parshat Nasso, Numbers 5-6
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on June 9th 2022 as we read the text of the weekly portion through the eyes of the iconic Torah Commentator; Rashi. Keep in mind that Rashi was the proud father of four daughters (no sons) and had a day job as a vintner. Did this affect his treatment of the Sotah (Unfaithful Wife) and the sober Nazirite? Grab a glass of wine and let’s discuss. L’chaim!
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Join us today as we read about the Unfaithful wife and the sober Nazirite through the eyes of the iconic Torah Commentator; Rashi. Keep in mind that Rashi was the proud father of four daughters (he had no sons) and had a day job as a winemaker. Does this affect his commentary? Grab a glass of wine and let’s discuss. Rashi, Women and Wine. L’Chaim
Well, welcome to Madlik. I feel like Shavuot is over. We’ve all received the Torah so we should all be excited to tackle the Torah this week. And before I even begin reading the text of this week’s parsha. You know, there’s a lot being said today about DAF Yomi. Everybody is talking about DAF Yomi. But I think and Rabbi You can correct me on this, probably the earliest tradition of doing something where everybody did it. And I’m not saying just reading the Parsha is something called Chumash and Rashi where by every Friday, you had to go through the whole Parsha and read it not only the text, but through the eyes and with the commentary of Rashi. Is that true?
Adam Mintz 01:46
So, I’m gonna tell you an amazing thing, which actually Sharon knows much better than I do. You know, printing started around the year 1450. We know that the Gutenberg Bible was printed. Before that everything was hand written. And the first Jewish book that was printed in history about 1470 was actually Chumash and Rashi which I guess is not surprising that supports your claim.
Geoffrey Stern 02:11
Yeah, I mean, I know. And I’d love you to confirm this too, that because of that, so much of how we read the text is colored by the lens of what Rashi brings. And he doesn’t always and we’ll see this week, it’s not as though he makes things up. He just is very selective in the texts that he brings to the table so to speak. And therefore, you see the text of the Toa through the selection that Rashi makes.
Adam Mintz 02:48
Right, there’s no question. I mean, you know, when you go to yeshiva, sometimes you’re not even sure what’s Rashi. and what’s the Chumash itself, which is a funny thing, like you say something you say, doesn’t the Torah say that say no, that’s Rashi who says that?
Geoffrey Stern 03:07
That’s true. And I have to say personally, I went to a yeshiva called Be’er Yaakov, which was in a little town called Be’er Yaakov and the head of the Yeshiva was Rav Moses Shapiro, but the real star was the Mashciach someone named Rav Shlomo Wolbe and he made the Yeshiva study Chumash and Rashi for 15 minutes every morning. And he also took one student every year to study Chumash and Rashi with him. And I was fortunate in my second year there to be his Havrusa, his study partner.
Adam Mintz 03:42
Wow, that’s amazing.
Geoffrey Stern 03:43
It is and you know, I don’t even know how many things I’ve seen now through the eyes of Rabbi Wolbe seeing through the eyes of Rashi. But it’s powerful. So anyway, this week is Numbers 5, and the name of the Parsha is Nasso and it talks about the unfaithful wife and I should say it unfaithful in quotation marks Maybe yes, maybe no. It says in verse 12, speak to the Israelite people and say to them, any person whose wife has gone astray and broken faith with him, in that another man had slept with her unbeknownst to her husband, and she keeps secret the fact that she has defiled herself without being forced, and there is no witness against her. But a fit of jealousy comes over him and he is wrought up about the wife who has defiled herself. That’s one instance. Here’s another instance. Or if a fit of jealousy comes over him, and he is wrought up about his wife, although she has not defiled herself, so that is the law of the Sotah. And it’s not even clear whether she in fact, what As unfaithful, That party shall bring his wife to the priest and he shall bring as an offering for her 1/10 of an ephach of barley flour, no oil shall be poured upon it and no frankincense shall be laid on it, for it is a meal offering of jealousy. I mean, when we were studying Leviticus, we talked about sacrifices are really just a way of religion and I tradition helping people in different moments. And we knew about sacrifices of sin offerings and Thanksgiving offerings. Here we have a jealousy offering. It’s a meal offering of remembrance which recalls wrong doing, it’s not clear who’s wondering, the priest shall bring her forward and have her stand before God. The priest shall take sacred water in an earthen vessel and taking some of the earth that is on the floor of the tabernacle, the priests shall put it into the water, after he made the woman stand before God, the priest shall bare the woman’s head and place upon her hands the meal offering remembrance, which is a meal offering of jealousy. And in the priests hand shall the water of bitterness that induces the spell. So there is so much to discuss here. Sometimes I wonder whether we’ll have something to discuss next year, in the case of the Sotah, I don’t have that issue. There’s, and I’ve kind of referenced some of the areas that it triggered my interest. But I want to speak today, about one area where Rashi seems to feel very strongly. And the tradition, the text and the translation of the text is almost uniformly against him. And that relates to a very small part of what goes on. It says the priest shall bare the woman’s head and place upon her hands the meal offering the words in Hebrew is וּפָרַע֙ אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה. And parah is the key question. In Rashi. It says he shall put in disorder, the woman’s head, he pulls away her hair-plaits in order to make her look despicable. And then he goes on to say, we may learn from this as regards married Jewish women, uncovering their head is a disgrace to them. He says in the Hebrew מִכָּאן from here, לִבְנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁגִּלּוּי הָרֹאשׁ גְּנַאי לָהֶן. So he’s almost saying two things. The one thing is he’s not translating it as uncovering the head. And so we should learn nothing about uncovering the head. And then he says, but this is what they learned. This is the source of the tradition that Jewish women have to cover their head. Rabbi, what’s your read on this?
Adam Mintz 08:04
Well, which piece I mean, the last piece, which is the piece that the women have to cover their hair, because the Sotah had her head uncovered, that’s really an amazing kind of derivation, because it’s not a derivation that has anything to do with Sotah. It’s a derivation that you see from the story of Sotah that women must have covered their hair, because it says about the Sotah that her head is uncovered.
Geoffrey Stern 08:41
If that’s the correct translation,
Adam Mintz 08:44
Right. That’s, that’s what’s interesting
Geoffrey Stern 08:47
The interesting thing for me is…. if let’s go with the translation, it says, uncover her hair. it’s kind of like, I do something wrong. And the rabbi takes off my kippah. Because what we’re saying is that it’s a sin for a woman. It’s a disgrace for a woman to have her hair uncovered. It’s against the law. And here where we’re making the woman break the law further. I mean, that’s one thing that’s kind of strange about it. It would be much more, I think, straightforward to say that this woman appears and she has maybe a cheap look about. And maybe she looks like to everybody, like she’s a little bit of a player. And the rabbi disheveled her hair, he makes her look less attractive. And that’s I think, where washi is coming from where he says, he musses up her hair. He disorders her hair; it seems to be much more natural. And I think what Rashi is bringing into the discussion you said it yourself is, there’s no relation. Really, it’s a forced relationship between this custom or law that we have of women having to cover their hair, and learning it from a Sotah. That’s also the kind of challenge and maybe I’m reading into Rashi, where he says the two things he gives the correct translation in his mind. And then he says מִכָּאן לִבְנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל, here’s where they learn this. He doesn’t say, this is where we learn it, he doesn’t say this is where the source is, he does seem to follow what you were implying, which there’s a disconnect here, that they’re almost pinning it on this peg, and it doesn’t quite belong here. I think that that’s exactly right. I mean, I think that’s interesting and Rashi. That’s interesting, just in the rabbinic tradition. Let’s take go back to the story. The woman is suspected of committing adultery. We don’t know she committed adultery. Basically, when we were young, we would say that we saw the wife of somebody with a man in a Howard Johnsons, right. They were having an ice cream together, but it looks suspicious. And the husband warns her, I don’t want you having an ice cream with this guy anymore. And she doesn’t listen. And two witnesses see her having an ice cream again with the guy, then the husband has the right to take her to Jerusalem, and to find out whether or not she committed adultery. Now, the story the way the Torah presents, it suggests that the very act of being suspected is it itself an embarrassment? Even if she turns out to be innocent. Even if it turns out that she goes to Jerusalem. She drinks this water and nothing happens to her. It’s embarrassing that they even suspected her. And I think that’s interesting. That’s part of וּפָרַע֙ אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה, he messes up her hair. He makes her look disheveled, because she is supposed to be embarrassed, because wives were not supposed to be suspected of adultery, even if they didn’t actually commit adultery. They weren’t supposed to be in a way that gave the suggestion that they committed adultery. So yeah, I totally agree with you. What I found fascinating is I am going to quote three more verses where Rashi gives the same translation of being disheveled or not looking your best. And the standard English translations. across the board, I looked at pretty much all of them. Keep to this baring your head. So in Leviticus 10: 6, right after two of Aaron’s sons are sacrificed/killed by bringing this strange fire. It says in verse 6, And Moses said to Aaron, and to his sons, Eliezer and Itamar and now I’m reading the JPS translation, do not bare your heads, and then it put an asterisk it says dishevel your hair, and do not render your clothes lest you die in anger strike the whole community. So here what he’s clearly telling the family is don’t go into mourning. Don’t look like you’re mourning. Maybe it’s because God was the one who punished them maybe because they’re Kohanim. Who knows. But Rashi says אַל־תִּפְרָ֣עוּ means Let not your hair grow long. And he says, And from this, the tTorah learns that when you mourn, you don’t cut your hair. So and of course, the reason why you do that when you mourn is you don’t focus on your looks. You don’t focus on the superficial when you’re in mourning. So it again, as long as we’re dealing with Rashi he does use this kind of same language מִכָּאן. From here, we learn אָבֵל אָסוּר בְּתִסְפֹּרֶת that and Avol a mourner is not permitted. But what kills me is you almost feel like a tension between the standard translations. They keep on talking about uncovering your hair, which makes no sense in this context.
Adam Mintz 14:32
Well, I mean, the first question is that Rashi there the sons of Aaron translates the word, תפרעו in a different way, which is let your hair grow long. Unless you say that letting your hair grow long means make your hair disheveled. … it might be the same translation, right?
Geoffrey Stern 14:56
Yeah, I think he’s consistent. He’s like saying Forget about your haircut, forget about your hairdo or your “do” you know. And so obviously in the case of the Sotah, you, you can’t let your hair grow long in one hour. And that’s even the case of the two sons, but they’re going to be, you know, watched for the next 30 days or next year. So they should not go into this modality of letting their hair grow long, they should make sure to comb their hair is what it’s saying. But again, he’s consistent here. And even in our parsha, later on, we’re going to get to the story and the law of the nazarite. In Numbers 6 part of our parsha, it says throughout the term of their vow as a Nazarene, no razor shall touch their hair, it shall remain consecrated until the completion of the terms as Nazarene of God, the hair of their head being left to grow untrimmed. So here everybody translates פֶּ֖רַע שְׂעַ֥ר רֹאשֽׁוֹ as letting your hair grow, letting your hair out.
Adam Mintz 16:10
So there they’re definitely consistent.
Geoffrey Stern 16:12
Yes, but again, Rashi won’t let it go away. So the Rashi over here says the word פרע is punctuated. And he says the meaning of the word פרע is overgrowth of your hair similar to Leviticus 21: 10, he shall not let his hair grow wild. And he goes on … so I don’t know whether he’s fixated on this or not. I think that would be ascribing to him a little much. I don’t know he’s fixated on it. I mean, he’s kind of consistent every time it comes up. Yeah. And he and he points it out, and he connects. It again, it seems to me that the text, the traditional text that puts this concept of a woman needs to cover a hair on this is a little bit of a stretch, because it’s not only disconnected from the act that’s going on. It also is not in line with the true meaning of the word. So it’s a kind of a double stretch, in the Sifrei Bamidbar. It is a source for what Rashi is talking about, and it says Rabbi Yishmael says from here, from this verse that we have in the Sotah, from the fact that he The Cohen uncovers her hair, we derive an exhortation for the daughters of Israel to cover their hair. And though there is no proof for this, there is an intimation of it. ואף על פי שאין ראיה לדבר זכר לדבר So one thing we always point out on Madlik is how important sources are to all the commentaries at every level, no one, even if they try to massage the text a little bit and put a later day custom into the earlier text. They pointed out, it’s very important to give the provenance of a law, and even the ones that say we learn it from here, they’re only saying it’s a זכר לדבר. It’s kind of I don’t know, how would you how would you translate,זכר לדבר?
Adam Mintz 18:23
זכר לדבר means that there’s kind of a hint to it. But it’s not a real source
Geoffrey Stern 18:29
Of interest. It goes on and it follows this concept of what we’re trying to do is to make her look less pretty. So Rabbi Yehudah says if her top knot were beautiful, he did not expose it. and if her hair were beautiful, he did not dishevel it. If she were dressed in white, she is dressed in black. So the point is that we’re definitely trying to take away from her beauty.
Adam Mintz 19:00
You understand the psychology, of course, the theory is that if she committed adultery, it’s because she made herself beautiful to attract the man, and therefore the punishment is to dishevel her. So it’s not just out of nowhere. That’s the punishment for this sin.
Geoffrey Stern 19:21
Yeah, yeah. And then well, the Oakland says something R. Yochanan b. Beroka says: The daughters of Israel are not made more unattractive than the Torah prescribes אין מנוולים בנות ישראל יותר ממה שכתוב בתורה. So, again, the rabbi’s discussed everything under the sun, even fashion, and in this particular case, they were well aware of all of the fashion and signs of beauty and stuff. So let’s talk about a little bit about your sense of a woman covering her hair. You spoke at the JCC about the history of conversion. What in your mind is the history of this covering of the hair?
Adam Mintz 20:10
That’s a good question. Clearly there is a history means clearly the rabbi’s had an idea that women were supposed to cover their hair. What’s interesting is that Maimonides says that it’s not only for married women, any woman over three years old has to cover her hair, that tells me that’s not unbelievable. Any woman over three years old, meaning that Maimonides presents it like this, Maimonides presents it that just like a woman has to be dressed, that her elbows are not allowed to show and her knees are not allowed to show so to her hair is not allowed to show. That’s Maimonides’ view. I think that today, that’s not our view. I think today, the idea of wearing a hat is to identify a woman as being married. And if she’s married, in a sense, she’s off limits, it’s kind of what we say is you know, it’s like some men wear rings and some men don’t. They want to wear a ring to say I’m married, I’m off limits.
Geoffrey Stern 21:21
So I think what you said from Maimonides is fascinating. I am no scholar in Islam. I do know, as as a tourist, so to speak, when I walk around in Islam, the women who cover their hair, that are Muslim, do it before marriage as well. And I wonder whether Maimonides wasn’t affected by where he lived. And that possibly, you know, in the Middle East in general, this was just the way women were dressed. And in a sense, we absorbed it and codified it. But I do think that no one in the Muslim world who read what Maimonides wrote, would have been surprised by that because all unmarried women cover their hair. I mean, I think it would be almost radical for a Jewish woman to walk around with a head uncovered, even if she’s unmarried and be surrounded by Muslim women’s who hair is covered.
Adam Mintz 22:29
that’s 100%. Right. Rambam was definitely influenced by the culture around him, no question about it. And I think that we’re influenced by the culture around us. You know, you would say 50 years ago, women did not cover their hair, even very orthodox women, very few women covered their hair. But now that’s not true. Now, there are more orthodox women, even, not Hasidic women who cover their hair. That’s kind of tradition, and the culture changes over time. And that’s fascinating.
Geoffrey Stern 23:06
I’m sensing a real change. I was in Israel a month ago. And the number of Orthodox women that I met with even I saw one on television during an interview. I did some it’s they’re wearing turbans almost…. it’s almost taken upon women as something that is empowering, liberating this this concept of not objectifying my beauty type of thing or my femininity. But have you noticed also, I did a little research there’s something called a snood, there’s a shpitzel, there’s a turban when I grew up, there was a sheitel I think sheitels are falling away a little bit, because they’re almost
Adam Mintz 23:52
In Israel, but not in America. Yeah. Tell you what you saw in Israel a month ago is very important. I know what religious community you come from, by what type of head covering you have, meaning one type of headcovering means that you’re part of the Hasidic community. One part says that your part of the ultra orthodox, non Hasidic community. The other says you’re part of what they call Hardal which is kind of חרדי לאומי, which means that you’re very orthodox, but you’re still a Zionist, everybody has their own head covering we went to visit somebody in a community and literally it was a Yishuv everybody in that Yishuv had the same head covering isn’t that crazy? It is even more crazy. Okay. And that is in this Yishuv. That was the rule. You weren’t allowed to live in this Yishuv unless the wife covered her hair. If the wife went with her head uncovered, then you would be asked to move out of the Yishuv.
Geoffrey Stern 24:54
Did Rav (Joseph Ber) Soloveitchik’s wife cover her hair?
Adam Mintz 24:58
She did not. Lithuanian women didn’t cover their hair. That was just the tradition. Every culture had a different tradition. And the wives of Lithuanian rabbis did not cover their hair. That was true about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s wife. Now when they came here to America… You see, America was a funny place. Because you know, in Eastern Europe, Hasidim and non-Hasidim lived in different places. You know, a city was Hasidic, or a city was non-Hasidic, there was very little, you know, integration between the communities and a lot of places there was competition between the communities, but they came to America. And because America was smaller, at least at the beginning, everybody lived together. So the non-Hasidim took on some of the customs of the Hasidim and the Hasidim took on some of the customs and the non-Hasidic. One of the customs that the non-Hasidim took on of the Hasidim is that even though in Lithuania, the women did not cover their hair, but in America, those those you know, those rabbis’ wives cover
Geoffrey Stern 26:07
Neil, welcome to the Bima.
Neil (Nachum) Twersky 26:08
So I prefer to be called Nachum. Technically, my name is Neil. And I just wanted to say that Rabbi MICHAEL J. BROYDE, has a long, extensive, I would call it seminal article on the whole subject of covering one’s hair (Further on Women’s Hair Covering: An Exchange Tradition, Modesty and America: Married Women Covering Their Hair https://www.broydeblog.net/uploads/8/0/4/0/80408218/tradition_modesty_s.pdf)
Adam Mintz 26:31
And Nachum, what’s his punch line?
Neil (Nachum) Twersky 26:33
Well, first, the whole question is, Is it m’hatorah? Or m’rabanan Okay, if it’s m’hatorah, as he suggests, according to some it might, then you’re stuck. If it’s rabbinic, then you can introduce what you might call the contemporary time and it’s open to rabbinic interpretation. As such, he doesn’t come out right and say it. But he infers that on that basis, there might be some permission for women, you know, not to cover their hair. I think what he’s trying to do, in some way is objectify that which you refer to as what Rabbi Soleveichik I will tell you that when my sister asked Rav Soleveichik whether she should cover her hair, the Rav told her Yes.
Adam Mintz 27:38
Let me just tell you. Actually, Geoffrey, this is all relevant to what we’re talking about. Because whether or not covering hair is biblical or rabbinic, is basically the question of that Rashi, we’re going back to that Rashi. And that Rashi says, that we live we derive from this week’s Torah reading that a woman needs to cover her hair. And the question is, what kind of derivation is that? Is that a Torah derivation? Is that really what the Torah men, or that’s the rabbi’s making it up based on what the Torah says? And that’s interesting, right? So that whole discussion in that, according to what Nachum, said, the traditions today are really based on how you understand that Rashi? So it all goes back to our good friend Rashi?
Geoffrey Stern 28:33
Absolutely. And in the source notes on Sefaria, I bring additional texts, which literally start to distinguish between when even those who believe it’s from the Torah. When is it from the Torah? Is it in a totally public domain? And then when is it custom? When is it something that was from the rabbi’s that would be from courtyard to courtyard so it’s all there in the source notes. And now we have a new source as well. Thank you for that Nachum. We need to finish up but I love the fact that we talk about what Rabbi Soloveitchik did and his wife, we talk about Nachum, your sister went to him. One of the amazing things about Rashi is that I said this in the intro, he had four daughters, and he had no sons. He had son in laws, who became the Tosephots, and they had names like Rabbeinu Tam and they used to argue with their father in law all the time. If he’s said YES, they said NO, but one of his daughters Rachel got divorced. And it wasn’t because I think they were childless. And there are many people who believe nothing is totally documented that his daughter is put on Tephilin one of his daughters. When he was sick, wrote his Teshuva for him, wrote his kuntaris for him… So these were clearly very learned and doesn’t it have to be that way. I mean, if you are a man of his knowledge, and you have only four daughters sitting around the table, it’s Yentl, isn’t it? And, and I think that without projecting onto him, but clearly, in this case of the Sotah, this woman accused of this, suspected, he is taking a real stand in terms of what this means. And I don’t think he’s taking a strong stand in terms of the covering of the head. But in any case, he definitely has something to say about it. And I think it’s a wonderful way to read the parsha with Rashi get to know his daughters get to know practice in the world that we live. And we always talk about the the nomenclature, the vernacular in Hebrew, I have to mention a book that every kid reads when they grow up in Israel and it’s called Yehoshua Parua. And Yehoshua Perua is about a kid with hair that is wild, and grows very long.
Adam Mintz 31:14
That’s a great way to finish up. So we really came we went full circle from Rashi to a kids book, I think that’s fantastic.
Geoffrey Stern 31:27
Okay, well Shabbat Shalom to everybody.
Adam Mintz 31:29
Shabbat Shalom everybody. Thank you so much. Enjoy the parsha and we’ll see you next week. Be well,
Geoffrey Stern 31:34
Shabbat shalom. Enjoy your Chumash and Rashi
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