Menachem Mendel

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Matchmaking and Non-Jews

[Disclaimer: The following post discusses certain aspects of Jewish law which for some exhibit an attitude towards non-Jews that they may find objectionable, embarrassing, better left undiscussed, or any mutation or variation of the above. Being that my current area of research focuses to some extant on many of these laws that are often not discussed by Jews, and almost certainly not in mixed Jewish-Gentile company, I will probably be posting about them with some frequency. At least personally, I don't find their discussion problematic for two reasons. The first is that I am a strong believer in the revolution in relation to non-Jews which was brought about by R. Menachem ha-Meiri, secondly, I do not think that scholars should shy away from subject matter that according to today's standards, is not democratic, unequal, etc.]

Tomorrow will be the 15th of Av, Tu be-Av, the Jewish holiday dedicated to matchmaking and other related activities. Matchmaking, שדכנות, is a fairly old institution in Jewish history, with Abraham’s servant Eliezer being one of the first (see Gen. 24). An interesting question which was addressed a number of times in the Responsa literature, is whether a Jew can be a matchmaker for two non-Jews. Some are probably wondering as to what might be the problem for a Jew to facilitate the marriage of two non-Jews, but there is a teaching found in rabbinic literature which was a potential reason for refraining from such activity. In M. Avodah Zarah 2:1, it says that a Jewess should not help a non-Jew give birth, “בת ישראל לא תיילד את הנוכרית”. The reason given for this prohibition is that she will increase the number of idol worshippers in the world (see T. Avodah Zarah 3:3 (1)). In the Talmud, B. Avodah Zarah 26a, this prohibition is mitigated somewhat if the person is receiving a salary for their work and refraining from doing so may cause enmity, איבה.

I have came across a number of times that this question was addressed in the Responsa literature. The earliest source that I know of is from R. Moshe ben R. David Chalawah, a.k.a. Maharam Chalawah (1290-1370). In a fairly short responsum (no. 39), Maharam Chalawah answers that it is surely prohibited for a Jew to act as a matchmaker between two non-Jews, because they would increase the number of idol worshippers in the world. He continues and says that he has actually heard about a prohibition mentioned from the Jerusalem Talmud, “גם שמעתי דאיכא בירוש’ לא תתחתן בם קרי ביה לא תחתן”. The editor of his responsa refers the reader to J. Avodah Zarah 1:9, 40b. There the statement is brought that a Jew should not be a שושבין for a non-Jew. Michael Sokoloff translates this word as “a bridegroom’s attendant.” The conclusion of his responsum shows the tension between what the rabbi wants, and what he is able to get.”אבל מה אעשה והעם נהגו בו התר, והנח להם לישראל מוטב שיהו שוגגין”. “But what am I to do, for the people act as if it is permitted. Leave Israel alone, it is better that they transgress unknowingly [than knowlingly] (see B. Beitzah 30a and parallels). So despite his feeling that such an act was prohibited, Maharam Chalawah felt that there was little that he could do.

A second responsum is a few hundred years later than that of Maharam Chalawah. Rabbi Judah ben Israel Assad was born in Aszod, Hungary, in 1794, and died in 1866 (from the Responsa Project bio). In his collection of responsa,Yehudah Ya’aleh, vol. I, YD, no. 230, he was asked whether a poor Jew can try and make some money arranging marriage for non-Jews. R. Assad does not quote any material from Talmudic literature, rather his citations are from the works of the Rishonim and Aharonim. R. Assad begins by saying that the answer seems to be obvious. If a Jewish doctor is permitted to help a non-Jewish woman give birth, all the more so just arranging a marriage shouldn’t be problematic, since there is no guarantee that they will even have children. R. Assad addresses a number of issues, but there is one other comment of his which I found very interesting. He entertains that possibility that the offspring of these two non-Jews might be a righteous person, or that they may even convert. “דשמא יהיה הזרע מחסידי או”ה שיש להם חלק עוה”ב ובעלמא אמרי’ דלמא נפיקי מיניה זרעא מעליא מי שיתגייר.” So the possibility exists that a Jew would be inhibiting the creation of a righteous person, or even another Jew.

There are a number of other responsa that I have found which address this question, and the above are two of them.

6 Responses to “Matchmaking and Non-Jews”

  1. 1
    wolf2191:

    Thanks! I didn’t know about this article when I wrote my Meiri post – http://ishimshitos.blogspot.com/2008/08/religious-tolerance-in-writings-of.html.

    Have you seen the dissertation I quoted there? I’ve got to say that part on Gentiles as an other would seem to support H.’s position.

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:

    I haven’t seen the dissertation. I’ll have to look at it.

  3. 3
    andy:

    The first is that I am a strong believer in the revolution in relation to non-Jews which was brought about by R. Menachem ha-Meiri I would say more like a delayed reaction, there are not many/any? echoes of Meiri’s opinion for another several hundred years.

  4. 4
    andy:

    That didn’t come out right.

  5. 5
    Menachem Mendel:

    Andy,

    In my original post I was actually planning to add the question that why the Meiri was, and still is, ignored is a question for another time. A large part of it is that most people simply didn’t have access to Beit ha-Bechirah. The more difficult question is that now that everyone knows what the Meiri wrote, and has access to it, why is he still ignored by many? It’s a good question.

  6. 6
    Lion of Zion:

    “Being that my current area of research focuses to some extant on many of these laws . . .”

    when you publish your first book on this topic, i hope you will give me 2 copies gratis. one for my library and one to condemn to the bonfires that my neighbors will ignite in your honor.

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