Friday, November 20, 2009

Reish Lakish on the joys of marriage

Yitzhak's provocative post reminded me of the famous disagreement between R YB Solveitchick and R E Rackman as to whether the principle of Reish Lakish - "tav l'meisiv tan du mil'meisiv armalo" - and to whether it is a "transient psychological behavioral pattern" or a "permanent ontological principles rooted in the very depth of the human personality, in the metaphysical human personality [!]".

First, some basic philological analysis. The expression is in the "lashon ketzarah" of Yerushalmi (although it does not appear in Yerusahlmi) which I think proves that this is an exact recording of Reish Lakish's statement. The translation is that it is better to carry a "load" (Tan being a contraction of either To'en - a load, or perhaps Ten - a basket?) of grief (Du being related to the word - Devai - as in "Al Eresh Dvai" - on a bed of grief (deathbed), then to live as a widow.

Its unclear in which context the statement was made, and whether it is Reish Lakish's own observation on the joys of marriage or some type of received tradition (unlikely). Its unclear how much grief the basket/load is supposed to include. R' Mohe Feinstein (on whose rulings R' Rackman supposedly relied (see the summary in this article) believs it to be finite, and in a case where the husband is impotent or homosexual, R' Moshe ruled that Reish Lakish's principle does not apply and you can claim Mekach Ta'us.

I am far from an expert in R' YB Soloveitchik's p'sak, but I would guess that he would disagree with R Moshe in the above two case, as the woman will still have company, if nothing else.

In the Talmud, the statement is cited in relation to engagement by proxy (Kiddushin 41a), one who is "mezakeh" a get to his wife in the midst of a quarrel (unclear - a quarrel of which intensity) (Yevamot 118b), that a woman would be willing to accept a levirate marriage with a brother with a terrible skin disease for a woman is happy with anything (Bava Kamma 111a) - this last statement ought to be clarified in light of the interesting Gemara that states that a woman is pleased to receive the honor bestowed on a married woman, even if she marries a very short husband - but with the addition that she will cheat" and use her husband as cover, an addition that shows that a moral woman would perhaps not be satisfied with such a husband?, the last case is (Kiddushin 7a) that a woman will be willing to get engaged for minimal payment (adam chashuv).

It would seem that the Talmud at least placed the basket of grief to be quite large, and that as long as the man can act in at least some of the roles of a husband, the marriage will stand. The fact that all this is observably not the opinion of women today (metaphysical personality or no) makes for a real challenge.

[Update: I see that there are many great sources on this topic in Otzar HaPoskim V. 13 pg. 109 ff. I hope to update this post soon.]


Anonymous said...

i always thought 'du' meant 'two,' as in tuo, or 'a basket/load of two.'

wolf2191 said...

this is how Rashi learns, but grief makes for a more meaningful quote, so I think it is the better reading.

Yitzhak said...

Rashi (Bava Kama 110a and Kesuvos 75a) does indeed understand the verse as Anonymous does (and he translates טן as גוף, not 'basket'), but Jastrow (s.v. טנדו) translates as Wolf does. [Jastrow cites the Targum of Job 17:16 in support, but I'm not sure how he understands that Targum itself.]

Anonymous said...

The word "guf" in the sense of basket, per Rashi, is used in the last chapter of Bava Kama.


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