Dear Yossi Sarid,
The horror that the overwhelming majority of Chareidi Jews are feeling at the actions of the extremists is certainly deep. The sickening demonstration of “cousins” of ours in holocaust garb is just another illustration of how out of touch these Meah Shearim extremists are with true Torah sensibilities. The Beit Shemesh extremists, whose horrifying attitudes and behaviors lie in stark contrast to all that the Torah way of life holds dear, have also caused much hurt. The Chareidi world realizes that their actions should have been stopped long ago.
Our silence is partially the cause of how their actions have gone so out-of-control.
There is no question that the results of their actions are indeed, quite distressing. But there are other repercussions too. One particularly sad repercussion is the tragically noxious and toxic fumes of your pen, Mr. Sarid.
In your 12/30/11 “op-ed” in Haaretz, you write (sic), “what is happening in Beit Shemesh and its satellites..is mandated by halakha.”
Mandated by halacha? Spitting upon young girls and throwing rocks is mandated by halacha? This is just wrong and completely untrue. Spitting upon people and throwing rocks is never mandated by halacha.
My dear Yossi Sarid, with these unbecoming lies and fabrications, how are you any different than the greatest of the anti-Semitic writers and orators that history has had to offer?
Your article reads straight out Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic rants, or of the transcripts of the Beilis trial – specifically, the false testimony of Father Justinas Pranaitas, author of “The Talmud Unmasked” or of the false testimonies of the Jewish apostate Pfefferkorn when facing the gentile scholar Johann Reuchlin.
Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I assume you have unknowingly falsified quotations and not purposefully taken them out of context.
The Talmud (Niddah 45b) tells us that women possess Bina Yesaira – more so than a man. Bina Yesaira means greater understanding. “Bina” is a word that lies beyond the word “Chochma.” Far beyond. Yet according to Yossi Sarid, the Talmud states the opposite – “The mind of woman is not suited to be taught, but only to words of nonsense.” Or “Torah should be burned rather than given to a woman.” But if one looks at the passage (Yuma 66b) and reads it carefully, it was a one line response of an individual. This phrase cannot mean what you have it mean – the Talmud itself, two lines earlier describes the woman who posed the question as a wise woman! And, according to all counts, it was a highly intelligent question that she posed – why did each of the violators of the sin of the golden calf have different punishments? What then is the meaning and context? The Talmud is pointing out that he did not have an answer and thus responded in this fashion. Thus, instead of reflecting the Talmud’s alleged negativity about women – this passage conveys the exact opposite meaning!
Yossi, Yossi, Yossi, you have misconstrued and misinterpreted hopefully not for some bizarre Machiavellian end. The sages of the Talmud accorded the highest respect and honor to women. You must know this to be true.
Let’s start with Kesuvos 2b. A maiden marries on a Wednesday. Why? So that her husband will toil steadily in the wedding preparations for three entire days. At the very onset of a wedding the sages were concerned for the honor of womanhood. So that men would not look at them cheaply and objectify them. Compare that to your precious secular societal ideals – where Israel, unfortunately, is only a Tier 2 country in complying with the UN’s attempts to eradicate sexual trafficking. Had you and other members of the Knesset imbibed the Talmud’s high ideals of respect for womanhood – we might have been a Tier 1 country.
Your tone and comments, I am sad to say, seem to have you relish in objectifying women. The sages (Nedarim 20a) advise against excessive flirtation with women because it can lead to inappropriate behavior. Yet you take the sages to task for expressing this thought! The sages tell us (Brachos 24a) not to even objectify a women’s pinky – yet you denounce this passage as well as hateful of women. No, sir. The Talmud is scornful of the objectification of women, but not of women itself, heaven forbid. With your criticism of this passage, on the other hand, you have opened the floodgates of pornography and its detrimental societal repercussions.
The Gemorah in Yevamos 62b discusses our obligation in treating women – that we should extend to them more honor than our own bodies and selves. And we should treat them with the same affection and care that we have for ourselves. You make no mention of this, of course, because it entirely undermines the veracity of your thesis.
Let’s move forward a page. Even you must admit that in the eyes of the sages there is nothing greater than Torah. Yet, the Talmud points out in Yevamos 63b – to what is this great Torah compared? To women. Of all the remarkable and precious items in the world, the Talmud points out that the Torah only saw fit to compare it to one thing – womanhood. The Talmud places womanhood in the highest esteem, Mr. Sarid.
Let’s switch to a different order of the Talmud – Nezikin, that of torts. In Bava Metzia 59a it tells us that it is the women who are the source of blessing in a home and advises men to consult with their wives for advice.
In Bava Basra 22a we learn about how merchants in a city may prevent travelling merchants from elsewhere to sell their wares in their city so as not to affect their income. Ezra, however, enacted that those merchants who sold jewelry are exempt from these regulations. They may sell their jewelry regardless of the economic damage to the local merchants.
Why is this so? So that Jewish women may have access to jewelry. Ezra enacted that the needs of Jewish women are far more important than protecting business interests. Jews are not known for placing much above business interests. Yet the Talmud does so here, Mr. Sarid. By contrast, notwithstanding all the pro-women legislation in secular Israel – women in the managerial force are still 25% behind the rest of the world according to a YNET report (Aug 3/10). Secular society in Israel, it seems, places business interests above the general welfare of women.
Furthermore, the halachic perspective of forbidden seclusion with women is to protect women. Precisely because of the Torah’s respect for the bodily rights of women did the Torah and Chazal promulgate these laws. The laws of Niddah, family purity, accomplish the same goals too, according to most authorities.
Clearly, something is wrong here, Mr. Sarid. You have ignored all the beautiful sayings and lessons in the Talmud about womanhood and instead misconstrued and misrepresented other teachings.
Is there perhaps some bias here? Some jaundiced eye that has caused you to employ something a bit more than “terminological inexactitudes?”
Let us look at more of what you write, but quote the original of the piece. This will demonstrate how you take out of context.
The Talmud in Shabbos 152a makes a sociological observation about the desire filled yearnings of men. Women, from the perspective of one un-attracted by desires of the flesh explains the Talmud, “are a leather jug full of excretions and filled with [menstrual] blood. Yet all run after her. It is an observation concerning the strength of attraction.
Yet you, Yossi Sarid, write: “We will direct your attention to Tractate Shabbat, which does a good job of summing up halakha’s attitude toward women: “a sack full of excrement” with a bleeding hole.”
Halacha? This was a sociological observation from the perspective of someone with no attraction. Yet you misconstrue it to reflect the worst ideas possible. And you place this falsely under the rubric of halacha – knowing full well that most of your readership will be unable to ferret out your mistake.
You single out the Talmud for the institution of male kings and not female kings – yet much of European history reflected the same notion. But what about Devorah the prophetess found in the book of Shoftim? She both issued rulings and was treated like a Queen. The Ramban (Tractate Shavuos 30a) explains that the exposition about a king and not a Queen referred only to autocratic dictatorship – but one may voluntarily listen to them. Don’t forget that a monarchy is not the ideal in Judaism – but a concession to the realities of the time.
We could go through them all, but perhaps another Talmudic statement is more applicable. There is another statement in the Talmud Kiddushin 70b. Perhaps you are familiar with it. Forgive me, but the passage states, “Kol HaPosel bemumo who posel – Whomsoever finds fault in others – finds fault in his own flaws.”
Was it not just a few years ago when you embarrassed the Jewish world with what many read to be a misogynistic statement, “Only in Israel, there are those who are excited and fascinated by president Bush and his “Condoleezza” entourage.”
Your statement (hopefully it wasn’t racist as well) embarrassed the Jewish community, both in America and in Israel. You never apologized. Neither to the Jewish community nor to Condi.
There is another repercussion, of course, that we should speak about. I refer to the repercussions of your pen, your falsifications, and “out-of-context” quotes of the Talmud. You’ve, perhaps inadvertently, set us back a lot.
How so? All the accomplishments of eliminating anti-Semitism are flushed away in your vitriol. Vatican Council II, the 1994 Vatican recognition of Israel, the apology of the Lutheran Church for Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic rants, all no longer necessary.
Because a former Knesset member, Yossi Sarid, writes no differently than an entire cadre of world class anti-Semites.
Mr. Sarid, I think you have been deprived of something. Something very precious and dear. Your birthright.
I invite you to really study the Talmud in the atmosphere of a Yeshiva for two or three months. Join the Ohr Somayach program where you will see the beauties of the Talmud and the remarkable relationships that Kollel men have with their wives. Get yourself invited to the warmth of a Shabbos table where you can see the honor and respect that the Torah demands. Then and only then will you see your real birthright – the birthright of Sinai.
(Rabbi) Yair Hoffman
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org