Wednesday, 4 February 2015

goodbye yevamot

Goodbye yevamot. I think this was perhaps the most difficult and challenging tractates to learn so far. And I questioned many times why I was doing this project. and wouldn't it be easier to just stop... It wasn't because of the technical who is related to whom, but it had everything. Women as property to be a vessel for the precious name and memory of a man who has died without children. And the women who die childless? who remembers them? where is their living legacy? 

I have read various articles about how this is just the Talmudic rabbis being very practical with the realities of a life, sex with minors happened. men went missing and women were dependent on men. But also in this tractate are various incestuous relationships, which they can only discuss by saying this is how gentiles behave. So it isn't really unemotional practical solutions to difficult and complex situations. This is not how a vulnerable widow is given protection in a society, or else it wouldn't make a difference if she was capable of having children or not. There are a lot of value judgements about the capabilities of women. and gentiles. and the mentally ill and physically impaired. Of course it is problematic to impose contemporary understanding on a society and culture that is so very different to today. But here's the thing. Some of the more painful parts of this texts hurt because one can see an echo of these attitudes in all types of society today. Men's names become the family name, and that name continues with the male heirs. Childless women are marginalised. Intimate relationships are about ownership (She/He's mine!) Rabbis wield power over personal status issues. The Talmud is not studied as a fascinating historical record. It calls for a response. 

So this has been my response. There are only so many times I can say WTFYevamot! It is shocking to learn about sex with very young girls being discussed casually as not a problem, they won't get pregnant (which would be dangerous for a 9 year old), because God looks after the simple. The first time that came up, I was appalled. The second time, it was still shocking. The third time, oh here we go again.. but by the fourth and fifth. I barely raised an eyebrow, as I was used to it, could sense it was coming by the way the arguements were playing out. And that really did shock me. The Talmud is not studied as a fascinating historical record. Learning it regularly, it's attitudes and values have become normalised. And I prefer to find sex with 9 year old girls shocking. 

The drawings for Yevamot were done with mechanical pencil on lined notebooks. The drawings were sparse and very simple compared to some of the other tractates. I didn't enjoy learning this material, and so did the lightest of touches for the drawings (although some of them took probably just as long as the more complex drawings. drawing, redrawing, ranting, erasing, redrawing...) Apologies for not posting them daily either. It was just too much. 

But this is just the start of Seder Nashim. A whole section of Talmud discussing women. I have been very cheered by hearing from others that they also find it problematic. and not willing to accept ways to contextualise, intellectualise the difficulties away. And if I stop doing this daf yomi project, I might be happier but these discussions will still be in the Talmud, in the jewish tradition, but my response will be absent. So the outrage is there, and so am I. I am still sitting in my studio learning this stuff. drawing away. for now anyway. Maybe Ketubot will break me.  

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