Sunday, August 24, 2008

Would Rashi Forbid Long Skirts, Just As He "Forbids" Veils In Sefer Yeshaya, As It Seems In Oz VeHadar Levushah?

On page 307 in Oz veHadar Levushah, Rabbi Falk has an objection to very long skirts (see image to the right), and it is based on a Rashi on Yeshaya 3:19. You can see the Rashi in full in Mikraos Gedolos here. (samech aleph aleph means sefarim acheirim omerim. We should really see how the different girsaot in different manuscripts of Rashi resolve themselves.

I have a few problems with this. Firstly, Rashi does not offer "the answer." He actually offers two answers. In the first, which is the one Rabbi Falk cites, Rashi assumes that this veil is the correct translation of רעלה. But in the context, the assumption is that Yeshaya is criticizing the women for wearing these things. (This need not be so, on a peshat level, at this stage in the perek.) Therefore, Rashi explains that they are using this particular item for the purpose of seduction.

But Rashi also offers another explanation. Perhaps (and this is my own suggestion) this was because Rashi saw the difficulty of claiming that this garment of modesty is something used for seduction. Therefore, he suggests that it means colorful scarves.

Thus, Judaica Press translates Rashi:
and the veils Heb. וְהָרְעָלוֹת. A veil with which they envelop their entire countenance except the eyeball, so that a man will desire to satisfy himself by gazing at the cheeks. Another explanation is that they are types of pretty shawls, with which to enwrap themselves, and in the language of the Mishnah, there is an instance: “Shawled (רְעוּלוֹת) Arabian women,” in Tractate Shabbath (65a).
My one objection to this translation is that they render ובלשון משנה יש ערביות רעולות as they did. The Mishna in question is actually, according to Rashi, referring to Jewish women in Arabian countries. And we do not know that this means "shawled" rather than "veiled," since this last phrase could bind here to either the first or the second explanation. And especially given Rashi's explanation on that Mishna in Shabbos, as we will get to in a bit.

Thus, perhaps it could be argued that even Rashi is not so sure of this diyyuk.

My second problem is that Rabbi Falk adds a whole "midrash" of his own invention to explain the problem of the veils. He writes:
"As a result of this, when the kerchief would lift a bit due to the wind, the appearance of the cheeks presented an enticement to those who saw it."
This fits in well with an idea Rabbi Falk wants to develop, that concealing and then seeing of an otherwise allowed body part is problematic. But this is not found in Rashi. All we really have is that since her face is concealed, men will have a desire to see her cheeks. But nothing about wind, nothing about the wind lifting the kercheif, and nothing about the men actually seeing her cheeks.

Thirdly, just because Rashi offered this as one of two ideas for explaining a difficult pasuk in Tanach does not mean that this is normative Jewish law or a concern that Jewish women in general must have as a function of their tnzius. Show me, rather, where this idea appears in Shas and poskim. Otherwise, it is quite easy to cull all of Jewish Rabbinic literature and find support far any idea, no matter how extreme, in any direction. Midrashim are often not sources for practical halacha.

Fourthly, even if there is a basis for this idea, this extension to very long skirts appears to be the innovation of Rabbi Falk. We do not know that Rashi would extend it this far. Nor do we know that he, or we, would necessarily agree with Rabbi Falk's assessment that this is the actual effect, or the intended effect, of these very long skirts. Rather, this is Rabbi Falk's personal taste and opinion on the matter, but presented in a way such that it almost seems as if Rashi is saying it.

Fifthly, Rashi does not even seem to prohibit the aforementioned veil. If we look at Rashi on that Mishna in Shabbos 65a which Rashi refers to here (see the daf with Rashi here). We see something interesting. The Mishna says that "Arabian women" can go out reulot. Rashi explains that this means Jewish women in Arabia. Thus, these women are following the style of their country. And for reulot, Rashi defines it exactly as he defined it here, that their entire face is covered but there are holes for their eyes. And then he refers to the pasuk in Yeshayahu, saying that this is the same word. And Rashi is saying this on a Mishna which states that it is permitted for women to go out wearing this clothing.

If Rashi would permit even these veils, how are we to assume that he would prohibit this extension of Rabbi Falk, the very long skirts?

As a sixth and final point, if you will pardon the rhetoric, Rabbi Falk is acting like a Karaite, or a Christian. We do not decide for ourselves based on a pasuk in Torah or Navi what practical halacha should be. Rather, at least in terms of halacha, we view Mikra through the eyes of Chazal. And what they discuss lehalacha in the gemara we act upon, and what they do not we do not act upon. In several places, Rabbi Falk sets up the prophet Isaiah as a source of practice, when it truly seems that Chazal consider it differently.

Thus, he cites these verses in Isaiah as a basis that women should not wear excessive perfume outside the home. (Chazal in masechet Shabbos 62b talk about permitting women to go out with a flask of perfume hanging from their necks.) He cites these verses as a reason to prohibit modern wigs. He cites Rashi -- which is really Rashi after offering his own interpretation of a phrase then offering an explanation of Targum Yonatan's translation of a phrase -- that the women would go out binding foreign peices of hair to their own hair, giving it a larger look. Yet Rashi does not say that this is forbidden for women to do. Perhaps it was a criticism of these particular women, or perhaps a (neutral) example of the tachshitim which would be replaced (see in context). But in gemara Shabbos, 64b, the Mishna states that women can go out with peah nachris, and Rashi defines it exactly the same. So women in Chazal's time -- frum women -- wore this peah nachris. And in this case, of the face veil, the Mishna, and Rashi in interpreting the Mishna, allows Jewish women to go out reulot, veiled. Yet the implication is that Rabbi Falk would forbid it (and by extension, long skirts), because of the verse in Isaiah.

Yes, it is a pasuk in Yeshayah, but I am referring to it as Isaiah to make this point. Show me a gemara that actually darshens these pesukim and applies it in this way to women's tznius, such that these items were forbidden. Rather than these of these women actions -- e.g., of kicking one's feet to spray myrrh and balsam on a bachur in order to entice them to sin. And he is interpreting these verses these ways, to prohibit these items, without clear direction from Chazal, and in cases in which it is clear that Chazal allowed these items. (He cites and interprets various Rashis or other sources in a way that bolsters this position, but they are pretty weak diyukkim, in my opinion.) I believe that taking this "Karaitic" approach towards practical halacha is quite troubling, and that this is not a valid methodology.

I may leave off this topic for a while now, because the semester is about to start, and because I have been neglecting other topics I want to cover on parshablog. Perhaps one more post on tznius and covering one's feet -- in the literal sense -- since someone recently searched parshablog for this topic.


shlomo said...

i think your previous posts in the series were ineffective because your methodology, while probably correct, would not be accepted by the intended audience.
but this post really hits the mark, making a great argument, even "leshitatam".

reulah said...

i hope that you continue this series. I think you should consider a sidebar with all posts on this topic and maybe if you continue even collecting them in a booklet (something akin to what a different blogger did with his posts on the parsha - no comment intended on his work). A thorough debunking of R Falk's work needs to be done. R Henkin's piece in Tradition is valuable. but doesn't relate directly to R Falk's pattern of interpretation quote by quote the way you have been doing. I think a lot of people read his work and laugh and notice some of this, but do not have the diligence to write about it line by line and often not the scholarly tools. The type of guidelines he offers are taking over in absence of refutations, regardless of how obviously silly they are or how tendentiously the sources are interpreted. So please keep the work up.

והמשכיל יבין said...

I know you dont like Baal Haturim but I think This one you will enjoy even though I doubt you will find it in any online source.

כִּי-יָקוּם בְּקִרְבְּךָ נָבִיא אוֹ חֹלֵם חֲלוֹם וְנָתַן אֵלֶיךָ אוֹת אוֹ מוֹפֵת
An interesting Gematria in this week's Parsha from the Baal HaTurim. The word נביא is equal to 63 same Gematria as ובנה: "and her son" .Then he says בקרבך is equal to 324 which is the same as זו האשה: "this is the woman". In closing והמשכיל יבין.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. i will think about it.

kol tuv,

joshwaxman said...

thanks. nice. (mikraos gedolos is actually online at HebrewBooks, as well as some stand-alone Baal HaTurims [IIRC] at JNUL, so I could actually find a link to the specific page at HebrewBooks.)

kol tuv,

Anonymous said...

Can you link it also does anyone have a remez do the other guy from the middle east in the Posuk- Maybe you can make up a Gematriyah ~(:

joshwaxman said...

I don't see this one in the mikraos gedolos, but the pasuk with the baal haturim excerpt is here:

So we cannot have a direct link.

However, over at JNUL, we can use this book, from a 1512 printing in Constantina:

and then on the sidebar, click on page 64. It is on the right-hand column, the upper half of the column.

I don't have any ideas for a gematria.

Kol Tuv,

eric said...

Josh, I think your assumption that midrashim cannot be used as sources for halachic assumptions is incorrect. See for example Tradition magazine 33:1 page 45, quoting a source in which the midrash of Rachel and Leah's birth of Yosef and Dinah, particularly the "switching of the fetuses", is used as a source for determining maternity in cases of organ transplants between two women. That is the first source I could find, I assume there are many others.

joshwaxman said...

in the above post, which is the midrash?

indeed, sometimes the gemara brings halachic conclusions from midrash. but also, there is a difference in the provenance of the midrash?

kol tuv,

joshwaxman said...

there was an earlier post where I made that point, but I would prefer to discuss it in reference to that post.

sometimes people rely on midrash to reveal some underlying assumption Chazal had about reality, and often will do so when there is otherwise a wasteland in terms of available sources to develop an idea in halacha.

but I do believe that many midrashim should not be sources of halacha. e.g. a post-Talmudic midrash zuta, or even early midrashim which emphasize some point, when Chazal do not treat it as halachic source and where there are other sources to be used. I have specifically heard halachic decisors dismissing certain midrashim as valid halachic sources.

For example, in terms of metzitza, the midrash that Moshe did Milah, Aharon did Peria, and Yehoshua did the metzitza, as an attempt to establish metzitza as a required component. Or in terms of using a pain-cream on an infant, a midrash stressing the pain as an essential component of milah, such that (in the derivation) one should not take steps to reduce the pain. Certainly some people hold that one should derive halacha from those midrashim, but others equally dismiss these midrashim as a basis of halacha.

It is a complicated topic.

Kol Tuv,

eric said...

In the Tradition article, the fetus midrash was listed as being from two sources, one not explicitly named (and I'm too lazy to look for it), the other Targum Yonatan.

joshwaxman said...

I'll try to get access to that article so that I can reply. i would like to get a feel for how the author is harnessing that source, who applies it, and so on.

thanks for the tip.


joshwaxman said...

regardless, the midrash in Targum (Pseudo-)Yonatan is fascinating. Thanks. I tried looking so far in Midrash Rabba, but all it has is the changing of the genders:
איתיביה, והכתיב: ואחר ילדה בת?!
אמר לו: עיקר ברייתו זכר היתה, ומתפלתה של רחל, שאמרה: יוסף ה' לי בן אחר, נעשה נקבה.
I'll see what I can find...

joshwaxman said...

the Yerushalmi (Berachot 66b) also only has the changing of the genders -- which we would expect since both are from the Amoraim of Eretz Yisrael.

אמר יהודה בן פזי אף היושב על המשבר יכול להשתנות על שם (ירמיהו יח) הנה כחומר ביד היוצר ר' בשם דבית ינאי עיקור עיבור של דינה זכר היה. מאחר שנתפללה רחל נעשית נקבה.

joshwaxman said...

ok, while I did not find the other source of this midrash, I did find that bluke at the Jewish Worker posted about this, and it fills me in hopefully sufficiently. See here:

We see there that it is not the midrash by itself which is used in determining halacha. Rather, it seems that Tur (perhaps in the Baal HaTurim? I'll bli neder try to check it out) uses it to discuss a halachic question of how a different midrash can say that Dinah made Shimon promise to marry her, when they were, after all, full brother-and-sister. There are other plausible answers than what he gives. But the fact is that Tur, a halachist, gives this answer when discussing a halachic conundrum, which arose under the assumption that the Avos and shevatim kept halacha exactly as it should be practiced.

Therefore, when trying to figure out in modern-times what the halacha should be for a case which was never even envisioned in previous centuries, we naturally seek precedent. And we can turn to Tur and how he made use of the midrash. The Tur is the precedent, and the Tur is what is important. (Even so, it seems more shaky to me than other methods of deriving halacha, for it is quite possible that the Tur never intended this to be used for practical halacha.)

But still, that is quite different from paskening based on a midrash itself, or worse, the interpretations and back-story we choose to read into a midrash.

At least, that is my take for now. I will update if I manage to get a hold of that article, read it, and then change my assessment.

Kol Tuv,

joshwaxman said...

I just read the article, and in terms of the quote from Paneach Raza, it is parallel to Tur. In terms of Rav Safran's diyuk in the opposite direction, I am not sure I would agree with it. But first I would want to see it inside, and see how it is used elsewhere.


והמשכיל יבין said...

If you look at the Ohr HAchaim on the same Posuk He keeps refering to a dreamer.


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