Monday, August 18, 2008

Does The Gemara in Nedarim Prohibit Close-Fitting Skirts, As Rabbi Falk Claims?

Continuing with the very next paragraph in Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk's book, Oz veHadar Levushah, on page 309, we see another, quite bold claim. (See right.) He writes:

"The damage caused by the thigh area not being hidden properly is spelt out by Chazal in no uncertain terms."

We will see if they really spell it out in no uncertain terms. Indeed, the claim he makes in the rest of the paragraph is not, IMHO, supported by the sources he cites.

The relevant gemara is in Nedarim 20a:
רבי אחא ברבי יאשיה אומר כל הצופה בנשים סופו בא לידי עבירה וכל המסתכל בעקבה של אשה הויין לו בנים שאינן מהוגנין
אמר רב יוסף ובאשתו נדה
אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש עקבה דקתני במקום הטנופת שהוא מכוון כנגד העקב

Rabbi Falk claims that this statement of Resh Lakish is actually referring to the thigh area, and one who looks at the thigh area will have children who are not fit.

But that is not the simple meaning of the gemara. Rather, it is that it is referring to someone who is gazing (deliberately) at a woman's vagina. And that it is talking about looking at it when she is naked, rather than clothed. But quite possibly, looking at that area when she is wearing undergarments, or looking at her naked buttocks or thighs, would not be what is being discussed in this particular gemara, and would not carry with it the threat of בנים שאינן מהוגנין.

This is indeed how Soncino translates it -- in accordance with the most straightforward peshat. Thus, he writes:
R. Aha of the school of R. Josiah said: He who gazes at a woman eventually comes to sin, and he who looks even at a woman's heel will beget degenerate children. R. Joseph said: This applies even to one's own wife when she is a niddah. R. Simeon b. Lakish said: 'Heel' that is stated means the unclean part, which is directly opposite the heel.
מקום הטינופת means the vagina, rather than "the thigh area," as defined above. (We will see how Rabbi Falk avoids this definition, a bit later.)

In my translation of the Rif on Nedarim 20a, we see that Rif has a slightly different girsa of the gemara:
ר' אחא ב"ר יאשי' אמר כל הצופה בנשים סופו בא לידי עבירה וכל המסתכל בעקבה של אשה הויין ליה בנים שאינן מהוגנים
א"ר יוסף ובאשתו נדה
אמר ר"ל עקב דקתני מקום התורף שהוא מכוון נגד העקב

Rabbi Acha beRabbi Yoshiya said: Anyone who gazes at women, his end is to come to sin. And anyone who looks at the heel of a woman will have children who are degenerate.
Rav Yosef said: This was talking about his wife who was a menstruant.
Resh Lakish said: The heel about which they taught is really the genital area {our gemara: במקום הטנופת}, which is directly opposite the heel.
Thus, in Rif's girsa, it is makom hatoref instead of makom hatinofes. This means the same thing, but perhaps makes it clearer that the vagina is meant. {Jastrow defines מקום התורף as the pudenda, that is the vagina, with good reason.}

Thus, in Targum Yonatan on Devarim 28:
נז וּבְשִׁלְיָתָהּ הַיּוֹצֵת מִבֵּין רַגְלֶיהָ, וּבְבָנֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵד, כִּי-תֹאכְלֵם בְּחֹסֶר-כֹּל, בַּסָּתֶר--בְּמָצוֹר, וּבְמָצוֹק, אֲשֶׁר יָצִיק לְךָ אֹיִבְךָ, בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. 57 and against her afterbirth that cometh out from between her feet, and against her children whom she shall bear; for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly; in the siege and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemy shall straiten thee in thy gates.
the word תורפא is used, to translate מִבֵּין רַגְלֶיהָ.

And in Targum Yonatan on Bemidbar 25:8:

ח וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ; וַתֵּעָצַר, הַמַּגֵּפָה, מֵעַל, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 8 And he went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.
at the end of parshat Balak, in translating קֳבָתָהּ, in the context where Zimri was engaged in intercourse with Cozbi and Pinchas thrust through both of them through their genitals, the word בית תורפה is also used.

Also, in Bava Batra 16b:
חולל אילות תשמור אילה זו רחמה צר בשעה שכורעת ללדת אני מזמין לה דרקון שמכישה בבית הרחם ומתרפה ממולדה ואלמלי מקדים רגע אחד או מאחר רגע אחד מיד מתה
Or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve? This hind has a narrow womb. When she crouches for delivery, I prepare a serpent which bites her at the opening of the womb, and she is delivered of her offspring; and were it one second too soon or too late, she would die.
{Interestingly, the idea in this gemara appears to a natural episiotomy.}

Thus, it is fairly clear that that is what the word means -- vagina, rather than "thigh area." And Rabbi Falk really means the thigh area, including the entire length of the thigh, as is clear from the context from which I snatched the above paragraph.

Furthermore, there is an associated statement in Bavli about looking at the bet hatoref of a woman. Thus, Shabbos 64b:
כל המסתכל באצבע קטנה של אשה כאילו מסתכל במקום התורפה

where the implication is that it is so bad, it is like looking at her vagina. This is not in the context of looking at her heel, or her "heel," but still, the idea is out there.

However, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish is an Amora from Eretz Yisrael, and there is an extremely relevant Yerushalmi in Challah 12b:
הדא אמרה עגבות אין בהן משום ערוה. הדא דאת אמר לברכה. אבל להביט אפילו כל שהוא אסור. כהדא דתני המסתכל בעקיבה של אשה כמסתכל בבית הרחם. והמסתכל בבית הרחם כילו בא עליה.

Thus, looking at the heel of a woman is compared to looking at her vagina, her beit harechem. The bet harechem is surely not "the thigh area." It has a definite meaning, and the point is homiletic, to make mere looking at something as "innocent" as her heel to be like looking at her vagina.

What Resh Lakish appears to be doing in our gemara in Nedarim is saying that of course, one who merely looks at a heel of a woman is not bringing upon himself the בנים שאינן מהוגנים. Rather, Rabbi Acha beRabbi Yoshiya's source was using "heel" as a codeword, based on this brayta which equates the two. And so it was really talking about someone who was looking at the actual beit harachem.

And indeed, Artscroll also translates this as "unclean area," and explains in a footnote that this refers to the vagina. It refers to Rashi and other sources as a basis for this explanation, but states "cf. Meiri," without explaining what Meiri says and how he differs.

However, Rabbi Falk does have a partial basis in his interpretation of the gemara as referring to "the thigh area," and he explicitly refers to this basis. It is in the Meiri, in Beis HaBechira:
בית הבחירה למאירי מסכת נדרים דף כ עמוד א
וכן אמרו כל הצופה בנשים סוף בא לידי עבירה ואפילו בפנויה אסור וכל המסתכל בעקיבה של אשה אם באשתו ושלא בשעת נדתה וכדי לחבבה מותר ולא סוף דבר בעקיבה אלא אף במה שכנגד העקב ר"ל עגבותיה אחר שהיא לבושה והולכת וכן לפניה אלא שתופסה בכנגד עקיבה מפני שסתם הדברים נאמרה באשה שמהלכת לה ואדם צופה לה מאחריה ובאשתו נדה אסור וראוי ליענש בה בבנים שאינם מהוגנים ובאשה אחרת אפילו בפנויה ובשאינה נדה ושלא כנגד העקב אסור אפילו באצבע קטנה אלא שבמקום אחד התירו להסתכל בפני כלה כל שבעה כדי לחבבה על בעלה וכלל הדברים יהא מסוה הבשת על מצחו תמיד דרך הערה אמרו בעבור תהיה יראתו על פניכם זו בושה לבלתי תחטאו מלמד שהבושה מביאה לידי יראת חטא מכאן אמרו סימן יפה לאדם שהוא ביישן וכל מי שמתבייש לא במהרה הוא חוטא וכל שאין לו בשת פנים בידוע שלא עמדו אבותיו על הר סיני:
Thus, according to Meiri, it is talking about gazing at a woman as she is walking, looking at her buttocks as she is walking away, though the same would be to look at the front area as she walks forwards. And this is when she is clad.

(I would note the Yerushalmi Challah quote above, and how the topic was buttocks. Perhaps this was the basis, or supports, Meiri. He could say that eikev is being equated in that Yerushalmi with buttocks, since it follows from הדא אמרה עגבות אין בהן משום ערוה. הדא דאת אמר לברכה. אבל להביט אפילו כל שהוא אסור. Or alternatively, he is somehow deciding to interpret bet harechem as buttocks -- something more farfetched, but still a tiny possibility worth mentioning. Though I think the point being made is that looking at any part for the purpose of pleasure is forbidden, and the definition of buttocks as non-erva was just in terms of making a blessing in the presence of exposed buttocks.)

This is a rather "exceptional" interpretation of the gemara, and I have not seen any other Rishon give this explanation. Furthermore, I think it is an incorrect interpretation, though Meiri is certainly entitled to his position. Now, the work of the Meiri was lost for centuries, and thus did not work its way into the standard development of halacha. And so some modern poskim refuse to even consider Meiri. (See here.) Now, I do not agree with this, and think that his positions, just like any, should be evaluated on their merits. However, it is rather strange to see Meiri's exceptionally novel interpretation of this gemara being presented as if it were the only interpretation of the gemara -- in a way that misleads the reader -- and then to work from there.

Furthermore, let us let Rabbi Falk take this Meiri and rule in accordance with it. He certainly has the right, though he should have made it clearer that this is not the only interpretation. But if he holds like the Meiri, he should hold like the Meiri. Instead, he claims that Meiri is putting forth an even stricter position than Meiri actually holds.

1) The Meiri was defining it as looking at the buttocks as she walks away, or else looking at the front area of her pelvis. And this while she is clad. But this is עגבים, buttocks. This is not "the thigh area," which is what Rabbi Falk claimed. Perhaps one can speak about the very high thigh area.

2) It is clear from the Meiri that the women are dressed properly. The issue is that the man is going out of his way to gaze at her buttocks as she walks away. Thus, in the time of the gemara, women could certainly permissibly dress, in a way such that a man could decide to look at her clad buttocks in order to get pleasure. Thus, באשה שמהלכת לה ואדם צופה לה מאחריה ובאשתו נדה אסור וראוי ליענש בה בבנים שאינם מהוגנים. But if a man decided to do this, it was his fault. And as a result of this improper conduct on his part, the punishment was הויין ליה בנים שאינן מהוגנים.

Meiri does not continue by saying, "therefore women must take care that the form of their buttocks cannot be seen through clothing by perverts."

Rabbi Falk began:

"The damage caused by the thigh area not being hidden properly is spelt out by Chazal in no uncertain terms."

but nowhere do we see that the "thigh area" was not hidden "properly." This was Rabbi Falk's own diyuk, which he incorrectly attributed to Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and the gemara in Moed Katan, as we saw in the last post on this subject. And we do not know that it is "the thigh area" rather than the buttocks, according to Meiri. And we do not know that this is even referring to the woman's buttocks while she is clad. It could refer to the vagina, while the woman is unclad, if we read the gemara in its simpler way, in accordance with other Rishonim.

Thus, to say that it is spelled out by Chazal in "no uncertain terms" seems to be an unjustified claim.

Once again, one major problem with all of this is that this is being presented to girls who will not look up the original sources (indeed, for some of them, learning gemara is forbidden), and so they have no way of evaluating whether what is being claimed is actually accurate.


Anonymous said...

Have you presented these problems with his understanding to Rabbi Falk?

joshwaxman said...

no. besides my being introverted to a fault, I only just started reading through this sefer recently.

it would be interesting, and useful, to see his response, though...

Anonymous said...

i'm quite sure he makes himself available to the community. i would bet you'll find his number in the phone book.

maybe a guest post?

joshwaxman said...

He most likely does. Though I do not have a phone book for Gateshead, in England. (I live in Queens.) But I am pretty sure I came across the correct number listed here:

And I still don't like how I come across on the phone. But I'll think about it.

If he does somehow see this website and has a response, I would be happy to post it as a guest post. If you would like to contact him and find out what he has to say, I would post that as well, as a guest post.

Kol Tuv,


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