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Table Talk: Mishpatim

Marital Obligations


“If he shall take another (wife) in addition to her, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital relationship.” (Exodus 21:10) We derive the Biblical obligations of husband towards his wife from this verse. Why would the Torah choose

to introduce the marital obligations in the context of a young girl sold by her father as a slave? Why does the Torah teach the positive obligations in the negative; “he shall not diminish”? Is the Torah describing the vulnerability of a young girl sold into slavery as an indication of the natural fears of marriage any young woman would have? Is there a difference between a man believing that he is fulfilling his obligations to his wife or a man who understands that these three extensive categories of obligations are his wife’s and he may not take away from what is hers? I imagine that a marriage that needs a book of laws on the kitchen table to guide the husband and wife is not a very good marriage. The Halachot are to be understood as principles of relationship. What are the three principles we can derive from his obligation to provide love, food and clothing?



Doctor, Doctor

“Only for his lost time shall he pay, and he shall provide for healing.” (21:19) It was taught in the Yeshiva of Rabbi Yishmael: “Virapo yirapei” – and he shall provide for healing – we derive from the double wording (in Hebrew) that a doctor has permission to heal. (Bava Kamma 85b) Nachmanides: The doctor has permission to use his skills and knowledge to heal and is not liable for his mistakes. (Sponsored by the AMA under protest of the Trial Lawyers Association of America) Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski explained that the double wording means that, unlike the Ultimate Healer – God – a doctor may have to try numerous times to diagnose and heal a disease. Another reason that a doctor needs permission to heal is that “A person will not bang his finger below, in this world, unless it was first proclaimed above in the heavens.” (Chullin 7a) Many felt that doctors were attempting to battle God’s will. (I recommend Descartes’ Bones by Russel Shorto for a fascinating description of the battles between the church and doctors until Descartes’ appearance.) King Hezekiah hid the Book of Healings forever and was praised by the Sages. He did not do this to prevent people from using doctors, but to prevent people from believing in it magical powers. (Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishna, Pesachim 4:9) Rashi believes that it was to convince people to pray to God for healing. (Rashi) The Maharsha (Gittin 70a) ponders whether Rashi actually was recommending turning to prayer instead of doctors, rather than to use both prayer and medicine. What are the implications of using modern medicine to heal an illness decreed by God?

“We Will Do and We Will Hear”

“He took the Book of the Covenant and read it in earshot of the people and they said, ‘Everything that God has spoken, we will do and we will hear.’” Rabbi Elazar said, “At the time that Israel preceded ‘wee will do’ to ‘we will hear’ a Heavenly voice emanated and said to them, “Who revealed to My children this secret which is used by the ministering angels?” (Shabbat 88a) Sounds pretty good to me! ‘Rabbi Simai taught that at the time Israel preceded “we will do” to “we will hear” sixty myriads of ministering angels came to each and every Jew and tied two crowns on their heads.’ Sounds even better. The sages were not as impressed! “There are seven thieves: The worst is one who steals peoples minds by misleading them. Israel attempted to mislead the Highest Mind at Sinai when they said ‘we will do and we will hear.” (Tosefta, Bava Kamma, Chapter 7) This last selection does not sound quite as good. What was so wonderful about their proclamation and why does the Tosefta understand it as misleading?

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