16 November 2006

Spending My Time Researching Instead of Blogging

As could be gleaned from my posting from two weeks ago, I have been endeavoring to write an article for the third volume of Milin Havivin on a topic brought up there (keep reading to find out specifically on what). Although with any article, research is utterly necessary. And there is much research to be done. However, I don't mind all that much, because I have found that researching is half the fun of any article (the other half is taken up largely by thinking about the topics involved and trying to think about things in a variety of ways, with only a little bit being the actual writing of the article). So, I have been spending a lot of time researching the topic, in addition to thinking about it. It first started when we dealt with the subject in a fairly straightforward halakhic (by halakhic, I mean a survey of the halakhic sources) look at it in September, and then became utterly compelled to write about it after having giving it considerable thought during the rabbinical student retreat (which unfortunately meant that I was largely preoccupied with my thoughts about this topic (and another matter, as well) rather than being so thoughtfully engaged with the programming (but don't get it twisted, I was learning quite a bit from the lectures, etc. taking place there - I just wasn't my usual talkative, questioning, and engaged self)). So, what is this topic, per se? {drumroll...} I'm working on trying to figure out what it was that compelled the Jewish women to exercise a stringency upon themselves to wait a full week of no menstrual blood after they had finished menstruating in contradistinction to what the book of Leviticus (ch. 15) laid out and as interpreted by the rabbis. Although I need to figure out how to more concisely and articulately spell that out when trying to discuss this, hopefully enough googling and wikipediaing will help you understand it more if you are interested. Anyways, that's my new found interest. Hopefully, I will have my article done in time for the deadline in less than a month.


Isabelle said...

How/where did you find out that the extra stringency was put upon themselves by the women and not by the rabbis?
Shabbat shalom.

Drew_Kaplan said...

Simple - the Talmud records Rabbi Zera as having reported it as such (Niddah 66a, Berakhos 31a, & Megillah 28b) that "The women of Israel were stringent upon themselves that...."

Isabelle said...

Thanks for yur prompt answer. The thing is I do not own any Talmud texts/books so I could not check this.
Good luck in your search and keep us up to date.

L Kaye said...

Drew, I assume you know about Dr. Elman's article on this? Good luck with the project.

Drew_Kaplan said...

I know that he first pointed out his take on this subject in an article that came out two years ago, though he does not go into detail there about it. Apparently, he also has two other pieces in forthcoming publications, but I suspect that it will be more of the same. However, his student, Shai Secunda is doing his dissertation on the development of Hilkhos Niddah/Zivah and relationship to Zoroastrian practices. Shai has graciously given me a peek at the chapter on this topic, so that has been incredibly helpful. If you have any suggestions at articles, books, or anything else into which I should be looking, feel free to mention it.

Isabelle said...

Do you have access to "A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life (Hardcover)
by Deena Zimmerman"?
I have not read it only read about it but since the writer is a Jewish physician she must have done some research on the history behind the law.

Drew_Kaplan said...

Thank you for pointing me to that book - I will take a look at it.
Although I'm not sure of it, oftentimes, these sorts of books will just gloss over the addition of these seven days and won't go into it, so that's often a problem with any of these Halakhos of Niddah or Family Purity books.

MJ said...

The assumption of your question is that the 'chumra of R. Zeira' is a factual reporting of women's ritual practices. Most scholars would take that with a major grain of salt. And if you are really on the skeptical side of things you might not to take this as a statement of actual widespread practice, but a reflection of what rabbis saw as a desideratum.

First, it is a bit strange to have a single attributed statement reporting what is purported to be common. Second, even if it was self imposed, it clearly rabbinically is endorsed. If it was not endorsed by the rabbis, then it would make no difference what women were doing then. The question should then really be, why did the rabbis promote this practice, whether it was invented by themselves or others.

When looking for actual historical information in the Talmud, most scholars today look not for the explicit claim, but the subtext - the places where the gemara is 'mesicah lefi tumo' so to speak.

This question was actually brought up at a conference a few years ago, and if I recall, Boyarin thought that the chumra of R. Zeira really was R. Zeira's chumra, and the attribution to the daughters of israel a rhetorical device.

Drew_Kaplan said...

I'm going to try responding to your thoughtful comment in the order in which you present your thoughts.
1) Yes, it's partially true that I am assuming that the Jewish women's humra was accurately reported. I hope to explore this a bit in my paper, but - you're right - I will be mostly going on the assumption that it was transmitted correctly. But, however, as both of us will admit, it's an assumption. And we all know what happens when we assume.
2) As far as what you say that "you might not take this as a statement of actual widespread practice, but [as] a reflection of what [the] rabbis saw as a desideratum" - firstly, it's what Rabbi Zera had seen amongst the women - not a whole bunch of rabbis, per se, saying, "Yes, we've noticed that it is a common practice amongst the women, etc." As to not actually being a widespread practice - how come? How would Rabbi Zera (assuming he correctly reported it) have mistook a minority practice to be widespread throughout all Jewish women? Or, perhaps, just Jewish women in his locale?
3) You are correct that "it is a bit strange to have a single attributed statement reporting what is purported to be common", but someone has to say something - there's always a first for everything. Nevertheless, it is a good question. However, even so, why was Rabbi Zera the person to have introduced this religio-social practice knowledge into rabbinical awareness?
4) As to it being endorsed by the rabbis, it only really occurs during the fourth and, more-so, the fifth amoraic generations, but not in Rabbi Zera's reportage of the stringency.
5) As to your suggestion that "If it was not endorsed by the rabbis, then it would make no difference what women were doing then." Perhaps, but since it had a bearing on halakhic practice, it did.
6) As to your question that "should then really be, why did the rabbis promote this practice, whether it was invented by themselves or others." I would respond by saying that the rabbis would be fond of transmitting this practice since it further distances them from any possibility of transgression, but more likely that they were trying to keep up with the purity-ness of their Zoroaztrian neighbors. I don't think that the rabbis invented it - see later.
7) I think the idea that this stringency came from the rabbis, or Rabbi Zera more specifically, is bizarre. Why would the rabbis or Rabbi Zera have done such a thing? Where would they have come up with anything along the lines of a basis for this?
8) I had not yet heard that Prof. Boyarin had said such a thing. (I tried looking in his 'Carnal Israel' for anything on this....) I'd be interested in seeing anything that he had to say or write about this. I am certainly intrigued at hearing how the attribution to the Daughters of Israel may be a rhetorical device even though I, at this moment, cannot conceive of how such a thing could be.ee

EineiHaEdah said...

Reb Drew, being that you opine that it is more likely that the chumra that R' Zeira describes is an attempt to keep up with the purity of non-Jewish neighbors, would you like to tell your congregants they not observe the chumra?
Or do you realize in the interim that it is erroneous to impute that motive to Chazal?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Ferrell,
Reb Drew is discussing in the realm of the theoretical and academic not in the practical, halakhic. Nice try though.

Drew_Kaplan said...

First of all, what does this have to do with Hazal's motives and trying to impute things to them? This was something that the Jewish women took upon themselves - not something that any of the rabbis did.
Secondly, as the halakhah stands, who am I to allow my future congregants to follow the Torah in this regard rather than the way the halakhah has developed since late third century Babylonia where the Jewish women, perhaps out of a desire to keep up with the menstrual purity/impurity regulations of the Zoroastrian neighbors, desired to be stringent upon themselves and that ever since, the halakhic system has maintained that women are stringent upon themselves? I don't have those shoulders. I will stick with the system as we have it. As such, this last Anonymous has answered correctly in that I will be doing more of an academic article than a halakhic article.

Anonymous said...

Points of Clarification: The women were not the ones to enact the main component: (ie: the Zivah understanding). The sages of the Gamara (themselves were). This was enacted by (none other than r. Yehudah haNasi himself).

A few other related points:

The stricture added by the women is very unique (as far as chumrahs go) for a few reasons:

1- It didn’t really add on “that much more” than was already decreed by Rabbi Yehuda haNassi in Niddah 66b:


2- It was apparently already known by the rabbis of the Gamara – and is recorded by rabbi R. Zeira. This reminds of dat Yehudit vs. dat Moshe. These are either customs or gezerot enacted by the Sanhedrin, and later considered a required element of Judaism. These were considered fences, and not additions to the law. Thus, this is an ancient chumrah. Also, it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with differing minhogs – as some might imply. This achieved universal acceptance throughout the Jewish world.

3- Also, I have rarely (if ever) seen Rambam speak/blur a chumrah in such halakhic terms as he does in chapter 11. Note the language here in 11:17 http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/5111.htm#17. How can this be referred to as "required"? Surely, this is a different concept, than just a regular stricture.

4- The motive of the women was to avoid a serious and real halakhic doubts about calculation and blood identification. This wasn’t your typical “let’s keep adding a million chumras to Torah, and turn it into Essenism, type of chumra).

Just wanted to weigh in...

Drew_Kaplan said...

No, Rabbi Zera, on the same page, says very specifically that it was the women, themselves, who enacted it.
As to your points, 1-Rebbe’s decree was only for those women in the fields, not for all Jewish women. 2-It’s hard to connect this to the Das Yehudis & the Das Moshe, as these are somehow different areas, altogether, rather than their enstringing upon themselves. Yes, indeed, Rambam ‘s framing of the language there is interesting. 4- Indeed, they were concerned about calculation and the like, but there are many factors involved, more so than “regular humros”.