On tomorrow’s daf (Ketuboth 17) the Talmud describes the importance of dancing and making merry in front of a bride at her wedding.
I was struck by the strange addition that is wedged in between quoting lyrics of a song sung to the bride and a passage describing the types of juggling performed for her. The flow of the Gemarah jumps from songs for a bride (“you don’t need eye shadow nor rouge- you are beautiful) to songs for Rabbis. First the Rabbis sing the very same song about natural beauty that doesn’t require make up to Rav Zeiri at his misibat smicha (his ordination party). Then it describes songs sung about he intelligence of the smicha students being ordained, and lastly the Gemarah records the song of peace sung by the women of the Caesar’s palace who greet the visiting Rabbi. All songs that focus on the beauty, intelligence, and prestige of men.
And then without a blink of an eye the Gemarah returns to the wedding, returns to dancing with the bride.
What came to mind was a chapter in Boyarin’s book Carnal Israel. He advances a theory that the Rabbis are more in love with their learning and their chavrutot (male learning partners) than their wives. He doesn’t go so far as to call the Rabbis gay- but I think he may be hinting at it (as far as I can remember). In our Gemarah as well the discussion about singing songs of women’s beauty makes the Rabbis think of each other and not the women who they have been objectifying as virgins and non virgins for the last 17 pages.
In fact I’m not sure if the Rabbis are genuine at all when they sing and dance in front of the bride. Hillel says in his humane tone, that one should praise the beauty of a bride even if she is not beautiful. He compares her to a piece of bad merchandise, which should be praised only if it can’t be returned to the shuk. If anything it is for the husband, who has already chosen his produce to whom the song is meant to comfort. Hillel could or should have said, every bride has something genuinely worth admiring, instead of suggesting that some occasions it is appropriate to lie.
Also the Gemarah tells us of Rav Acha who used to dance with the bride on his shoulders. When other Rabbis enquire whether they should follow his example, they are told they too can carry the bride on their shoulders only if they can envision the bride as a board (a non arousing image). I’m not arguing that lustful Rabbis should go around carrying other men’s brides on their shoulders. In fact I didn’t miss it at my wedding, and I think a chair carried by strong modern women, does the same trick. But I am disturbed by the detachment that these Rabbis must summon in order to falsely praise brides that they don’t find attractive and coldly carry around brides they in fact do fancy. What must they be thinking about as they detach from their true emotions? Maybe their chavrutas.