Daf 80b continued

  • Rav Michael Siev

Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Kiddushin 23 - 80b continued

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Over the past two weeks, we have been studying the issur (prohibition) of yichud, which forbids men and women to become secluded together lest they come to sinful activity. The mishna (80b) rules that this issur applies even if there are two women alone with one man, but not if there are two men in seclusion with one woman. Our gemara addresses this ruling.

We begin from the "two-dots," eight lines from the bottom of 80b.

But one woman (etc.):

Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav:

"We only learned regarding [men who are] reliable,

but regarding promiscuous [men] - even ten are also not [allowed]."

There was an incident, and ten took her (a married woman) out on a bier. 

Rav Yosef said: "Know [that the previous distinction is correct];

for ten get together and steal a [heavy] beam

and they are not embarrassed from each other."

Say that [the following teaching] supports him:

"We give to him two Torah scholars,

lest he cohabit with her on the way;"

Torah scholars yes, regular men no!

Torah scholars are different, for they know to warn him.

אבל אשה אחת:

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב:

לא שנו אלא בכשרים,

אבל בפרוצים - אפילו בי עשרה נמי לא;

הוה מעשה והוציאוה עשרה במטה.

אמר רב יוסף: תדע,

דמיחברי בי עשרה וגנבי כשורא

ולא מיכספי מהדדי.

נימא מסייע ליה:

מוסרין לו שני תלמידי חכמים,

שמא יבא עליה בדרך;

תלמידי חכמים אין, אינשי דעלמא לא!

שאני תלמידי חכמים, דידעי לאתרויי ביה.

As we have discussed in the past, the issur of yichud is meant as a safeguard to ensure that people do not violate a more severe transgression of sexual immorality. That being the case, the issur was not instituted when the objective facts of the case indicate that there is no concern that the severe transgression will take place. It is this point that allows two men to become secluded with one woman; we are not concerned that either man will sin in the presence of the other. The gemara quotes Rav, who qualifies this ruling: that is only when it comes to men who are considered religiously trustworthy. Men who are suspect of promiscuous activity, however, may not be embarrassed to sin in the presence of another man; therefore, the dispensation of the mishna would not apply to them.

It is interesting to note that even men deemed reliable are not allowed to become secluded with a woman on their own. Perhaps this is a reflection of the Gemara's dictum that "There is no guarantor for arayot (forbidden sexual relations" (Ketuvot 13b); in other words, no one may become complacent and assume that he is totally beyond danger of succumbing to the inclination for forbidden sexual activity.

Rav Yosef confirms Rav's distinction by pointing out that it is common to find groups of robbers; apparently, people who are not sensitive to the prohibition are not embarrassed to engage in such activity in the presence of others, especially if they are like-minded. The same should hold true regarding sexual immorality.

The gemara then seeks to back up Rav's ruling on the basis of a mishna (Sota 7a); this is a phenomenon that we have seen many times during our course, in which the Gemara marshals support for the ruling of an Amora by appealing to an earlier statement of a Tanna. The mishna deals with the laws of a sota. This refers to a woman whose husband has warned her not to become secluded with a particular man (which, as we know, is prohibited anyway by the law of yichud). If she becomes secluded with the man in violation of the warning, yet denies that they have committed adultery, the Torah (Bamidbar 5:11-31) requires that the wife undergo a special test in the Beit Ha-mikdash (Temple). The essential part of the test includes dipping a section of the Torah into water, which results in the erasing of God's Name. The woman then drinks the water; if she has committed adultery she dies, and if she has not, she lives and receives blessings. (The hope is also that once suspicions of adultery have been removed, the couple can begin to repair the trust in their relationship.) One detail of this procedure is that the test is only effective if the husband himself has refrained from wrongdoing in the area of sexual morality. Once the woman has become secluded and requires the test, the couple is not allowed to engage in sexual relations. In order to ensure that the test will be effective - and especially because it would be terribly disrespectful to erase the Name of God for no reason - the couple is provided with two Torah scholars who accompany them on their way to the Beit Ha-mikdash in order to ensure that they not engage in sexual relations during their journey. 

We can finally come to the relevance of this mishna to our sugya. From the fact that two Torah scholars are necessary to chaperon the couple, we can deduce that men who are not scholars would be insufficient. Apparently, the husband would not be embarrassed to sin in the company of two regular people. This would prove Rav's distinction between men who are trustworthy and those suspect of promiscuity. 

The gemara answers that this mishna cannot be used to prove Rav's distinction. Perhaps the reason that we require Torah scholars is not due to a concern about yichud (or because the husband would be willing to sin in the presence of two regular people), but rather because the chaperons need the credibility to inform the husband of the consequences of his actions. The scholars will warn the husband that if he cohabits with his wife the sota test will not work, and he will therefore overcome his inclination to sin.

We continue in the Gemara, on the first line of 81a.

Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav:

"We only learned [the mishna's rule] in a city,

but on a road - [it is forbidden] until there are three [men],

lest one of them need to urinate,

and one will be secluded with [a woman forbidden as] an erva.

Say that [the following teaching] supports him:

"We give him two Torah scholars, lest he come upon her on the road;"

two and him (the husband) are three!

There [we supply two observers], so that they can be witnesses against him.

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב:

ל"ש (לא שנו) אלא בעיר,

אבל בדרך - עד שיהיו שלשה,

שמא יצטרך אחד מהם להשתין,

ונמצא אחד מתייחד עם הערוה.

נימא מסייע ליה:

מוסרים לו שני תלמידי חכמים, שמא יבא עליה בדרך;

תרי ואיהו הא תלתא!

התם כי היכי דניהוו עליה סהדי.  

The gemara begins by quoting yet another ruling that Rav Yehuda reported in the name of Rav. We only allow seclusion between two men and one woman when they are in the city. However, when traveling on the road, it is forbidden; since it was common that one would have to walk a greater distance off the road in order to find a private place to relieve himself, the other man and the woman would effectively be alone together for a significant amount of time.

Once again, the gemara attempts to prove Rav's ruling on the basis of the mishna that we quoted above regarding sota: from the fact that we require two scholars and not just one, we see that one would not have been enough. This would seem to be due to the fact that they are traveling along the road, in accordance with Rav's ruling: if there were only one scholar in addition to the husband, there would be two men and one woman, and we would have to be concerned about the possibility of yichud if one of the men were to need to relieve himself. The gemara responds that the reason we need two scholars is not because of a concern for yichud but because of a different reason: we want the two scholars to be able to serve as witnesses in case that the couple does engage in illicit activity. The beit din (Jewish court of law) recognizes the eyewitness testimony of two witnesses as the highest possible form of proof. Thus, once we have evidence of the woman having the status of a sota, we will continue with her test unless it can be fully verified that the test should not be performed. It is absolutely imperative that we avoid any unnecessary erasure of God's Name; therefore, we provide two scholars as chaperons so that they will be able to testitfy about any wrongdoing that may take place.  


Rav and Rav Yehuda were going on the path,

and there was a particular woman walking before them;

Rav said to Rav Yehuda: "Bend your knees before gehinnom."

He said to him, "But it is master (you) who said

that with reliable men it is good (there is no prohibition with two men and one woman)!"

He said to him: "Who will say that this is with reliable men like me and you!"

Rather, like what (which men are deemed reliable)?

Like Rabbi Chanina bar Pappi and his friends.

רב ורב יהודה הוו קאזלי באורחא,

הוה קאזלא ההיא אתתא קמייהו;

א"ל רב לרב יהודה: דל כרעיך מקמי גיהנם.

אמר ליה, והא מר הוא דאמר:

בכשרים שפיר דמי!

א"ל (אמר ליה): מי יימר דבכשרים כגון אנא ואת!

אלא כגון מאי?

כגון רבי חנינא בר פפי וחביריו.

Having introduced two limitations on the mishna's ruling that it is permissible for two men and one woman to be alone together, the gemara now reports an incident that occurred with Rav and Rav Yehuda that further limits the mishna's ruling. Rav and Rav Yehuda were once walking along the road and saw that there was a woman ahead of them on the path. Rav urged his student to travel very quickly so that they would pass the woman and get out of her vicinity and thus avoid being in a sinful environment. Rav Yehuda questioned the urgency of the situation; after all, even Rav himself agrees that there is no prohibition of yichud between two trustworthy men and one woman. Rav responded that he and Rav Yehuda ought not be considered trustworthy in this regard; his leniency was only meant for people like Rabbi Chanina bar Pappi. This is a reference to the stories quoted in the Gemara on 39b-40a in which Rabbi Chanina and other sages were put in very compromising situations, yet withstood temptation and avoided sin even at the possible cost of their very lives.

Rav's surprising instruction that even people like he and his illustrious student, Rav Yehuda, are not considered reliable regarding this law has sparked considerable debate. Rambam (Issurei Bi'ah 22:8) seems to take Rav's statement at face value. If the great Rav and Rav Yehuda were not trustworthy enough to apply the mishna's leniency, no one has the right to assume that he is trustworthy, and the mishna's ruling has become, for all intents and purposes, obsolete. Rambam therefore makes a blanket statement forbidding seclusion between one woman and even multiple men. Shulchan Arukh (E.H. 22:5) adopts this view. Many other commentators, however, assume that Rav was simply being unnecessarily stringent upon himself. The strict halakha is that anyone who is generally loyal to halakha and whom we have no reason to suspect of immorality is considered reliable. This is the view adopted by Rema (ibid.), who rules that the mishna's leniency regarding trustworthy men applies in a practical sense nowadays. 

Our sugya highlights the interplay between different layers of Rabbinic teaching. One cannot get a complete picture of the halakha from reading the mishna alone, which makes a blanket statement that permits yichud between one woman and two men. The gemara quotes Rav, who defines the parameters of the mishna's lenient ruling: that applies only to men who are trustworthy and only in the city, where we are not concerned about yichud eventually taking place between one of the men and the woman. The gemara concludes by citing Rav's behavior in a particular incident; the behavior of the sages is considered a legitimate proof of halakhic policy, and at times is even given more weight than traditions regarding one teaching or another. In our case, the gemara cites this story either to severely limit the definition of "reliable," as Rambam understands, or perhaps to demonstrate Rav's great piety, as expressed by his unwillingness to apply the leniency to himself.