Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Shiur Theatre: Religious Coercion: A Modern Defense of Rachel

This Shabbos, Gd-willing, our Beit Midrash will present a new installation of Shiur Theatre during our "Matriarchs" Shabbaton.

We'll look at the story of Rachel and Lavan's terafim (working with the standard understanding that terafim were a form of humanoid idol), and attempt to offer a modern version of the story, and a defense of Rachel's attempt to dictate her father's religious practice.

Here is the source sheet I expect to distribute after the presentation:

Act Two: Does Halachah Require Coercion?
1.         Sefer haChinuch 239
להוכיח אחד מישראל שאינו מתנהג כשורה, בין בדברים שבין אדם לחבירו או בין אדם למקום
To instruct a Jew who does not act properly, whether in a relationship with others or in a relationship with Gd…

2.         Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky, Kehillot Yaakov 10:54
ואמאי אסור לשנאותו? ונראה דלא מיירי ברשע ממש שחוטא חטאים מפורסמים, אלא שאינו נוהג כל כך כהוגן הראוי לפי ערכו...
Why is hating him prohibited [per Erchin 16b]? Apparently, this is not a wicked person who sins publicly; it is someone who does not act entirely properly, based upon his level…

3.         Rabbi Bentzion Uziel, Mishpetei Uziel 4:3:1
חיוב התוכחה, לבד מצות עשה שבה עוד מתחייב בבטולה בעבירה על לא תעשה דלא תעמוד על דם רעך, ובעשה דוהשבותו לו לרבות אבדת גופו וכל שכן הצלה מן העברה שיש בה אבידת הגוף והנפש
The obligation of rebuke, aside from its active mitzvah, also involves a transgression in its failure: You shall not stand by the blood of your brother. It also involves the mitzvah of ‘You shall restore it to him,’ which includes loss of his body and certainly, in saving a person from sinning, loss of his body and spirit.

4.         Talmud, Shevuot 39a-b
כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה...
All Jews are guarantors for each other…

5.         Nachmanides to Vayikra 19:17
"הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך" - מצוה אחרת, ללמדו תוכחת מוסר, "ולא תשא עליו חטא" שיהיה עליך אשם כאשר יחטא ולא הוכחת אותו.
"Instruct your peer" – This is another mitzvah, to teach him ethical instruction, "and you shall not bear sin for him," for should he sin and should you fail to rebuke him, you would bear guilt.

6.         Pirkei Avot 2:4
ואל תדין את חבירך עד שתגיע למקומו
And do not judge another until you reach his place.

7.         Tosafot Avodah Zarah 26b ולא
אף על פי שסתם כנענים עובדי כוכבים ומזלות הם ועוברין על שבע מצות מכל מקום אין מורידין
Although normal Canaanites are idolatrous, and they violate their seven commandments, still, we do not punish them.

8.         Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 8:10
מי שלא רצה אין כופין אותו לקבל תורה ומצות, וכן צוה משה רבינו מפי הגבורה לכוף את כל באי העולם לקבל מצות שנצטוו בני נח...
We do not compel someone to accept Torah and mitzvot if he does not wish to do so, and so Moshe instructed, in the name of Gd, to compel all who enter the world [only] to accept the mitzvot commanded to Noachides…

9.         Talmud, Eruvin 63a
כל מקום שיש בו חילול ד' אין חולקין כבוד לרב
In a matter involving desecration of Gd’s Name, we do not show honour to the great.

Act Three: Is a Coerced Religious Act Worthwhile?
10.      Rabbi Meir Simchah of Dvinsk, Or Sameach to Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorce 2:20
זה שהוא רוצה להיות מישראל, ורוצה הוא לעשות כל המצות ולהתרחק מן העבירות יצרו הוא שתקפו, וכיון שהוכה עד שתשש יצרו ואמר רוצה אני כבר גירש לרצונו 
This person wishes to be a Jew, and wishes to perform all of the mitzvot and distance himself from all transgressions, but his yetzer overpowers him. When he is struck to the point that his yetzer weakens, he says, "I wish to do this," and then he has divorced willingly.

11.      Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, pg. 249-250
If persons be compelled to forsake their religion which their hearts cleave to, and to come to the church… and this all their days, I ask, whether this be not this people's religion, unto which submitting, they shall be quiet all their days, without enforcing them to the practice of any other religion? And if this be not so, then I ask, will it not inevitably follow, that they not only permit but enforce people to be of no religion at all, all their days?

12.      Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, Meikeljohn translation, pg. 422
Let each thinker pursue his own path; if he shows talent, if he gives evidence of profound thought, in one word, if he shows that he possesses the power of reasoning—reason is always the gainer. If you have recourse to other means, if you attempt to coerce reason, if you raise the cry of treason to humanity, if you excite the feelings of the crowd, which can neither understand nor sympathize with such subtle speculations—you will only make yourselves ridiculous.

13.      Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, Bennett translation, pg. 7
A man feels his own worth when he performs charitable acts… when he gives because he wants to. But if he gives because he must, all he feels are his chains.

14.      Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Trespass 8:8
והמשפטים הן המצות שטעמן גלוי וטובת עשייתן בעולם הזה ידועה כגון איסור גזל ושפיכות דמים וכיבוד אב ואם, והחוקים הן המצות שאין טעמן ידוע, אמרו חכמים חוקים חקתי לך ואין לך רשות להרהר בהן
Mishpatim are laws with revealed reasons and known benefits from their practice, like the prohibitions against theft and murder, and the mitzvah of honouring parents.
Chukim are laws without known reasons; the sages said, "I have engraved chukim for you, and you do not have permission to challenge them."

15.      Sefer haChinuch 16
אחרי הפעולות נמשכים הלבבות
After deeds are the hearts drawn.

16.      R' Avraham Yitzchak haKohen Kook, Letters of the Ra"ayah II pg. 186
ומש״כ מר לתמוה עלי במה שאני מקרב את הכל, גם את פושעי־ישראל כדי להחזירם בתשובה, וכתבתי לו ברמז כונתי, שכל מי שהוא מוכשר לעסוק בפנימיות רזי-תורה הוא מתמלא יותר מאור־החסד של תורת חסד, ועליו החובה לעסוק בתיקון נפולים ובקירוב רחוקים
Regarding my practice of drawing everyone near, including Jews who sin, in order to bring them to repentance: I have written a hint at my meaning to his honour, saying that anyone who is capable of involving himself in the inner secrets of Torah will be filled with the light of the Torah's generosity to a greater extent, and is obligated to involve himself in mending the collapses and bringing near those who are distant.

17.      R' Avraham Yeshayah Karelitz, Chazon Ish, Yoreh Deah 2:16
בזמן ההעלם שנכרתה האמונה מן דלת העם אין במעשה הורדה גדר הפרצה אלא הוספה הפרצה שיהי' בעיניהם כמעשה השחתה ואלמות ח״ו וכיון  שכל עצמנו לתקן אין הדין נוהג בשעה שאין בו תיקון ועלינו להחזירם בעבותות אהבה ולהעמידם בקרן אורה כמה שידינו מגעת.

At a time of [Divine] invisibility, when faith has been cut off from the poor of the nation, punishment does not mend the gap, but only increases it, for it appears like a deed of destruction and coercion, Gd-forbid. Since our entire goal is to repair, the law [of punishment] does not apply when it does not repair. We are obligated to bring them back with ropes of love, to bring them to the radiant light to the extent we can.


  1. Is your understanding that Rachel and Lavan were both Jewish? Would these same sources apply to a Jewish person who is trying to prevent a non-Jew from worshiping idols (transgressing one of the 7 mitzvos B'nei Noach)?

  2. Anonymous-
    Thanks of asking. Neither of them was Jewish, but the goal of the play is really to look at coercion as a concept, abstracted from the particular halachos related to Rachel and Lavan.

  3. Are you saying that no one could be Jewish before Matan Torah? If not, then what?

  4. Bob-
    Correct; as I understand it, the Jewish nation is initiated with the national acceptance of the Torah at Sinai. Until then, mitzvah observance is personal.


  5. regarding the standard interpretation that the terafim were humanoid idols see the last paragraph here regarding house hold idols as relating to ownership titles of ancestral land -

    1. Thanks, but I don't think Nuzi says that; Nuzi simply describes a father distributing his assets, and saying that the idols will go to a particular family member...?