16)! Her children and lineage are honored.

Not only is there modesty in traditional Jewish sexual ethics, there is great importance given to the woman – her needs and desires are given precedence over the husband’s.

Now isn’t that more interesting than a tree?

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