Menachem Mendel

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Rabbi Zera under attack

Haaretz has an article describing a number of recent articles which have been published in HaTzofeh discussing the laws of niddah. Dr. Daniel Rosenak started the discussion by writing an article calling for a possible rethinking of some of the laws of Niddah. I couldn’t find the interview with him on the website of HaTzofeh but it can be found here, a critique by R. Benny and Noa Lau can be found here, and Dr. Rozenak’s response. His discussion of the topic, all of which I haven’t yet read, sounds similar to what has been said already by others, among them Prof. Judith Hauptman in her book Rereading the Rabbis: A Woman’s Voice. Probably the key text in the discussion is the following:

Said R. Zera: The daughters of Israel assumed a stringency upon themselves, that even if they see a blood spot the size of a mustard seed they sit for seven clean days. (Niddah 66a) [trans. Hauptman, p. 157]

Hauptman stresses that we have to read R. Zera’s statement in the context of both the preceding and following statements, and then we can understand that he is not talking about niddah but rather zivah (“a menstrual-type flow outside the usual time period or for longer than seven days”-definition from here). In her book Hauptman analyzes how this stringency from the laws of zivah was eventually instituted for the laws of niddah. It will be interesting to see if anything develops from this. I know that a responsum was accepted by the CJLS a number of months ago which I think took a similar approach as to the one that Dr. Rosenak and Prof. Hauptman have advocated.

2 Responses to “Rabbi Zera under attack”

  1. 1
    Menachem Mendel:

    It is the key text in the discussion, though not the only one (for instance, another one)….
    Drew Kaplan | Homepage | 12.11.06 – 12:46 am | #

    1)a good deal of moshe benovitz’s review of several contemporary hilchot niddah books centers around the treatment of the chumra of r’ zeira.
    2)locating this chumra in its broader persian/zoroastrian context is the subject of my brother-in-law (shai secunda)’s forthcoming dissertation.
    adderabbi | Homepage | 12.11.06 – 9:02 am | #

    MM – if you want I can send you some material, but i would just like to point out that contra Hauptman, the term shiva neqiyim is never used in classical rabbinic literature to describe the -standard- period of a zavah waiting seven days for purification. Also, it is unclear why Hauptman advocates reading R. Zera in the context of Rabbi’s decree. If she’s interested in getting at “the original” R. Zera, then it is uncritical to take it as the Bavli presents it. It is actually quite clear that statement circulated as an independent memra that was only placed next to Rabbi’s decree at a relatively late stage.

    What bugs me about the recent debate is the muddling of talmudic scholarship – that is critical scholarship about what niddah practices were like in Sasanian Babylonia, and halakhic scholarship – that is scholarship that is concerned with the evolution of halakha through Gaonic works, Medieval codes, and more modern handbooks. That’s what amazes me about Benovitz’s work, and some of the articles in the hatzofeh debate – who in their right mind thinks that halakhic Judaism in 2006 is talmudic Judaism! And everyone thinks they’re a hadshan because they point out that the Bavli’s formulation of R. Zera has him pointing to a custom. What gives? I think the debate raises some very interesting questions, but absolutely nothing is accomplished by engaging in (not always sound!) source critical criticism of the Bavli!
    s secunda | 12.11.06 – 10:14 am | #


    Thanks for the comments. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I would be interested if you could send some more sources. It’s not on my radar at the comment, but it’s always good to have something in the files. You make some good points about Judith Hauptman’s reading. I am not at all surprised about Moshe Benovitz’s approach, having studied with him I can tell you that his approach is to see the Talmud as authoratative and everything that is post-Talmudic on an equal footing. Sort of a modern incarnation and somewhat similar approach of the Maharshal and the Gra. R. Joel Roth has written some important things about Talmudic and Halakhic scholarship on one hand, and how they differ not only from each other but also from pesak halakha. A short presentation of his ideas can be found in his article in The Seminary at 100.
    Menachem Mendel | Homepage | 12.11.06 – 10:48 am | #

    Where is Benovitz’s review of niddah books located?
    Anonymous | 12.11.06 – 6:26 pm | # acce….1benovitz.html
    is the benovitz review
    adderabbi | Homepage | 12.12.06 – 3:08 pm | #

  2. 2
    Rav Moshe and Seven Clean Days « Menachem Mendel:

    […] recent episodes of Srugim, addressing the question of the Seven Clean Days. Shai links to an older post of mine which reported an attempt to be more lenient with regard to these days when the timing of a […]




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