Had an interesting conversation with a teacher at Matan about how seriously to take categories and cases constructed by the Rabbis. Sometimes it is clear that there are fundamental values and conceptions that underlie the opinions of the Rabbis, while others – this teacher was saying- that the Rabbis are technically playing with categories without really intending the conceptual implications of their constructions.

For example- the opinions about rape discussed yesterday: When Rav Abahu says all women who are raped are forbidden from returning to their husbands what does he really mean? Here are three possibilities for the deeper meaning – or lack their of – implied by his statement.  

1) Is he making a psychological point that women are so easily swayed that they really enjoy and desire the rape. Therefore he assumes most women consent at some point during rape and truly cheat on their husband’s during the act.

2) Or does he think the fact of rape in itself is a form of bodily infidelity (despite the woman’s inability to prevent it). Then imagining women’s desire may be an artificial vehicle used to force a man to divorce his wife despite her emotional or intellectual fidelity.

3) Or is he playing a detached game of halacha; he toys with the concept of a deed that started by accident or by compulsion and ended with desire and consent. He applies it to rape as it may be applied to any of many areas of law.

The same can be asked about Rava, who acquits a woman who displays desire for her rapist. Does he see actually see the woman as super sexual? Does he create the case to be the most extreme as possible just to prove his point that rape is always rape. Perhaps he believes that a woman does not truly consent even when she feels pleasure? Or does he believe a woman who consents only because a rapist brought her to this desire to this evil inclination is ultimately not responsible. Or is it a technical point that the original impetus of an act defines rape, and any act, despite the final motivations or feelings.

I personally don’t want to believe that the Rabbis were so disconnected from their material that, as the last possibilities suggest, they thought about all deeds similarly, applying theoretical conceptions to rape without imagining and considering the cases at hand.

But perhaps the Rabbis were disengaged from the material at hand. I can fathom that good Jewish men don’t think about raping women, it is far from their daily thoughts and plans. While women, as I mentioned last post, think and dream and obsess over issues of rape even when they live in relatively safe neighborhood and take normal precautions against being alone in the wrong places. When we learn Gemarah, perhaps we search harder for the conceptual and sociological implications of these halachik stands.

But I would suggest that even if these weren’t “real” in the psyche of the Rabbis, I do think that the cases represent the imagination of the Rabbis. More on imagination next time.

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