Monday, March 6, 2017

That Kind of Person

Author's note - This post is the final and keynote post of the 5 part series on Forbidden Marriages and Petzuah Daka. To see the entire series (in reverse chronological order), click HERE.


In our previous two posts I lamented about the paradoxical nature of the prohibition of petzuah daka/krus shafcha (PD/KS). The paradox says to us that it is easy to assume that the prohibition is in effect in cases where it really isn’t and to assume that it does not take effect in cases where it really does.

The fact that a PD/KS can only take effect on a person who was born and grew up in good working order carries its own silver lining. Normally, for a Torah prohibition, the rule is that we must be stringent in a borderline case – a safek d’oraisa. Fortunately, in the case of PD/KS, since we are inevitably dealing with a person who until now was unblemished, we can rule leniently in a questionable case because we can rely on a “chazaka” that his initial status is in effect until proven otherwise.  Thus, a common way of dealing with the problem today is to rely on lenient opinions to declare a safek or sfek-sfeka to preserve the initial kosher status of a Jew.

Nevertheless, there may indeed be cases where there is not much safek. If one is truly emasculated involving the loss of significant parts, there is not much to debate. Likewise, I still haven’t uncovered a way to permit somebody who underwent a vasectomy. As such, I suspect that when issues like this arise, either most of us do not realize how serious is the situation and remain unaware, or they do realize it and just go on regardless.

It goes without saying that we will never know the scope of this issue because this is not a condition which those affected by it are eager to share. We never know who among us are not playing with a full [lower] deck.

Ever since I learned this topic in Yevamos – for the first time – a few years back, the frightening enormity of this paradoxical Halacha has been weighing on my mind. But there was no reason for me to discuss it as a topic in my forum. That is, until about two weeks ago.

We subscribe to the weekly Mishpacha magazine. When I look at it, one of the features I find most interesting is Lifelines. Most often it is a story about how people from our circles deal with very challenging issues. And they don’t always have a happy ending. This feature reminds me of the monthly Drama in Real Life feature that regularly appeared in the Reader’s Digests that we read in our younger years.

In the February 15 issue of Mishpacha (Issue 648) the Lifelines feature was titled: That Kind of Person. The story is written in first hand and seems to cover a time span of about ten years.

The story is about a young newlywed woman, “Yael”, whose husband, “Tuli”, was hit by a car just a month after their wedding. The accident totally debilitated “Tuli” and forced him to take painkilling medications to which he eventually became addicted. Throughout this time, his devoted young wife stayed fully committed to her marriage. She stood by his side to look after him at the expense of which she needed to drop out of college and rely on teaching.

When she recognized the harmful effects of his painkiller addiction, she refused to become co-dependent and insisted he seek out some help. At this stage he turned very belligerent and walked out on her and the marriage.

Initially, he commissioned a non-Jewish lawyer and filed a suit in secular court demanding an astronomical sum of money for “emotional torment” as a condition to his giving her a get. Conventional wisdom was for Yael to secure a similar lawyer and countersue. She considered this option and decided that she is not going to play the games that Tuli is playing.

After stating what route she is not going to take, she “admitted” that she had no idea what route she was going to take.

About two days after this, she received an email that Tuli was suddenly dropping the lawsuit and was prepared to give a get with no extreme conditions. She later found out that Tuli’s doctor, a necessary component in Tuli’s case, had refused to play along with his shenanigans. The doctor was fully aware of how devoted Yael had been and he let Tuli know that if he testifies at all, it will be on her behalf and not his.  

In the closing paragraphs, she tells us that shortly thereafter, she met a wonderful widower, married him and has been blessed with several children and a happy, normal life. She also mentions that “her decision” not to wage an all-out court battle against Tuli worked to her advantage in this respect because her new husband only agreed to meet her because she acted so honorably.

On the surface, “Yael” wrote a very inspiring story about tragedy and loss, devotion and sacrifice, perseverance and self-respect, hashgacha pratis and Yad Hashem, and caps it all off with a happy ending that she is now happily married and can be proud to look herself in the mirror. It is a story about triumph over adversity.  A real feel-good story.

But I wasn’t feeling so good after this story.

Like almost every reader, I am very happy for Yael. I have no reason to doubt any part of her story. I think she is a true eishes chayil and has wonderful midos. I wish her and “Yosef” and her children tremendous shefa and nachas and only the best. Boruch Hashem, she came out of the tragedy a much better person.

“Tuli” didn’t.

According to my calculations, we are now about ten years after the accident. Yael, the heroine, is happily married with children, but where is Tuli, the villain?

Most of us are probably thinking, “Who cares?” “Didn’t you read the story? Can’t you see what kind of good-for-nothing scumbag Tuli is? She sacrificed everything for him and to preserve their marriage and he turned around and walked out on her. Then he went and skirted Beis Din, hired a non-Jewish lawyer and tried to extort her for her get by suing her for emotional torment – after everything he put her through!” “Let the wicked mamzer rot!”

Yes, I read the story.

I also know from the sentiments of the masses and the feedback I got from my Mesira series that most people, even frum people who are likely to read Mishpacha magazine, live in a TV-land illusion of good guys and bad guys. I wrote about this problem in the past.

The good guys wear white hats and are totally virtuous and the villains wear black hats and are totally irredeemably wicked. The hero[ine] is undoubtedly the victim, so therefore, the other person is automatically the aggressor. A story needs to be balanced with pure virtue versus pure evil so we can cheer at the triumph of good over evil. Most of us can’t look at a story and say, “the good guy was a victim but the bad guy was also a victim.” It diminishes the triumph of the good guy. Stories like that don’t win Pulitzer prizes (and don't get printed in magazines).

I have also spent enough time in Beis Din to understand that no two people tell a true story the same way. One person can describe an actual event and a second one can describe the same actual event, but if their interests differ, so do the details and accents of the story. And they will sound like two different stories.

Yes, I read the story that Yael wrote. And I believe every word of it. But I am most curious about how the story would look if it was written by Tuli. Would we even think it’s the same story?

I will return to this point later. For now, let’s stick with Yael’s story. As true as it is, I think she overdramatizes a few things, and this gives the reader a false impression.

What are the flaws?

Flaw number one –

In the closing paragraphs of the story she writes: “In hindsight, the decision not to wage an all-out court battle against Tuli worked in my advantage…”

I think she is taking too much credit for her “decision”. Yael did not decide not to wage an all-out court battle. She merely decided that she is not “that kind of person” and that she does not want to wage an all-out court battle. She decided that she is not going to rush to wage an all-out court battle. But she cannot claim that she decided not to wage an all-out court battle as long as she did not make any other active decision. She wrote that she had no idea what route she would take and was “mulling her options”.  But she did not make any decision because she didn’t have to.

The article is giving us the impression that Yael is being extraordinarily virtuous for deciding not to wage a battle because she is not “that kind of person”. But I don’t think it’s extraordinary. Most of us are not “that kind of person”. Most of us would avoid mud-slinging and court battles. I certainly would. Most of us in a similar situation would initially seek out other options. But few of us would find any.

What is extraordinary is the tremendous hashgacha pratis and siyatta d’shmaya that she had that within two days of her dilemma, a rational third party, the doctor, intervened to alert Tuli and his lawyer that their plan for extortion would be an uphill battle and is not worth pursuing – thus taking the decision making out of her hands. It is certainly in the merit of her virtues that she was zocheh to such siyatta d’shmaya – kol hakavod! – but it was, nonetheless, this siyatta d’shmaya that relieved her from the onus of having to make a real decision.

Sadly, in the real world, miracles like this do not happen to everybody. And many are those who face similar dilemmas where people attempt to take advantage of them and to extort large amounts of money. In most of these cases, there are no more than two options: (1) to protect one’s self by fighting back even though it inevitably means an all-out court battle or (2) to capitulate and forfeit the money, although it is unjustified blackmail, because one is not “that kind of person”.

Let us be clear that there is nothing “low” or dishonorable in taking option 1. And it can be done without playing dirty or mud-slinging. In Yael’s case, I think that if she would have countersued for an equal or greater amount for four years of uncompensated nursing services and for the value of her sacrificing her potential career as an accountant, she would have readily neutralized his suit. Option 2 may be the nobler or more chivalrous route if one could afford it, but if it leads to financial ruin, lifelong resentment, and whetting the appetite of the aggressor, it can be seen as a fruitless and foolhardy step.

In any case, Yael has not proved to us that she is not “that kind of person” because, fortunate for her, she was spared from really having to make a decision at all.


Flaw number two – and this is what inspired me to write this entire 5-part series of posts

Earlier in the article Yael writes: “Tuli was suing me for half a million dollars! Until he saw the money, I would not receive my get.” And a bit later her friend Mimi tells her, “You have to beat him at his own game…Otherwise, you will be left an agunah…” And later when she was talking to her mother, “I have to fight back! Otherwise, I will be an agunah for the rest of my life.”

Yael is telling us what was at stake. If she didn’t fight back or pay up she won't be given a get and would be left an agunah. This is what makes the story so dramatic.

I am not so certain about that. As I said at the end of the last post, with the sting comes the honey.

Even though I am not a “baki” in Shas and poskim, the little that I know I try to carry around with me and use it to look at the world through the eyes of Chazal. Hence, bear with me as we read the very first paragraphs of the story:

On his way to the supermarket, a car hit him, resulting in multiple internal injuries and a permanent limp.


And two paragraphs later:

Much as I would have liked to have a normal life and a familywhich the doctors said would be impossible because of the accident – I never seriously considered ending the marriage. I couldn’t in good conscience abandon the person who stood beside me under the chuppa…Hashem had handed me this nisayon, I wasn’t going to run away from it. Apparently, I told myself, my tafkid in this world was to care for my husband, not to raise children.


I would be surprised if anybody in the world who read this column was thinking what I was thinking. (I don’t think like most people.)

I am sure just about every reader was thinking, “Oh what a terrible tragedy - and right after their wedding! But look at this saintly wife. How selfless, how devoted, how valiant! Willing to sacrifice her entire future to preserve her marriage. Isn’t that amazing?”

This is what I was thinking on reflex along with everybody else. But not all of my thinking is reflexive; actually very little of it. Most of it is reflective. So this is what I was also thinking:

Hold on, what do we have here? “Multiple internal injuries”? The doctors say a normal life and family “would be impossible because of the accident”? My tafkid was to care for my husband and “not to raise children”?

H-m-m-m…”accident” plus “internal injuries” plus “impossible to have a family” equals petzuah daka, does it not?! And, if this is so, is she being selfless and valiant for staying with him? Perhaps she is actually forbidden to stay with him?!

Anybody else thought the same thing?

Now, in order to determine if he is truly a petzuah daka, we need a qualified posek to look into exactly what part[s] of the anatomy were injured. Understandably, the article was not that specific. Perhaps there was only some kind of paralysis that prevented him from being [re]productive but the organs were left intact, which could be permitted. But from the way she described it and wrote that the doctors called the situation “impossible”, it looks to me like an awfully qualified candidate for a petzuah daka.

Did the couple look into it and ask a shaila? Maybe. But I am guessing that it did not occur to either of them any more than it occurred to any readers beside me. Very few religious men and almost no religious women are really aware of this situation. It is also quite likely that for the four years of their marriage post-accident, nobody except the couple and perhaps their parents knew about the condition.

Now, let’s suppose that we are dealing with permanent debilitating injury to the external reproductive organs (petzuah daka) and that this case came before a posek. How would it be handled?

I would love to know. But based on the Pischei Teshuva, I think that all of the poskim in his time would tell them that they must divorce. Especially since they do not have any children as of yet so a breakup would not be so devastating. Unfortunately, I think that even if there were a house full of kids, the poskim of old would not allow them to remain together.

In today’s generation, if they were already an established family with children, I suspect the poskim might find some lenient opinion to latch on to on the basis that, if they don’t, the couple will probably refuse to divorce anyway so let’s provide some Halachic premise to call it muttar. But in a case of newlyweds fresh out of the yichud room, would they also be lenient? We are talking about a Level 3 petzuah daka here and even Rav Moshe Feinstein did not cite a hetter that can be applied to such a case.

But all this is if the couple emotionally bound to each other and wish to stay married. But what if either partner – primarily the bereft wife – wants out?

In this case, if the husband meets the universal criteria of a petzuah daka, there is no reason not to declare him a petzuah daka and a pasul kahal. As such, divorce is imperative and is mandated by the Torah. A divorce under these circumstances does not require the consent of the husband and is not subject to the status of a get meuseh – a forced get. It is supposed to be forced.

Along these lines I was thinking that perhaps Yael did have another option. She could have gone to Beis Din and been toveah a get on the grounds that Tuli is a petzuah daka and that a get is mandatory mi’d’oraisa. If the Beis din would check out the medical condition and agree to the petzuah daka status, all bets are off. If Tuli won’t give a get unconditionally, they can call Mendel Epstein and he can come over with his cattle prods and bang him all he wants in the most sensitive spot – except that the driver of the car got there first –  and, for once, he would be doing a big mitzvah!

Of course, thanks to Dr. Zaidberg, the story came to a much more peaceful ending and even this option, if valid, did not need to be put on the table. Yet we see here another irony and why it is important to be aware of the Halacha of petzuah daka - as much as it is devastating to the affected person, there are times when it can be somebody's salvation!



And this brings me to the third flaw in the story, the one I alluded to above.

I was very much disturbed that, in such a story that does so much to leave us with such a positive impression on Yael that she rightly is entitled to, it has to leave us with such a negative impression on Tuli.

Granted that he was Yael’s adversary in the story – the bad guy – and granted that he was acting like a “mamzer” when he skirted the hazmana to Beis Din and got a non-Jewish lawyer in on an extortion scheme; but he was not the true aggressor in this story. He was a victim along with Yael, and in my opinion, the bigger victim. Although she suffered much while living with him, she always had the option to shed the heavy horns and grow new ones. And, in fact, the circumstances forced her to exercise this option. But Tuli never had that option and never will. He cannot go his own way and have a family, and, if he really is a petzuah daka, according to Halacha, he cannot even have another [Jewish born] wife. He is a walking dead man.

Most of us would say that his behavior at the end of the marriage was inexcusable. He was totally kafui tov and biting the hand that was feeding him. He was a dead man digging his own grave. And he was cruel and vindictive to boot. A real mamzer. He must really be a petzuah daka because a petzuah daka is just like a mamzer, isn’t it?

But I am a reflective thinker and something is bothering me (as usual). Tuli’s behavior was not just inexcusable. It was beyond that. It was irrational. How is it possible that someone so intelligent and sensitive as Yael could marry someone so irrational; someone with such bad midos?

The most likely answer is that Tuli was not irrational and a man of bad midos when they married. It all happened after the accident. We know the accident left him in great pain and we also know that it left him in great despair. “I have no life…no kids, no job, no hope.”

I have a strong suspicion that painkillers were not the only meds that he was taking. I am guessing that he was taking anti-depressants as well. If this is so, then it is an important element of the story and Yael is not justified to leave it out. We all know that just as painkillers are notorious for being addictive, anti-depressants are notorious for altering moods and personalities. And not for the better.

Too many of my readers have no sympathy for molesters even if they were molested themselves. The minute they hurt somebody else, they have no more rights and we have the right if not the obligation to write them off. “Put them in jail and give them an automatic life sentence…” They are no longer human and they are no longer Jews. They are monsters – forbidden to join the kehal.  Likewise with our Tuli, once he morphed into a belligerent fiend, we can forget about him. He ceases to exist. Indeed, he may actually be a petzuah daka. Forbidden to join the kehal.

In my opinion Tuli and Yael are both victims. The true aggressor in this story is the one who drove the car that hit Tuli. But he doesn’t play much into the story, and rightly so, for he must have been sent by the Hand of G-d. He and his car were only an instrument.

It seems that HKBH did not approve of the marriage between Tuli and Yael. He did not want them to stay together. Perhaps Tuli was already a pasul kehal for whatever reason and HKBH had to reassert this status. We’ll never know. But what is clear is that Tuli suffered more at the beginning and is suffering more to this day. Evidently, both of them needed to carry out a tikun.

Yael is a good person but I can’t say that she is a hero. Tuli is a “bad” person but I can’t say that he is a villain. The only winner is HKBH as he shows His right hand – chessed and midas harachamim – to Yael, and His left hand – gevurah and midas hadin – to Tuli. But the story is a tragedy.

There is no happy ending.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Petzuah Daka - A Riddle Wrapped In a Mystery Inside an Enigma


In our previous post, we touched upon some of the paradoxical issues of a petzuah daka. And I must admit that I find these Halachos frightening if not a bit disturbing. Not only does a petzuah daka not need to be born with this status to be forbidden, but if he is born with an identical condition, he is not a petzuah daka and has no restrictions! 

This teaches us that HKBH has no hakpadah (disdain) that a man who cannot procreate should not be allowed to marry. Indeed, if a man wishes to marry a known eiloniss (barren woman), there is no prohibition to do so. At most, if he has not sired children with any previous wives, he is ipso facto transgressing the positive commandment to procreate; but there is no prohibition in the marriage itself. The Torah’s issue is that a man who was born fully intact cannot alter his body to a state of sterility. And for such an infraction, HKBH decreed that he be ostracized from society and not allowed to marry. This that he can marry a convert is an anomaly.

As Churchill exclaimed: “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key....” The Sefer HaChinuch (559) writes that, in Biblical times, there was a tendency for kings to emasculate men to serve as guards for their harems “and there are even those low-lifes who desire such a procedure in order to merit benefits from the king’s table and to profit in money…

Perhaps, we can add to this that HKBH was “concerned” that sincere pious Jews who wish to be ascetic and holy and not to have to deal with the “temptations of flesh” would resort to self-castration to purify themselves. In fact, Yalkut Shimoni tells us a tale of Rabi Mattai ben Cheresh who chose to gouge out his eyes when faced with a temptation and he is lionized for his bravery. So perhaps the same would apply to one who castrates himself. As such, HKBH saw a need to demonstrate how abominable such an act is in His eyes.

Of course, this perspective begs the question that, although it seems logical in a case where one actively carries out this procedure or allows it to be done to him willingly, the implication of chazal in the gemara and the rishonim, including the Sefer HaChinuch itself, is that this decree applies to one who is emasculated due to any form of injury, including where he was attacked by an animal or hit by the branch or a tree as well as being involuntarily injured by the malice or negligence of another. 

Hence, one can be victimized by a Jew hating thug or sustain a war injury and in addition to losing his manhood, he must divorce his wife who is then free to marry anybody she wants while he can only be married to a convert. Note that during the times of the Crusades, Cossaks, and Inquisition, etc. when mutilations of this sort must have been reasonably common, converts were understandably exceedingly hard to come by.  

To augment this irony, in our last post we noted that all of the above applies even if he has a house full of kids so there is no longer the mitzvah to procreate and he can still perform sexually and has a healthy libido (which generally needs to be satisfied) albeit no viable sperm. In other words, he can still be intimate with his wife. 

A bit disconcerting isn’t this? 

Now here is where the quagmire gets deeper. 

At least up to this point we are assuming that if the 35 year old man with a loving wife and six kids gets whacked, and according to Halacha he must divorce his wife and perhaps he will find a giyores to marry, at least he won’t be having a second family with the giyores. I mean, a petzuah daka and krus shafcha are totally sterile, aren’t they? 

Well, yes and no. Here is one of a number of places in Shas where chazal throw us a hard curve ball (please wear a cup). 

Rest assured, the Rishonim that define the status, notably the Sefer HaChinuch I mentioned above as well as Rambam in Sefer HaMitzvos, clearly define the petzuah daka/krus shafcha (PD/KS) as “one who has destroyed his reproductive organs to the extent that he cannot procreate”. Likewise, the gemara itself mentions in several places in the sugya that a PD/KS is not capable of procreation. Nevertheless, the gemara does us the favor of describing what kind of injuries bring one to this state.  

Chazal insist that if one can emit seed but cannot shoot seed “like an arrow”, this type of seed is incapable of fertilizing. Likewise, if the seed does not emerge from the tip of the shaft, for instance if one was pierced or cut at a lower point on the shaft and his fluids exit from the lower point, this seed is not capable of fertilizing and as, such, the man is forbidden. In addition, the gemara quotes a Braitha which defines a petzuah daka as “one who sustained a wound to even one of his 'eggs' or even just a pierce or even…” don’t ask. The gemara on the spot challenges this Braitha with an incident of an accidental injury to one egg (we note from here that even accidental injuries count) and yet he had more children. The gemara brushes off the challenge by declaring that the children must not be his.  

Hence, the gemara insists that the Braitha’s guidelines are scientifically immutable. Tosefos challenges the scientific accuracy of this Braitha that we see those who have lost one testicle and still procreate. The only response that Rabenu Tam can give us is to distinguish between where a testicle is totally removed – can procreate – to where one is wounded but not removed (and the other is intact) – cannot procreate.  

Despite this distinction, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch and, according to Rema, most Rishonim rule like the Braitha. If the Braitha says one is pasul it means he cannot procreate. Period.  

Likewise in the case of the seed coming out of a lower exit, the ruling is that this person is unequivocally a krus shafcha. Pischei Teshuva (Even HaEzer 5: sk 5) brings a case where the man was not aware that they cannot be married, married and had children. He then learned this Halacha and asked a shaila. He did not get a hetter to stay married. 

[While we are in the krus shafcha department, I asked the dayan that in today's world, if one is "Bobbitized", the doctors can take some muscle from another area and reconstruct the damage. As far as I know, it is possible even for impregnation. Does this count? His off the cuff response to me was , "Lo tov." Whereupon, we can ask (I didn't),what about in the actual Bobbitt episode where the original shaft was reattached and - from the sources - seems to have worked just fine. Is that okay?]   

What emerges is another type of paradox. Even though the identifying condition for the status of a PD/KS is that the subject is incapable of procreation, in practice the status is set by chazal’s guidelines and not by any actual litmus test of whether the person can actually procreate. In all these cases, we are not dealing where the subject is not capable of sexual performance. They can all perform sexually at some level and release seed. Chazal seem to carry a mesora that these cases are non-procreative. And the Halacha is set accordingly. Yet, Tosefos, some case histories and today’s reproductive science indicate that not all of these injuries inhibit procreation. 

So, to return to our original question where I answered Yes and No, the answer is Yes that by definition a PD/KS is fully sterile but No that we don’t test the person scientifically and according to the Halachic guidelines that we follow, there can be discrepancies.  As such, we may even see cases where a person is injured, forced by Halacha to divorce his wife, go on and marry a giyores and have more children! 

So, what’s the deal in our generation? What about prostate surgery and vasectomies? And what about our friend from last post who was downsized in summer camp (he’d be in his 50s now)? 

To start we first must stress the fundamental stipulation that this condition only applies to an afterbirth event of injury – which is called Bidei Adam (though even from an animal, stick, bullet, bayonet, whatever). It does not apply to any case that is not the result of an injury, which is called Bidei Shamayim. As such, our Rabbanim try to give the most liberal definition of Bidei Shamayim as they can. 

Any birth defect, natural old-age impotence, low libido and general ED are all Bidei Shamayim. Also anything that is solely the result of a sickness (ch”v cancer or tumors) or an infection that comes by itself that makes one sterile but does not require surgical removal of the testicles or cutting through seed passages. If the infection is the result of a wound, it is bad news. The grey area is where there is a need for surgery due to an ailment but the testicle was originally affected by the ailment and the doctor is merely removing diseased tissue. This is a serious shaila but it seems that most poskim will call it Bidei Shamayim. 

As for PD/KS that is a result of an accident or injury, I think we should look at this at three levels: 

Level 1 - One who’s injury matches the descriptions in Chazal who can fully perform and possibly even procreate (e.g., our friend from summer camp). 

Level 2 - One who can function sexually and maintain intimacy but is not fertile (a vasectomy).

Level 3 One who cannot carry out marital relations at all.





Level 1



Level 1 is the paradoxical case that I was describing earlier. The Halachic question is: in case there is a discrepancy, where the injury matches the description of Chazal yet it appears that the person can or may be able to procreate, which factor prevails? The stated Halacha or the current reality? 

This question stood in limbo until the winter of 1963 whereupon Harav Moshe Feinstein, ZT”L (bless him), in a monumental psak, ruled once and for all that the prohibition is absolutely contingent upon the subject being truly sterile. He said the pshat in Chazal is that the Torah left it in the hands of Chazal to tell us which cases cause sterility and which don’t in accordance to the conditions in their times, but if and when the conditions change, Chazal whole-heartedly would modify their guidelines. Thus, as long as we know that one should be able to procreate there are no grounds to prohibit. 

Whatever Rav Moshe paskens is Halacha L’Moshe M’Sinai but we must recognize that Rav Moshe had to struggle with Rambam and Shulchan Aruch and many previous piskei din in 9 ½ columns of small print to make his case. And he had to insist that reproductive conditions of today are not the same as in the times of Chazal. Until 1963, no major posek paskened that the ability to procreate trumps all other factors and, as such, we must believe that before 1963, this viewpoint was anything but unanimous.


So, our friend from summer camp is very fortunate to live in our generation. If he can indeed function normally and procreate, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein he is good to go. Both to get married and to stay married. If he cannot and the injury did not affect the other “stone”, there still may be numerous opinions to be lenient, even to get married. If the other “stone” was also damaged, it is much more difficult to get a hetter, which brings us to Level 2.



Level 2



It is obvious that Level 2 is precisely the scenario that the prohibition is meant to address. So the rule of thumb is that our subject is a PD/KS and out of business. However, we all recognize how tragic and devastating such a thing would be. As I wrote, for an unmarried PD/KS this is a life sentence of loneliness and isolation. It’s like solitary confinement. And for a married person, it’s even worse. Indescribably worse. And here is where the Rabbanim need to be “creative”. 

I spoke to a high-end dayan about this. He confirmed that it is a serious problem and more than many people know. One avenue, as I wrote earlier is to give an exceedingly liberal definition of Bidei Shamayim. There are some opinions who want to hold that if someone was injured involuntarily or without actual human causation (i.e., an animal or “unmanned” object), it can be construed as Bidei Shamayim. This, however, has been rejected by many poskim since it flies in the face of many references in the gemara and rishonim such as the Sefer Hachinuch that I quoted earlier. 

Perhaps another avenue for a hetter would be if a doctor would state that there is a minute chance that he can release fertile semen even if it is mathematically ruled out, perhaps we can rely on this (my own thought). 

There may be some other back-door hetteirm but he didn’t have time for a full rundown. He did refer me to check out the Otzar HaPoskim (a 60 year old anthology of teshuvos on Even HaEzer which was mainly compiled to help WWII agunos). Yet, he told me that sometimes there are no solutions. 

Also, be aware that some hetteirim which are implemented to save a marriage are not adequate to allow somebody to get married in the first place. 

As for prostate surgery, Rav Moshe, ZT”L has a teshuva on it and he refers us to a psak from the Chazon Ish who said that, although the gemara specifically includes the cutting of seminal passages in the definition of petzuah daka, it only means those in the scrotum. Those that are embedded in the body behind the protruding organs do not make one a PD. Though there is no real logic to make this distinction, Chazon Ish says we do not need to prohibit anything beyond what Chazal told us explicitly even though there is no logical difference. Today, we all rely on this psak. 

As for a vasectomy – don’t even think about it. I tried to find out what a posek would do if one did have one and wants to stay married (which is probably why he had one) but wasn’t successful. I emailed a Rav in boondocks America who I am related to and he didn’t answer me.
I don’t know exactly how vasectomies are done but if it was done in the prostate area, we may be able to rely on the Chazon Ish. If not, perhaps we could advise him to to a reversal procedure which, if successful, is wonderful and if it’s not successful, perhaps we can fall back on the “minute possibility” concept that I proposed earlier. 



Level 3



As far as level 3 is concerned, where a person cannot perform sexually at any level, I did not discuss this specifically, but from what I understand, it would be next to impossible for somebody who is not married to get a hetter. In some ways, this is less of a tragedy than Level 2. In Level 2 a person can still perform and very likely has sexual cravings, so it is tortuous for him to be denied the intimacy that he needs and and is capable of. For one who doesn’t have the equipment, it is not as tortuous although everybody needs companionship. 

If one is married and wants to stay that way, quite obviously we must employ all means at our disposal to find a hetter just as we would for Level 2. 




This basically concludes our discussion about petzuah daka but there still remains one gaping question: 

Why? 

Why am I discussing this? Why this? Why now? 

It is certainly a very complex and misunderstood topic and very underrated in terms of importance. As it can, R”L, affect anyone of us, it is certainly quite relevant. I hope I have increased people’s awareness about this subject and that my readers have learned from it. 

But what inspired me? 

I originally meant to cover the whole topic in my first post of this series and certainly by the end of this one; but the posts just expand and I can only stay up so late and I can only make a post so long. 

So, stay tuned for the (I really hope) grand finale.

 With the sting comes the honey – if one is “That Kind of Person”. 

So long…




Monday, February 27, 2017

Getting Hurt Where it Counts


Let’s briefly recap where we’ve been the last two posts.

We were discussing the Halachic phenomenon of forbidden marriages which, technically, need to be dissolved.  We noted that in almost all scenarios the forbidden status is in effect before the couple gets hitched so such a marriage can only occur among people who were not aware of the problematic status up front. Once a marriage is problem free, nobody will suddenly become forbidden. So, before you pick a spouse, open up a Shulchan Aruch or learn Yevamos and you’ll be all right.

We then noted that this is not always the case. Of course, if a woman is willfully unfaithful, she becomes forbidden to her husband. But this is very easily remedied – just stay faithful. Being unfaithful is a choice. Nobody can force a woman to be unfaithful, except…that’s right, we all know…if the husband is a Kohein.

In fact, let me relate as follows:

The Introduction of my book was meant to explain the reason I felt the urge to write it. I wrote that from the time I made Aliyah in 1997 I was disturbed (though not surprised) at all the negative propaganda and demonizing of the chareidi community that was prevalent in the general Israeli media. I felt that the chareidi world needed a public relations voice and an “Everything You Wanted to Know about Chareidim” digest to give some kind of counter-balance. Hence my book.

Among the countless examples of such demonizing propaganda was a news item that appeared in [Y]Idiot Achronot (now YNet) sometime around 1998 or so. A journalist reported that a man in Bnei Brak will need to divorce his wife, the mother of his nine children, because she was violated and the husband did not say “I don’t believe you”.

I don’t read [Y]Idiot Achronot so it must have been that the story was picked up second-hand by the J. Post or Arutz 7 but it was reported as a [Y]Idiot Achronot story. The story did not provide any details of the incident or of the people involved but it immediately drew a lot of skepticism. The obvious flaw is that if a woman is forcibly violated, even if the husband does believe her, she does not become forbidden unless he is a kohein; and there was no mention of such a thing in the story.

Sure enough, the paper I saw reported an update of the [Y]Idiot Achronot story that the husband was indeed a kohein but gave no further details. The skepticism didn’t stop for numerous reasons. Firstly, even in the case of a Kohein, as long as there are no witnesses, the husband does not need to pronounce “I don’t believe you.” The default is that the woman is not trusted to say she was violated regardless. It is only if the husband consciously chooses to accept her report that there may be a problem. But, if he likes his wife, why on earth would he do that?

There were other reasons for skepticism.  (1) No other medium reported the story firsthand. (2) Nobody in Bnei Brak was aware of the incident. (3) The logistics of a mother of nine being forcibly violated in Bnei Brak is exceedingly improbable. There were no details given of the incident so what precisely happened? Was it a home intruder? I don’t think so. Home intruders target women who are home alone at night. Married mothers of nine are not home alone at night and not too often alone during the daytime either. Was she on the streets going to the makolet or to a wedding? Let me assure you the streets of Bnei Brak are always filled with all types of women going to makolets or weddings, even, and especially, young, single or newlywed, well-endowed, supple ones. Do you mean to say that, from this crowd where young singles or newlyweds are the majority, some random rapist is going to pick out a late-30 or 40-something married lady who has gone through 9 childbirths and probably looks the part? Was this a blind rapist? And all this when right down the road we have Givat Shmuel and Bar Ilan U teeming with saucy tzatzkelach ripe for the picking with no husbands to look after them?

The whole story didn’t click.

Evidently, I wasn’t the only skeptic. The reporter was pressed for details by some other folks and he owned up that he fabricated the entire story. He apparently wanted to demonize the Torah community and lifestyle by showing how “mamzerush” our Halachos can be. But he couldn’t seem to find a real life case, so he had to make one up. As I recall, he was severely reprimanded but I don’t believe he was dismissed.

So, we have learned from this story that even though it is indeed true that if the wife of a kohein is publicly raped, she will be forbidden, it’s not very likely to happen. Boruch Hashem, Torah observant married women who live in Jewish communities and don’t wander about will not become first-string targets for a crazed rapist. But, more importantly, as long as the incident did not occur in the presence of two valid Jewish witnesses – and how likely is this to happen? – we can always get the couple off the hook.

So, as tragic as such an incident might be, I am personally not aware of any true life cases. I hope this applies to all my readers. So what’s left?

I gather that most of the learned male readers who are still reading this post know what’s coming. Likewise, I gather that almost all of those from the female persuasion cannot begin to guess.

This is going to be “below the belt”.

Many years ago in yeshiva, a chavrusa of mine told me about a boy he knew in camp who was hit by a baseball bat right between the legs. He finished the story by saying, “Now, he’s half the man he used to be.” To be candid, it means that one of his testicles was severely ruptured and needed to be removed.

The obvious sentiment was “Poor fellow…glad it didn’t happen to anybody I know…I hope he recovers okay and has a normal life…” But beyond that I didn’t think much of it. “Okay, he’ll look a bit different in an area that nobody really looks at anyway and hopefully, he’ll fly along nicely on a single engine. Shouldn’t be worse than having only one kidney. Everything else is still there. Life goes on. He'll get married.”

Not quite so simple.

How many readers know what a petzuah daka is? And how many readers, even those from my side of the mechitza, really know what it is?

Many of us haven’t learned through all of Yevamos and haven’t learned Even HaEzer (5). We only hear of this once a year when we read Parshat Ki Teitzei (Devarim 23:2) and then glance at Unkelos and Rashi who, thankfully, don’t go into much detail. Unkelos merely says “one who was emasculated”. Rashi is a bit more specific but mainly refers us to look up Yevamos. Almost nobody else comments on this pasuk. To be brief, it means one who has sustained a serious injury to one or both “stones”.

Many people assume that it refers to somebody born with a strange deformity where his system was never properly developed or some kind of hermaphrodite or somebody who has his entire reproductive apparatus removed. People also confuse it as if it is just another term for the other injury in the pasuk – krus shafcha – which means “Bobbitized”.  We don’t prefer to think of it as something that can happen to any normal, fully developed, productive person in summer camp as a result of a common injury or wound.

I think it’s important to go into a little into detail as to what is called a petzuah daka. I intend to do so and will try not to get too graphic. The reason it is so important is that it applies today as much as it ever has and the game is for keeps. Because, aside from being uninformed as to exactly what constitutes a petzuah daka, many of us don’t realize what is at stake.

A petzuah daka, like a mamzer, is a pasulei kahal. This means he is not allowed to be married to any regular Jewish woman. Period. It does not only mean that if he is single he cannot marry one. It means that even if he is married, with or without children, he must divorce his wife. Even if he has plenty of children and doesn’t want or need any more. Even if he still has plenty of working parts and is capable of carrying out sexual intercourse and intimacy. He is forbidden to have relations with her!

Even if he is old and, due to natural impotence (which does not make one a petzuah daka), he has no desire for marital relations and hasn’t conducted any for some time. According to the Halacha they must divorce. And all this is when his original marriage was perfectly kosher!

A bit shocking, isn’t it?

And after he divorces, no matter how distinguished he is, he cannot be married to anybody – except to a convert. According to the Rambam and Mechaber in Shulchan Aruch, he even cannot marry a mamzeret. (The Rem”a says that there are those who permit a mamzeret, so if one is, chas v’shalom, a petzuah daka, he’s better off an Ashkenazi one.)  

Get this? A mamzer, Mitzri rishon or sheni, and a Moavi or Amoni can all marry women like themselves besides a standard giyores. And if they do, they don’t have to worry about any heartbreaks because nobody’s status will change. Even if they later become a petzuah daka they don’t have to divorce because they are already married to a pasulei kahal. But the perfectly fine Jew from the most distinguished family who is married with children and suddenly becomes a petzuah daka must lose his wife and kids, and then what?

He cannot marry another petzuah daka because there is no such thing as a female petzuah daka. And, like the Rambam, not even a mamzeret! Only a convert or emancipated shifcha.

Even in a case where the wife of a kohein is violated and he must give her up (very unlikely and very tragic), but at the very least he can go on and marry any normal single Jewish girl and start again. There are lots of them. But this petzuah daka fellow – only a convert. If he can't find one or can't deal with one, he is stuck. No breaks.

A male Agunah!

And the wife that he was forced to divorce can go ahead and marry somebody else and have another brood of kids!

Oh, and by the way, if somebody did not start out with perfect anatomy and health but was born underdeveloped, totally sterile and totally impotent and missing all kinds of parts, as long as he is unquestionably a male, he may marry any eligible Jewish girl in the world; the daughter of the Gadol Hador, the Admor, or the Kohein Gadol! Yet, this fellow who was born whole and married whole and just got tzeklopped yesterday – he’s out of business.

As Jackie Mason – a Kohein who has been around the block with every type of person he cannot marry – would say: “Ya unduhstend dis??”

The prohibition applies to this very day to one who is unfortunate enough to be Halchically deemed a petzuah daka. Since it is rarely reversible, it is usually a life sentence to loneliness and isolation. Even when it is reversible, the status and all relevant halachos are in place until it is actually reversed!

I doubt that you or I or any of the Gedolei Yisroel can imagine anything worse. And so it is absolutely imperative to know exactly what counts as a petzuah daka and what doesn’t. Which cases can be easily and happily resolved, which cases need to depend on controversial rulings, and which cases are, R”L, too far gone. And, like the pots and pans in your kitchen, you need to know when there is a question to be asked. Many people are not aware of the issues with prostate surgery and that a vasectomy can terminate a lot more than the conception of future offspring.

I have been doing a ton of research and I hope to have some guidelines in the upcoming post. We’ll have a better idea if our friend who lost the ballgame in camp is really in the dugout (if he can function, he is most likely all right, but it’s still not simple). In the meantime, those of us who are whole in body and mind should thank Hashem every day for their health and their family and pray that things don’t change.

Don’t mess with the family jewels. They are worth more than you know.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Once a Mamzer, Always a Mamzer


In my last post I very audaciously referred to Masechet Yevamos as a “mamzer” Masechta. That is not a very nice term. This is because we all think of a mamzer as one who is not a very nice person.

When the term “mamzer” is used as a metaphor, we may have two concepts in mind. The first is that a mamzer is illegitimate. Trust me, chas v’shalom, this is definitely not the concept I was thinking about when I used the term here except, perhaps, in the sense of it being an outcast. Even that is not really true. Yevamos is in no way illegitimate and not really an outcast though I am sure that many people learning it would rather be learning something else.

The second concept is the more applicable one. A mamzer is one who is cold, conniving, and insensitive to anybody else. Very unsympathetic. Not only is he insensitive to the pain of others, he is not hesitant to inflict such pain himself. If you’ll pardon the expression, a real ba****rd!

When we open Masechet Yevamos we would expect it to begin telling us how and when to perform the great mitzvah of yibum. But it doesn’t. It opens by how and when not to perform the mitzvah of yibum. It begins that 15 types of relations are not marriageable and therefore it cancels the mitzvah even for a kosher tzara (step-wife). And thus Masechet Yevamos become our encyclopedia of forbidden relationships.

So now, a brief overview on forbidden relationships. For our purposes we can split these relationships into 2 categories:

·         Issur Misa/Kares – Calls for death penalty

·         Issur Lav – Calls for judicial flogging

All incestuous relationships, homosexuality, bestiality and eishes ish (adultery) go into the first category. The second category is a list of lesser “crimes” that include: Issurei Kehuna (Divorcee, Convert or “Zonah”), Machzir Grushaso, Yevama L’Shuk, and Issurei Kehal (Mamzer, Moavi, Mitzri Rishon and some others).

There are two basic distinctions between the two categories. The first and obvious one is the judicial penalty for a willful infraction. As noted, the first category calls for death or kares (which is close to the same thing). The second category is satisfied with 39 lashes. This has no practical ramification in today’s era because we have no judicial punishments of any type nowadays.

The second distinction is as follows. Although in all of these cases, marriage between affected parties is strictly forbidden, in the cases of Category 1 even if the pair attempts to get married (when possible), it doesn’t work. The marriage does not take hold and is automatically null and void. The second category is much different. In these cases, the marriage does take hold but is considered a forbidden unkosher marriage. The parties are halachically required to divorce (in all cases). In days of yore when our batei din were empowered, they would force the separation. Nowadays, although Beis din usually cannot actively force them to separate, they can decree it; as the requirement to do so is always still in effect. They can also apply all kinds of psychological, social or financial pressure. There is no such issue as a forced get in these kind of cases.

The upshot is that, in general, for Category 1 offenses, there is no such thing as marriage and, accordingly, no such thing as the tragedy of being required to dissolve a thriving marriage between two soulmates that may also involve children. In the cases of Category 2, it can happen that two people are happily married for quite some time and produce wonderful offspring and suddenly discover that their marriage is not halachically sanctioned. When this happens, as long as the criteria that caused the problem (e.g., his status as a Kohen and her status as a giyores) cannot be challenged, there is no kosher way to sustain the marriage. The couple must either divorce or flout the halacha and remain married “in sin”.

אהבתי את אדוני את אשתי ואת בני - לא אצא חפשי!

In real life cases, the rabbanim do everything in their power to invalidate a forbidden status which is sometimes successful in the case of Kehuna and oft-times successful in the case of Mamzerus. Sometimes they can “discover” that a giyores is really Jewish or that the supposed mamzer’s father (or mother) was really goyish (note Langer episode). They find all kinds of ways to invalidate a first marriage or, in a case of machzir gerushaso, the second marriage. But when the status is clear – a Kohen is a Kohen and a grusha is a grusha and a convert is a convert – there is no halachic way to fix the problem. With the exception of Yevama L’Shuk, all other statuses, once in place, are permanent.

When the chips are down, the halacha is firm. There is no way out. And in this sense, the halacha seems to be cold and heartless. Insensitive to the pain it causes. Very unsympathetic. Mamzerish.

Of course, Halacha is very firm and unyielding in every area. Kashrus, Shabbos, and certainly in Taharas HaMishpacha. But the stakes aren’t very high. Okay, so you have to kasher all your pots and throw out your dishes because of those mislabeled chickens. You’ll get over it. And so what if your house is burning down and there are no goyim around. It’s (partially) insured and its only eitzim and avanim. And as for your wife and what happened on the morning before your 25th wedding anniversary – well, there’s always next year.

But to dissolve a marriage and break up a family? A loving thriving one? With no hope of any remedy?

Can there be a bigger tragedy?

I imagine that most of us are not aware of any first hand cases where this actually happened. But I suspect that it’s not because the cases do not occur. I think that they are either resolved using the most far-fetched shoe-string hetteirim or all relevant parties just look the other way and pretend the prohibition is not there. One person who was my personal physician in the US was from a very prominent Orthodox family but he wafted in and out. Yep, he is a Kohen and he is married to a giyores. He told me so. He knows everything. And he does want to be more religious but he is not about to give up his wife and nobody is going to interfere. When his father passed away he actually came to my shul to daven shacharis so he could say Kaddish. When krias haTorah came around he didn’t want to go up for Kohen (he knew he is not qualified to) but Mr. “Kaufman” insisted he goes up (he was also his patient.) Afterwards, I asked the rav, “Can he do that?” and he said, “Of course not.” But he wasn’t going to fight Mr. “Kaufman”.

In this regard, an observer may view our Halachic system as draconian. Do we need to join the Hindus with a caste system and “untouchables”? The Torah that is in general so compassionate and sensitive to Human emotions and shortcomings, that presents a myriad of laws revolving around ואהבת לרעך כמוך and, as Hillel said, “What is distasteful to you, do not do to your comrade - and the rest is commentary…” – how can it be so “mamzerish” when it comes to our most cherished relationships?

Well, the first thing we need to understand is that HKBH only wants what is best for us, and so, the Torah requires us to live in a cohesive family oriented society. What we call a “nuclear” family. Accordingly, HKBH gave us mitzvos “designed” to protect and preserve such a society. We must understand that what is necessary to protect such a society can inevitably be harmful to an individual.

Let’s discuss adultery.

In any civilized society, there must be a sense of title and order. If marital relations were to be open-ended, lustful men would steal away attractive wives one from another, fights would erupt and people would kill each other. It would be a jungle. So HKBH must decree that an eishes ish is forbidden to any other man under the most extreme penalty.

Moreover, in a family oriented society, it is imperative that a woman becomes and remains a man’s wife and bears and nurtures his children. This is by no means a glamorous job. If marital relations were to be open-ended, women would roam from hut to hut looking for a better deal. Husbands wouldn’t be husbands and wives wouldn’t be wives and siblings wouldn’t be siblings. It would be Sodom and Amora. So HKBH must decree that a woman can only change partners if her husband releases her. Until then, she remains an eishes ish.

Still and all, an envious man may lust after another’s wife (Lo Tachmod) and coerce him to release her to him by law (make him “an offer he can’t refuse”). So HKBH must decree that a man cannot be coerced to release his wife.

All of these laws are necessary in order to preserve a civilized, productive society. But what will inevitably happen is that a woman who cannot co-exist with her husband or who is abandoned by her husband may not be able to obtain a consensual release. And she will be chained.

And so we deal with the Agunah problem.

Activists claim that the laws of the Torah are unfair and need to changed. But, above all, we must acknowledge that these laws are very necessary for the good of society at large. And any magic-bullet solution that makes the basic intent irrelevant will do more harm to society than good. It is an unfortunate side-effect that in some cases, individuals must suffer. In truth, BTW, the batei denim can resolve most cases as long as misguided people do not interfere, so the Agunah problem is not as extensive as it is made out to be.

After all this, adventurous married men and women may still want to misbehave on a short-term basis without considering long-term repercussions. Or a restless “agunah” may not want to wait for things to get sorted out and jump the gun. So, to prevent this, HKBH must “up the ante” by decreeing that even for a short-term liaison, the resulting offspring will be permanently illegitimate (mamzer).

And so we see that the innocent offspring must carry the shame of his parents’ indulgences. He must suffer for what is in effect the greater good of society.

After all this, adventurous people may want to try to legitimize their indulgences by granting temporary short-term divorces and then remarrying their spouses - what is known as “wife-swapping”. So HKBH must decree that if one divorces their wife and she marries another, she cannot be remarried (machzir grushaso).

Again, this is necessary for the good of greater society; yet, one who hastily divorces and breaks up their family and later regrets their hasty departure and is aching for reconciliation will be forever barred from correcting their error.

All of these deviant practices along with the debauchery of incest, bestiality, homosexuality, and fire worship (Molech) comprise the maaseh Eretz Mitzrayim and Eretz Canaan that we must desist from or else we will become like them – and get spit out of our land.

Aside from the need to prioritize the welfare of society above the welfare of the individual, we must acknowledge that the Torah was written for those who keep its laws. And, more than not, the “FFB” Torah observant community is relatively immune from the problem of forbidden marriages. (Of course, we are not totally immune from anything, but I mean in a relative sense.) It is most often those who are from families where the previous generations were not observant and who are not aware of the full list of forbidden relationships when they marry who are vulnerable to suddenly discovering that their marriage may not be “kosher”.

This is because in all these cases, the prohibition is in effect before one gets married. A Kohein is born a Kohein and a mamzer is born a mamzer (though it is very possible that he won’t know it) and a giyores is born a non-Jew. A divorcee becomes a divorcee before they move on to the next marriage. As such, the problematic status is always in effect from the outset.

An observant Kohen knows all the rules. He knows what to look for and not to get stuck.* Or, if we are dealing with a shidduch where there is the slightest chance of mamzerus, such as a non-observant grandmother who was married twice, we know to check it out properly to determine the status or to avoid it. An observant couple knows that if the wife remarries after they divorce, the husband cannot take her back; so they are more cautious about deciding to divorce in the first place.

*[Of course, there is always room for mishaps; most likely in a case where a mamzer truly did not know they are a mamzer and when it is not obvious that a woman is unfit for a Kohein.
It is very important that a regular girl who is dating knows some of the rules. The main issue is that if a girl was adopted from a non-Jewish origin, she is unfit for a Kohen. There are situations where the girl either did not know she was adopted, or the girl or her family did not think it was necessary to inform the boy that she was adopted but the boy was a Kohen! Very unwise.
But there is another issue that doesn’t get much press. And since we have spoken so much in the past about child abuse, it must be brought up. If a girl above the age of three was molested by a father, grandfather, brother, or non-Jew (but not an uncle or cousin), and the abuse consisted of genuine sexual contact below the waste, front or back, if the activity meets the criteria of a halachic sex act (maaseh biah), she is unfit for a Kohein.
Obviously, a qualified Rav must be consulted to determine if the act meets this qualification, but it doesn’t take much since it does not require penetration or climax. This is imperative before one is married. If such a girl is
already married to a Kohein and nobody else knows about it, then the status is similar to a woman who was unfaithful in that she is not trustworthy to say she was molested. So don’t tell anybody. If others know about it, she may, chas v’shalom, be in trouble. Call a Rav but don’t tell your husband first.]  

So, all told, we find that Yevamos is not so evil, after all. Of course, forbidden marriages that must be dissolved are devastating tragedies, but Yevamos tells us how to avoid them. Sadly, among the baalei teshuva, they are much more common. As unfortunate as this is, it is part of the baggage that those who have strayed – or their offspring – must carry. For perpetual Torah observant Jews, these occurrences are exceedingly rare. This is because, a forbidden marriage starts out forbidden, and stays that way for as long as the marriage is in effect. But a marriage that is on the up and up, stays kosher. Nobody who wasn’t already a mamzer can become a mamzer after they are married. Nor can somebody who wasn’t a Kohen become a Kohen. A born Jew can’t become a convert and a convert cannot become a born Jew. And nobody who initially married Reuven Cohen can suddenly become a divorcee from Shimon Stern in the middle of her first marriage.

This is almost fool-proof. Except that fools can be so crafty. Yes, there are a few exceptions. The obvious one is an unfaithful wife, but it doesn’t really count because I am writing about those who follow the rules, not those that violate them (and themselves). But there are some other exceptions that can apply even to those who have not broken any rules. And that is what I really have wanted to write about over these last two posts.

I can think of two such cases. But the exact details and the reason I decided to discuss it will need to wait for another post.

It is a matter of the utmost impotence.