Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sociological Changes and Halakhah

Here's a passage from Derekh Pikudekha, by R. Zvi Elimelekh Shapira of Dynów. R. Shapira, a.k.a the Benei Yisaskhar as the name of his most famous sefer, was a close disciple of R Yaakov Yitzhak Horowitz, the Hozeh (Seer) of Lublin, and other great Hasidic rabbis. He became a Hasidic leader in 1815 (5575), and he went on to become one of the greatest figures in Hasidic history. He was a prolific author and penned many books on many topics, from Halakha to Kabbalah, to Hassidut. He passed away at the age of 58 in 1841 (5601).

In the following passage[1] R. Shapira defends the common practice of ignoring Hazal's dictum "Do not engage in excessive conversation with the woman" [2]. When I read it, Dr. Haym Soloveitchik's "Rupture and Reconstruction" came to mind. Also of note is how R. Shapira pulls the "times have changed" card to explain the presumed leniency in behavior, something that I doubt would've been employed nowadays by a good frum yid , never mind a big-name Hasidic rabbi. Although, it has to be pointed out, this argument has been used (ingeniously, if you ask me) to defend changes to the stringent side[3].

The text is sic, besides for the abbreviations which I opened. My comments and additions are in the footnotes.

עוד נכלל בכלל אזהרה זו [4], אזהרה מדיבורי המותרות עם האשה כמו שהזהירו חז"ל [5] "אל תרבה שיחה עם האשה, באשתו אמרו קל וחומר וכו'"[6].
ומידי דברי בזה אזכור להזכיר זה לי ולבני גילו [7] מה שנראה לי בזה. דהנה לפי הדין כמעט הוא דבר שאי אפשר להיזהר, כי צריך האדם לספור ולמנות התיבות שמוציא מפיו בעת דברו עם האשה, שלא יוסיף תיבה אחת בשפת יתר. כמו שכתוב בגמרא [8] בההוא דשאל לאיתתא "באיזו דרך ללוד?" והשיבה לו "ריקה! לא כך אמרו חכמים: אל תרבה שיחה וכו'?", דהיה לו לומר "באיזה ללוד" - הנה על שאמר תיבה יתירה שהיה אפשר לקצר, הוכיחתו. הנה בענין הזה כמעט אי אפשר ליזהר, ובפרט העוסק במשא ומתן וכיוצא. הנה המון עם הדבר הזה הוא להם כשחוק, ולא יחשבו לעון אפילו המרבה לספר בדברי שחוק וליצנות עמהם, וחושב שהמחמיר בזה ממדת חסידות, והנה עוברים על דברי תורה בשאט נפש, ועונשם סגי - אין התימא עליהם, כי לא יבינו אל פעולת י"י [9], הן המה דברי חכמינו ז"ל אשר רוח י"י דיבר בם.
אבל מן התימא על בעלי תורה ויראת שמים, אינן נזהרים בזה לשקול בפלס הדיבורים שמדבר עם האשה, שלא יעדיף תיבה אחת הבלתי מוצרכת. ולא מצאתי לי היתר מספיק בעניינים כאלה, רק תמכתי יתידותי על הענין הנאמר בספר חסידים [10] הובא בבית שמואל באבן העזר [11] דבסעודות חתונה עם ישנם לשם אנשים ונשים בחדר אחד לא יאמרו בברכת הזימון נברך שהשמחה במעונו כי כביכול אין שמחה במקום שיצר הרע שולט. והנה, לא ראינו מעולם מי שחושש לזה! ומצאתי בלבוש במנהגים [12], כתב דעכשיו אין נזהרין בזה אפשר דמשום נשים מורגלות בינינו עכשיו הרבה בין האנשים (היינו במשא ומתן ואומנות וחניות וכיוצא) ואין כאן הרהורי עבירה כ"כ דדמיין עלן כי קאקי חיורי [13] מתוך רוב הרגלן בינינו וכיון דדשו דשו, עכ"ל.
וצריך לומר לפי זה, דבעת שהיו קרן ישראל על מכונו והיתה הפרנסה מצויה, לא הי' רואים שום אשה בחוץ כי לא  היו עוסקים במשא ומתן. ואם כן כאשר הזדמן לאדם לראות איזה אשה היה חידוש ונפל ההרהור במחשבה ובלב. מה שאין כן עתה בכובד הגלות וקשוי הפרנסה, הנשים עוסקות במשא ומתן, אין כאן חידוש בראיית נשים כי הוא דבר המורגל, ולא יתפעל האדם כל כך בהרהור. אם כן הכי נמי בנידון דידן בענין מרבית הדיבור לבא לידי הרהור מחמת ההרגל המצוי.
אבל אף על פי כן יש לדון שאין הנדון דומה לראיה, דהלא כאן במרבה השיחה עם האשה אסרו אפילו באשתו שרגיל בה, (כי הדיבור והקול הוא מענייני ערוה כי הוא מהאמור בפסוק  [14] כי קולך ערב ומדברך [15] נאוה) ואפשר בזמן שהיה הדיבור עם האשה בחזקת איסור ועלול להרהור, עשו גדר לגדר לאסור גם באשתו, אבל כעת שאין מסוכן [16] מחמת ההרגל אין כאן בית מיחוש.

[3] In case you did not click on that link, let me quote to you what R. Pesach Eliyahu Falk writes in his (in)famous book "Oz Vehadar Levushah" p. 56 (everything is sic): "[ If a woman or girl were to adopt the principle that she will wear whatever can be proven from T'nach or Shas that our Imahos or other nashim tznuos wore, maintaining that such items must be fully tznius'dik, she would be making a serious blunder. Times have changed, and that which was fully acceptable in those times, would be strange and even extremely unrefined when worn in present-day society!

For example, Avraham Avinu sent jewelry with Eliezer his servant to be given to the girl who would be chosen to be the wife of Yitchak. Among the items sent was a nose-ring - see Breishis 24:47. Evidently, in those days a nose-ring was a refined and respectable piece of jewelry. Nonetheless, it goes without saying that, if a woman wore such an ornament within our society, she would be considered a prutza, as she would be adorning herself with something which is ostentatious and extremely unrefined according to present-day norms. This underscores the point stated: places and times differ very much from one another, and one must not assume that everything which is acceptable in one society is likewise acceptable in another.]", ad kan leshono.
[4] The biblical prohibition "שלא לבוא על אשת איש".
[5] Mishna, Avot ibid.
[6] According to R. Shapiro, Hazal's dictum not to shmooze with women, is just an extension of the biblical prohibition to engage in adultery.
[7] Should probably be amended to בני גילי.
[9] Tehilim, 28:5
[10] בסעודת חתונה? H/T to Ovadya (in the comments section) for pointing this out.
[11] 62:11 (here it is 62:9)
[12] I haven't found it. Lvush Hahur, appendix (Minhagim) 36 (H/T to Ovadya).
[13] An expression taken from BT Brakhot 20a. Literally it means "white geese", figuratively it means that one can look at women without getting turned on.
[14] Shir Hashirim 1:14
[15] sic, the verse actually reads ומראיך. The phrase ומדבריך נאוה comes from another verse in Shir Hashirim (4:3). Such conflation of verses and passages is actually quite common in Hasidic sources.
[16] = dangerous!


  1. This particular "times have changed" argument is built on the Ritva at the end of Kiddushin 82a, who writes:

    וכן הלכתא דהכל כפי שאדם מכיר בעצמו, אם ראוי לעשות הרחקה ליצרו עושה וכו', ואם מכיר בעצמו שיצרו נכנע וכפוף לו ואין מעלה טינא כלל, מותר לו להסתכל ולדבר עם הערוה ולשאול בשלום אשת איש, אלא שאין ראוי להקל בזה אלא לחסיד גדול שמכיר ביצרו

    The Aruch Hashulchan brings this l'halacha in EH 21:8. While I can understand how one would be skeptical of most people utilizing this heter by way of a personal judgement, it seems fair to say that should we be able make such an assessment of the entire community, that to them x, y, and z do not cause men to become aroused; that there would be no problem with issuing a general heter for them regarding these things.

    That being said, there are other peshatim in אל תרבה שיחה עם האשה which he ignores (though Rabbeinu Yonah and possibly the Rambam seem to learn like him), which make this not a problem in the first place. For example:

    1) Rashi has a few explanations, among them that it refers to bitul Torah, or that it refers to confiding an argument that one had - because she will tell her friends and it will make fights.

    2) The Me'iri learns that it refers to idle chatter, and that it doesn't really have anything to do with talking to women. In other words one should refrain from idle chatter which serves no purpose, even with his own wife, and certainly with a random person, and so much more so with another man's wife. The mishna simply picked the two extremes, which happen to both be women.

  2. Hey, let's see how far we can push it.

    1. I skimmed through it and have a number of issues with it:

      1) Regarding what he writes about women covering their hair, see my comment on Hirhurim yesterday - http://torahmusings.com/2012/01/removing-womens-pictures-from-photographs/comment-page-1/#comments. His conclusions, so long as they are only based on the assumptions he makes in this article, are incorrect in my opinion.

      2) He writes: “there are strong halakhic sources that permit men to hear women singing religious songs, or lullabies to their children, or other songs that have no erotic intent or content.” Other than the commonly cited Seridei Eish (in the Kook edition it’s 2:9) I don’t know of any “strong halakhic sources,” and even that teshuva presents quite a weak argument in my humble opinion, and it also only applies to religious songs – ayin sham.

      3) He implies that there is no concern for sexual arousal where what is being revealed is “repulsive.” He is contradicting a Gemara in Avodah Zarah – שלא יסתכל אדם... באשת איש ואפי' מכוערת (20a).

      4) Regarding teaching a woman Torah: a) he translates תפלות foolishness – I don’t know where he got this from. In fact, according to the explanation of the Gemara (Sotah 21b) it’s quite the opposite. b) He conveniently ignores the fact that most of those who teach Torah to women claim to be not deviating from the established halacha – e.g. that they are teaching things which pertain to women, that these women want to learn and Rambam might have been referring to including it in a mandatory curriculum, that Ramban al haTorah et al might be included in Torah Shebichsav, and so on.

      I have more issues with it but I don’t really see the point. If it were written in the fashion of a typical teshuva, with actual proofs and sources from the classic halachic literature, I would have more of an interest.

  3. Wow, Dov, thanks for the references! Never heard of that Ritva before. I would say that from what Bruriah said to R. Yossi Haglili (איזה ללוד) it seems that Bruriah too, understood the Mishana like Rambam and Rabbeinu Yonah. But, as a matter of fact, most Rishonim (Bartenura, Rabbeinu Bachya, Rashbatz, Sforno and Rabbeinu Yaakov Bar Shimshon) do not understand the Mishnah the way Rabeinu Yonah understood it.

    Bar Uryan, thanks for the interesting link!

    1. Sure. One change in the application of halacha based on a sociological change, which is extremely common, is the practice to rely on the heter of the Aruch Hashulchan (in OC 75:67) to allow reciting devarim shebikedusha in the presence of a woman's uncovered hair. This heter is predicated upon a Mordechai in Berachos (80) and a few other rishonim there.

      As for Beruriah, it's a good question, but only because that's how people say over the story. Who says she wasn't reprimanding him simply for his usage of extra words - and al derech the Me'iri? Or bitul Torah for those two extra seconds? Or perhaps she took the נלך as a bit inappropriate?

  4. "[10] בסעודת חתונה?"

    Either it stands for Sefer Chasidim (siman 393), or it's a typo and supposed to read: Ba"ch, since that's where the Ba"sh is qouting from.

    "[12] I haven't found it."

    Well you should of looked harder :) here it is (the last os) http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?sits=1&req=14585&st=%u05e9%u05d4%u05e9%u05de%u05d7%u05d4+%u05d1%u05de%u05e2%u05d5%u05e0%u05d5

    "Such conflation of verses and passages is actually quite common in Hasidic sources."

    Puleez, I can show many examples of Litvish, Sefardic (l'havdil ben ha'tamei v'hatahor, maybe even scholarly priests who knew Tanach) who are "guilty" of the same. That was uncalled for. See this, very important, and im sure youll enjoy it emensley


  5. "Well you should of looked harder :)"
    "That was uncalled for."


    I updated the post. Thanks!

  6. Actually, he is not as openminded as you think. You are citing from אות ח. You MUST now look at אות יג and in the הגה there. Amongst other things, take notice of what he says there about the היתר of the לבוש. And he apparently was not aware of the ritva either. ( which btw, is quoted in many achronim and is used to explain some other difficult gemorras).