Sunday, May 15, 2005

On The Media

I just finished watching Grey's Anatomy on ABC. It's an entertaining show that I happen to enjoy watching.

Tonight's episode featured a 17-year-old Orthodox Jewish female patient (named Devo, but not short for Devorah) who needed a heart valve replacement. The first option for such procedures is a porcine valve. Of course, the young patient refuses (hey, it's pig!) and is willing to die rather than allow the operation to proceed. In the end, they find a bovine replacement (which entails a riskier surgery as the surgeon is not familiar with using a bovine valve) and she goes on her merry way.

However, had the producers even bothered to simply pick up the phone and call an Orthodox Rabbi (heck, even a Conservative or Reform Rabbi too) they would have found out that using a porcine valve (especially before the bovine valve option was known) was not only permitted but required. Sure, it would have made for boring television, but at least it would have been more accurate.

As a side note, I also noticed that when the girl asked that a rabbi be brought in to bless her (?) before the surgery, they brought in a female Rabbi (who in her abbreviated MiSheberach invoked the Avos and Imahos!). *sigh*

The Wolf


Olah Chadasha said...

Don't you love how TV shows like to think that they're being egalitarian and equal to all religions, while at the same time never bothering to make sure they get it correct? This isn't the first time a show has messed up royally when it comes to portraying jews, especially religious jews, and it won't be the last. I think it's b/c a lot of the writers and/or producers are jewish, and they think they know everything about their religion (even-though, most, if not all, are not religious or even in any way observant or knowledgeable)and don't bother to check out the facts. I just ignore it, laugh at it, and move on. It's so cliche already. THey should move on also.

Anonymous said...

What is the problem with the imahos? You can even find this in certain Orthodox shuls.

BrooklynWolf said...

Thanks for the responses, Saul and Oleh.


I've seen MiSheberachs for men mention the Avos and for women mention the Imahos, but I don't recall seeing one that mentions both. Your link is a first for me.


I know that it is somewhat laughable and that it shouldn't be such a big deal. But for most people, this is going to be the only exposure that they will have to Orthodox Jews and I'd rather it be an accurate portrayal rather than an innacurate one. It didn't bother me as much that the young patient had a attitude and a mouth - that's all too common here unfortuantely. But I'd rather that at least they get the parts that they can get right right. All it would have taken was a phone call to any rabbi.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

I read on another list that the Rabbi on the show is real & she was used as a consultant. Of course the writers never let the facts get in the way of the story. Even over the protestation of the Rabbi.

BrooklynWolf said...

That's interesting Saul. I figured that she was a native Hebrew speaker from her speech, but I didn't realize that she was really a rabbi in real life and that she objected to the premise.


Thanks for the kind words.

To be fair, however, in some cases, we are that fanatical. If she had been required to take communion, for example, instead of take a porcine valve, then she would have been correct in refusing.

There are certain things in which we are fanatical/"suicidal." But at least make sure people realize that it is the "most important" precepts (which, I admit is a relative term) for which we must lay down our lives.

The Wolf

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Interesting how that linked-to Mishebeirakh text has both Avot and Imahot by the female side, but only the Avot by the male side.

I made a comment on some other blog a while ago, that if you're going to add Imahot, i don't see why you should be limited to Sara, Rivqa, Rahheil and Lei’a. Especially where the "Avot" are expanded to include Moshe, Aharon, David and Shelomo — adding Bilha and Zilpa, Miryam, and Batsheva‘ would seem to make sense.

BrooklynWolf said...

I don't know, Enigma. In today's world, the widow is never forced (nor even granted the option) of marrying the levir. As to chalitzah, so what? The rest of the world would look at it as one more silly ritual - certainly no worse than a Pidyon HaBen where a couple has to "buy their baby" from the Kohen.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...


I found that odd too...

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

I was not suggesting that Chalitzah was defunct - it most certainly isn't. I was arguing that Yibum is defunct.

I'm not certain that the widow has to hear the release since she's the one doing the talking in the ceremony, not the levir. But then again, I'm not a posek, so I'm not going to say that you're wrong.

In any event, I would like to see the source for that story before I can comment further on it.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

Correction to my last post:

He has to say "Lo Chafatzi L'Kachtah." I forgot that.

I still don't know that she has to hear it (I'll have to check my SA later).

The Wolf

PsychoToddler said...

I hated this episode. It had everything--bad medicine, bad acting, bad writing, and bad Judaism.

It was written like a bad episode of star trek. The Jewish religion reduced to the Weird Alien Culture of the Week (TM).

BrooklynWolf said...

A simple reading of my Shulchan Aruch (YD 169:16) is that in order to be ineligible for Chalitzah, she would have to be a deaf-mute, not just deaf (it specifically says:

צריך שהיבם והיבמה לא יהא שום אחד מהם קטן, ולא חרש שאינו שומע ואינו מדבר, ולא אלם, ולא שוטה.

In addition, I know that there is a difference between a חרש of the days of the Gemara (who was exempt from the Mitzvos because s/he couldn't be taught) and today's חרש who can lead a normal productive life. But I'm not a posek and would need someone else to clarify for me if that is actually the case (i.e. that a חרש today who can be taught would be required to keep the mitzvos and could function as an competent adult in a halachic society).

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

Unlike other people here, I am not qualified to judge whether or not the medicine on the show was bad. :)

But, as you put it Psychotoddler, we did sort of come off that way, didn't we?

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

There was a small article in this (or last) week's Forward about the episode.
The female rabbi, initially came in as a consultant and tried several times to have them change some scenes, to no avail.
It was like watching the stupid Seinfeld show with the Bris.
That being said, the show is not bad and I'm glad it's being renewed.

PsychoToddler said...

I thought the bris episode with the psychotic mohel was brilliant.

BrooklynWolf said...

I only saw the Bris episode of Seinfeld once, and that was years ago. The fact that I don't remember it at all except in the most vague way means that I probably didn't think it all that memorable - for good or for bad.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...


My apologies. I simply did not get the chance to do any further research on the case you presented.

However, I'll grant your point in a slightly different way.

If the halacha really is was presented by you in the relevant case, then I suppose there would be little that I could do (if I was a posek) to change it.

That being said, however, I will admit that there are certain aspect of halacha that trouble me somewhat. To give a slightly more benign example than the one you presented, there is the fact that women are ineligible as witnesses in a Beis Din (in criminal cases). How do I handle this? I suppose it's just a matter of the fact that that is the halacha and you take it as it is. You can't "pick and choose" from halacha, even when you'd rather not face certain halachos.

As such, sure, there perhaps are certain aspects of halacha that are better off not being too-well known by the general public; but that doesn't mean that they can't get the parts that should be obvious or well-known correct.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...


What you say is true to some extent.

However, keep in mind that under any rule system unfortunate things happen to people that don't deserve them. That doesn't mean, of course, that we shouldn't strive to fix what we can, but it's not just a Halachic state where problems such as this would occur; where people sometimes get caught up in red-tape legalistic conundrums through unusual circumstances.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...


I think you're being a bit harsh here. In no sense in Judaism is a woman "mere chattel." She's not a slave who can be bought and sold. She has (in theory at least) her property rights protected and has some financial security if she is divorced or widowed. I think saying that she was "mere chattel" as compared to other ancient cultures is clearly off the mark.

That being said - if you're going to posit that the Torah is God-given and that the mitzvos are from God, then there's a very good reason why the laws don't change. The laws that we, as a secular society create for ourselves, are understood from the outset to be less-than-perfect and thusly should be modified from time to time.

I know that this does not address the specific case you cited - and in truth, if the case is as you presented it, then I don't have an answer. There are several times in halacha when people fall victim to unfortunate circumstances. The most famous of these, of course, is the woman whose husband goes off and disappears.

I agree that in the case cited what happened to that woman should not have happened. I'd like to believe that this was an error of the court rather than something that is truly the halacha. Without researching the case further, I suppose I don't know. Perhaps I'll ask my Rav over Shabbos about it.

I suppose one can look at that and say "Had God given us a perfect Torah then situations such as that should never arise - this is proof that the Torah is not God-given." I'm not so certain of that, however, because even if God gives rules that are "perfect," we, ourselves, may be flawed at interpreting or implementing them. And even God Himself acknowledges that Man can interpret the Torah in different ways when He said "Lo BaShamayim Hi" (it [the Torah] is not in the heavens..."

Part of the reason for that, I believe, is the fact that God did understand that times do change and, to *some* extent, the Torah needs to be flexible to deal with that. That's why the rules for witnesses were relaxed with regard to an agunah, for example. But it can only be so flexible. There's no where where it says that we can simply toss out Yibum and Chalitzah altogether.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...


Thank you for your long and thoughtful response. I have read it through. Unfortuantely, I will not have time to prepare a proper response before Shabbos. God willing, I'll respond after Shabbos or Sunday.

A good Shabbos to you as well.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

No, I didn't read every word. :)

I did however, see where the points were going in each paragraph and once I saw the general idea, I went on to the next.

I actually went to and looked at the document that you excerpted this from. I didn't read all of that either (it's VERY long), but I did look at bits here and there.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...


I've gone through your post a bit more carefully this time and I would like to respond to it.

I would like to start out with the point that I accept the concept of Torah Min HaShamayim. I understand that you or others may not agree on this. If so, I understand your arguments that the Torah's laws and later rabbinic enactment are terribly biased against women and leave them holding the "short end of the stick" in many instances.

On the other hand, if you're going to posit a God-given Torah (using the traditional Jewish definition of God) then one must assume that He had reasons for enacting His laws the way He did. Of course, that still leaves the matter of rabbinic enactments to deal with, but hopefully I'll deal with those as we go along.

You (or rather the article you excerpted from) start(s) out by quoting the Mishna in Kiddushin 1:1
"A woman is bought in three ways... with money, with a contract, and through intercourse... to prove that a woman is considered as mere chattel in Judaism.

While it is true that the Mishna couches the transaction in terms of "buying," in reality, a woman is not chattel in this sense (as a slave, for example, would be) for two reasons:

(1) She cannot be "resold." If I were to buy a slave, a cow or any other piece of chattel, one of the primary rights that I, as the owner hold, is my ability to sell it to someone else, or to keep it at my will. This, however, is not the case with a wife. I cannot sell my wife, no matter how much someone else will offer me for her (unless, of course, it's Woody Harrelson and I'm married to Demi Moore...). It is true that I have the power to divorce her, but I cannot do so and "give" her to someone else against her will, as I could with any other chattel I owned.

(2) When chattel is bought, the wishes of the chattel are irrelevant - i.e. they cannot stop the sale. A slave, for example, cannot say "I don't want to be bought by Wolf." A cow can't either (even if it could talk). A woman, on the other hand, has the power and ability to refuse any marriage she doesn't want under Torah law. If someone comes along and offers her money for kiddushin, she can accept or refuse as she wishes.

The relationship between a couple being wed is seen by Halacha as an act of purchase in which a man buys himself a wife -- and the laws of this purchase are brought with the laws of other purchases: of slaves, of cattle, and the like. We also find in Tractate Berachot, 57b: "Three things bring man a good mood: a nice home, a nice woman, and nice clothes." Again, a woman is considered part of a man's property, like his house and clothes.

The very same could be said about a woman and her husband (i.e. that three things bring a woman to a good mood - a nice home, a nice husband and nice clothes). Since the Gemara was primarily learned by men, the teaching was taught with regard to men. It wasn't meant to express that a man's wife is his property - as was stated earlier.

And once married, a woman is severely limited concerning the basic human right to property:

"A woman's find and her handwork belong to her husband, and of her inheritance he enjoys the benefit while she is alive. Money which one should pay if he embarrasses or damages her belongs to her. Rabbi Judah the son of Beteira says: if she is hurt in a covered part of her body, she gets 2/3 of the sum and the husband gets 1/3, but if she is hurt in an uncovered part of her body, the husband gets 2/3 of the sum and she gets 1/3. The husband's share should be given him immediately, but the wife's share should be used to buy land, of which the husband enjoys the benefit."

(Ketubot, chapter 6, mishnah 1)

The right to property, while taken for granted here in the 21st century, was not viewed as a "basic human right" for many, many years of human history. Note that in other societies at the time, a woman would not have gotten any of the money due her from such a case. Here she gets part of the money and, even though the text says it should go to buy land (which the husband has the right to use), it still remains hers and will remain so should he divorce her or die.

One should not make the mistake of judging ancient texts by today's standards, but by the standards of those who wrote the texts. I have no doubt that had the Gemara been written today, texts such as that might have been written much different.

In any event, in a place such as the United States (or even Israel) today, such a formulation is not strictly adhered to. If a woman wins money in a court settlement, she gets the money - how she chooses to use it afterwards is up to her.

To be sure, the Sages decreed that a woman's earnings belong to her husband only as a part of a settlement, whereby the husband is obligated to provide for his wife's living. If a wife wants she can break this bargain, but the husband may not:

"Her handwork is a return for her living. Therefore, if she says, 'I don't want my living of you, nor will I give you my handwork,' it must be done as she says... But if the husband says, 'I will not give you your living, nor do I want your handwork,' his words are nullified."

(Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 69:4)

Which put an amazing amount of power in the hands of women, especially as compared to the women of the time that the Shulchan Aruch was composed. But where this really comes to her benefit is in today's society, where more and more women do work outside the home and are capable of bringing home their own salaries.

But as for a woman's find, the Sages ruled that it belongs to the husband so that there would not be animosity between him and his wife (Bava Metzia 12b). It is a rather peculiar way of settling family quarrels, to consistently give one family member's property to another. Again, for some reason, the husband's property is not given to the wife, only vice versa.

The specifics here are that he is given the rewards of her finds so that he will have an incentive to go redeem her if she is captured, rather than just "give up on her" and find another wife.

While this may sound abhorrent to us in today's society (it does to me), I can only conjecture that this was simply because romantic love, as we have it today, was not the primary bonding factor between a husband and wife. Whereas today we marry because we fall in love with a partner and want to spend our lives with them, that may simply not have been the reality back then.

If I'm wrong on this issue, then I share your concern on this issue.

"A man is not like a woman concerning divorcement: a woman may be divorced according to or against her will, but a man may divorce only of his will."

You (or the author of your article) correctly point out that this has changed somewhat since the decrees of Rabbeinu Gershom in that (1) a woman must accede to the divorce and (2) the man may not marry more than one wife. Whereas before, he could "accumulate" wives and ignore them (as long as they were supported financially), this was no longer the case. At this point, now, he must divorce one wife before he can lawfully marry another.

I grant you that it is true that there is still a power "edge" in the husband's favor. There's simply no denying it. But the Torah clearly mentions divorce in the form of the husband acting as the active agent in the divorce, not the other way around.

Another field where women are discriminated against is matters of inheritance:

The easy answer here, of course, is that the laws of inheritance are God-given (that sons inherit instead of daughters).

However, there are three things to keep in mind here. Firstly, with regard to a wife, she has her kesubah (marriage contract) to fall back on in case she is widowed. Her kesubah clearly states that she receives a payment (specified in the kesubah) if he should divorce her or if he should die. Furthermore, she knows this going into the marriage.

Secondly, while daughters do not inhereit where there are sons (by Scriptural decree), rabbinic enactments have done some work to alleviate this. Specifically, unmarried daughters are not left to fend for themselves, as they have a claim of support on their father's estate. Furthermore, in this claim, they are regarded as creditors, and have precedence in their claim over the deceased's heirs.

Lastly, of course, a man can dispose of his property as he sees fit and can, if he wants, leave whatever he likes to sons and daughters alike.

"The woman has no value in and of herself in Creation, for she is only something additional to the main entity [i.e. man], taken from him and designed to serve him. That is why our rabbis OBM called her 'a tail' (in Berachot 61a)."

Regarding statements such as this and some of the ones that follow, I agree that to us, the twenty-first century reader they are shocking. However, one must keep in mind, as I mentioned earlier, that the primary audience of the Gemara was the male from sixteen centuries ago, and one should not judge people and attitudes of yesteryear by today's standards.

These efforts have achieved a modicum of success, but they do not go to the root of the problem, the moral justification, if any, for the original laws.

And here, I suppose we get to the difference I brought up in the first paragraph (i.e. whether or not one holds that the Torah is God-given).

They are forbidden to study Torah (except the Halachic laws which apply to women), and of one who teaches a woman the Oral Torah it is said, "One who teaches his daughter the Torah, it is as though he taught her obscenity" (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 246:6). Consequently, women cannot be religious judges or Halachic arbiters (ibid., Choshen Mishpat 7:4). Moreover, they are generally not accepted before a religious court as witnesses (ibid. 35:14). Maimonides (Laws of Kings 1:5) even ruled that a woman may not be appointed to any public position, and most contemporary Halachic arbiters adopt this opinion. In Ashkenazic communities women are not permitted to perform ritual slaughter simply because of an age-old custom, without even a Talmudical source behind it (see Rama on Yoreh Deah 1:1). Women are also forbidden to read the Torah in public, "because of the honor of the public [i.e. men]" (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 282:3).

You are correct on most of these points (although more and more women are learning Gemara nowadays).

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 373:4) rules that a cohen may not impurify himself to participate in the funeral of his daughter if she was raped or seduced. Not only did she undergo a horrible and traumatic event, she is also punished for being a victim. Of course, if a male cohen is raped (which can also happen), or even if he himself is a vicious rapist, his father may impurify himself to attend the funeral.

Again, g'zeiras hakasuv (Scriptural decree). If one holds that the Torah is man-made, then I would agree wholeheartedly with your objection.

Your point about women and Tznius (modesty, specifically in dress) is well-taken. However, keeping in mind that women have, by far, more sex appeal than men (although, I suppose one could argue in this day and age that the balance is shifting *a bit* back toward the men), there is value in people aspiring to dress modestly, both men and women. That woman have more restrictions on them is probably a result of the added appeal.

If one sees a man and a woman drowning in a river and he can save only one, he should save the man simply because he is a man. Pitchey Teshuvah on Yoreh Deah 252, subsection 7, even brought a Halachic ruling that if gentiles take two Jewish children, a boy and a girl, into captivity and want to convert them but agree to release one of them for ransom -- one ought to redeem the boy. Though the girl's children, even if she converts away from Judaism, would remain Halachically Jewish and so in redeeming the girl one loses only one Jew (the boy), and in redeeming the boy, the girl and all her offspring on the female line would be lost forever among the gentiles -- it is nevertheless obligatory to redeem the boy. Can this be defensible?

Truth be told, my understanding was just the opposite - that one must rescue the woman first for fear that she may be abused in ways that the man wouldn't be.

In short, I agree with you that there are places in Jewish law and thought where women are treated as less than men - I certainly can't deny it. However, one must keep in mind that Jewish women in Biblical and Talmudic times certainly had more rights and protections than non-Jewish women; that efforts have been made in some areas to try to make the situation better; and that, if one posits a God-given Torah, one must abide by those rules that are given by God (such as the laws regarding inheritance) even if they are not to one's liking.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...


Thank you for your thought-out reply to my long post.

At some point we're going to have to boil down at least part of our argument to whether or not the Torah is God-given or man-made. The impression that I get from your posts (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that the Torah is man-made. If that's the basis of your argument, then I would have to admit that, had I held the same base, I would have to agree with you nearly, if not totally 100%.

But the fact remains that I still posit a God-given Torah. As such, He has decreed (for whatever reasons He has) that a man can give his minor daughter in marriage, but not his minor son. All I can do is point out that today, we no longer live in an age where this happpens.

I am a regular poster on a popular internet message board. It's a board with a very diverse membership - everyone from fundamentalist Christians to frum Jews to outright atheists; from the most arch-conservative to the most "flaming" liberal. A very wide selections of topics are brought to discussion.

Every now and again the subject of slavery will come up and someone will ask how the Jews reconcile the horror that is slavery with the Torah's attitude toward it. As I often try to explain (with varying degrees of success), although the Torah's laws of slavery are still "on the books," they are, in effect, defunct. Since every nation on earth today (in theory, anyway - I acknowledge that one or two don't follow this in practice) outlaws slavery, and we live under the Talmudic dictum of dina d'malchusa dina (the law of the land is the law), it is, in effect, forbidden for Jews to own slaves today. And that's the way it should be. Society has changed and done so in a way that hasn't forced us to abandon the Torah's laws on slavery, but allowed us to progress beyond the need for such laws.

The same could be said regarding a man giving his minor daughter in marriage. While technically "on the books," I have yet to see a line of shadchunnim (matchmakers) forming to marry my eight-year old daughter.

So, God has decreed what He has decreed for reasons that only He can truly fathom. If one posits a God in the traditional Judaic sense, then one follows His words, regardless of how they might seem outdated to us here in the twenty-first century.

With regard to Rabbinic statements in the Talmud, you would be wrong to classify my "belief" in them as completely man-made, inasmuch as I do believe that there is Torah She-beal-peh in addition to the Written Torah. However, I'm willing to concede that the writing of Chazal can be construed as misogynistic today as no doubt the words of you today might be construed differently than you intended them years from now. I think that there is a strong value to tradition and that it should not be lightly thrown overboard. The rabbis have done work over the last thousand years to try to bring more equity to woman's position and I believe that that work will continue. But, at the very end, sometimes you will "butt heads" against the Torah's prohibitions - and there, lest you think that you are more righteous than your Creator - you must simply stop.

I know and freely acknowledge that to someone who doesn't accept the idea of a God-given Torah, my positions seem illogical and arbitrary. But you must also agree that if one posits a God-given Torah (given by a God in the traditional Judaic sense) then at least, with regard to *some* of our disagreements, I am correct.

The Wolf

Meir Goldberg said...

For a response to the issues raised here by enigma4u regarding women in Judaism, see