Daf 81a continued

  • Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Kiddushin 25 - Daf 81a continued

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Over the past few weeks, we have been studying the laws of yichud, which prohibit a man and woman from being alone together, lest they come to sin. Last week, we learned a sugya that provides three important guidelines for the issur (prohibition of yichud), each of which deserves more attention:

1) If the woman's husband is in the city, the issur of yichud does not apply.

2) If there is an opening to the public domain, the issur of yichud does not apply.

3) The leniency of the woman's husband being in town is not applicable if the man and woman are "familiar" to each other.

Let us start from the beginning. What is the reason for leniency in a situation in which the woman's husband is in town? Rashi on our sugya (s.v. Ba'alah ba-ir) explains that the fear of the woman's husband returning home will prevent them from engaging in sinful behavior. Rambam (Hil. Issurei Bi'ah, 22:12), however, writes in more general terms that we are lenient "because the fear of the husband is upon her," and the Shulchan Arukh (EH 22:8), as he often does, adopts the Rambam's wording. This formulation has led some authorities to suggest that according to the Rambam, it is not the specific fear of discovery that prevents the woman from engaging in adulterous behavior when her husband is in town, but rather the fact that her husband's close proximity places him more firmly in her consciousness.

This question may give rise to a dispute in situations that are extremely common nowadays. What if the husband is in town but there is no fear that he might walk in the door any minute? This is a very common occurrence in an age when someone's location can be verified from a distance via telephone, and cities are often big enough that it can take quite some time for the husband to travel home. Similarly, what if the wife goes somewhere else, outside of her home, and her husband does not know where she is? In both of these circumstances, there is no fear that the husband will suddenly arrive home any moment and discover his wife's impropriety. On the other hand, if we assume that his close proximity places him prominently in his wife's concsiousness, perhaps the fear of discovery is not necessary and the leniency will apply even to these cases. Halakhic authorities debate what the accepted policy should be in such cases; while there is still a lack of clear consensus on the issue, it seems that the majority are unwilling to apply the Gemara's leniency (see, for example, Rav Moshe Feinstein's Igrot Moshe, EH 4:65).

Authorities also debate the scope of the dispensation in the case of an opening to the public domain. The reason for leniency is that the pair will not engage in immodest behavior because they will be afraid of discovery. This allows for leniency both in a case in which someone could walk in on the pair and in a case in which the pair is visible from the street, such as if they are in front of a window. With regard to someone walking in, there is a question of how easy it has to be for this to happen. Some are lenient only if the door is actually open. Some permit a man and woman to be alone even if the door is closed, as long as it is not locked and it is reasonable that someone might come in. There are some who are lenient even if the door is locked but there are other people who have a key and can enter at any time.  

After presenting the two leniencies discussed above, the gemara that we studied last week tells a story in which Rav Yosef took pains to ensure that his wife and Rav Bivi would not become secluded together despite the fact that he, Rav Yosef, was in town. The gemara explains that this is because Rav Bivi and Rav Yosef's wife were "familiar" to each other. In such cases, yichud is prohibited even if the husband is in town. This, too, must be clearly defined: what exactly does it take to be defined as "familiar?" While some authorities maintain that any relationship, even if it is casual and professional in nature, is enough to establish this status (Arukh Ha-shulchan EH 22:6), most maintain that a substantive personal relationship is necessary in order to apply this rule. The classic examples include a man and woman that grew up together or are related (but are not immediate relatives).

Back to the Gemara

Let us continue in the Gemara - we are up to the second to last short line on 81a.

 Rav Kahana said:

"Men on the outside and women on the inside -

we are not concerned about yichud;

men on the inside and women on the outside -

we are concerned about yichud."

In a beraita it was taught the opposite.

Abayei said: "Now that Rav Kahana said this,

and the beraita teaches the opposite,

I will act stringently."

Abayei would arrange pottery.

Rava would arrange reeds.

Avin said: "The weakest part of the year [is the] festival."

אמר רב כהנא:

אנשים מבחוץ ונשים מבפנים -

אין חוששין משום ייחוד;

אנשים מבפנים ונשים מבחוץ -

חוששין משום ייחוד.

במתניתא תנא איפכא.

אמר אביי: השתא דאמר רב כהנא הכי,

ותנא מתניתא איפכא,

אנא נעביד לחומרא.

אביי דייר גולפי.

רבא דייר קנה.

אמר אבין: סקבא דשתא - ריגלא.

The case under discussion in the first part of this passage is a situation in which there is an inner room that leads into an outer room, which serves as the entrance and exit to the street. The backdrop of the discussion is something we have learned previously; that there is no problem of yichud when there is one woman with multiple men, but there is a problem of yichud between one man and multiple women (we will still have to define this more precisely in a future shiur). Based on this principle, Rav Kahana teaches that if men are in the outer room and women are in the inner room, we are not concerned about a potential yichud problem; the men have no reason to enter the inner room, and if a woman enters the outer room, there is no yichud problem. On the other hand, if the men are in the inner room, a man might enter the outer room on the pretext of exiting the house, and he would end up violating the issur of yichud.

The gemara notes that a beraita addresses the same scenario but arrives a different bottom-line conclusion. As Rashi explains, this is based on a different analysis of the potential eventualities. Perhaps we should be concerned that someone from the outer room will enter the inner room; if so, we will only be safe from a violation of yichud if the men are in the inner room. On the other hand, even if a man were to enter the outer room, there is no yichud problem; he will be afraid to violate any further prohibitions out of fear that another man will enter the outer room or that someone will enter the house from the street.

Due to the conflicting conclusions, and the fact that each side presents a compelling reason for concern about one of the arrangements, Abayei comments that he would be stringent regarding each of the two arrangements.

There is a dispute among the commentators as to the full impact of this policy. Rashi (s.v. Ve-nashim ba-penimi, s.v. Ipcha) indicates that we outlaw the entire arrangement due to a concern that it will lead to a violation of yichud. Other commentators assert that the arrangement itself is not prohibited; what is at stake is whether there is a violation of yichud if a member of one group actually does end up joining the other group. The Shulchan Arukh (EH 22:6) adopts this latter view. Thus, it would not be forbidden to have men in the inner room and women in the outer room or vice versa, but the men should be careful not to spend time in the women's room.

The passage we quoted above concludes with a description of the precautionary measures that Abayei and Rava would take at public functions in order to preclude mingling of the sexes. Abayei would arrange pottery in between the two groups so that a person moving from one to the other would cause the pots to collide and make noise. Rava would similarly arrange reeds so that they would rustle if someone passed over them. These tactics were designed to make it difficult for a man or woman to join the opposite group surreptitiously. Avin similarly declared that the weakest part of the year is the festival; as Rashi explains, this is apparently because of the many public functions that would take place then, which would facilitate intermingling and lead to yichud and other inappropriate activities.

The gemara continues with further general warnings about the danger of falling into sin. We are up to the end of the third long line on 81a.

Those captive women who arrived at Naharda'a,

they brought them up to the [attic of] the house of Rav Amram the Pious,

and removed the ladder from before them.

As one of them was passing [before the opening],

a light fell upon the opening [because of her great beauty].

Rav Amram took the ladder

that ten were not able to move,

and moved it by himself.

He went and ascended;

when he got halfway up the ladder he spread [his feet to steady himself],

and raised his voice: "Fire in the house of Amram!"

הנך שבוייתא דאתאי לנהרדעא,

אסקינהו לבי רב עמרם חסידא,

אשקולו דרגא מקמייהו.

בהדי דקא חלפה חדא מנייהו

נפל נהורא באיפומא;

שקליה רב עמרם לדרגא

דלא הוו יכלין בי עשרה למדלייא,

דלייא לחודיה.

סליק ואזיל,

כי מטא לפלגא דרגא איפשח,

רמא קלא: נורא בי עמרם!  

The gemara tells a story of some captive women who, upon their release, were temporarily housed in the attic of Rav Amram the Pious. Rav Amram was seized by a powerful desire to sin, to the point that he exerted incredible energy in moving a ladder in order to proposition one of the women. As he reached the middle of the ladder that led to the attic, just a few steps away from sin, Rav Amram steadied himself and cried out, "Fire in the house of Amram!" This attracted the attention of the neighbors, who came to help out with the "fire." Rav Amram thus saved himself from sin.

The story continues:

The rabbis came. They said to him: "You have embarrassed us!"

He said to them: "It is better you should be embarrassed in the house of Amram in this world

and you will not be embarrassed because of him in the World to Come."

He made (the evil inclination) swear to leave him,

he left him as a pillar of fire;

he said to him: "Look,

you are fire and I am flesh,

and I am better than you."

אתו רבנן, אמרו ליה: כסיפתינן!

אמר להו: מוטב תיכספו בי עמרם בעלמא הדין,

ולא תיכספו מיניה לעלמא דאתי.

אשבעיה דינפק מיניה,

נפק מיניה כי עמודא דנורא,

אמר ליה: חזי,

דאת נורא ואנא בישרא,

ואנא עדיפנא מינך.

The incident with Rav Amram had attracted attention, and the rabbis complained that the publicity was embarrassing. He responded that, essentially, his ploy was necessary in order to avoid sin, and avoiding sin was so critically important that it was worth any price.

As a postscript, the gemara says that Rav Amram made the evil inclination leave him, at which point it left in the form of a pillar of fire. Rav Amram declared that he, made from flesh and blood, was stronger than the fiery evil inclination.

Why do you think the Gemara tells this unusual story?

A couple of thoughts come to mind. Firstly, the story comes to highlight the danger that sin poses. No one can assume that he is beyond temptation; even Rav Amram the Pious was overcome by his sudden desire, to the point that he came dangerously close to sinning. (With regard to this particular incident, it is quite relevant to mention a principle that the Gemara expresses in several places, which is that great people are sometimes tested with unusually strong temptations to sin.) At the same time, the gemara emphasizes how critically important it is to rise to the challenge. This is apparent from Rav Amram's response to the rabbis, in which is points out that refraining from sin is worth any price one would have to pay in this world.

Finally, the gemara intends to demonstrate that it is possible to overcome temptation. Rav Amram was apparently completely overtaken by his desire, yet managed to have a flickering objection of his conscience. Sensing that he might again be overpowered by his desire, he seized the opportunity that his moment of strength presented and took drastic action to ensure that he would not succumb to his evil inclination. This is further demonstrated by the postscript: when the evil inclination left him (in the form of a fire - the same image originally used by Rav Amram!), Rav Amram exulted that he had proven himself to be even stronger than the fire of temptation.