Thursday, November 15, 2007

the avos pre-mattan torah and prohibited marriages

Ta’anis 4 relates that three people did not formulate their requests properly; in two of the cases things worked out anyway, and in one case it didn’t. The second case the gemara presents is Shaul’s promise to give his daughter to whomever killed Golyas without considering that a mamzer or eved might be the one to complete the task. The first case the gemara presents is Eliezer’s intent to give Yitzchak to whichever girl would draw water for him and his camels without thinking that the girl who does so may be blind or lame.

Tosfos asks why the gemara is concerned lest Shaul’s daughter be promised to an eved or mamzer but mentions only concern for physical features with respect to whom Yitzchak would marry. Tosfos answers in the name of Rashi that Yitzchak lived pre-mattan Torah and the issur of marrying a shifcha or mamzeres did not yet apply.

Rashi’s assumption seems to be that even with respect to laws of marriage the Avos behaved as bnei noach and not as if commanded in mitzvos, an assumption that seems slightly odd considering that Avraham specifically wanted a girl from his own family for Yitzchak. Remember as well that Rashi on chumash writes that Eliezer himself had a daughter which Avraham turned down as a match because Eliezer was an eved. The Maharatz Chiyus on the daf suggests that Rashi's chiddush might be true only with respect to marriage, as we see from Ya'akov marrying two sisters - an interesting idea, but it begs the question why. Be that as it may, I was very surprised that when I checked the index to the Parashas Derachim thay I have and thumbed through the first two derashos I could not find this Tosfos quoted in his discussion of the status of the Avos pre-mattan Torah.

A side point: Eliezer’s promise to take the girl who drew water first was stated in the context of a tefilah – he was asking Hashem for help in determining the right match. Even though his intentions were proper, since in formulating his tefilah he left open the possibility of a bad match occurring the gemara considers this an improper request. Just interesting that the particular words of tefilah carry such significance above and beyond the thoughts of one’s heart.


  1. IIRC, the Griz addresses the Yaakov/2 sisters question by saying that even where the Avos kept the mitzvos, mitzvos that are depended on a halachic status did not apply until they were specifically commanded. Hence there was no concept of tefisas kidushin and erva until the status was created (of course whatever arayos were assur to benei noach were still assur to them) and the Griz further explains that is why Avraham did not do milah before being commanded to do so.

    Putting aside our whole discussion a little bit ago about literal midrashim, this approach would answer the question -- there was no halachic status of a mamzer or shifcha pre-mattan Torah and that is why the issur did not apply. (It could be what Tosfos means though I didnt look inside to see if it fits with the words.)

    As for your question why Avraham wanted someone davka from his family and also why he didnt want Eliezer's daughter because he was eved, I never understood that as being a halachic consideration but rather for some other reason (e.g., Avraham's family had good middos, kenaanim was cursed, including Eliezer) -- whatever the reason. But not a halachic objection -- even the lashon of the medresh which Rashi quotes about Yitzchak not marrying Eliezer's daughter that Eliezer was an "arur" and Yitzchak was a "baruch" and an arur and baruch cannot be matched -- doesnt sound halachic.

  2. >>>but rather for some other reason (e.g., Avraham's family had good middos

    The Derashos haRan says exactly the same thing.

    I don't think the GRI"Z fits the Rishonim who directly address the issue. IIRC he says his chiddush on the basis of the lashon of birchas eirusin, but why go there when you have the Ramban and others who deal directly with the issue.

    BTW, there are achronim who are medayek that only Avraham observed the mitzvos but not Yitzchak or Ya'akov which is a neat way to solve the problem, but I don't like it.

  3. Where in the derashos ha-Ran? Very interesting.

    I agree the diyuk that only Avraham kept the mitzvos and not the other Avos isnt mashma from all the other chazals - unless what they mean is that Avraham kept the whole torah (afilu eiruv whatever depending on your girsa)but Yitzchak, Yaakov, etc. kept some, most?

  4. I don't have the sefer with me but google gets me a mareh makom to derush 5. The Ran holds that marrying an oveid a"z would not be so bad because a person can change belief but middos are inherited. I have never figured out quite what to make of this.

  5. anon11:40 PM

    I have never figured out quite what to make of this.

    That R'Yisrael Salanter was right