Wednesday, April 13, 2005

May a talmid hakham speak with a woman in public?

In yesterday’s daf, 43b, we read that there are six activities that are disgraceful (גנאי) for a תלמיד חכם. One of them was ואל יספר עם האשה בשוק. How should we deal with this in terms of הלכה למעשה (or possibly מוסר למעשה) today? Note that in order to simplify the issue, I am leaving out of consideration the fact that we have female תלמידות חכמים and even תלמידות חכמות today; if any of you has thoughts from an angle that considers this fact, please put up a comment on this posting.

1) My first thought for a קולא was that perhaps the verb לספר refers only to flirting. However, even if this is a correct interpretation of the original ברייתא, we cannot use this as הלכה למעשה, because Rav Hisda (supported by the possibly fictitious ברייתא) says that this applies even to one’s sister, daughter, or wife, with whom one cerainly would not be flirting.

2) My second thought was that גנאי לו does not imply an actual prohibition. Rather, this is merely a list of behaviors that חז"ל (sorry to be so vague) considered inappropriate, in their social context, for the dignity of a תלמיד חכם. Perhaps, we can learn from this that תלמידי חכמים today should not perform behaviors that are undignified in their own social contexts. In a chareidi social context, for example, a תלמיד חכם should probably not speak with a woman on the street (nor should he surf the internet, lest he be perceived as looking at pornography). What would be the corresponding inappropriate actions for תלמידי חכמים in “our” society?

[I put “our” in quotation marks, because this site is meant for people who are in many different societies. Yet as far as I know, all the people who are currently posting on this site are from the same Liberal Orthodox or Highly Traditional Conservative Jewish society, which [at least up here on the UWS] are largely the same society.

3) How far do we take this idea of changing social expectations. We would probably agree that we can apply it to statements of מוסר made by חז"ל, but can we apply it to statements of הלכה made by חז"ל. Or statements of מוסר or הלכה made by the Torah itself? At JTS, there is a raging debate about the permissibility (or not) of משכב זכר.

From the halakhic comments that I have made on this blog so far, I think that most of you know where I stand in terms of the continued binding nature of halakha. But not everyone has the same opinions that I do.

And in any event, it is often very difficult to determine whether a particular line is הלכה or מוסר? Did חז"ל even have a concept that they were different? Did the Torah?

Discussion, anyone?

5 Comments:

At Wednesday, 13 April, 2005, Blogger DKP said...

First, I hope to have more liberal Conservative and Reform members participate, so we are not limited to traditional conservative, orthodox, etc.
Second, with regard to the prohibition even for relatives, that was just because people wouldn't know that they're related.
Since the beraita makes it clear that the very nature of these instructions is to prevent suspicion or disgrace, there is no reason why speaking to opposite sexes or genders should be a problem in a society in which it is the norm. It is impossible to read the braita as being a davar shebaminyan, and therefore there should be no reason to see it as problematic, even if it was seen as a "halakhah."
As to whether or not Chazal saw a distinction between halakhah and aggadah is a very legnthy discussion. Since an OCD yenta will call me any second about silver polish for Passover, I have to go soon. But to be brief, I don't think Hazal saw a sharp distinction.

 
At Wednesday, 13 April, 2005, Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

DKP wrote:

Second, with regard to the prohibition even for relatives, that was just because people wouldn't know that they're related.

I don't dispute that fact. All I am saying is that it proves that לְסַפֵּר refers not only to flirting, but to talking בְּעָלְמָא (or, as popularly pronounced, בְּעַלַמָא).

Since the beraita makes it clear that the very nature of these instructions is to prevent suspicion or disgrace, there is no reason why speaking to opposite sexes or genders should be a problem in a society in which it is the norm.

Nu, and in a society (or natural order) in which eating fish cooked with meat together with salt does not lead to idolatry, leprosy, sex, or pork, should it be permitted to eat such fish? (I hope that you respond אִין הָכִי נַמִּי.)

It is impossible to read the braita as being a davar shebaminyan, and therefore there should be no reason to see it as problematic, even if it was seen as a "halakhah."

I don't exactly understand your whole concept of דבר שבמנין. As I understand the term (and I haven't heard it so often, except from you), it refers to a decree that some high court made, which can't be overturned unless by a court that is greater בחכמה ובמנין (whatever that means). Yet there are certainly statements that are neither דאורייתא, nor necessarily גְּזֵרוֹת of a high court, which we are nonetheless obligated to observe. Any time there is a מֵימְרָא in the Bavli that is not challenged, we are obligated to fulfill it. For example: אמר רבא: מחייב אינש ל[א]בסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי, or אמר רב יהודה: האי מאן דנפיק ביומי ניסן וחזי אילני דקא מלבלבי אומר ברוך שלא חִסּר בעולמו כלום וברא בו בריות טובות ואילנות טובים להתנאות בהן בני אדם. Tellingly, both of these statements are in Aramaic, not the usual language for making halakhic decrees, yet we are nonetheless obligated to follow them.

Since an OCD yenta will call me any second about silver polish for Passover, I have to go soon.

Why do OCD יֶנְטָתָא call you about silver polish for Passover? Do you perhaps work for some kind of כשרות organization? I think that I have figured out who you are, as you lurk behind the initials of your nom de blog.

But to be brief, I don't think Hazal saw a sharp distinction [between halakha and aggada].

Uh-oh. That could lead to problems in the השקפה that says that we need to accept the legal pronouncements of the Sages, but not theri מוסר or אגדתא.

Mar Gavriel

 
At Wednesday, 13 April, 2005, Blogger DKP said...

Sorry if I respond out of order. You are correct that I disagree with the belief that any statement that isn't halakhic does not have to be taken seriously.
In terms of fish and meat, I view it as a combination of minhag and primative science that hasn't been considered to be proven false by the right people and therefore still practiced. Therefore, I don't see why it should be taken as an argument.
In terms of davar shebaminyan, I have to look at it again, but it appears around daf 3 or 4 in Beitsah. If I remember correctly, it was focused more on prohibitions, but not everything that is discouraged by Hazal should fall into that category.

 
At Wednesday, 13 April, 2005, Anonymous mivami said...

First, I hope to have more liberal Conservative and Reform members participate, so we are not limited to traditional conservative, orthodox, etc.
as this is the first programmatic statement re this blog, it is probably not inappropriate to tell you that, without meaning to sound condescending to either side, you're gonna have to be a trifle less high-minded and sophisticated in your entries. or at least, a bit more introductory. that is, you assume the average (sorry to say it, but in this sense avg = O or JTS level C) reader knows anything about the passage you quote only in Aramaic. Need I tell you how unrealistic this is?

 
At Thursday, 14 April, 2005, Anonymous Lia said...

Perhaps when considering which halakhot or minhagim need to be reconsidered or down-right chucked in light of new social realities, we might weigh not only the actual, present relevance of a law, but its potential use as a part of the tradition. However, this must be carefully weighed against its potential harm. That way, we (or at least, I) might conclude that the harm of avoiding meat and fish together is virtually nill, and in fact can be a useful reminder about the relative nature of our scientific and cultural assumptions. On the other hand, the harm of talking about talmidei hakhamim only as men is so deep and destructive, that it must be totally chucked. (Then we can talk - a la suggestion 2 in the original post - about better uses for that tradition.)

 

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