3.02.2007

"אסתר קרקע עולם היתה" and how the Tosafists and selected acharonim understood women's sexuality

Okay. First of all, see Miriam's comments on my "Happy (?) Purim and the way things are taught in Jewish day school" post.

The rishonim do, indeed, explain why I was taught "אסתר קרקע עולם היתה" (Esther was like the earth, i.e., passive) the way I was taught it (that it applies to all women who ever have sex). No need to ask the good Lord. (See this post for where the good Lord comes into all of this.)

Oh, Internet, how I love thee! I found what looks like a decent source.1 The whole Esther section can be found here.

This particular article on אסתר קרקע עולם is by someone cited only as ר' קורמן. My translation is interspersed. (Please point out and correct any errors; I'm sure there are many.) Editorial comments are in brackets. Anything in parentheses is part of the original Hebrew. I may try to go back and add in my links later, but I don't have time now. Here goes:
התפיסה הכללית, ששררה אז בעולם היתה, שהאשה היא כשדה והבעל הוא החורש וזורע. האשה אינה שותפה כלל ליצירת הולד, אלא היא משמשת כתנור אפיה, לחימום זרע הבעל, שהוא אדם בזעיר אנפין[2] . לאור זאת הבינו רבים, שדברי אביי מכוּונים לכלל הנשים ולאו דווקא לאסתר. אולם, בניגוד לתפיסה שהיתה מקובלת אז בעולם, סברו חכמי ישראל, שלאשה יש חלק ביצירת הולד. "שלושה שותפים הן באדם: הקב"ה, אביו ואמו" (קידושין ל,ב).

The general concept, that was existent in the world then, was that a woman is like a field and her husband the one who plows and puts down seed. The woman is not a participant at all in the creation of the fetus, but rather she is used like an oven, to warm the seed of the husband, which is a miniature person. In light of this, the Rabbis understood that the words of Abaye are meant to refer to all women, and not specifically to Esther. However, in opposition to the accepted theory at the time, the Rabbis thought that a woman has a role in the creation of the fetus. "Three partners are [in the creation of] a man: the Holy One Blessed be He, his father, and his mother" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, 30b).

בעלי התוספות סברו משום מה, שלאשה אין כל תפקיד מעשי בחיי אישות. דברי אביי מתייחסים, לפי דעתם, לכל הנשים, לכן נערה מאורסה אינה חייבת למסור את נפשה, למנוע את בעילתה (יומא פב, א-ב, ד"ה "מה").

The Tosafists thought, for some reason, that the woman has no role in sexual relations [or however you want to translate "חיי אישות"]. According to them, the words of Abaye refer to all women, which is why a woman who is engaged ["מאורסה" i.e., undergone erusin but not kiddushin] is not required to martyr herself to prevent a rape (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, 82a-b, "ד'ה "מה).

ר' עקיבא איגר ב"גליוני הש"ס" כבר התפלא על דבריהם. אם אין לאשה כל תפקיד מעשי בחיי אישות, מדוע נענשת הנואפת? הרי היא לא עשתה דבר? ידוע הכלל, ש"לאו שאין בו מעשה אין לוקין עליו" (סנהדרין סג,ב; פסחים סג,ב ועוד ועוד). ההסבר של בעלי התוספות, שהיא נענשת לא בשל המעשה, אלא בשל ההנאה, אינו מתקבל על הדעת. אם העונש הוא בשל ההנאה, מדוע נאנסת אינה נענשת, הרי גם היא נהנתה? ר' עקיבא איגר מוכיח, שהאשה נענשת גם אם לא נהנתה, א"כ על סמך מה מענישים אותה?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in Gilyonei HaShas, was already astounded by their words. If a woman doesn't have a role in sexual relations, why is an adulteress woman punished? Has she not done anything? Everyone knows that "one is not given lashes for transgressing a negative commandment [i.e. don't adulterate] that has no action" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 63b, Pesachim 63b, etc.). The explanation of the Tosafists, that she not punished for the action but for the pleasure she derives, is not logical. If the punishment is for the pleasure, why is a rape victim ["נאנסת"] not punished, doesn't she also derive pleasure? [I think that the word "נאנסת"--a coerced woman--must mean one who is raped, but I can't believe that's what he's saying so I hesitate to translate it that way. Please tell me I'm misreading this.] Rabbi Akiva Eiger states that the woman is punished even if she doesn't enjoy it, so therefore [if we accept that "קרקע עולם" applies to all women and not just to Esther], on what basis is she punished?

ר' חיים סולובייצ'יק הוכיח, שהרמב"ם לא סבר שהאשה היא קרקע עולם. הוא גם דוחה את דברי התוספות המשווים נואפת למי שזורק אדם על תינוק והרגו. במקרה כזה שימש אדם כחומר גלם בידי הרוצח, לא כן האשה שהולכת לבגוד בבעלה ("חידושי רבנו חיים" על הל' יסודי התורה, פ"ה,ה"א).

Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik states that Maimonides does not think that a woman is "קרקע עולם." He also pushes aside the Tosafists who compare an adulteress woman to one who throws a man on a baby to kill the baby. In a situation like this [where a person is used as a "dead weight" to kill a baby--I think this might be the prototype case of "קרקע עולם" where one is not a participant in a forbidden act], a man is used as malleable material by the murderer, not so is a woman who goes to betray her husband (Chidushei Rabbeinu Chaim, on Hilchot Yesodei Torah, Perek 5, Halacha 1).

הריטב"א העלה רעיון מעניין, מדוע אין הנאנסת חייבת למסור את נפשה. הכלל של "ייהרג ואל יעבור" מתאים למצב, שאם ייהרג לא יעבור על העבירה. באונס אין הדבר כך. גם אם תסכים האישה למסור נפשה, היא לא תמנע את העבירה, שהרי ממילא הם יכולים לאונסה. לכן אין כל היגיון, שהיא תמסור את נפשה והעבירה תיעשה (לכתובות ג,ב).

The Ritvah brings an interesting idea: Why isn't a victim of rape required to martyr herself? [I assume that this is talking about a married rape victim, not a single rape victim. I hesitate to get into the details here, but presumably only a married rape victim could be conceivably "guilty" of gilui arayot.] The general principle of "ייהרג ואל יעבור" [sins for which one should die rather than trespass] fits the situation, that if she is killed she won't be liable for the sin. With a rape victim, the matter is not so. [Whew!] Even if you agree that the woman should martyr herself, she won't prevent the sin, since anyway [before they kill her, presumably] they can rape her. Therefore, there is no logic behind her agreeing to give up her life and then having the trespass happen to her anyway. [Note: I despise the use of the term "עבירה" here for a woman who is raped against her will.] (Ritva on Babylonian Talmud, Masechet Ketubot, 3b)

החתם סופר העיר, שלפי דעה אחת בירושלמי, גם "למי שמשליכים אותו על תינוק ונתמעך", למרות שהוא מבחינת "קרקע עולם" באופן מוחלט, הוא חייב (קשה להבין את ההיגיון שבדעה זו). הוא לא מצא הסבר מדוע אסתר לא מסרה נפשה, אלא אם נתעלם מכל האגדות, שהיא היתה נשואה למרדכי, וכפנויה, לא היתה חייבת למסור נפשה (שו"ת חתם סופר יו"ד, סי' קס"ג).

The Chatam Sofer says that according to the Talmud Yerushalmi [corrected thanks to Miriam's comment below, I'm not sure why I didn't read it this way in the first place and am mildly embarrassed but I'll get over it], even for one who is "thrown on a baby and [the baby is] crushed," despite the fact that he is clearly "קרקע עולם," he is liable [for murder]. (It is difficult to understand the logic behind this position.) He did not find an explanation for why Esther did not martyr herself, unless he disagrees with all of the legends, that [say that] she was married to Mordechai, and therefore that she was "free" [single], and wasn't obligated to martyr herself. (Shu"t Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah, Siman 163).

לא נוכל לברר את הנושא במסגרת זו עד תומו. נעיר רק זאת, שאביי לא התייחס כלל באימרתו לגבי כלל הנשים, אלא אמר: "אסתר קרקע עולם היתה". כדי להימנע מהצורך למסור את הנפש, היא הצליחה לנטרל את עצמה לחלוטין בעת ההזדווגות והיא היתה "קרקע עולם" עד כמה שאפשר.

We won't be able to satisfactorily clarify this topic in this context [i.e. this article]. We'll say just this: Abaye did not relate his statement at all to women in general, but rather said: Esther was קרקע עולם. In order to remove from her the obligation to martyr herself, she succeeded in neutralizing herself [לנטרל--I had to look this up in a Hebrew/English dictionary!] completely during the time of copulation and she was "קרקע עולם" as much as possible.

[2] הראשונים שהעבירו "מידע" זה לעולם היו סופוקלס (496-406 לפנה"ס ב"אנטיגונה", 569) ו אגתון (נולד 448 לפנה"ס ב"אתינייאוס" 584א). כעבור כ-400 שנה כתב על זה פילון ("על נצחיות העולם", 69; "על פרטי החוקים" א, 200 "על השיכרות", 73; שו"ת לשמות, י"ב, 5).
There may be more available in these Google results, but the first hit was so spot on that I didn't keep looking. Because, you know, I do have other responsibilities in life. (I mean, besides the tremendous responsibility I have to my blog readers.)

Shabbat shalom and chag Purim sameyach!

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1. I think it's the personal website of someone named Erel Segel, presumably an Israeli who had the foresight to purchase the domain name tora.us.fm ("fm" being the country of Micronesia, I have no idea what the "us" is there for). He says his goal, at least for the Tanakh part, is to:
אתר זה נועד לעזור לכל אדם שצועד בשבילי התנ"ך - להבין את הפרקים, להכיר את הדמויות, ללמוד את השפה, וגם - לקרוא מאמרים בשביל הכיף
"כיף", indeed!

5 comments:

David said...

Forgive me - I totally don't get this.

Why exactly are we insisting that Esther and Mordechai were married, given that it has no significant basis in pshat, and causes so many other problems with interpretation? (and distorts halakhah quite a bit)

miriam said...

yay, you actually did a minimal amount of legwork (more than i, as the lack of sourcing below indicates)!

the tosfos in question is ridiculously long, so i just skimmed it, but i honestly don't see the position imputed to them in it yet. inf act, they seem to imply the opposite in a few places. i suspect there is a more subtle point between them and R. Akiva Eiger, which I now have to figure out...

other random points:

as for the "hana'ah" of a ne'eneset, the Gemara does have a category of 'tehilatah be-ones sofah be-ratson" - a sexual encounter that begins as rape and ends as consensual. this is obviously a comceptual problem for lots of us. the best i can say is that one can think of situations where there are many bad consequences to illicit sex (eg, permanent unmarriagability, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, etc), such that someone would refuse consent even to a man she was in principle attracted to, etc, for "political reasons." once he initiates with physical force, her legal responsibility is erased, but what the gemara calls "yetser albesha" (desire overcomes her) is not a completely unreasonable possibility.

a technical point:

שלפי דעה אחת בירושלמי
means "according to one opinionn in the Jerusalem Talmud"

, שלפי דעה אחת בירושלמי, גם "למי שמשליכים אותו על תינוק ונתמעך", למרות שהוא מבחינת "קרקע עולם" באופן מוחלט, הוא חייב
one would have to find this yerushalmi, but it seems "hayyav" likely means "obligated to die rather than be thrown" rather than "liable for murder," at least from what i saw in tosafot of this case. the point is that according to one opinoin, even complete passivity (being used as dead weight) does not negate the obligation of "yehareg ve-al ya'avor," in which case, no matter how passive esther was, she should have been killed rather than participate.

in the hatam sofer paragraph:
אלא אם נתעלם
probably means "unless we disregard," ie , the HS actually says to ignore these aggadot according to the opinion in the yerushalmi, not the editor of the site saying perhaps HS disregards them... (very technical point)

just my first impressions, you may motivate me yet to look furhter into this all...

happy post-purim!

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

I discussed this in my essay rchaimqoton.blogspot.com/2006/02/sin-or-die.html . I plan to re-visit the topic again sometime soon.

JH said...

I heard that she was betrothed to him - a lower level relationship, but still one to be respected.

Abacaxi Mamao said...

I suppose? But we normally don't say that people are who betrothed can sleep together. It sounds like apologetics to me. As are most of these "solutions."