Volume 15 Number 40
                       Produced: Fri Sep 30  1:40:35 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Marriage - Part 3
         [Shaul Wallach]


From: Shaul Wallach <F66204@...>
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 1994 09:33:19 -0400
Subject: Marriage - Part 3

     As mentioned before, my motive in presenting a Torah perspective
on marriage is to counter the clear expressions of modern Western
secular values and to provide an authentic Jewish framework as befits
the Halachic forum here on mail-jewish. Although I singled out only two
postings which I found most disturbing, it is clear to me that most, if
not all of us are influenced to some degree by the new mentality, and
that we would all therefore benefit from a review of the Jewish basics.

     I must stress at the outset that no one can feel more than myself
my sense of inadequacy both in the treatment that follows and in my
observance of the ideals set forth in it. The Jewish sources on
marriage and the home are so numerous that I cannot hope to cover them
all, and any selection will necessarily be biased. If, however, this
writing brings anyone, including myself, closer to sanctifying his home
and serving Hashem in doing so, then may it be my recompense. My own
marriage is still alive and growing after nearly 18 years, and I ask the
aid and guidance of Hashem through His Torah in nurturing it in the

     In the remarks of the two ladies to whom I replied in Part 2, I
could not but be struck by what seemed to be a protest against the
male-oriented tone in my previous posts. I make no apologies for this.
The Torah does not speak in the 20th century language of freedom
and equality. It is not a bill of rights, but of duties - the 613
commandments - and each person's duties and responsibilities fit his
station in life, be he man or woman, free man or servant, Jew or
non-Jew. Moreover, only men are required to study the Torah. The Talmud
was written by men and for men, to study it themselves and to pass its
message to their wives and daughters only when they are directly
concerned (Sota 20a; Rambam, Hil. Talmud Torah 1:13).

     Thus, in what follows, the main emphasis will be placed on the
man's role and duties in the Jewish home. Accordingly, to those readers
who were offended by the male-centered air of the preceding discussion,
I kindly implore you to detach yourselves, at least spiritually and
intellectually, from the secular atmosphere of the 20th century and take
a trip in the time machine back 3500 years to the Giving of the Torah on
Sinai, and up through the exposition of the Law, culminating in the
Talmud and its scholars over the ages. Let us choose the Torah itself as
the starting point of our value system, and it will be easier for us to
arrive at an authentic Jewish perspective on marriage and the family.

     Let us open with the following Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 68:4) which
gives us a glimpse of the Jewish view of the place of marriage in

    Rabbi Yehuda bar Simon opened: (Psalms 68:7) "God causes
    individuals to sit down at home..." A matron asked R. Yose bar
    Hilfata and told him, "In how many days did the Holy One, Blessed
    be He, create His world?" He told her, "In six days, as it is
    written (Exodus 20:11), 'For in six days The Lord made the the
    heavens and the earth...'" She told him, "What does He do from
    that hour until now?" He told her, "The Holy One, Blessed be He,
    sits and makes matches - the daughter of so-and-so for so-and-so,
    the wife of so-and-so for so-and-so, the property of so-and-so for
    so-and-so." She told him, "And that is His profession? Even I can
    do that! How many servants, how many maids do I have; in a short
    while I can match them." He told her, "If it's easy in your eyes,
    it's as difficult for the Holy One, Blessed be He, as the splitting
    of the Red Sea." R. Yose bar Hilfata went away. What did she do?
    She took a thousand servants and a thousand maids and stood them up
    in lines. She said, "Mr. So-and-so will marry Miss So-and-so, and
    Miss So-and-so will be married to Mr. So-and-so," and matched them
    up in one night. On the morrow they came to her; this one's brain
    was injured; this one's eye was torn out; this one's leg was
    broken. She said to them, "What's with you?" This one said, "I don't
    want this man," and this one said, "I don't want this woman." At
    once she sent and brought R. Yose bar Hilfata. She told him, "There
    is no god like your God! True is your Torah, nice and praised! You
    said it right!" He told her, "Didn't I tell you, 'If it's easy in
    your eyes, it's as difficult for the Holy One, Blessed be He, as the
    splitting of the Red Sea'? The Holy One Blessed be He, what does he
    do? He matches them against their will and not in their good. That
    is what is written (Psalms 68:7), 'God has individuals sit down
    at home, and takes out captives in ropes (bakosharot)'. What is
    'bakosharot'? Crying (bekhi) and songs (shirot). One who wants,
    sings; one who doesn't want, cries."

>From this wonderful Midrash we learn several deep Jewish concepts about
marriage. First of all, each person's marriage is so important that
it is regarded as part of the ongoing Work of Creation, as something
to which the Holy One, Blessed be He, as it were, devotes His exclusive
attention. Secondly, we see that one's marriage is made for him in
Heaven - even before he is conceived, as the Talmud says (Sota 2a).
Thirdly, he marries against his own will and against his own idea of
what is good for him. But finally, he decides for himself whether to
cry or sing over his fate.

      This last concept, I believe, is the most important key to our
marital happiness. The Midrash tells us that whatever we do, we will be
married to our mates - preordained for us in Heaven - in a way that is
not to our liking. Men and women are so different from each other that
it is impossible for them to live happily together according to their
natural instincts. But we can decide to accept the Divine decree and
sing over this state of affairs, if in fact we believe that we are
doing God's will and taking part in His Work of Creation by accepting
the partners that He has arranged for us. Thus, it is our faith that
our marriage is God's will that enables us to sing over it, and this
positive attitude itself will help us to accept our partners and find
happiness and satisfaction in our married lives together.

     Let us turn now to the following passage in the Talmud (Yevamot
63a) which expresses the basic Jewish conception of male and female
and their purpose in Creation:

     Said Rabbi Elazar:  Every man who does not have a wife is not a
     man, as it is said (Genesis 5:2), "Male and female He created
     them ... and He called their name 'man'" ...

     And Rabbi Elazar said: What is it that is written (Genesis 2:19),
     "... I will make a helper opposite him"? If he is worthy, she
     helps him; if he is not worthy - she opposes him. ...

     Rabbi Yose found Eliyahu; he said to him: It is written (ibid.),
     "... I will make a helper for him." In what does the wife help
     a man? He said to him: A man brings wheat. Does he chew wheat?
     Flax - Does he wear flax? Does she not therefore light his eyes
     and stand him up on his feet?

>From this passage we see that the ideal human state is marriage between
man and woman; nay, that without a wife a man is not even considered
human. As the Talmud explains the Biblical verse, the woman's role is
to complete the man in order to make him into a wholesome human being.
It depends on the man's merit whether this holy partnership works
successfully so that she really ends up helping him in this mission
instead of opposing him.

    It might be presumed that since the Talmud assumes a primary role
for the man and only a secondary, supporting role for his wife - to
perfect his creation - that the main prerogatives and privileges accrue
to the man. For example, the first commandment mentioned in the Bible,
procreation, is something that obligates the man, not the woman, as
the Talmud rules (Yevamot 65b). And it is the man who consecrates his
wife to him in marriage, not the reverse. The act of marriage is itself
a business transaction whereby the man acquires her for him, as the
Mishna tells us at the beginning of Qiddushin.

     However, it does not follow from all this that the man has any
greater intrinsic worth. Thus, let us continue with the following
passage (Berakhot 17a, see parallels in Sota 21a and Yalqut Isaiah 302)
which puts into sharper focus the position and role of the woman in the
Divine scheme of things:

    Greater is the promise that the Holy One, Blessed be He, promised
    to the women more than the men, as it is written (Isaiah 32:9),
    "Complacent women, rise, hear my voice; daughters who trust, listen
    to my word." Said Rav to Rabbi Hiyya, "Women - by what do they
    earn (the World to Come - Yalqut)? By having their sons read in the
    synagogue, and by having their husbands learn at the house of our
    scholars and waiting for their husbands until they come from the
    house of our scholars."

This passage goes far to define the supportive role which the Torah
assigns to women. The central purpose in Judaism is serving Hashem by
learning His Torah and observing the commandments. But women are
exempt from studying the Torah and from most of the time-dependent
commandments, and this is why Rav asked Rabbi Hiyya how women get
their reward if they lack most of the means to earn it. The answer is
that enabling their husbands and sons to learn is more than enough in
itself. As the passage in Sota says, "don't we share (our reward) with
them?" R. Shemuel Eliezer Ideles (the Maharsh"a) explains (on Sota)
that even though women are not required to study the Torah, they were
nevertheless given the Torah on Sinai, and their share in it is that
by virtue of being home more than the men, they can tell their sons
to go to the synagogue to read and study.

    Rashi explains that "waiting for their husbands to come home" means
that they give them permission to go learn Torah in another city, where
they will not be distracted from their study by household affairs. This
comment recalls the story of Rabbi Aqiva and his righteous wife Rachel
(Ketubot 62b, Nedarim 50a), who sacrificed everything she had and sent
him away to learn Torah for 24 years. When he came home with his 24,000
students and she came out to greet him, he told them in front of her,
"What is mine and yours, is hers!"

     We remarked above that the wife is at home more than her husband
and therefore merits a greater promise in return for sending her sons
to the synagogue and taking care of the family while her husband is away
learning Torah. The Jewish view definitely attaches great value to the
woman as homemaker. Thus in the Talmud (Shabbat 118b) R. Yose tells us
that he never called his wife "my wife" but "my house", which is surely
a title of respect as she is the mainstay of the house. In fact, the
usual word in the Talmud for "wife" in Aramaic is not "itata" but
"deveita" ("of the house"). Similarly we find Rabbi Yehoshua telling
the Sages "I'll go and consult with the people of my house" (i.e. with
my wife) when they wanted to appoint him Nasi of the Sanhedrin (Berakhot
27b). The Rambam (Hil. Ishut 13:11) likewise rules that although the
husband must allow his wife to go out to visit her family and to perform
acts of kindness by frequenting houses of mourning and going to weddings
as needs be, he should still keep her from going outside the house all
the time, "as there is no beauty for a woman but to sit in the corner of
her house, for thus is it written (Psalm 45:14): 'All the honor of the
king's daughter is inside'."

     We read above a conversation between Rav and Rabbi Hiyya (two of
the leading Jewish scholars of the generation after Rabbi Yehuda
Ha-Nassi, and teachers of the first generation of the Amoraim) about
the merit of the woman. In Yevamot 63a-b, we read another conversation
between them on the same subject, which serves as the cornerstone for
shaping the pious Jew's attitude towards his wife:

     Rabbi Hiyya's wife used to hurt him. When he would find something,
     he would wrap it up in his kerchief and bring it to her. Said to
     him Rav, "But she hurts your honor?" He said to him, "It's enough
     for us that they bring up our children and save us from sin."

The Talmud (Yevamot 65b, Qiddushin 12b) tells us just what problem
Rabbi Hiyya had with his wife Yehudit - she had traumas during
childbirth - and from their conversation reported in Qiddushin it seems
that matters were quite serious indeed.

     Just before the above passage we read that Rav too suffered
from his own wife, so much that to Rabbi Hiyya he read over her the
verse (Qohelet 7:26), "And I find more bitter than death the woman..."
But as Rabbi Hiyya replied, we must be lenient with our wives. Even
though things are very rough, we must never forget to bring her gifts
to show her our appreciation for providing us our physical needs and
raising the family - everything else is insignificant.

     So far we have defined the Torah view of man and woman in the
Divine plan of creation, their respective roles and the esteem and
gratitude each man should hold for his wife, even when their match
is far from perfect. It is already very clear that their roles are
not equal but complementary, with the man taking the primary role
(learning the Torah), but this does not deprive the woman of a greater
than equal promise in return for fulfilling her supportive role.

     Let us now take a closer look at the type of respect a man and
his wife owe each other, and how peace in the home is to be attained.
Again we turn to Yevamot (62b, also in Sanhedrin 76b):

     Our Rabbis taught: He who loves his wife as himself, and who
     honors her more than himself, and who guides his sons and his
     daughters in the straight path, who marries them close to their
     time (i.e. when still minors - Rashi), over him Scripture says
     (Job 5:24), "And you will know that your tent is peace..."

The Talmud spells out this directive of honoring one's wife more
than himself in more detail as follows (Hulin 84b):

     A man should always eat and drink less than what he has, and
     should dress and cover himself with what he has, and should
     honor his wife and children more than what he has, because
     they are dependent on him and he is dependent on He Who spoke
     and the world came into being.

>From the context it is clear that the honor one should give his wife
and children is material - as Rabbi Yohanan called his clothes "that
which honor me" (Shabbat 113a) - and definitely not doing her will
and theirs. Thus, Rashi explains the "honor" in these passages as
attractive ornaments and garments, respectively. We also note from
both passages that a man's wife is considered dependent on him, and
that it is to him that instructions are given on how to bring peace
to his home.

     When we turn to the respect that a woman owes her husband,
however, a different picture emerges. The Talmud (Qiddushin 31a)
rules that honoring one's father takes precedence over honoring his
mother, "because you and your mother are required to honor your
father." Similarly (ibid. 30b) we learn that even though both men
and women are required to honor their parents, "a man is able to do
it, but a woman is not able to do it, because others have control
over her"; i.e. her husband, as Rashi comments. Thus a married
woman is exempt from the Biblical command of "honor your father and
your mother" (Exodus 20:12) because the honor she owes her husband
comes first. This "honor" clearly means doing his will, as the Midrash
says (Tana De-Vei Eliyahu 10:5), "There is no fit one among women but
she who does the will of her husband."

     The following story told by the Talmud (Nedarim 66b) shows how
far the virtue of obedience to a woman's husband goes. Once a man
from Babylon came to the Land of Israel and took a wife. She didn't
understand him very well, however, because of the differences between
the dialects of Aramaic spoken in the two countries. Day after day she
went wrong in the cooking, until one day he told her, "Go bring me two
gourds (buzinei)". She misunderstood this too and brought him two
lamps. At this he got angry and said, "Go break them on the top of the
door! (`al reisha de-baba)" But she misunderstood this too and thought
he meant "over the head of Baba"; i.e. Baba ben Buta, the leading
scholar of the day who was sitting that moment as the judge in court,
and thus she did. He asked her, "What's this you've done?" "Thus
commanded me my husband", she answered. At this Baba ben Buta blessed
her, saying, "You did the will of your husband - may the Omnipresent
bring out from you two sons like Baba ben Buta!"

     Since the obedient wife is held in such high esteem, the Talmud
advises one to be patient and careful in choosing a wife who will
accept his authority. Thus Rav Papa says (Yevamot 63a), "Go down a
step and take a wife", or as Rashi explains, "Don't take a wife who
is more important than you, lest you not be accepted by her."

     Notwithstanding the husband's legal advantage over his wife, he
is cautioned not to take advantage of it at her expense. For example,
he must be considerate of her sensitivity and her emotions. Thus we have
the following saying by Rav - the same Rav who, as we saw above, found
his own wife more bitter than death (Bava Mesi`a 59a):

     A man should always be careful not to insult his wife, for
     since her tears are close, her insult is close.

However, this does not mean that he should do everything she wants. A
little further down on the same page we read as follows:

     And Rav said: Everyone who follows the advice of his wife falls
     into Gehinnom, as it is said (I Kings 21:25), "Only there was no
     one like Ahab ... (whose wife Jezebel incited him.)"

     Rav Papa said to Abayye: But people say, "If your wife is short,
     bend down and whisper to her." There is no contradiction - this
     deals with matters of the world, and that deals with matters of
     the home. Another version: This deals with matters of heaven,
     and that deals with matters of the world.

Here we see the later Amoraim having trouble accepting Rav's saying
literally. The conclusion is that in worldly matters a man should
consult with his wife, and is permitted to take her advice. Rav's
dictum applies only to religious matters, as in the example of Ahab,
whose wife Jezebel led him into sin.

     The requirement to consult with one's wife in worldly matters
is no surprise when we remember that it is the husband who is
required to provide for his wife's livelihood, as the Bible explicitly
mandates (Exodus 21:11). The same passage in Bava Mesi`a goes on, in
fact, to caution the husband to make sure grain is always on hand.

     In general, the husband is expected to steer a moderate course
with his wife and to be neither too strict nor too indulgent. As the
Talmud puts it (Sota 47a), "The left hand should push away and the
right hand should bring close." Thus, there are times when a man must
be firm and unyielding on his principles, in order to preserve the
proper order in the home. But at the same time he must also be tender
and considerate of his wife's feelings, in order to maintain their
emotional relationship.

     We have seen how the husband shoulders the main part of the
responsibility for providing for his household and instilling an
atmosphere of peace and harmony. If he is successful, then the love
and happiness that prevail can overcome all obstacles. The Talmud
puts it in the form of the following parable which I find very apt for
our generation (Sanhedrin 7a):

     When our love was strong, we could lie down on the blade of a
     sword. Now that our love is not strong, a bed of sixty cubits
     isn't enough for us.

     Let us sum up the ideal Jewish relationship between husband and
wife with the golden language of the Rambam (Hil. Ishut 15:19-20):

     And the sages commanded that a man should honor his wife more
     than himself and love her as himself. And if he has wealth, he
     should magnify her good according to his wealth. And he should
     not put too much fear upon her, and his speech with her should
     be gentle, and he should be neither sad nor angry.

     And they commanded the wife that she should honor her husband
     more than is required, and that his awe should be over her, and
     she should perform all her actions according to him. And he
     should be in her eyes like a minister or king, going in the
     desires of his heart and keeping away everything he hates. And
     this is the path of the holy and pure daughters of Israel and the
     sons of Israel in their marriage. And in these ways their
     community will be nice and praised.

     In this necessarily incomplete sketch, I have tried to present
at least a taste of the conceptual framework which our Rabbis gave us
in order to build the Jewish home. Anyone who considers these sayings
in depth will quickly realize that, when taken together, they form
a complete plan for the Jewish home which will be strengthened and
butressed against all the winds that blow against it. When both
husband and wife accept the roles the Torah has given them and devote
themselves lovingly to fulfilling their responsibilities, they can be
assured that peace and harmony will prevail in their home for the
length of days. Amen.

Shalom and Shana Tova,



End of Volume 15 Issue 40