Saturday, 26 December 2015

gittin 13

What price freedom?

better to stay a slave and fuck the easy slave girls, and eat the priests' food.

than run away and be sold by a dying master.

this page argues if it is advantageous for a slave to be free. If he runs away, he can be sold by his master in his absence to another who is not a priest. So why run away? After all, if he was a slave he can fuck a Canaanite slave. And if he was a slave to a priest, he could eat terumah. Although if he was free, he could then have sex with a free Israelite. but that isn't seen as an advantage because he would have more pleasure sleeping with Canaanite maids, because everyone knows that they are promiscuous. More promiscuous then jewish girls. Some people find it crude that I use the word "fuck" when learning these texts. It is no cruder than the sexual attitudes in the gemara. 
Later on in the page it discusses the validity of deathbed declarations of transferring property.

gittin 12

when they're not under his roof, or able to work, can they sustain themselves?

comparing a wife and a slave. does the master have any obligation to provide for the slave like his does for his wife. A test case is if they (wife and slave) are exiled to a city of refuge. The master has to continue to provide for his wife but not his slave. Another case is if the slave's hand was cut off by another. They have to compensate the master for loss of earnings and medical bills. The slave is sustained by charity. The case of the exiled wife is slightly more complicated as also discussed is when the husband says that she can keep her earnings, and he has no obligation to sustain her. This also applies when she is exiled and not living at home. The talmud argues that you cannot use the verse "the honour of the king's daughter is within" to justify her not going out to work when she is not living at home. In contemporary modesty literature, this verse is used as back-up for all sorts of ways to limit women's movement and agency.

gittin 11

the names that reveal one's true identity.

but can they really describe the inner self of the one who lives outside?

if a get was signed by an idolator as a witness, is it valid? If the name is an idolator's name, then yes - as we learnt that the court of the land is binding. But if they are not obvious idolators names, then no. So says R. Yohanan. But argues Resh Lakish, names can be misleading. Sometimes Jews living outside the land, amongst the gentiles, have names that are similar to the non-jews.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

gittin 9

what frees the slave frees her

This page compares the get, divorce document, to the document of emancipation for a slave. Freedom from the masters... I don't need to say any more about this do I....

gittin 8

 defining the status of water

the seas as border
& the rivers as part of the land

Sunday, 20 December 2015

gittin 7

when you get home
speak calmly
or stay silent

and when you reach land

declare nothing

gittin 6

the sounds of the scribe fill the house - and could free her

but she flees
and flies in fear
from the house

leaving a hair behind

gittin 5

words from the mouth
words on the page

what traps her? and what sets her free?

Thursday, 17 December 2015

gittin 4

do those who live on the boundaries travel?


are they like outsiders, fixed in what and who they know and don't know?

the debate between Rabbah and Rava continues. Why is a declaration necessary for the agent who delivers the get. Is it because those outside of Israel are ignorant of the get requirements for the woman's sake. Or is it because those who live inside Israel will not know the witnesses and cannot verify the signatures. A test case are the border, and close to the border towns. If they have to declare or not. what are they ignorant of. It's mapping knowledge, and who is open or closed. I tend to think of those who live on the boundaries as permable, free moving and thinking. but this page brings into the discussion an attitude of those who live within the land travel. and those outside remain in their place. and stay ignorant of the proper procedures and are unfamiliar who everyone is. It's an interesting contemplation of how location and 'insider' people feel they are affects how fixed they can be in their thinking. And how the 'insiders' relate and percieve the outsiders, and their lack of knowledge.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

gittin 3

what does it matter that she can carry her own divorce,

if he can challenge the single signature?

This page discusses how many witnesses are really needed, one or two. And is the writing of the document for this particular woman crucial? It mentions that unlike other documents she, the wife, can be the agent to deliver the document. even though she is the beneficary. And that it only needs a single witness. This is to be lenient for her sake and will allow her to remarry. However this leniency is questioned if it really does benefit her, or keeps her in a precarious situation. One witness's signature can be later challenged by the husband saying it is not a valid divorce. The 'leniency' traps her further....

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

gittin 2

marking the borders and the boundaries of what and who is known.

this is all for her sake...(?)

I am struck by how this mesechet starts, but it is not unusual for the mishna to begin in mid-conversation. It assumes that you know that Jewish legal divorce needs a document, written by a scribe, with witnesses, given from the husband to the wife. And that if he can't give it to her directly, he can appoint an agent. 

Gittin, the tractate that discusses the divorce process, begins with the law that if a get (bill of divorce) is being delivered from one place to another by an agent, they must declare that they witnessed the writing of the document and/or the witnesses signatures. The borders of what is inside and what is outside Israel is defined by various cities on the boundaries. The reason for the declaration is debated. Either it is because the process of divorce is not known outside of Israel, and that it is done for her sake. Or it is because the signatures to the get might not be known within Israel. The testimony of the agent, a single witness, is accepted in this case due to the concern of the rabbis that she might become an agunah - a trapped wife who is unable to marry as she has not been properly separated from her husband.... all this is for her sake. I am skeptical that it really is for her sake. Seder Nashim so far has not been kind to women, and so I am wary to go along with that claim. She is trapped only in as much as the constructed system locks her in.

Since the divorce process is centred around a written document, I thought I would use writing as drawing for this mesechet. In previous mesechets I have added a few lines of text more or less as an afterthought. a summary of the page and my interpretation to lead into the drawing. I have not been entirely satisfied with how these two elements, the drawing and writing, aren't integrated. I have approx 90 pages to work on this, and on the content of the written texts.)

goodbye sotah

"We all came into this world naked. The rest is all drag."  RuPaul

goodbye mesechet sotah. farewell.

this has been a tough mesechet to learn (they've all been tough. this has been particularly painful). the jealous husband accuses his wife of infidelity, and then 48 pages elaborating on the ritual of trial by humilation, guilty til miraculously proven innocent. With some twists and turns (including some fascinating stories gossiping about various characters' sex lives. Seems that once we are discussing sotah, everyone's intimate relationships are up for speculation. various characters in tanach, the people's relationship with the land, and Torah itself)  It begins with the number of witnesses needed to confirm the husband's suspicions. and a comment that bringing a husband and wife together is a miracle similiar to the splitting of the Red Sea. A key narrative in the formation of the nation, and redemption from slavery in Egypt. But comparing the phenomenon of a couple coming together with the miracle at the sea is acknowledging that at the essence of relationship is a division, a split. Causing distrust and suspicion. This divide and rupture in relationships between a couple is at the beginning of sotah. At the end of sotah we learn about a divide in the generational relationships. Sotah ends with describing the demise of various great things - Torah knowledge, scholar's death, glory, the taste of fruit. And a repeated story of a rabbi trying to stop and control what his son is teaching the next generation. Good things come to an end, yet the world and life continue. We are doomed to be isolated individuals. We are apart from our intimate loved ones, both in vertical and horizontal bonds.We come into this world naked and alone, and we remain so. Despite any attempt to build connections.

This mesechet goes into the sotah ritual in much detail, and running throughout I have had so many questions - what was it like for the wives? what did it feel like, to go through this ritual? to not be trusted? to have one's husband's jealousy be treated more seriously than one's own personal dignity? And if found innocent, then to be rewarded by becoming pregnant with the son of the man who put you into the humiliating situation in the first place? What was it like for her? - And to those who say that it never actually happened, that just makes it worse. Mesechet Sotah then becomes the talmudic rabbis expanding the humiliations of the torah text and fantasising what they wish they could do to women if only they had the chance. Sotah takes the talmudic misogyny and brings it up a notch. It grotesquely highlights the power relationship in marriage. The wife is the possession of the husband, under his control, and accountable to his irrational fears. He controls her friendships and relationships. She is his house, and should stay in the house. She must fear her husband, and the community acts on his behalf to check if she is keeping to the house rules. As I learnt Sotah, so many dvrei torah that I have heard at Jewish weddings kept popping up. At first their familiarity made me smile, but seeing them in context made me wonder why on earth are we still evoking Sotah when we discuss our intimate relationships. Why is this part of the Torah?

And sotah is the halachic hook for the practice where jewish married women cover their hair. It's an asmachta, a loose hook (and in a poetic resonance, the hat-rack came off the wall at tonight's siyyum), but this ritual where the wife is humiliated into pushing her to confess is the scriptural back-up for hair-covering. If it is humiliating to reveal and dishevel her hair, ergo, respectable married women must cover their hair.  There's a certain logic there.... And I brought into that way of thinking about halachic development, and 22 years ago, I was a young bride and decided to cover my hair.  I say "decided." I went along with social convention.

I have 22 years of hats, scarves and wigs. I've done them all (apart from snoods.... just odd). I have a fine collection of trilbies, pork-pies, fedoras, berets, and spent many winters gallavanting around in a bowler hat that made men of a certain age smile and ask me if they were now back in fashion. I learnt how to wrap my head in colour, tame swathes of fabric into folds. The turban is my current personal favourite, decorated with flowers, butterflies, sparkly jewellery. I say this because I want to make it clear that I am not rethinking hair covering because I dislike how it feels or looks. I am rethinking it because I do not want mesechet sotah to have any part of my appearance, my self-constructed identity. I want to distance myself from this text and say no. This ritual should have no part to play in how women are treated in this society today.

Tonight at the siyyum a friend pointed out that whilst in these drawings I have put a thick black line through the main talmud text, I have not censored the commentaries at the edges. There will always be side discussions and interpretations. I want not to care. And yet I live in a community who might just do that. My husband's rabbinic status will be judged because his wife doesn't cover her hair. Even though that way of thinking buys into a paradigm of control and power that has nothing to do with our relationship. The whispering at the margins might still happen. But that is not a good enough reason to continue covering my hair and identify with a practice that I find so deeply troubling.

But stopping covering my hair is also terrifying. I am very aware that when I dress it is a costume and armour. I speculate about how I will be seen, who am I in the judgmental gaze of another. An added bonus about dressing as I do is that it confuses the lazy categories of who is a religious jew (she covers her hair, but she wears trousers... she learns gemera, but she swears like a trooper when discussing her learning....) and I get a certain sense of mischief from being a walking contradiction and confounding expectations. But I don't dress the way I do just thinking about how I will be seen or not by others. This way of dressing has become a visual representation of my identity when I go out into the world. It's my 'look' and I do not know who I would be if I didn't do it. But I've also become stuck in it, in danger of becoming a caricature of myself. A visual representation of the mindless routine, no longer questioning, searching and discovering.

Tonight I hosted a siyyum where I discussed all this, and more, with some dear  friends whose opinions I respect and value. They said much that was more thoughtful than I can summarise. It was an open conversation, pouring sunlight and emotional and critical analysis on the dark parts of our heritage, a conversation that needs to happen more regularly. Although it would also be wonderful to close the book on sotah and be distant from it. As one friend said last night, there is so many other things to get angry about.  I don't know tonight if I will leave the house tomorrow with a bare head or not. It's winter at the moment and a terrible time to be exposed to the elements. But for now, goodbye mesechet sotah, and all that you contain. This is me. Time to find a new drag.

Monday, 14 December 2015

sotah 49

when the old ones die, much is lost.

but don't try to stop and control what is being handed on to the next generation.

Sotah ends with a mishna where the Sages decreed that various celebratory luxuries should end after various wars, and then listing all the the ways the honour of Torah and wisdom ceased when certain rabbis died. The previous talmudic discussion mentions that after the destruction of the temple fruit has lost it's flavour and smell. It mentions a story of R. Huna finding a fragrant date, wrapping it up, only for his son Rabba to detect it's scent. Thus proving to R. Huna that his son is pure, so he gives it to his son as a gift. Rabba then gives it to his son Abba. Which upsets R. Huna. Thus proving that fathers love their sons, more than their fathers. This theme of three generations gets repeated at the end of the page. After the war of Vespasin, drums were forbidden. There is a story where Rabba b. Rav Huna made his son a tambourine, but his father, R. Huna again, destroyed it. Amongst the list of things that were decreed forbidden post-war with Titus, was teaching your son Greek.  The grandfather blocking, controlling and resenting what their son is trying to give to the next generation. No wonder that the honour of Torah ceases....

and so ends mesechet Sotah. It has been a difficult 48 pages, I've hated it. and yet I finished it. And so tonight I am hosting a siyyum, to celebrate this learning and to say goodbye to sotah. and to all it contains. 

sotah 48

when the stones stopped speaking
the calves saw their fate.

and wine with song will lead you to hell.

sotah 47

be careful who you welcome and who you send away.

they might start another religion, or find another lover while you're busy "entertaining".

sotah 46

the living can only be in certain places. go outside the cities is to enter no-Adam's land, and meet death. outside of civilisation, the prophet becomes a murderer, who needs protection from whom?

Thursday, 10 December 2015

sotah 45

life begins with a breath, but it really started in the middle. And life can end in many mysterious ways. not just with a sword. But who takes responsibility for the strange fruit?

In order for the ritual of egal arufah to happen, the elders of the nearest city need to be identified to do it. The found corpse is measured to the nearest city, and there is a discussion as where in the body to measure from. The nose, the source of the breath of life. Or the naval, the place where the fetus is formed. The ritual of the egal erufah only applies if the person has been killed by a sword, and found lying in an open field. Not if found hanging in a tree... even though if you came across a body hanging in a tree, chances are something bad had happened. really bad.

sotah 44

 Go home! Go home!
back to your new house, vine, wife,
go and start your life.

but leaving can be as fatal as going to war.

this page finishes the discussion about the speech given to those going to war. Those who have a new house, vineyard or wife should not fight. (and house, vine, wife - very practical things to living. shelter, income, relationships is interpreted as different forms of learning) Also returning are those who are afraid. One opinion is that the fear is due to awareness of one's sins, such as the speaking in between putting on the tefillin on the head and then the arm. A mistake in tefillin causes stumbling. Also on this page is the beginning of the next chapter. Another speech and ritual that has to be conducted by the priests. This is the ritual of the egal erufah. When a body is found in between cities, the leaders have to publicly atone for the city not taking care of travellers, and allowing them to set off into dangerous territory. War is scary, but going home is not without risk.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

sotah 43

fighting for the nation is vital. but not for those who are establishing their roots and relationships.

This page continues the discussion about the nation going to war. After the warrior priest speaks to the people, the officer instructs certain people to go home and not fight. Those who have just built a house, got married, planted vineyards and orchards. Can't go to war if you are in the fragile beginning process of creating shelter, relationships and putting down roots.

sotah 42

fight the enemy! they are not your kin!! says the warrior priest.

and yet us and the enemy descend from the women who said goodbye and parted. and shed warrior tears that will turn to blood.

one lay on the threshing floor and became the ancestor to kings. and the other cried tears, and was trampled and threshed by all. becoming mother to ruthless enemy warriors. poor Orpah. she didn't deserve this rabbinic rape.

The priest appointed to address the people at a time of war begins his speech (in hebrew) pointing out that this is not a civil war between tribes but a fight with The Enemy. The Other. Other parts of the speech compares it to the fight between Goliath and David. The text exaggerates Goliath's inhuman strength, and calls him the son of a hundred fathers and a dog. Everyone fucked his mother like a treading on the threshing floor. His mother is identified as Orpah.... and now the story is very different. This is not The Other. The giant warrior vs. the son of man David. It is the descendents of two women who were once sisters, bonded to Naomi. Both initially wanted to return with Naomi to Israel, and be part of the people. One eventually listened to Naomi, kissed her goodbye, cried and returned to her people. Both end up on the threshing floor. One gets up, having seduced Boaz and becomes the great-grandmother to David and kings. The other is gang-raped...... Orpah doesn't deserve this ending. she did what Naomi asked her to. So she wasn't as tenacious as Ruth, but why make her the mother of Goliath, and turn her into a whore? and it makes fighting The Enemy as not fighting the other, but fighting someone who there once was a bond. The warriors who fight Israel are a reward for Orpah's tears. Why is Orpah written like this? bad things happen when your character leaves the biblical narrative...

Monday, 7 December 2015

sotah 41

to honour and respect the law - but don't flatter and schmooze the one who shouldn't be reading it - even though it moves him to tears?

sotah 40

how do the power hierarchies and power structures effect the relationships between the wives?

In between hearing about the power relationships of who passes the torah to whom. who sits, and who stands in the presence of the other, is a little story of two women. Neither of them are named, we know them only as wives of their husbands. The one who is the wife of the interpreter rudely points out to the wife of the learned, yet humble, head rabbi, that her interpreter husband shouldn't need to defer to him.

sotah 39

 the mouth, the hand, and the ear. each waits for the other to finish doing it's unique task. everyone has to wait, despite their importance.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

sotah 38

giving - both blessings and food.

it's a face-to-face encounter, a conversation.
should only be blessed by those with a giving and generous nature, who even the birds know has good eyes.

(continuing the discussion on which ritual texts should be said in lashon hakodesh, The Priests' Blessing. This page lists various details, including that it should be done with the priest facing the people. Amongst the discussion of the priests' blessing is a detail that one should only eat with, and be led in birchat hamazon, by someone who is generous (= has good eyes). and that even the birds recognise who is a miser. And an ungiving, miserly nature, is what causes a lack of hospitality, resulting in anon murder victim between town, and a ritual where the elders and priests have to publicly declare that they are not responsible for this bloodshed, that came from a lack of generosity)

sotah 37

from out of the depths, they called. those who stood in the valley, or first went down into the sea, became worthy of the most high.

The priests and Levites who were eligible for Temple duty stood in the valley, between Mt Gerizim and Mt Ebal during the blessings and curses. Also on this page is the story of the tribe of Binyamin (or Nachshon) being the first to enter the Sea, causing it to split. And earning them the location of the temple (or kingship). Either way, it's going down to be elevated up.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

sotah 36

blinded and rendered impotent.

but the one who faced their father, was never harmed by the evil eye ever again.

(the talmud has taken a bit of detour. The mishna listed various texts that can be said in any language, and others that can only be said in hebrew. lashon hakodesh. sotah can be done in any language. The passage about the blessings and the curses was done in hebrew. part of the narrative of entering the land, was that the torah was written in 70 languages on stones by the Jordan. This page describes the stones worn by the High Priest, as part of his clothing. With half the tribes inscribed in one, half on the other. similar to blessings and curses with half the tribes on each mountain. Joseph's name is written with an extra heh, earned because did a kiddush hashem in private. when he didn't sleep with Potiphar's wife. Joseph was planning to, but the coitus was interupted by a vision of Jacob at the window, and a threat that his name would not appear on the high priest's stones. He regained control of his penis, but the sperm leaked out of his fingernails. R. Yohanan describes Joseph as being fruitful, because the evil eye has no power over him. He, and not the evil eye or his lust, is in control of his penis. Also on this page is a story about how the land was conquered. Moshe's hornet, that didn't cross the Jordan, was on the bank and flung it's venom at the inhabitants. Blinding and castrating them. Attacking the eye and the penis. mirroring Joseph seeing a vision and losing his erection. One in the eye. all 3 of them)

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

sotah 35

threatening God with stones (after hearing about the land)

but when entering the land, have to write God's law on stones in 70 languages.

sotah 34

some need signs and wonders, others pray.

the individual who carries no sign or wonder, but a prayer for protection from the dead ancestors.


the stones, the fruit, the wall of water.

sotah 33

one person, praying on their own, needs to use the holy tongue to be heard.

but many can pray in any language, and be heard in the highest heaven.

sotah 32

how many voices does it take to accuse her? one? two? one against two? one hundred against one?
tell it to the mountains, and speak soft and loud.