Friday, May 04, 2012

Is marrying two sisters intrinsically or extrinsically obnoxious?

Summary: We consider the perspective of Rashi (intrinsically), Ibn Ezra (based on the land), and Ibn Caspi (who rejects Ibn Ezra and gives a rationalist reason for the prohibition). I suggest that it is extrinsically bad, based on intent and social mores.

Post: Consider the following pasuk (and Rashi) in parashat Acharei Mot, after a list of improper sexual relationships:

28. And let the land not vomit you out for having defiled it, as it vomited out the nation that preceded you.כח. וְלֹא תָקִיא הָאָרֶץ אֶתְכֶם בְּטַמַּאֲכֶם אֹתָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר קָאָה אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵיכֶם:
And let the land not vomit you out: This can be compared to a prince who was fed obnoxious food, which could not stay in his intestines; so he vomited it out. Likewise, the Land of Israel cannot retain transgressors [and thus, it vomits them out]. — [Torath Kohanim 20:123] The Targum renders וְלֹאתָקִיא, as: וְלֹא תְרוֹקֵן as:, denoting “emptying out” (רִקּוּן), i.e., the Land empties itself of the transgressors.ולא תקיא הארץ אתכם: משל לבן מלך שהאכילוהו דבר מאוס, שאין עומד במעיו אלא מקיאו, כך ארץ ישראל אינה מקיימת עוברי עבירה. ותרגומו ולא תרוקין, לשון ריקון, מריקה עצמה מהם:

Thus, it seems that these relationships are intrinsically obnoxious, and the holiness of the land of Israel could not stand this.

The alternative would be that these relationships are not intrinsically bad, but rather are inappropriate for the specific land of Israel. Consider e.g. Ibn Ezra, who writes in Vayelech that certain actions are appropriate for some lands and inappropriate for others, and in particular his closing words:
אחרי אלהי נכר הארץ - 
ידענו כי השם אחד והשנוי יבוא מהמקבלים והשם לא ישנה מעשיו, כי כולם בחכמה. ומעבודת השם לשמור כח הקבול כפי המקום, על כן כתוב: את משפט אלהי הארץ, על כן אמר יעקב: הסירו את אלהי הנכר והפך המקום הדבק בעריות, שהם שאר. והמשכיל יבין
"After the foreign gods of the land" {J: emphasis on the land, implying a specific land.} We know that Hashem is One and the difference comes from the recipients {?}, while Hashem does not change His actions, for all of them are with wisdom. And part of the service of Hashem is to keep with the power of the recieving in accordance with the location. And therefore it is written {II Melachim 17:26}"

כו וַיֹּאמְרוּ, לְמֶלֶךְ אַשּׁוּר לֵאמֹר, הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר הִגְלִיתָ וַתּוֹשֶׁב בְּעָרֵי שֹׁמְרוֹן, לֹא יָדְעוּ,אֶת-מִשְׁפַּט אֱלֹהֵי הָאָרֶץ; וַיְשַׁלַּח-בָּם אֶת-הָאֲרָיוֹת, וְהִנָּם מְמִיתִים אוֹתָם, כַּאֲשֶׁר אֵינָם יֹדְעִים, אֶת-מִשְׁפַּט אֱלֹהֵי הָאָרֶץ.26 Wherefore they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying: 'The nations which thou hast carried away, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land; therefore He hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land.'
And so did Yaakov say {Bereishit 35:2; see also Yehoshua 24:23}:

ב וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ, וְאֶל כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עִמּוֹ: הָסִרוּ אֶת-אֱלֹהֵי הַנֵּכָר, אֲשֶׁר בְּתֹכְכֶם, וְהִטַּהֲרוּ, וְהַחֲלִיפוּ שִׂמְלֹתֵיכֶם.2 Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him: 'Put away the strange gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments;
And the opposite of the place of attachment to arayos, which are near relatives. And the intelligent will understand.
It thus seems that Ibn Ezra regards certain types of arayos only dependent upon the place. Not necessarily that they are only extrinsically labelled as bad, but rather that they are inappropriate for the particular place. (Perhaps we can relate to this the idea in Ramban of the avos keeping the Torah, including Yaakov not marrying two sisters, specifically in Eretz Yisrael.)

So too here in parashat Acharei Mos, Ibn Ezra writes on pasuk 26:

26. But as for you, you shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, and you shall not do like any of these abominations neither the native, nor the stranger who sojourns among you.כו. וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אַתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי וְלֹא תַעֲשׂוּ מִכֹּל הַתּוֹעֵבֹת הָאֵלֶּה הָאֶזְרָח וְהַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכְכֶם:

as follows:
[יח, כו]
ושמרתם את חקתי -
אלה שאמרתי לכם, אלה תהיינה אסורות.

ואת משפטי -שתעשו המשפט שאצוה על העובר על אחת מהן. וטעם ולא תעשו מכל התועבות האלה. 
שנית להכניס הגר, כי זאת המצוה היא שוה לאזרח ולגר בעבור שהוא דר בארץ ישראל ואם יש לך לב תוכל להבין, כי בימי יעקב שלקח שתי אחיות בחרן ואחריו עמרם שלקח דודתו במצרים, לא נטמאו בהם.
"you shall observe My statutes -- these that I have specified to you, they should be forbidden.

and My ordinances -- that you shall fulfill the sentence that I command upon the one who violates one of them. And the intent of 'and you shall not do like any of these abominations' repeated is to include the stranger, for this command is equal for the native and the stranger, since he dwells in the land of Israel. And if you have a heart {=mind}, you will be able to understand, that in the days of Yaakov, who took two sisters in the land of Charan, and afterwards Amram who married his aunt in Egypt, were not defiled by them."

This is the same idea, once again.

Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi writes to reject this notion of Ibn Ezra. A rather rough translation:

"The author writes: The Torah forbade sleeping with the aforementioned females in order to prevent the damage within our nation, for due to this, a man won't lift his sword to another man, and the brotherhood will increase between relatives and others, and the peace of the household will indeed be great. And behold, it explained, stating {pasuk 27} כִּי אֶת כָּל הַתּוֹעֵבֹת הָאֵל עָשׂוּ אַנְשֵׁי הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵיכֶם וַתִּטְמָא הָאָרֶץ, 'For the people of the land who preceded you, did all of these abominations, and the land became defiled.' And so did it say {next pasuk} וְלֹא תָקִיא הָאָרֶץ אֶתְכֶם בְּטַמַּאֲכֶם אֹתָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר קָאָה אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵיכֶם, 'And let the land not vomit you out for having defiled it, as it vomited out the nation that preceded you.'

And I will not believe the words of the scholar Ibn Ezra that the prohibition is by virtue of the place, such that he says 
And if you have a heart {=mind}, you will be able to understand, that in the days of Yaakov, who took two sisters in the land of Charan, and afterwards Amram who married his aunt in Egypt, were not defiled by them
For without a doubt the impurity and evil was in Charan and in the land of Egypt, and in every place, just as in the land of Canaan, for the cause is encompassing. But the completeness {?} is complete in every place and he that is wise wins souls {Mishlei 11:30}. And yet, there was discord and jealousy in Yaakov's household from the two sisters, and what would be in the house or a lesser man than he? 

And the gist of this is that the matter is understandable to those who understand. And though the cause we mentioned is the primary and first cause, there is in the prohibition of the aforementioned females other causes, even side-effects or secondary causes, however it shall be. Behold, the minimizing of intercourse with the female is quite positive, such that we need not inquire now a cause for the prohibition of some number of females. For had they been even further reduced, it would have been even better. And the minimization {of eligible relationships with females} is sufficient cause in and of itself, and it justifies itself. 

Therefore, it is fitting for all intelligent and complete individuals who know the primary intent is the חוש, and will conduct himself in it as is appropriate to him, being stringent as it is appropriate to be stringent and being lenient as is appropriate to be lenient. But, he should guard himself from the commands of the heart and be stringent in them always with great stringencies, as David the complete one went on at length in this in the Mizmor {Tehilim 51} when he came to [Bat]sheva, and distinguished in hints between himself and Shaul, who sinned in hearts, and he in the intent of the soul in sacrifices -- read the entire Mizmor and comprehend, and this suffices for us for our purpose."

I don't really find either approach (of Ibn Ezra or Ibn Caspi) entirely persuasive. That is, I agree with Rashi that these are intrinsically obnoxious behaviors, with just an excessive reaction in Israel because of the holiness of the land. And I disagree with the somewhat rationalist approach of Ibn Caspi, who finds shalom bayis as the primary cause of these prohibitions, and a secondary cause in reducing intercourse with women in general.

Still, it would be nice to account for the behavior of Amram, who married his aunt, and Yaakov, who married two sisters. Were they perverts, chas veshalom? How could the Torah condemn this behavior when these great men engaged in this behavior, with hint of Biblical condemnation?

The answer, to my mind, is that context is key. When looking at the pesukim in Acharei Mos, we see quite a number of Canaanite practices which overstepped the bounds of propriety and morality. Thus, the first example is:

7. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness.ז. עֶרְוַת אָבִיךָ וְעֶרְוַת אִמְּךָ לֹא תְגַלֵּה אִמְּךָ הִוא לֹא תְגַלֶּה עֶרְוָתָהּ:

and next, there is:

8. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife; it is your father's nakedness.ח. עֶרְוַת אֵשֶׁת אָבִיךָ לֹא תְגַלֵּה עֶרְוַת אָבִיךָ הִוא:

In this context, every listed forbidden relationship was an example of sexual wantonness. They slept with animals, with their neighbor's wife, a woman and her daughter, and so on. They did not care about the incest or the sanctity of marriage, but trampled roughshod over that. If so, marrying an aunt (father's sister), or marrying two sisters together, was an expression of such sexual wantonness. Surely intent matters, and here there is the intent of the individual and the intent of society as a whole.

In contrast, let us say that a society does respect such familial boundaries, and does consider adultery a sin; and indeed, would consider sleeping with a father's wife (even after his death) to be incestuous. However, their precise definitions of incest are slightly different, such that marrying two sisters is not considered incestuous. The social mores of a rural society is not the same as that of an urban society. This is from a social perspective.

Then, consider it from the individual's perspective. Yaakov Avinu did not leap into this sort of marriage from the start. He did not set out to build himself a harem of four women. Rather, he fell in love with Rachel, and was all-but-betrothed to her. That was why he worked for her for seven years. His father-in-law tricked him and made the switch, and he was not going to cast Leah out in disgrace. Still, he worked for longer and married his beloved and betrothed. And then, his wives insisted that he sleep with their maidservants, in an effort to have more children, and he agreed to their request. This is a very different approach that your typical Canaanite pervert.

Of course, this would mean that the acts are not entirely intrinsically evil and impure. It depends on intent and social context.  I am reminded of the issur of bal teshakatzu, which also involved acting in a manner which is abhorrent, where the definition might well depend on the zeitgeist.

I can think of two other examples, indeed within the bounds of halacha, in which the social mores changed. Polygamy is permitted as a matter of Biblical and Rabbinic law. But, the cherem deRabbeinu Gershom came and outlawed it, for the Ashkenazic community, for quite some time. So too, marrying your brother's daughter is Biblically permitted and Rabbinically encouraged, until it was actively discouraged by R' Yehuda haChassid, and in most circles nowadays considered quite improper.

The Torah forbade those acts which were practiced by the Canaanites in wanton manner and which were understood to be improper at that time.

This would then cover Yaakov Avinu. What about Amram? The answer would cover his case as well, if need be. This is not the post for it, but I'll quickly reassert my theory here that Amram did not marry his paternal aunt. The key pasuk is found in parashat Shemot, in Shemot 2:1:

1. A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi.א. וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ מִבֵּית לֵוִי וַיִּקַּח אֶת בַּת לֵוִי:

Paying heed to context, peshat is not the most literal, that it is a literal daughter of Levi. Rather, peshat is that bat Levi is idiomatic, to refer to a woman from the tribe of Levi, matching the pattern of ish mibeit Levi.

(Yes, there are other pesukim. In Vaera, ויקח עמרם את יוכבד דודתו לו לאישה ותלד לו את אהרון ואת משה. And in Pinchas, וְשֵׁם אֵשֶׁת עַמְרָם, יוֹכֶבֶד בַּת-לֵוִי, אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה אֹתָהּ לְלֵוִי, בְּמִצְרָיִם; וַתֵּלֶד לְעַמְרָם, אֶת-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת-מֹשֶׁה, וְאֵת, מִרְיָם אֲחֹתָם. I can resolve these in various ways. I have Saadia Gaon to rely upon that this was not a paternal aunt. And I can teich-up these pesukim. But one shouldn't interpret the pasuk in Shemot as referring to a literal daughter, despite the context of these pesukim, and against the idiomatic peshat.)




Reuven Chaim Klein said...

I once thought of an opposite example of this, that is, that a mitzvah to *marry* someone can apply only in a specific land. This is what I once wrote to someone:

המעיין היטיב בדברי ספר חינוך (מצווה ער"ב) יראה שכתב במצוות כה"ג לישא הבתולה בזה"ל ונוהג בארץ בזמן הבית והעבודה כי אז יתמנה כהן גדול לא במקום אחר. ולכאורה מדבריו משמע שרק בארץ ישראל יש מצווה כזאת ואם ייצא הכהן גדול מארץ ישראל לחוץ ישראל מאיזה סיבה שיהיה לא יהא עליו מצווה לישא הבתולה. ומלבד שיש בזה נפ"מ לגבי קיום מצווה זו יש גם נפ"מ לענין האיסור עשה שלא יבעול הכהן גדול את שאינה בתולה דלפ"ז מותר לו לעשות כן בחוץ לארץ. הראיתם דבר מוזר כזה או הנשמע כמוה?

But this is only tangentially related.

Lomed said...

The Aruch Hashulchan (E.H. 15?) very strongly encourages marrying a niece, making no mention at all of Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid. I'm not convinced that "most" authorities are on the discouraging side.

joshwaxman said...

Forget Aruch HaShulchan and R' Yehuda HaChassid. What about the (Ashkenazic) hamon am? They wouldn't consider it incestuous? Maybe I am wrong about 'most circles', but I didn't mean to refer to 'authorities' in my statement.

This aside from known medical issues arising from such close unions. I've heard of some refusing to believe the science for various misguided reasons. (See here for an example, from the Shatzer Rav and Melitzer Rebbe.) My bracha and best-wishes for them is shomer pesaim Hashem.


Anonymous said...

When I was 16, my family and I went to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He knew nothing about us, yet knew to admonish my Father for allowing the man who had slept with me, promising to marry me-to then marry and sleep with my sister.
I listened as my father defended my sisters marrying this man. And the Rebbe scolding him because this dishonored me.
My father said to him, "This one-" meaning my little sister was the one who was deserving of the marriage.
The Rebbe countered, "No, this one-" meaning me, was the one my father should have been protecting.
I still cannot stomache quite, living in a country where they can't tell holiness from evil. They really cannot tell. They are Esav, they only know how to pretend here. They would not know holiness if it bit them on the nose.


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