ח׳ באלול ה׳תשע״ה (August 23, 2015)

Nedarim 91a-b: Looking for Proof

On yesterday’s daf we learned that, originally, a woman married to a kohen who made a claim that she is forbidden to her husband because she was raped was believed, and her husband would be forced to divorce her. Later on, however, the Sages became concerned that a woman who wanted to get divorced would make an untrue claim, and thus they ruled that a divorce only had to be given if there was proof that the woman had been raped.

The ensuing discussion in the Gemara brings a number of cases in which circumstances appear to indicate that the wife may have been unfaithful to her husband, but in each case the Sages suggest that we cannot rely on the circumstantial evidence – or even that there are possible indications to support a different interpretation of events.

The last story describes a man who was in a married woman’s home, apparently with intentions to seduce her. When her husband suddenly came home, the seducer hid in the house, waiting for an opportunity to escape. While in hiding, he saw a snake eat from the vegetables on the table. He then saw the husband reaching to eat from those vegetables; fearing that the snake may have been venomous and may have tainted the food, he leaped out from his hiding place to warn the husband not to eat the vegetables. Rava ruled that the concern shown by the seducer for the husband could be taken as proof that nothing untoward had occurred. The concern raised by the Gemara – that some people find a forbidden act (i.e. an affair with a married woman) more desirable than a permitted one (see Mishlei 9:17) and thus we should worry that the seducer may prefer for the husband to remain alive – is rejected.

Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh di Modena, in his HaBoneh (a commentary to the Ein Yaakov), suggests that we can reach a general moral conclusion from this story: Not only must we judge someone favorably who we don’t know, but even the actions of someone who we have reason to suspect should be looked upon objectively and not cynically.