lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
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In the Advanced Talmud class at the Conservative Yeshiva, we studied the laws of פריה ורביה (procreation). There's way more material here than I can imagine my readership would be interested in, but there were some interesting tidbits here I am going to share here: "I will vex them with a nation of fools" [from the תוכחה]:

רבי יוחנן אמר אלו חברים׃ אמרו ליה לרבי יוחנן אתו חברי לבבל שגא נפל׃ אמרו ליה מקבלי שוחדא תריץ יתיב׃ גזרו על ג׳ מפני ג׳ גזרו על הבשר מפני המתנות גזרו על המרחצאות מפני הטבילה קא מחטטי שכבי מפני ששמחים ביום אידם שנאמר והיתה יד ה׳ בכם ובאבותיכם אמר רבה בר שמואל זו חטוטי שכבי דאמר מר בעון חיים מתים מתחטטין׃

R. Yoḥanan said: These [the fools] are the "fellows". [Steinsaltz: the Persian [Zoroastrian] fire-priests in Persia and Babylonia, the more fanatical amongst whom persecuted the Jews.]

They [his students] told R. Yoḥanan, these fellows have also come to Babylonia. He trembled and fell from his chair [from the sorrow of the Jews that were there].

They told him [to sweeten to blow]: They will accept bribes [not to kill all the Jews]. He straightened up and he sat in his place again.

They [fire-priests] made three decrees [against Jewish practices, which bothered the Zoroastrians] because [according to the rabbis] of three [sins of the Jews].

They decreed about meat [outlawing shechita] because of the gifts [that they did not give to the cohanim].1

They decreed [forbidding the Jews from] the public baths because of [their disparagement of ritual] immersion.2

They disinterred their dead3, because they celebrated on the day of Eidam [a pagan festival],4 as it is said "And the hand of G-d will be on you and your ancestors" [1 Samuel 12:15] [i.e. by digging them up].

Raba bar Shmuel said: These disinterred their dead, as Mar said: Because of the sins of the living, the dead are disinterred.

  1. They had a taboo against blood; and the Jewish way of slaughtering allowed blood to contaminate (from the Zoroastrian world-view) the earth.
  2. The Zoroastrians had a problem with women impurifying the water by contaminating it with blood.
  3. The Zoroastrians considered burial in the ground defiling to the ground; instead they put the dead on top of towers where the birds could get to them.
  4. The connection here is rather tenuous.

אמר ליה רבא לרבה בר מארי כתיב לא יאספו ולא יקברו לדומן על פני האדמה יהיו וכתיב ונבחר מות מחיים אמר ליה נבחר מות לרשעים שלא יחיו בעולם הזה ויחטאו ויפלו בגיהנם׃

Rava said to Raba bar Mari: It is written, "They shall not be gathered, nor be buried; they shall be for dung upon the face of the earth" [Jer. 8:2].*

And it is written "And death shall be chosen rather than life" [Jer. 8:3].

They said to him: We choose death for evil people, because they shall not live in this world, and they sinned and fell into Gehinnom.

* Now in Judaism, this is definitely a curse.

† Life is so bad that death is better, even though it's a horrible death. (This is part of Jeremiah's תוכחה.)

‡ Better that they died and didn't sin any more.


Genesis Rabbah:
Why were the Matriarchs infertile? R. Levi in the name of R. Shilah; R. Ḥelbo from R. Yoḥanan: said: הקדוש ברוך הוא wants the prayers of the women. "The dove in the cleft of the rock" [Song of Songs 2:14] Just as the rock does not bring forth fruit, nor did the women. Why did I make them infertile? Show me your appearance, make your voice heard to me. The women are more beautiful before they are pregnant.* R. [...] said, So most of their life can go without the enslavery [taking care of their children]. R. Huna R. Idi R. Avil in the name of R. Meir So that her husband shall enjoy them, because whenever they become pregnant, they become a little uglier.

All ninety years that Sarah did not give birth, she continued to look like a bride. Other women came to ask her how she was doing, and she said go look at this poor shlepper of a woman, Hagar.

Hagar would say to them, Sarah my mistress, her insides are not like her outsides. If she was as righteous as she claims to be, she would have had children. And look at me: one night, and I become pregnant!

In this one I'm not going to bother talking to, I'm going to complain to her master. [This is just before she complains to Abraham and gets Hagar thrown out.]

This makes Sarah come across like Dorian Gray!

* The interesting thing is that the rabbis sometimes attribute this idea to the Greeks: that they had one wife with whom to procreate, and a second whom they keep childless, to keep beautiful. The interesting thing is that here they attribute this idea to the Matriarchs!

† They're coming to see how she's doing thinking she would be upset because of Hagar having given birth; but she's actually fine and gloating in it.

‡ Which could mean a number of things.


Is this* so? Didn't the rabbis say to Rabbi Abba bar Zavda: Marry [another] woman and have children! He said to them, [Had I merited it and been worthy, I would already have had children.] But now in my old age, I do not want to take a wife for its own sake without having children. He just putting off the Sages because he didn't want to tell them the true reason, that he was sterile. Rabbi Abba bar Zavda became sterile from the heat of the דשרה of Rav Huna. איני והא אמרו ליה רבנן לרבי אבא בר זבדא נסיב איתתא ואוליד בני ואמר להו אי זכאי הוו לי מקמייתא התם דחוי קא מדחי להו לרבנן דרבי אבא בר זבדא איעקר מפרקיה דרב הונא׃

* Rashi explains: The קַשיה is on the Mishna: That someone who does not have children has to marry a second time and will have children.

† Steinsaltz: Therefore the meaning of this is that it is not a <מצוה to marry in old age.

‡ From holding in his urine. (Probably not possible [but OTOH Tycho Brahe was supposed to have died following an infection from a burst bladder, because to have left the banquet where he was dining to go to the toilet would have been the height of bad manners].)

Rav Gidel1 became sterile because of Rav Huna, Rav Ḥelbo2 became sterile because of Rav Huna. Rav Sheshet became sterile because of Rav Huna,

Rav Aḥa bar Yaakov was seized by the disease. They hung him on a cedar that was in the house of Rav in order to heal him. And something came out of him like a green date [?leaf], and he was healed. Rav Aḥa bar Yaakov said: Sixty old sages were there, and all of them became sterile because of Rav Huna, apart from me alone; I fulfilled for myself "Wisdom gives life to those that have it." [Eccl. 7:12].

רב גידל איעקר מפרקיה דרב הונא׃ רבי חלבו איעקר מפרקיה דרב הונא׃ רב ששת איעקר מפרקיה דרב הונא׃ רב אחא בר יעקב אַחַדְתֵּיהּ סוּסְכִינְתָא תַּליוּהּ בְּאַרְזָא דבי רב ונפק מיניה כְּהוּצָא יָרְקָא׃ אמר רב אחא בר יעקב שיתין סבי הוינא וכולהו איעקור מפרקיה דרב הונא לבר מאנא דקיימי בנפשאי החכמה תחיה בעליה3

1. His name said he grew, but...

2. His name says his strength, but...

3. Could be a pun on "her husband".

Moral of the story: don't stay in lectures too long!
Yehudah and Ḥizkiya were twins. One of them was born after seven months, and one after nine months.* יהודית דביתהו דרבי חייא הוה לה צער לידה שנאי מנא ואתיא לקמיה דרבי חייא אמרה

* There was a belief eight-month pregnancies were not viable, but nine and seven month ones. The Greeks and Romans believed this too. When an eight-month pregnancy survived, they said it must have been a seven-month pregnancy that went on a month too long.


ואמר רבא קשה אשה רעה כיום סגריר שנאמר דֶּלֶף טוֹרֵד ביום סַגְרִיר ואשת מִדְיָנִים נִשְתָּוָה׃

And Rava said: A difficult and bad wife is like a very rainy day, as it is said: "A continual dropping in a very rainy day is like a contentious wife" [Prov. 27:15].

Er... whatever you say. :o)

Date: 2007-11-26 12:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] grumpyolddog.livejournal.com
I never got around to this before, but I'm glad I did. It's fascinating stuff and not the kind of theological/literary investigation I get to see anywhere else at all.

Oh and the proverb is definitely true, except that rainy days don't throw things as much.

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