Notes from Limmud 2009
Radical Talmud: What's the origin of the ban on intermarriage?
Dr Raphael Zarum
[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed. This post is formatted for LiveJournal; if you are reading it on Facebook click on "View original post" for optimal layout.]
[This was the second in a series of three. The speaker opened with a summary of the previous talk, which I did not attend:] The Mishna talks about a number of foods that are banned if made, some for reasons of kashrus, e.g. milk, some to do with other issues, e.g. bread, as it could lead to intermarriage, through association with non-Jews (see below). In the case of Grodzinski's, the bread is פַּת יִשְׂרָאֵל: a Jewish bakery, and Jewish-owned. Even though it has non-Jewish workers, Grodzinski's bread can never be פַּת עַכֻּ״ם [bread of idol workers—lit. עובדי כוכבים ומזלות worshipers of stars and astrologers]. A Jew does some part of the manufacturing process. What if one day this is not done? The bread would become בִּשוּל עַכֻּ״ם; you can't eat this. This is worse, halachically speaking, than פַּת עַכֻּ״ם, because there is no justification for it. This would make Grodzinski's bread worse than Kingsmill [a supermarket bread bearing a hechsher, which no doubt was covered in the previous talk].
The point about intermarriage above is not to say we're not to associate with non-Jews at all, more: What level of reminder do we need to keep our consciousness that we are partly separate? It's like wearing a wedding ring: it's a cultural enactment created by society to tell you and others that you should not get too close to others. You can be in a bar with non-Jews, but you should "wear your ring".
In terms of idolatry, the gemara in Avodah Zara explains issues to do with idolatry and issues to do with intermarriage. The tractate can be quite rude about non-Jews.
What's the ban on intermarriage; how does it work? What's the fear?
"Intermarriage" and "assimilation" are used interchangeably in our culture by many. But of course a Jew might marry someone non-Jewish because they fall in love; this doesn't mean they don't value their Jewish heritage. The other possibility is that they haven't been brought up with Jewish values; they intermarry because they don't care about it; it's not a concern for them. The Talmud is clearly talking about the first instance of these. It's normal to fall in love; it's human.
What's the origin of the ban on intermarriage? The Talmud does this in a really backwards way: They keep coming up with reasons and then ruling them out.
Avodah Zara 36b1 עבודה זרה לו ב
Bali declared that Avimi of Nusa'ah said in the name of Rav:2 The bread, wine and oil and daughters [of idolaters] are all included in the eighteen enactments.3 What means "their daughters"?4
R. Naḥman b. Yitzḥak said: [The Schools of Hillel and Shammai] decreed that their daughters should be considered as in the state of niddah from their cradle.5
And Geniva said in the name of Rav: Concerning all of them they decreed for the purpose of safeguarding against idolatry.6 For when R. Aḥa bar Adda came [from Israel] he declared in the name of R. Yitzḥak: They decreed against bread [of idolaters] on account of their oil. But how is oil stricter than bread? Rather [they decreed] against their bread and oil on account of their wine.7 And they decreed against their wine on account of their daughters. And against their daughters on account of another matter [i.e. idolatry]...8
אמר באלי אמר אבימי נותאה משמיה דרב פיתן ושמנן יינן ובנותיהן כולן משמונה עשר דבר הן׃ בנותיהן מאי היא
אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק גזרו על בנותיהן נידות מעריסותן׃
וגניבא משמיה דרב אמר כולן משום עבודת כוכבים גזרו בהן דכי אתא רב אחא בר אדא אמר רבי יצחק גזרו על פיתן משום שמנן מאי אולמיה דשמן מפת אלא על פיתן ושמנן משום יינן ועל יינן משום בנותיהן ועל בנותיהן משום דבר אחר ועל דבר אחר משום ד״א׃
- There are 3 chapters [in this tractate dedicated to, presumably, this issue: the speaker was going too fast for me to get it all down here. The lacuna ends:] in the time of Abraham 300! [Anybody got any idea what this was about?]
- This contradicts what the Gemara said in the previous talk.
- Shabbos 13a records how the School of Shammai, wanting to get some legislation through, turned up en masse and forced through eighteen enactments.
- It's not like-for-like: the other three you eat!
- But niddah applies only to Jewish women! It doesn't apply to non-Jewish women, and it certainly doesn't apply to girls pre-menarche. It's a technical way to make them off-limits to Jewish men. Recall, being in niddah does not make a woman unclean; it's just a separation. It doesn't reflect badly on her; it's not trying to be offensive to non-Jewish women. But a man knows niddah means no. (Note that this is slightly different from מִשׁוּם חַתְנוּת [intermarriage]. It forbids sleeping with them, marriage or no.)
- Yesterday's argument said that this was because of intermarriage! So which is correct? This has an effect today, as it tells us whether intermarriage is prohibited because of an ancient concern or one alive today.
- Because when you sat down to break bread with someone, they'd bring out the wine to accompany the meal.
- When a man and a woman set up a home together, it will have cultural values; and what values will those be? There was no such thing as atheism in the ancient world; everyone worshipped something. If you didn't, you weren't part of society. And in the ancient world it would be עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה. This is a bigger problem than the marriage itself.
If through intermarriage cultural things could be saved, it's not so bad. That's the attitude of Progressive Judaism. For Christianity and Islam, associating with non-Christians/Muslims is a good thing, as it means they might become Christians/Muslims. But it's not the same for Judaism as it's not a proselytising religion.
The attitude of the rabbis is that there's a slippery slope. Do they always get it right? No. But did they have the right attitude? Yes: A minority society is always at danger from the dominant one.
[But the prohibition against marrying] their daughters is a Biblical law, for it is written, "Neither shall you make marriages with them" [Deut. 7:3]! בנותיהן דאורייתא היא דכתיב לא תתחתן בם
I.e. how could the prohibition on intermarriage be one of the eighteen enactments, given that it's prohibited מדאורייתא!
Deuteronomy 7:1-7:6 דברים ז א-ז ו When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee,1 the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.2 For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly. But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. כִּי יְבִיאֲךָ ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּה בָא־שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ וְנָשַׁל גּוֹיִם־רַבִּים מִפָּנֶיךָ הַחִתִּי וְהַגִּרְגָּשִׁי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי שִׁבְעָה גוֹיִם רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים מִמֶּךָּ׃ וּנְתָנָם ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְפָנֶיךָ וְהִכִּיתָם הַחֲרֵם תַּחֲרִים אֹתָם לֹא־תִכְרֹת לָהֶם בְּרִית וְלֹא תְחָנֵּם׃ וְלֹא תִתְחַתֵּן בָּם בִּתְּךָ לֹא־תִתֵּן לִבְנוֹ וּבִתּוֹ לֹא־תִקַּח לִבְנֶךָ׃ כִּי־יָסִיר אֶת־בִּנְךָ מֵאַחֲרַי וְעָבְדוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וְחָרָה אַף־ה׳ בָּכֶם וְהִשְׁמִידְךָ מַהֵר׃ כִּי־אִם־כֹּה תַעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם מִזְבְּחֹתֵיהֶם תִּתֹּצוּ וּמַצֵּבֹתָם תְּשַׁבֵּרוּ וַאֲשֵׁירֵהֶם תְּגַדֵּעוּן וּפְסִילֵיהֶם תִּשְׂרְפוּן בָּאֵשׁ׃ כִּי עַם קָדוֹשׁ אַתָּה לַה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּךָ בָּחַר ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה מִכֹּל הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר עַל־פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה׃
1. The assumption is that they're morally corrupt.
2. Quoted by Lord Phillips on the first page of the JFS case report.
The Gemara resolves this difficulty:
The Biblical law is restricted to the seven nations [of Canaan] and does not include other idolatrous peoples; and [the Schools of Hillel and Shammai] came and decreed against these too.1 דאורייתא ז׳ אומות אבל שאר עובדי כוכבים לא ואתו אינהו וגזור אפילו דשאר עובדי כוכבים׃ But according to R. Shimon bar Yoḥai, who declared that the words, "For he will turn away your son from following Me" [Deut. 7:4] include all women who would turn [their husbands aside from the worship of G-d], what is there to say?2 ולרבי שמעון בן יוחי דאמר כי יסיר את בנך מאחרי לרבות כל המסירות מאי איכא למימר Rather [the explanation is that] the Biblical law is against intercourse through marriage, and they came and decreed even against promiscuity.3 אלא דאורייתא אישות דרך חתנות ואתו אינהו גזור אפילו דרך זנות׃ But the decree against promiscuity had already been made by the Court of Shem,4 for it is written, "And Yehudah said: Bring her forth and let her be burnt!" [Gen 38:24]. זנות נמי בבית דינו של שם גזרו דכתיב ויאמר יהודה הוציאוה ותשרף Rather, then, [the explanation is that] the Biblical law refers to an Israelite woman in intercourse with an idolater since she would be drawn after him [into idolatry], but not against an Israelite man having intercourse with an idolatrous woman;5 so they came and decreed even against the latter.6 אלא דאורייתא עובד כוכבים הבא על בת ישראל דמשכה בתריה אבל ישראל הבא על העובדת כוכבים לא ואתו אינהו גזור אפילו ישראל הבא על העובדת כוכבים׃ But [the prohibition against] an Israelite having intercourse with an idolatrous woman is a law of Moses from Sinai, for a Master has said: If [an Israelite] has intercourse with an idolatrous woman, zealots may attack him.7 ישראל הבא על העובדת כוכבים הלכה למשה מסיני היא דאורייתא דאמר מר הבועל ארמית קנאין פוגעין בו Rather, the Biblical law refers to a public act even as the "incident" that happened, so they came and decreed even against a private act.8 בפרהסיא וכמעשה שהיה ואתו אינהו גזור אפילו בצינעא׃ But the Court of the Hasmoneans had already decreed also against a private act, for when R. Dimi came [from Israel] he declared: The Court of the Hasmoneans decreed that an Israelite who had intercourse with an idolatrous woman is liable on four counts, viz., she is regarded as niddah, a slave, a non-Jewess, anda married woman; and when Ravin came [from Israel] he declared: On the following four counts, viz., she is regarded as niddah-slave-idolatrous-harlot! The decree of the Court of the Hasmoneans was against intercourse but not against private association [with an idolatrous woman]; so they came and decreed against this. בצינעא נמי דכי אתא רב דימי אמר בית דין של חשמונאי בית דינו של חשמונאי גזרו ישראל הבא על העובדת כוכבים חייב משום נשג״א כי אתא רבין אמר גזרו משום נשג״ז כי גזרו בית דינו של חשמונאי ביאה אבל ייחוד לא ואתו אינהו גזור אפילו ייחוד׃ But the Court of David had already decreed against private association, for Rav Yehudah said: At that time they made a decree against private association!9 ייחוד נמי בית דינו של דוד גזרו דאמר רב יהודה באותה שעה גזרו על ייחוד It may be replied [that the decree of the Court of David] there referred to private association with an Israelite and not an idolatrous woman, so they came and decreed even against associating with an idolatrous woman. אמרי התם ייחוד דבת ישראל אבל ייחוד דעובדת כוכבים לא ואתו אינהו גזרו אפילו אייחוד דעובדת כוכבים׃ But [the prohibition against] associating with an Israelite woman is a Biblical Law; for R. Yoḥanan said in the name of R. Shimon ben Yehotzadak: Whence is there an indication in the Torah against such association? As it is said, "If your brother, the son of your mother... entice you" (Deut. 13:7) Can, then, the son of the mother, and not the son of the father, entice? But the intention is that a son may privately associate with his mother, and nobody else may privately associate with any woman whom the Torah disallows him in marriage! ייחוד דבת ישראל דאורייתא היא דאמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי שמעון בן יהוצדק רמז לייחוד מן התורה מנין שנאמר כי יסיתך אחיך בן אמך וכי בן אם מסית בן אב אינו מסית אלא בן מתייחד עם אמו ואין אחר מתייחד עם כל עריות שבתורה [The correct explanation is that] the Biblical law against such association refers to an [Israelite] married woman; David came and extended the law to association with an unmarried woman; and the disciples of the Schools of Shammai and Hillel came and extended it still further to association with an idolatrous woman. ייחוד דאורייתא דאשת איש ואתא דוד וגזר אפילו אייחוד דפנויה ואתו תלמידי בית שמאי ובית הלל גזור אפילו אייחוד דעובדת כוכבים׃
- So it was okay to marry anyone else until the School of Shammai made this ruling!?
- So then what was the point of the enactment?
- Sleeping with somebody not Jewish without getting married. Hence, not only can you not marry them, you can't sleep with them either. So is the prohibition on "daughters [of idolaters]" at the top against marriage [which would lead to idolatry] or cohabitation?
- They don't literally mean a Beth Din; they mean there were always basic human laws against this. Tamar's sin at the time was for sleeping with a non-Hebrew. According to the speaker, if she'd slept with a Jew it would have been okay. (It's not that she was betrothed to Shelah; she was not.) But what about Yehudah? He slept with what he thought was a non-Hebrew woman (even though it turned out to be Tamar).
- Which is Yehudah's get-out.
- So the enactment, then, was against a Jewish man: because we can't trust them either. Biblical Judaism is very male-controlled; rabbinic Judaism is a bit more equal; they recognise men are human too.
- As shown by the story of Pinḥas, who does so even without waiting to be told. (Though note, even though G-d says "Good one, Pinḥas", in the same sedra Joshua is chosen to be the next leader.) So what then was the enactment for!?
- The rabbis are enacting on not bragging in the bar about the non-Jewish woman you've slept with.
- That was the enactment. Hence bread leads to wine, wine leads to associating with daughters, which leads to being secluded (יִיחוּד) with them, which leads to having sex with them, which leads to marriage with them, which leads to idolatry!
Is this about culture, or is this about the way humans interact? The rabbis are trying to say: where's the line?