Sunday, August 5, 2012

Berachot 4a: whereas my hands are soiled with the blood [of menstruation]

Excerpted from my running commentary last week on parshas Vaeschanan. The connection to today's daf, about David examining blood in order to permit women to their husbands, appears towards the end. Connection also to a gemara we learned fairly recently in Daf Yomi at the end of Niddah

The pasuk in Vaeschanan:

ב  לֹא תֹסִפוּ, עַל-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, וְלֹא תִגְרְעוּ, מִמֶּנּוּ--לִשְׁמֹר, אֶת-מִצְו‍ֹת ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי, מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם.2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

Once one adds or subtracts to the Divine law, it is no longer so Divine.

Shadal writes a good rationalist reason for this, even for good laws:
לא תוסיפו: צריך שתשמעו אל החוקים והמשפטים האלה לא בלבד לעשותם, כי גם לעשותם בלי תוספת ומגרעת, וכל זה מפני שהרבה מתועבות העכו"ם נמשכו מעט מעט מן המנהגים הקדמונים אשר היו בעצמם ישרים; וע' למטה י"ב כ"ט, ל, ל"א י"ג א 

"One needs to listen to these chukim and mishpatim, not only to perform them, but to perform them without any addition or subtraction, and all of this is because many of the abominations of the gentiles developed slowly from the customs of the earlier ones, which were themselves straight."

Shadal also gives a practical concrete example from a span elsewhere in sefer Devarim, where changes to the worship of Hashem by adoption from other cultures as an addition are prohibited. Thus, Devarim 12:39-13:1 reads:

כט  כִּי-יַכְרִית ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת-הַגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בָא-שָׁמָּה לָרֶשֶׁת אוֹתָם--מִפָּנֶיךָ; וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֹתָם, וְיָשַׁבְתָּ בְּאַרְצָם.29 When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest in to dispossess them, and thou dispossessest them, and dwellest in their land;
ל  הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ, פֶּן-תִּנָּקֵשׁ אַחֲרֵיהֶם, אַחֲרֵי, הִשָּׁמְדָם מִפָּנֶיךָ; וּפֶן-תִּדְרֹשׁ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם לֵאמֹר, אֵיכָה יַעַבְדוּ הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה אֶת-אֱלֹהֵיהֶם, וְאֶעֱשֶׂה-כֵּן, גַּם-אָנִי.30 take heed to thyself that thou be not ensnared to follow them, after that they are destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying: 'How used these nations to serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.'
לא  לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה כֵן, לַה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ:  כִּי כָל-תּוֹעֲבַת יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר שָׂנֵא, עָשׂוּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם--כִּי גַם אֶת-בְּנֵיהֶם וְאֶת-בְּנֹתֵיהֶם, יִשְׂרְפוּ בָאֵשׁ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם.31 Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God; for every abomination to the LORD, which He hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters do they burn in the fire to their gods.

א  אֵת כָּל-הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם--אֹתוֹ תִשְׁמְרוּ, לַעֲשׂוֹת:  לֹא-תֹסֵף עָלָיו, וְלֹא תִגְרַע מִמֶּנּוּ.  {פ}1 All this word which I command you, that shall ye observe to do; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. {P}

Note how the petucha binds this pasuk in 13:1 to the preceding, rather than like the Christian separation where in begins the next perek about a false prophet. Thus, the diminishing or adding is adoption of local Canaanite customs into the typical service of Hashem, rather than, say, adding an extra parasha to tefillin.

Rashi writes:
Do not add: for instance, by inserting five sections into the tefillin [instead of four], by using five species for the [commandment of] lulav [on Succoth] instead of four], or by attaching five fringes [instead of four]. And so too, וְלֹא תִגְרְעוּ nor diminish [from it i.e., three instead of four].לא תספו: כגון חמש פרשיות בתפילין חמשת מינין בלולב וחמש ציציות, וכן ולא תגרעו:

These details have halachic precision and significance. It is changing the actual performance of the mitzvah. A pair of tefillin with an extra section is invalid; five fringes are not four fringes. See also Ramban here.

We can rely on the Karaites for entertainment here. Aharon ben Yosef the Karaite writes:

"What shall the Baalei HaKabbalah do, who add to a niddah {rather than a zava} seven clean days, and to each day of Moed one extra day, and thus sanctify the profane. And like this is {Melachim I 12:33}:
לג  וַיַּעַל עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה בְּבֵית-אֵל, בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁמִינִי--בַּחֹדֶשׁ, אֲשֶׁר-בָּדָא מלבד (מִלִּבּוֹ); וַיַּעַשׂ חָג לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיַּעַל עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לְהַקְטִיר.  {פ}33 And he went up unto the altar which he had made in Beth-el on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and went up unto the altar, to offer.{P}


This is not criticism in interpretation of Torah law, but in how dinim deRabbanan add to the Torah. The answer would likely be along the lines of that Rabbinic enactments don't fall under bal tosif, especially since it is well known that it is derabbanan.

Yet that first example is admittedly a galling one. We saw it the other day in Daf Yomi Niddah, daf 66a:
אמר רב יהודה אמר רב התקין רבי בשדות ראתה יום אחד תשב ששה והוא שנים תשב ששה והן שלשה תשב שבעה נקיים אמר ר' זירא בנות ישראל החמירו על עצמן שאפילו רואות טפת דם כחרדל יושבות עליה שבעה נקיים
Or, in English:
R. Joseph citing Rab Judah who had it from Rab stated: Rabbi ordained at Sadoth,32  If a woman observed a discharge on one day she33  must wait34  six days in addition to it.35  If she observed discharges on two days she33  must wait34  six days in addition to these.36  If she observed a discharge on three days she33  must wait34  seven clean days.37  R. Zera stated: The daughters of Israel have imposed upon themselves the restriction that even if they observe a drop of blood of the size of a mustard seed they wait on account of it seven clean days.
After the entirety of masechet niddah, with all the calculations, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi ordained for unlettered people a stringent simplification. And Rabbi Zera describes an even greater stringency which the daughters of Israel imposed on themselves, that even for seeing a drop the size of a mustard seed (with no hargasha, even such a small amount, and not long enough to be rendered a zavah gedolah) she practices not like a niddah but like a zavah.

The effect of this is to generally double the amount of time a man and wife must be separated. Not to mention how treating this as a zavah intersects with other halachot to impose even further stringencies. This is a rather major shift in halacha. And this seems like it was a grass-roots imposition of a minhag. Indeed, a bit later in the gemara, it is referred to as a minhag that is not universally accepted, at least at that time:
Raba took R. Samuel out for a walk38  when he discoursed as follows: If a woman39  was in protracted labour40  for two days and on the third she miscarried she must wait seven clean days; he being of the opinion that the law relating to protracted labour41  does not apply to miscarriages and that it is impossible for the uterus42  to open without bleeding. Said R. Papa to Raba: What is the point in speaking of one who was in protracted labour for two days seeing that the same applies even where there was the minutest discharge, since R. Zera stated, The daughters of Israel have imposed upon themselves the restriction that even where they observe only a drop of blood of the size of a mustard seed they wait on account of it seven clean days? — The other replied: I am speaking to you of a prohibition,43  and you talk of a custom which applies only where the restriction has been adopted.44
Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Elman has a whole discussion of this topic, where it seems that the likely reason the daughters of Israel accepted this stringency upon themselves is not to simplify the laws of niddah, but to match the stringencies of the surrounding Zoroastrian culture / religion. They did not want to be less "frum" than their neighbors. Thus:
Although medieval Talmudic commentaries assume that [the menstrual policy of tractate Niddah] was a rabbinically inspired severity, it is clear from Rava’s response to R. Pap (in B. Niddah 66a) that he considered this stringency to be a custom, and not a prohibition. The Babylonian Talmud itself testifies to the popular origin of this stringency—perhaps in response to a “holier than thou” attitude perceived by the populace as emanating from their Persian neighbors, a social pressure to which the rabbis themselves sometimes responded (e.g. B. Sanhedrin 37b). Surely, we must conclude that Babylonian Jewish women did not have to remain isolated on spare rations in a windowless hut for up to nine days, as was prescribed for Zoroastrian menstruant women.
If so, then this sort of borrowing is precisely the sort discussed by the Torah, in theme, as discussed in the pesukim cited by Shadal above.

Meanwhile, there was a major focus within Chazal in the opposite direction. In Berachot 4a:
A prayer of David … Keep my soul, for I am pious.9  Levi and R. Isaac:10  The one says, Thus spoke David before the Holy One, blessed be He; Master of the world, am I not pious? All the kings of the East and the West sleep to the third hour [of the day], but I, at midnight I rise to give thanks unto Thee.11  The other one says: Thus spoke David before the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the world, am I not pious? All the kings of the East and the West sit with all their pomp among their company, whereas my hands are soiled with the blood [of menstruation], with the foetus and the placenta, in order to declare a woman clean for her husband.12
Rather than being soiled with the blood of war, his hands are soiled from menstrual blood, to permit a woman to her husband. And in Yoma 9a-b:
א"ר יוחנן בן תורתא מפני מה חרבה שילה מפני שהיו בה שני דברים גלוי עריות ובזיון קדשים גלוי עריות דכתיב (שמואל א ב, כב) ועלי זקן מאד ושמע את כל אשר יעשון בניו לכל ישראל ואת אשר ישכבון את הנשים הצובאות פתח אהל מועד ואע"ג דאמר ר' שמואל בר  נחמני א"ר יוחנן כל האומר בני עלי חטאו אינו אלא טועה מתוך ששהו את קיניהן מיהא מעלה עליהן הכתוב כאילו שכבום
The severe sins of the sons of Eli include causing a woman to wait an extra day before returning to be with her husband. And yet, there is this major transformation in Jewish law, likely modeled after non-Jewish practice, coming from the hamon am, in which we halve the number of days a woman can be with her husband (not to mention harchakot) and cause untold amount of suffering of people grappling with infertility. It certainly seems like something is wrong here.

Chizkuni sees the innovation of sending scouts, something Hashem did not command, and the insistence on conquering after Hashem said no, as an example of bal tosif / bal tigra with catastrophic results corresponding to the consequences described in this pasuk. Chizkuni also has a teshuva to the minim (such as Karaites) who see all the Rabbinic laws in the Talmud as innovations violating bal tosif. He points out that the peshat context in both instances of bal tosif / bal tigra is in adding to worship of Hashem. See inside.

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