Monday, August 23, 2010

What Amon and Moav did wrong

The Torah explains the reason for the prohibition against accepting male converts from Amon or Moav is because of their failure to bring food and wine to Bnei Yisrael in their time of need and the fact that they hired Bilam to curse Bnei Yisrael. Women are excluded from the prohibition. The Bavli explains that Amoni and Moavi women obeyed social norms of modesty and could not be expected to leave their home to bring supplies; therefore they are not blamed.

The Yerushalmi is not satisfied with this explanation (Yevamos 8:3). Even if women would not come out to serve men, why, asks the Yerushalmi, did the women not come out to bring food to the women of Bnei Yisrael? The Yerushalmi answers that the prohibition against the men depends also on their having hired Bilam. Since men alone and not women had the power to advise on this plot and initiate it, only they are blamed and punished.

The meforshim on the Yerushalmi ask: if the trigger for the prohibition against the men was the hiring of Bilam, then it should follow that only Moav and not Amon should be blamed, as only Moav was involved in this plot?

Ramban interestingly reads the pasuk as offering two separate reasons: Amon was punished for the failure to offer supplies; Moav was punished for hiring Bilam. However, the Bavli (Sanhedrin 103) indicates that it was over a matter of food that both Amon and Moav were punished. I'm not sure that the Ramban need necessarily account for that aggadita in his reading of pshat, especially given that his reading is very close to that of the Yerushalmi (which he references).

The Ramban, however you square his reading with the gemara, avoids the potential pitfall of applying both reasons in the pasuk equally to both Amon and Moav, which seems like overkill – why is one reason alone not sufficient to justify either nation’s punishment? From a musar perspective one might suggest (my wife’s idea) that the lesson here is that the two reasons are in fact equivalent – the lack of midos in failing to provide supplies is no less a crime than the hiring of Bilam to offer his curses. Other solutions are offered as well. The Dubno Maggid has a clever approach: Amon/Moav might have justified their failure to help Bnei Yisrael by claiming that supplies are valuable and they cannot afford the drain on their GDP to help other nations. Yet, as the pasuk immediately notes, these same nations of Amon and Moav had the resources and wealth to hire Bilam to curse Bnei Yisrael! Their very actions negate any claims for mercy they might advance. The lesson here speaks to us as well. The person who claims he has no time to learn but somehow finds time to spend elsewhere, or who claims no means to donate to charity but finds the means for a new car or a lavish vacation, negates his own arguments.


  1. Garnel Ironheart6:06 PM

    The Malbim starts by echoing Ramban and breaking the condemenations into Ammon=not bringing food and Moav=Bilaam. But then he goes a step further and notes that each failing was a denial of the two middos we know Lot and his family possessed - we know Lot was into hachnasas orchim so Ammon failing to do that is worthy of criticism. We know that Lot's daughters were chaste (until that whole cave and wine thing) so the daughters of Moab going out to seduce Israel was worthy of criticsm.
    But I have a question on the gemara you mentioned:
    > Even if women would not come out to serve men, why, asks the Yerushalmi, did the women not come out to bring food to the women of Bnei Yisrael?
    But if we assume that the reason the women of Moav and Ammon didn't go out in the first place was because of modesty, even had they gone out, they still would have been stymied because the Bnot Yisrael would also not have gone out to meet them!

  2. The Ylmi assumes women can go out to meet other women. It's the intermingling of the sexes, not the going out per se which is the issue (and perhaps that gufa is the point the Bavli is more stringent about, though tzarich iyun if there is a machlokes l'dina here or not.)

  3. I figured that but think about the logistics. What, on Mondays and Wednesday only the men go out and on Tuesday and Thursdays the women do? And how would the Ammonites know about this schedule?

  4. Anonymous12:38 PM

    Chaim B. wrote, "The Ylmi assumes women can go out to meet other women."

    What then did Dinah do wrong?

  5. Where does it say that Dina when out to greet other women davka?

  6. I believe that the Midrash is quoted as saying she went out to see the other young women in the area.

    I had another thought on Amon and Moav and why they are considered so very culpable for not going out with food. These two nations were born of Lot who had internalized the practice of hachansos orchim from Avraham Avinu. We see in the episode when the angels come to save him and his family from Sdom that he does extend them hospitality. But that is not what he is given credit for (as he is for remaining silent about Sarah being Avrahams's wife) b/c it became part of his nature. So his descendants actually went against their nature in not going out to offer a hospitable welcome to Bnei Yisrael. For that, they are held culpable.

  7. My wife obviously knows Midrash better than I do. Anyway, you can say that going out to greet other women is Ok if there is a purpose, but Dina was just socializing. Or maybe you can say that the Amoni and Moavi women had a heter to go to BN"Y, but Dina had no heter to leave her family (BN"Y in the literal sense) to go out to others. Maybe you can come up with some other ideas.