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Sanhedrin, 75


QUESTION: Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav relates that there was a man who became infatuated with a certain woman. He became sick out of his infatuation for the woman, and the doctors said that unless he could be together with her, he would die. The Chachamim declared that he should rather die and not sin with the woman. The doctors then said let if she were to stand in front of him unclad, the man would live. The Chachamim again ruled that it is better that he die. The doctors then said that if she speaks with him from the other side of a fence, the man would live. The Chachamim still ruled that the man should die and not speak to the woman from the other side of a fence.

The Gemara then records an argument about the circumstances of the case. One opinion says that the woman was married, and thus the ruling of the Chachamim was clear, as the Isur of Eshes Ish is an Isur d'Oraisa of Arayos and it is fitting to make safeguards. Another opinion maintains that the woman was not married. The Gemara asks, according to this opinion, why did the Chachamim not permit the man to see, or talk to, the woman, in order to save his life? Even if doing so would lead them to sin, the sin would not be severe as she was not married (see ARUCH LA'NER)! Rav Papa answers that the Chachamim did not permit it because it would have caused a serious blemish to the reputation of the woman's family. Rav Acha brei d'Rav Ika says that the Chachamim wanted to prevent Jewish girls from becoming accustomed to standing in front of men, making themselves unchaste.

The argument concerning whether the woman was single or married seems to have Halachic consequences. According to the opinion which maintains that the woman in the case was married, if such a case were to occur in which the woman is single, then it would seem that it would be permitted to let her be seen, or talk to, the dying man in order to save his life. Which opinion do we follow in practice?

The RAMBAM (Hilchos Yesodei ha'Torah 5:9) rules that even in a case in which the woman is unmarried, we do not permit a person to see her or talk to her, in order that Jewish girls not be unchaste.

The BEIS YOSEF (YD 157) asks why the Rambam rules this way. Since there are two opinions in the Gemara, and the question involves saving the man's life by letting him see or talk with the woman, we should follow the rule that in cases of life and death, we rule leniently, and we should let the man see or talk to the unmarried woman!


(a) The Beis Yosef gives two answers. First, he explains that being stringent in this case involves *inaction*. That is, we instruct her *not* to do something (talk to the man). It is only a consequence of that inaction that the man dies.

(b) Second, the Beis Yosef explains the Gemara continues and discusses the reasoning of the opinion that says that the case involved an unmarried woman, implying that this opinion is the accepted one, l'Halachah.

The first answer of the Beis Yosef implies that in any case of life and death, we do not rule leniently when the stringency would be *not* to act. RAV SHLOMO EIGER challenges this assertion. We know that on Shabbos one is allowed to clear away the rubble from a fallen structure if there is any doubt that a living person might be trapped beneath it. The Beis Yosef himself rules this way (SHULCHAN ARUCH OC 329:3). According to the Beis Yosef, being stringent in that case would involve an inaction (not clearing away the rubble), and thus we should remain inactive and not desecrate Shabbos!

(c) RAV SHLOMO EIGER offers an alternative explanation for the Rambam's stringency. He prefaces his answer by quoting the TERUMAS HA'DESHEN (#199) who discusses when one may or may not sacrifice his life in order to avoid violating a Torah prohibition. The Terumas ha'Deshen asks what is one supposed to do in a case in which there are some authorities who rule that he must sacrifice his life, while others rule in that case that he must not sacrifice his life? Do we apply the rule that one should be lenient with regard to matters of life and death? The Terumas ha'Deshen says that this rule is not always applicable. The rule that we are lenient with regard to a case of life and death applies only in a case in which the Torah clearly says that it is better to violate a certain prohibition than to lose one's life. However, in a case where there is a matter of Kidush Hashem involved, it might be better to die than to transgress the Torah.

Rav Shlomo Eiger explains that the case of our Gemara is also different. We cannot extrapolate from other cases of life and death in which the rule is to be lenient, to the case of our Gemara. In the case of our Gemara, permitting the man to talk to the unmarried woman would be a dangerous precedent that might cause Jewish girls to become promiscuous, which would constitute serious harm to the well-being of the Jewish people. The RAN (in Maseches Shabbos) cites the BA'AL HALACHOS GEDOLOS who equates a damage to the public well-being of the Jewish people to a life and death situation. Therefore, the Rambam did not apply the normal rule that we are lenient in cases of life and death.

(d) The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM quotes a source that states that we do not apply the rule of Piku'ach Nefesh in this case, because the man brought his troubles upon himself by constantly letting his evil inclination take hold of him with thoughts about this woman. Since his trouble is of his own doing, we tell him that if he wants to get out of the trouble, then it must also be of his own doing, by fighting against and defeating his Yetzer ha'Ra (see RASHI to 31b, DH l'd'Ziv Lei, regarding Mar Ukva, who defeated his Yetzer ha'Ra in a similar situation and merited to receive a spiritual light over his head). (Y. Montrose)


QUESTION: Rav Ashi implies that we are able to learn which female relatives a man is forbidden to marry from the corresponding relatives of his wife whom he is forbidden to marry. The Gemara asks that the Mishnah in Yevamos (21a) teaches that a man's grandmother is prohibited to him as one of the Sheniyos, the relatives prohibited by the Rabanan. According to Rav Ashi, just as a man's wife's maternal grandmother is forbidden to him by Torah law, his own maternal grandmother should also be forbidden to him by Torah law!

Abaye answers that the verse specifically excludes a man's grandfather from the prohibition of Arayos when it says, "Imcha Hi" -- "she is your mother" (Vayikra 18:7), excluding his grandmother.

Why, though, does the Torah include in the Isur of Arayos one's wife's grandmother, while one's own grandmother is not included?


(a) The ME'IRI explains that the Torah understands the nature of people and it forbids that which is more common.

What does the Me'iri mean? Certainly a relationship with a mother is not common and yet the Torah still forbids it! The Me'iri apparently addresses this question when he continues and says that since a mother is in close bodily contact with her son all the time, especially when her son is young, the Torah found it necessary to write that from when her son turns nine, a mother can be guilty of having relations with her son.

(b) The RADVAZ (1:352) explains that we do not use normal logical methods, such as a Kal v'Chomer, in order to determine what is forbidden with regard to the Isurim of Arayos. These prohibitions are decrees from Hashem; certain people are permitted to a person and certain people are forbidden.

The Radvaz seems to agree with the RAMBAN (Vayikra 18:6) who says that there is no simple or obvious reason why the Torah forbids these relationships. The Ramban does say that there is a hidden reason (based on Kabalah) related to the "Sod ha'Ibur," but he does not reveal its nature.

In contrast, the RAMBAM and IBN EZRA say that these are the women who are most commonly around a person, and thus the Torah wanted to make sure that the close relationships do not lead to such immoral behavior.

The Ramban asks many questions on their approach. One question is based on our Gemara. A man's own grandmother is usually around him much more than his wife's grandmother, and thus according to the logic of the Rambam and Ibn Ezra, there is more reason to forbid his grandmother than to forbid his wife's grandmother!

We can answer this question based on the words of the Me'iri cited above, and as further elucidated by the Radvaz. The Radvaz gives a logical reason to explain why the Torah prohibits one's wife's grandmother and not one's own grandmother, even though, he says, a logical reason is not necessary. He explains that if a man is fifty years old and marries a woman who is sixteen, her grandmother easily could be a few years *younger* than her husband, and her husband could be attracted to her. Therefore, the Torah prohibits this relationship. However, a man's own maternal grandmother will always be much older than he is, making it extremely uncommon for such an attraction to occur. According to this explanation, we can understand the reasoning of the Rambam and Ibn Ezra. The Torah forbids relationships based not only on the proximity of these people to him, but based also on how attractive such a relationship would be to a person. Therefore, the Torah does not find it necessary to prohibit a man's grandmother, while it does find it necessary to prohibit a man's wife's grandmother. (See SEFORNO ibid. for an additional insight into the nature of these prohibitions.) (Y. Montrose)

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