Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev
Kiddushin 21- 80b
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We have arrived at a turning point in the fourth chapter of Massekhet Kiddushin. Whereas until now we have been discussing yuchesin, issues pertaining to genealogy, and also the concept of chazaka, the rest of our chapter relates to the halakha of yichud. Yichud is the law that prohibits a man and woman from being in a secluded place together; its purpose is to ensure that they not violate the laws of sexual morality. Without further ado, let's jump in to the sugya. We begin with the mishna on 80b.
Mishna A man may not be secluded with two women,
but one woman may become secluded with two men;
Rabbi Shimon says: "Even one man
may become secluded with two women when his wife is with him,
and he may sleep with them in a lodging,
because his wife guards him."
A man may become secluded with his mother and with his daughter;
and he may sleep with them with closeness of flesh (bodily contact);
and if they have grown up - she sleeps in her clothes
and he sleeps in his clothes.
מתני' לא יתייחד אדם עם שתי נשים,
אבל אשה אחת מתייחדת עם שני אנשים;
רבי שמעון אומר: אף איש אחד
מתייחד עם שתי נשים בזמן שאשתו עמו
וישן עמהם בפונדקי,
מפני שאשתו משמרתו.
מתייחד אדם עם אמו ועם בתו;
וישן עמהם בקירוב בשר;
ואם הגדילו - זו ישנה בכסותה
וזה ישן בכסותו.
The mishna begins by laying out the parameters of the prohibition of yichud: a man may not go into seclusion with two women, but a woman may be secluded with two men. The Gemara will explain why there is a difference between a case of a man going into seclusion with two women and that of a single woman becoming secluded with two men.
Rabbi Shimon qualifies the initial ruling and claims that if a man is accompanied by his wife, he may be in seclusion with two women, and they may even sleep in the same room in an inn; we are not concerned about inappropriate activity, because the man's wife will make sure that he does not get involved with the other women. This is built upon a point that we mentioned in our introduction but which has not been explicitly stated in our mishna: the reason for the prohibition of yichud is that we are concerned that the situation might give rise to inappropriate conduct between the man and woman. We see from our mishna that the prohibition only applies to circumstances in which the objective facts allow for such activity to take place. If the man's wife is present, there is no danger of the man violating halakha with the other women, and the prohibition of yichud does not apply.
The mishna concludes with the ruling that a man may become secluded with his mother or his daughter. This is due to the fact that one does not desire to have relations with such close relatives. Thus, they may even sleep together on the same bed. Nonetheless, once the child has grown up (the Gemara will have to define this term), the parent and child should make sure to sleep clothed rather than unclothed.
It is interesting to note that the mishna does not formulate the essential law of yichud, but rather skips right to defining its parameters. It is apparently taken as a given that there is a prohibition; the question is simply how far-reaching the prohibition is. First comes the question of numbers; presumably, once there are too many people, the situation is not defined as an act of seclusion at all. Furthermore, there are situations which are defined as seclusion but in which, based on the facts of the case, there is no concern at all that inappropriate activity will occur; the mishna defines when the prohibition does not apply for that reason as well.
It should be emphasized that the prohibition of yichud is waived only in the specific circumstances mentioned here, when the facts of the case indicate that there is no danger of forbidden activity. One cannot subjectively determine that in a particular instance there is no concern of forbidden activity. In fact, that would erode the entire concept of a safeguard. Safeguards are instituted precisely in order to guard a person from a false sense of security, and therefore cannot be subject to review in every instance. It should be further noted that once a safeguard, such as the prohibition of yichud, is introduced, one violates a prohibition even if the seclusion does not end up leading to forbidden sexual activity; the safeguard itself attains the status of an independent prohibition.
Our mishna states that Rabbi Shimon allows a man to be alone with two women when his wife is with him. This implies that even if his wife is present, he cannot be alone with one other woman. Similarly, the first opinion of the mishna apparently would not allow a man to be alone with two women even if his wife was present. Tosafot here (s.v. Rabbi Shimon) point out that these assertions are difficult to maintain in light of the Gemara in Massekhet Avoda Zara (25b), which indicates that a man can be alone with one other woman if his wife is present. According to the simple reading of our mishna, this view does not match either of the possible opinions!
Based on this difficulty, Tosafot present a slightly altered version of the mishna: "Rabbi Shimon says: 'Even one man may become secluded with two women.' When his wife is with him, he may even sleep with them in a lodging..." By ending Rabbi Shimon's statement a bit earlier, Tosafot present the continuation - the leniency when one's wife is present - as a consensus view, not the personal opinion of Rabbi Shimon. Furthermore, the case where the wife is present is unconnected to the previous discussion of one man being alone with two women, and can therefore be interpreted as allowing yichud even with one other woman, as long as one's wife is also present. This would make the Gemara in Avoda Zara consistent with the consensus position in our mishna.
Please note that in standard printings of the Talmud, a small letter aleph appears, in brackets, in the middle of the mishna. This citation refers one to the outside margin of the page, where the Hagahot ha-Gra is found. "Gra" is an acronym (Ha-Gaon Rabbeinu Eliyahu - it works in Hebrew) that refers to Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, known as the Vilna Gaon (18th century Lithuania). His short glosses on the Talmud often aim to establish the proper version of the text at hand. In our case, he rejects the emendation of Tosafot to our mishna, but claims that they are correct from the halakhic perspective. In his view, Rabbi Shimon formulated his leniency when one's wife is present in a case of a man and two other women only because that was the case being discussed in the mishna; however, the leniency applies to a case of a man and one other woman as well. This fact, and the assertion that we accept Rabbi Shimon's ruling, are supported by the Gemara in Avoda Zara.
Let us continue on in the Gemara.
Gemara What is the reason?
The Academy of Eliyahu taught: "Because the minds of women are light upon them (they are susceptible to seduction)."
From where do we know this?
Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Yishmael:
"From where is there a hint in the Torah to [the prohibition of] seclusion?
As it states: 'When your brother, son of your mother, tempts you;'
does the son of a mother tempt but the son of a father does not tempt?
Rather, to teach you: a son may be secluded with his mother,
and it is forbidden to be secluded with all of the [other] prohibited unions in the Torah."
גמ' מ"ט (מאי טעמא)?
תנא דבי אליהו: הואיל ונשים דעתן קלות עליהן.
מנא הני מילי?
א"ר יוחנן משום ר' ישמעאל:
רמז ליחוד מן התורה מנין?
שנאמר: כי יסיתך אחיך בן אמך;
וכי בן אם מסית, בן אב אינו מסית?
אלא לומר לך: בן מתייחד עם אמו,
ואסור להתייחד עם כל עריות שבתורה.
The gemara begins by questioning the initial distinction made by the mishna: what is the reason that a man cannot be secluded with two women while it is permitted for a woman and two men to be in seclusion together? The gemara answers that women are susceptible to seduction. Therefore, the presence of two women is less likely to prevent sin from taking place. It is possible that both women would be persuaded to partake in sinful activity. Even if this were not the case, one woman may not be embarrassed to sin before the other, because she knows that her friend would act in a similar fashion given the opportunity. Therefore, the prohibition of yichud applies even when there are two women. [We will see later in the gemara that the distinction between these two cases is not absolute; there are times when the prohibition applies to yichud between one woman and two men as well.]
The gemara now switches gear and asks what the source is for the prohibition of yichud in the first place. Rabbi Yishmael claims that there is scriptural allusion to the prohibition. The Torah (Devarim 13:7) warns that even if one's close relatives attempt to convince one to engage in idolatry one must avoid temptation, and the tempter must be severely punished. In this context, the Torah refers to "your brother, son of your mother;" even if the tempter is someone you trust, you should not listen. Why does the Torah specify that we are talking about the "son of your mother?" Rabbi Yishmael explains that this hints to the rule that one may have yichud with one's mother. The Torah is bringing a case in which the tempter has a very close relationship with the one he is tempting. At the same time, from the fact that it mentions "your brother, son of your mother," it seems as though we are dealing with a half-brother. Now, if the prohibition of yichud applied with one's mother, one would not be able to be around one's mother unless other people were around as well; this would drastically reduce the time that a son would spend with his mother, and would make it far less likely that two people whose only connection is their common mother would have a close relationship. It is only because there is no prohibition of yichud with one's mother that both boys spend considerable time with her, and become close with one another.
Based on this point, Rabbi Yishmael concludes his argument: the fact that the Torah hints that a man is permitted to have yichud with his mother alludes to the general rule that he may not have yichud with other women who are halakhically forbidden to him.
Rabbi Yishmael's inference was termed a "hint" by the gemara, and it is certainly not the straightforward meaning of the text. The gemara addresses this point:
The simple meaning of the verse, about what is it written?
Abayei said: It is [the style of presentation of] you do not need it:
you do not need [to state the law] regarding the son of a father, who hates him (his brother),
and gives him bad advice;
but even the son of a mother, that does not hate him - [you might] say that you should listen to him;
it teaches us [that you should not listen].
פשטיה דקרא במאי כתיב?
אמר אביי: לא מיבעיא קאמר
לא מיבעיא בן אב דסני ליה
ועייץ ליה עצות רעות,
אלא אפילו בן אם דלא סני ליה - אימא צייתי ליה,
קמ"ל (קא משמע לן).
The gemara asks why the Torah specifies "your brother, son of your mother," according to the simple reading of the text. Abayei answers that the pasuk uses this term in order to strengthen its point. If it would refer to a brother, that would include a paternal brother. At times, however, the paternal brother relationship may be strained due to the fact that they are in line to share their father's inheritance; therefore, it is conceivable that one might try to lead the other astray. A person might be more trusting of his maternal brother because, if they are from different fathers, they are not necessarily in line to share an inheritance: their common mother will be inherited by her current husband, while each of the two boys will inherit their own fathers. The Torah thus cautions that even though one might fully trust one's maternal brother, one's fidelity to God must overcome any interpersonal loyalty.
|If the gemara itself acknowledges that Rabbi Yishmael's hint is not the plain meaning of the verse, what is its significance?|
This question leads to an important point about how we look at the Torah and at many of the scriptural derivations quoted in the Gemara. The Torah was written by God and it can therefore contain multiple layers of interpretation, each of which has validity. Because of God's infinite wisdom, it is entirely possible that any word or phrase can imply several different interpretations at the same time. The straightforward (peshat) meaning of the text is important, but there are other interpretations as well that oftentimes teach us fundamentally important halakhot. In our case, the pasuk refers to the case of a tempter, as implied by the context. At the same time, the phraseology of the pasuk may hint to an entirely different issue, namely the prohibition of yichud.
We will continue next time with a further analysis of the strength of Rabbi Yishmael's teaching and, consequently, the level of severity of the prohibition of yichud.