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My Father and the Talmud

I idolized my dad and resented him. As I’ve untangled our relationship, I adopted his passion: Talmud study

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(Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

When I was young, my father, a rabbi, would roll up his sleeves in front of an open Talmud and spend four or five hours putting different postulates and corollaries together as though he were building a road in ancient Rome. It wasn’t easy, but he was determined. He would concentrate unrelentingly on the words and sentences until he fashioned a pshat—a line of reasoning—to make things work. Lazy thinking was as far from him as Queens was from the Pacific.

He was the whole world to me, and I yearned to know what he knew, to be like him. But he and I were too different; we still are. My father is thoroughly God-centered and deeply committed to mastery of religious texts. He is a man of principles, scholarship, organization, planning, and goals. I, on the other hand, am both less scholarly and less organized along rational principles. I cannot be like my father, as much as I may have awkwardly, painfully tried.

Still, I yearn. Most boys go through a period where they aspire to be their fathers and it passes, but for a few like me it lasts a lifetime. My father continues to exert an oceanic force on me that has not let up with age. But now, as I near my own half-century mark, I may be ready to accept both of us on our own terms. As Father’s Day approaches, I find that I am able to forgive myself and him for our wonderful, loving, bullying, and bizarre relationship over the years—a relationship in which the Talmud has played a starring role and remains a key to helping me understand our connection.


Dad came to life at the dawn of the Great Depression, delivered into the cauldron of an America yet to achieve its full muscle.

A Bronx Jew, with Yiddish as his mother tongue, the son of an uneducated house-painter from a Galician shtetl in der alter heim, Dad lived as many of the throngs of Jews did in that borough, in swaybacked tenements. They played stickball in the streets in their knickers. He would go to the live chicken market before Shabbes with his Bubbe and he would sit in shul with his friends on the High Holidays. He went to P.S. 82 and afternoon Hebrew school, was accepted to the honor society at De Witt Clinton High School, and from there went to City College and the United States Air Force and various universities and an august rabbinical academy.

He, with griner parents, knew exactly what he had to do, as if by magic; I, by contrast, had no idea what to do with my life for a very long time. It seemed that my only clear job in an American paradise built by Dad’s generation was, incredibly, to be a son—a job that I performed reasonably well, though with no great distinction. (I was terribly short and a disaster in sports.) Looking back, I wouldn’t have minded being a son to such a man if I had some other role, but I did not.

When I was 8 years old, I started to study with my father on Shabbes afternoons. We started with the easier-to-understand Chumash, but I was an excellent study and it was not long before we moved over to Talmud. I think we began with the 8th chapter in Tractate of Bava Mezia: One man borrows a cow and something happens to the cow—is he liable?

I can remember the creaking noise of my father’s footsteps when he would seek me out to learn with him. I would think of ways to evade and escape. “I’m tired,” I would say. This would work for a while, he would go downstairs and begin to learn on his own, but after a few minutes the guilt got to me and I felt I could not possibly leave him by himself. I had to be with him to save him and, by extension, myself—for I was totally dependent on him. If I was not near him and in his favor, I literally had difficulty breathing. Those summer afternoons are bound in my memory by a mix of love, devotion, and homicidal wishes. How I envied my mother and my sisters whose femininity exempted them from these trials. I chafed, I bridled, I snarled, but I also showed interest. I was under a complicated spell of the love a boy has for his father and a young boy’s devotion to and fear of God.

My father sat at the head of the dining room table. I was at his right. In front of us was a plate of pretzels, a glass of seltzer for him and orange juice or Hawaiian Punch for me. In those days I was a chubby kid, both overfed and undernourished. He would passionately explain a concept and I would glumly nod. I felt truly helpless in the face of my mind’s wanderings, yet there was no fright greater than disappointing him, which inevitably happened—when he discovered that I had not been paying attention. “Do you think I am just bumping my gums?” he would ask in disgust.

I would master a concept, and it would immediately be time for the next one. I had been thrown into the sea, and the only way I could survive was to cling to Dad. Those summer afternoons of a dark father-son love were but a blip in my father’s life, but they lengthened into the arc of my own. The Talmud became the great metaphor for our relationship: During these study sessions, and in the afterglow that lasted afterward for days and weeks on end, I would experience feelings for which I had no words—and I would receive the words of the Talmud, for which I had no feeling. Rather than embark on a life’s course for myself, we both began a game of seek, search, destroy, and rescue that has lasted a lifetime.


As our lives lengthened, Dad was in many a fix—he was in a deadly serious accident when I was a teenager, for instance, and was confined to a wheelchair for three years. Moreover, although he remained supremely competent, once I too was an adult, he became dependent on me, owing mostly to his accident, to help him navigate his affairs. This consummate captain could not now function without a first mate. I, in turn, arranged a life where I was in need of his rescue of some sort or other, usually financial.

When I was in my 20s, I embarked on an ill-fated real-estate voyage. I defaulted on the maintenance payments to the co-op. Somehow, he found out about this and my father put on his black hat and rabbinical garb and went down, gimp-legged and all, to the co-op board and simply paid $3,000 in back dues, without saying a word to me other than that he “took care of it.” I did not default after that, but it was not the last time I needed or accepted his assistance.

The help went both ways. He, the supreme adviser, would puzzlingly turn to me for professional and personal advice. Once, he was trying for a very prestigious well-paying position. He felt the odds were stacked against him: Dad said they wanted Ivy Leaguers and not City College boys from the Bronx. I advised him to purchase a Brooks Brothers shirt and cufflinks, an expensive suit, and a $100 tie, and to bring the chairman of the board a falafel sandwich from a well-known pizza shop in Queens. (She loved it, and he was given the position and succeeded there handsomely.) Always we would rescue each other from the scrapes and blunders of late 20th-century American Jewish life.

But despite our mutual dependence (or maybe because of it), I tried to kill him off with rebellion—by killing if not him then his traditions. My Talmud studies stagnated. In every sphere of life—whether in school (delaying my doctoral work), at work (I would score many victories but not win wars), or with women (for my culture, I was a little late in marrying)—I was conjuring up the specter of my father everywhere and doing battle with it.

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I can’t believe that I’m the only one commenting. This is amazing. I’m going to forward it to a few folks in my life. Thank you for another wonderful piece

emunadate says:

He is fortunate to have a close relationship with his father. We have to appreciate those special moments with our parents while we can.

NeilSHarris says:

This article is one of the best I have ever read on Tablet.
Not only does Dr. Feuerman capture the passion of learning Torah, but he expresses the bond of that learning that, hopefully, passes from one generation to the next.

I became Orthodox in high school and attempt to learn with my son 12 yr old son weekly. What the author brought out, in my view, isn’t just the potential affect and bond of learning anything Torah related, but more importantly the love that his father showed him.

gwhepner says:




Father, son, together

son the father’s would-be

relationship the Talmud

but to the father more

than to the son, who
later feels

he needs to kill the
father. Wheels

revolve around each
other, till

there is no more a need
to kill

the goose that laid the
golden egg,

by which time it’s too
late to beg

forgiveness, the father

and now the would-be
buddy son

can’t learn with his
son as he ought,

because this son loves
only sport,

and soon will find
another life,

as he himself did, with
a  wife,

the seal of Talmud
turned ti wax

that’s melted in the
rather lax

observance of the laws
that bound

the son, who is now
washed aground,

to father, who, although
he’s dead,

still lives inside his
Talmud head,

as he won’t in that of his

who’s playing baseball,
having fun.

chayar says:

Simon Yisroel Feurman’s articles are utterly honest, yet still manage to be sweet and uplifting. What a great writer (write a book, please).

jmm64 says:

    Great article!!  It’s unusual on this site to read an article about a parent learning Talmud with his child and transmitting the Jewish heritage from one generation to the next generation. A more common article on this site  is about the ”beauty of assimilation/intermarriage” and ”expanding ” Judaism through redefining Judaism  and watering down Judaism so as to mean everything to everyone, Jewish or non-Jewish, which leads Judaism to become meaningless. May Hashem  grant you health, strength,and long life!!


What does Daddy think of these:

Sex with a “Minor” Permitted

What exactly did these sages say?

The Pharisees justified child rape by explaining that a boy of nine years was
not a “man” Thus they exempted him from God’s Mosaic Law:

“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination”
(Leviticus. 18:22)

One passage in the Talmud gives permission for a woman who molested her young
son to marry a high priest. It concludes,

“All agree that the (sexual) connection of a boy aged nine years and
a day is a real connection; whilst that of one less than eight years is
not.” Sanhedrin
69b 5

Because a boy under 9 is sexually immature, he can’t
“throw guilt” on the active offender, morally or legally. 6

“…the intercourse of a small boy is not regarded as a sexual
act.” 7

The Talmud also says,

“A male aged nine years and a day who cohabits with his
deceased brother’s wife acquires her (as wife).”8

Clearly, the Talmud teaches that a woman is permitted to
marry and have sex with a nine year old boy.

5 Sanhedrin 69b.

6 Sanhedrin 55a.

7 Footnote 1 to Kethuboth 11b.

8 Sanhedrin 55b.

Sex at Three Years and One Day

In contrast to Simeon ben Yohai’s dictum that sex with a
little girl is permitted under the age of three years, the general teaching of
the Talmud is that the rabbi must wait until a day after her third birthday.
She could be taken in marriage simply by the act of rape.

R. Joseph said: Come and hear! A maiden aged three years and a day
may be acquired in marriage by coition and if her deceased husband’s brother
cohabits with her, she becomes his. (Sanhedrin 55b)

A girl who is three years of age and one day may be betrothed by
cohabitation. . . .(. Yebamoth 57b)

A maiden aged three years and a day may be acquired in marriage by
coition, and if her deceased husband’s brother cohabited with her she becomes
his. (Sanhedrin. 69a, 69b, also discussed in Yebamoth. 60b)

It was taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai stated: A proselyte who is under
the age of three years and one day is permitted to marry a priest, for it is
said, But all the women children that have not known man by lying with him,
keep alive for yourselves, and Phineas (who was priest, the footnote says)
surely was with them. (Yebamoth. 60b)

[The Talmud says such three year and a day old girls are] . . . fit
for cohabitation. . . But all women children, that have not known man by lying
with him, it must be concluded that Scripture speaks of one who is fit for
cohabitation. (Footnote to Yebamoth. 60b)

The example of Phineas, a priest, himself marrying an
underage virgin of three years is considered by the Talmud as proof that such
infants are “fit for cohabitation.”

The Talmud teaches that an adult woman’s molestation of a
nine year old boy is “not a sexual act” and cannot “throw
guilt” upon her because the little boy is not truly a “man.” 9 But
they use opposite logic to sanction rape of little girls aged three years and
one day: Such infants they count as “women,” sexually mature and fully
responsible to comply with the requirements of marriage.

The Talmud footnotes 3 and 4 to Sanhedrin 55a clearly tell us when the rabbis
considered a boy and girl sexually mature and thus ready for marriage. “At
nine years a male attains sexual matureness… The sexual matureness of woman is
reached at the age of three.”

9 Sanhedrin 55a.

No Rights for Child Victims

The Pharisees were hardly ignorant of the trauma felt by
molested children. To complicate redress, the Talmud says a rape victim must
wait until she was of age before there would be any possibility of restitution.
She must prove that she lived and would live as a devoted Jewess, and she must
protest the loss of her virginity on the very hour she comes of age. “As soon
as she was of age one hour and did not protest she cannot protest any more.” 10

The Talmud defends these strict measures as necessary to
forestall the possibility of a Gentile child bride rebelling against Judaism
and spending the damages awarded to her as a heathen – an unthinkable
blasphemy! But the rights of the little girl were really of no great
consequence, for,

“When a grown-up man has intercourse with a little girl it is
nothing, for when the girl is less than this (three years and a day) it is as
if one put the finger into the eye.” The footnote says that as “tears come
to the eye again and again, so does virginity come back to the little girl
under three years.” Kethuboth

In most cases, the Talmud affirms the innocence of male
and female victims of pedophilia. Defenders of the Talmud claim this proves the
Talmud’s amazing moral advancement and benevolence toward children; they say it
contrasts favorably with “primitive” societies where the child would
have been stoned along with the adult perpetrator.

Actually, the rabbis, from self-protection, were intent on
proving the innocence of both parties involved in pedophilia: the child, but
more importantly, the pedophile. They stripped a little boy of his right to
“throw guilt” on his assailant and demanded complicity in sex from a
little girl. By thus providing no significant moral or legal recourse for the
child, the Talmud clearly reveals whose side it is on: the raping rabbi.

Pedophilia Widespread

Child rape was practiced in the highest circles of
Judaism. This is illustrated from Yebamoth. 60b:

There was a certain town in the land of Israel the legitimacy of
whose inhabitants was disputed, and Rabbi sent R. Romanos who conducted an
inquiry and found in it the daughter of a proselyte who was under the age of three
years and one day, and Rabbi declared her eligible to live with a priest.

The footnote says that she was “married to a priest” and
the rabbi simply permitted her to live with her husband, thus upholding
“halakah” as well as the dictum of Simeon ben Yohai,

“A proselyte who is under the age of three years and one day is
permitted to marry a priest.” 12

These child brides were expected to submit willingly to
sex. Yebamoth. 12b confirms that under eleven years and one day a little girl
is not permitted to use a contraceptive but “must carry on her marital
intercourse in the usual manner.”

In Sanhedrin 76b a blessing is given to the man who marries off his children
before they reach the age of puberty, with a contrasting curse on anyone who
waits longer. In fact, failure to have married off one’s daughter by the time
she is 12-1/2, the Talmud says, is as bad as one who “returns a lost article to
a Cuthean” (Gentile) – a deed for which “the Lord will not spare him.” 13 This
passage says:

“… it is meritorious to marry off one’s children whilst minors.”

The mind reels at the damage to the untold numbers of
girls who were sexually abused within Judaism during the heyday of pedophilia.
Such child abuse, definitely practiced in the second century, continued, at least
in Babylon, for another 900 years.

10 Kethuboth 11a.

11 Kethuboth 11b.

12 Yebamoth 60b.

13 Sanhedrin 76b.

A Fascination with Sex

Perusing the Talmud, one is overwhelmed with the recurrent
preoccupation with sex, especially by the most eminent rabbis. Dozens of
illustrations could be presented to illustrate the delight of the Pharisees to
discuss sex and quibble over its minutest details.

The rabbis endorsing child sex undoubtedly practiced what
they preached. Yet to this hour, their words are revered. Simeon ben Yohai is
honored by Orthodox Jews as one of the very greatest sages and spiritual lights
the world has ever known. A member of the earliest “Tannaim,” rabbis
most influential in creating the Talmud, he carries more authority to observant
Jews than Moses.


Folio 55a

[he] who commits bestiality, whether
naturally or unnaturally; or a woman who causes herself to be bestially
abused, whether naturally or unnaturally, is liable to punishment.1
R. Nahman, son of R. Hisda stated in an exposition: In
the case of a woman, there are two modes of intimacy, but in the case of a
beast, only one.2 R. Papa objected: On the
contrary, since sexual intercourse with a woman is a natural thing, guilt
should be incurred only for a natural connection, but for nothing else,
whilst, since a connection with a beast is an unnatural thing, one should be
punished for every such act, however it be done.3
It has been taught: Pederasty at the age of nine years
and a day; she who commits bestiality, whether naturally or unnaturally, and
a woman who causes herself to be bestially abused, whether naturally or
unnaturally, are liable to punishment.4
Rabina asked Raba: What if one commits the first stage
of pederasty? [He replied: Dost thou ask] what if one commits the first stage
of pederasty! Is it not written, Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with
womankind?5 But [the question to be
asked is] what if one commits the first stage of bestiality? — He replied:
Since the culpability of the first stage of incest, which is explicitly
stated with reference to one’s paternal or maternal aunt, is redundant there,
for it is likened to the first stage of intercourse with a niddah,6 apply its teaching to the
first stage of bestiality [as being punishable].7 Now consider: bestiality is
a capital offence, punishable by Beth din. Why then does the Scripture
teach the capability of its first stage in a law relating to a sin punishable
by extinction:8 should it not rather have
been indicated in a verse dealing with sexual intercourse as a capital
offence too;9 so that one capital offence
might be deduced from another? Since this entire verse10 is written for the sake of
new interpretations [whereby additional laws are deduced] — another statement
for the same purpose is inserted.11
R. Ahdaboi b. Ammi propounded a problem to R.
Shesheth: What if one excited himself to the first stage [of masturbation]? —
He replied: You annoy us!12 R. Ashi said: What is your
problem? This is impossible in self-stimulation; but it is possible in the
case of coition with a membrum mortuum. On the view that such, in incest, is
not punishable, in masturbation too it is not punishable. But on the view
that it is punishable, a twofold penalty is incurred here, since he is
simultaneously the active and passive partner of the deed.
It was asked of R. Shesheth: What if a heathen
committed bestiality [is the animal killed or not]? Must it have been both a
stumbling block and a cause of degradation [in order for it to be stoned],
but here it was only a stumbling block, but not a cause of degradation;13 or perhaps, even if it was
only a stumbling block, without having led to degradation, [it is still
stoned]?14 — R. Shesheth replied, We
have learnt it: If in the case of trees, which neither eat nor drink nor
smell, the Torah decreed that they should be burnt and destroyed,15 because they had proved a
stumbling block: how much more so [must thou destroy him] who seduces his
neighbour from the path of life to that of death.16 If so, where a heathen
worships his cow, should it not be forbidden and killed?17 — Is there anything which
is not forbidden to an Israelite, yet forbidden to a heathen?18 But why should it not be
forbidden if an Israelite worshipped it: is it not analogous to bestiality? —
Abaye answered: In the latter case [bestiality] the degradation is great;
whilst in the former [animal worship] the disgrace is little.19 But in the case of trees,
the degradation is not great, yet did not the Torah order them to be burnt,
destroyed, and annihilated? — We are speaking of living creatures, for which
the All-Merciful One shewed pity.20 Raba said: The Torah
ordered that the animal should be destroyed, because it too derived pleasure
from sin.21 But trees derive no
pleasure, yet the Torah commanded that they should be destroyed, burnt, and
annihilated! We are speaking of living creatures, for which the All-Merciful
One shewed pity. Come and hear!22 ANOTHER REASON IS, THAT THE
WAS STONED. Now surely,
To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.

[Rashi reads [H] instead of the [H] in our
printed texts. A male, aged nine years and a day who commits etc.] There
are thus three distinct clauses in this Baraitha. The first — a male
aged nine years and a day — refers to the passive subject of pederasty,
the punishment being incurred by the adult offender. This must be its
meaning — because firstly, the active offender is never explicitly
designated as a male, it being understood, just as the Bible states, Thou
shalt not lie with mankind, where only the sex of the passive
participant is mentioned; and secondly, if the age reference is to the
active party, the guilt being incurred by the passive adult party, why
single out pederasty: in all crimes of incest, the passive adult does
not incur guilt unless the other party is at least nine years and a day?
Hence the Baraitha supports Rab’s contention that nine years (and a day)
is the minimum age of the passive partner for the adult to be liable.
The reference is to bestiality. If a woman
allows herself to be made the subject thereof, whether naturally or not,
she is guilty. But if a man commits bestiality, he is liable only for a
connection in a natural manner, but not otherwise. Thus Rashi. Tosaf.,
more plausibly, explains it thus: If one commits incest or adultery with
a woman, whether naturally or not, guilt is incurred; but bestiality is
punishable only for a connection in a natural manner, but not otherwise.

The meaning according to the interpretation of
Tosafoth is clear. Yet R. Papa’s objection is not made in order to prove
that unnatural incest is not liable (which, in fact, it is), but that if
a distinction is to be drawn, unnatural bestiality is far more likely to
be liable than unnatural incest. On Rashi’s interpretation, R. Papa’s
objection is explained thus: Since a woman is naturally the passive
object of sexual intercourse, it follows that she should be punished for
bestiality only when the connection is carried out in a natural way. But
as man is the active offender in an unnatural crime he should be
punished even for unnatural connection. It must be confessed that this
is not without difficulty, and hence Tosaf. rejects Rashi’s explanation,
which is based on a slightly different reading.
V. supra p. 371. n. 5. This refutes the
former view; and the latter too, on Rashi’s interpretation.
Ibid. XVIII, 20. Hence, why ask? Obviously,
just as the first stage of incest or adultery is punishable, so also the
first stage of pederasty.
Niddah, a woman during her menstruation.
In respect of one’s paternal or maternal aunt,
Scripture states: And thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy
mother’s sister, nor of thy father’s sister: for he uncovereth his near
kin. (Lev. XX, 19). The word for ‘he uncovereth’ (Heb. he’erah [H]) is
understood as meaning the first stage of sexual intercourse, and this
verse teaches that this is a culpable offence. But this teaching is
superfluous, for in the preceding verse the same is taught of a niddah,
which serves as a model for all forbidden human sexual intercourse.
Hence the teaching, being redundant here, is applied to the first stage
of bestiality. V. p. 368, n. 7.
Incest with a paternal or a maternal aunt is so
E. g., incest with one’s mother, father’s wife,
or daughter-in-law is punished by stoning; v. supra 53a.
Lev. XX, 19, referring to incest with a
paternal or material aunt.
In Yeb. 54b it is shewn that the whole verse is
superfluous, its provisions being stated in Lev. XVIII, 12f. Hence it is
written in XX, 19 in order that additional laws might be deduced.
By a reprehensible sophistry, the thing being
an impossibility. Other translations: ‘You disgust us; insolent man that
you are!’
Because bestiality was not unusual among the
heathens, therefore he would not feel himself disgraced. This Talmudic
judgment on heathen morals may appear very harsh and prejudiced, yet it
is not a malicious slander. In the Gilgamesh epic Ebani, the primitive
man, lives a wild life with the animals and satisfies his lust with
them. Bestiality seems to have been prevalent among the Greeks and
Romans of a later period, as is proved by an extremely unsavoury
adventure described in the Metamorphoses of Apuleius. Cf. ‘A. Z. 22a,
which forbids the stabling of cows with heathens, for fear of
bestiality. (Hast. Dict. s.v. Bestiality.)
The point of the problem is this: The Mishnah
states two reasons for the stoning of the animal. The first, that it had
been a stumbling block; the second, that it was a constant reminder that
someone had been executed through it, i.e., that man had degraded
himself thereby. Hence the question whether both are necessary before
the animal must be stoned, or only one.
Deut. XII, 3: And ye shall burn their groves
with fire.
I.e., to idolatry. That proves that that which
caused sin, even without degradation, (the worship of trees by heathens
not being accounted a disgrace to them) must be destroyed.
Since a heathen is liable to death for animal
worship, though it is not accounted a disgrace to him.
Surely not. If a Jew worships his cow, it is
not forbidden to benefit therefrom (Tem. 29a). Hence we cannot impose a
prohibition if a heathen worships it. This is a general principle in the
Talmud. It is very instructive as showing quite clearly the temper in
which the Rabbis regarded the idea of election of Israel.
So far from conferring special privileged dispensations, it could be
taken as axiomatic that nothing permitted to the Jew was forbidden to
the heathen. Cf. Joseph, M., Judaism as Creed and Life, pp. 153-4. ‘In
styling ourselves God’s people we do not claim to possess any worldly
advantage, or even any special share of the Divine love … The pledge of
God’s affection for his people lies in his gift to them of a special
opportunity of service, with its additional joys but also with its
additional obligations. Nay, by taking upon himself the Yoke of the Law,
has been self-doomed to a life of trial.’
Thus Tosaf. and R. Han. and one interpretation
of Rashi. Another explanation by Rashi (adopted by Jast., s. v. [H]) is:
In this case (of a Jew being the criminal) his disgrace is great, but in
the latter (that of a Gentile) his disgrace is little. The first
explanation seems to be more suited to the context.
Hence, only where there is much degradation, as
in bestiality, is the animal destroyed; but trees are destroyed even
when the disgrace is not great.
This is another point of difference between
bestiality and animal worship. In the former, the animal too derives
pleasure, but not in the latter.
In answer to the problem, R. Shesheth’s proof
not being considered conclusive.

Sanhedrin 55b

The Rape(?) of Yitzchak
by DovBear |
The Torah tells us Ishmael was sent away from Abraham’s house after Sara spotted him being metzahek. Though this will come as a surprise to those of you who think the study of Rashi alone can provide a complete understanding of the Chumash, our Sages are deeply divided about what the word metzahek means. Ibn Ezra says they were playing. Rashi says Ishmael sacrificed to pagean gods in Yitzchak’s presence, drawing the ire of the Ramban who finds it impossible that a boy raised in Abraham’s house might do such a thing.

By far, the most surprising opinion can be found on the Bar Ilan website, where Dr. Joseph Fleischman argues rather convincingly that Yitzchak was sexually abused. Money quote:In my opinion, the plain peshat meaning of metzahek agrees with Rabbi Akiva, meaning to do something forbidden in the realm of sexual behavior. In biblical Hebrew, the verb tz-h-k means both to laugh, joke, play and amuse oneself, as well as to enjoy oneself sexually. Similarly, the Akkadian verb sahu means to laugh, smile, be alluring, entice a person to sexual actions that go against the accepted norm (cf. Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, S, pp. 64-65). Thus we may say that the Akkadian verb sahu and the biblical Hebrew tz-h-k are etymologically parallel.

In the story at hand it seems metzahek should be read as a euphemism for some sexual act for the following reason: metzahek must refer to some extremely grave act performed by Ishmael, sufficient to explain and even justify Sarah’s harsh demand.

The Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate add the words “Sarah saw Ishmael playing with her son Isaac.” Quite likely the addition of these words to verse 21:9 stems from the fact that the Masoretic text without the indirect object appeared incomplete to the translators. If, however, we take metzahek as referring to some sort of sexual act, the verse is complete as it stands; Scripture notes only the fact of his illicit activity but does not go into detail.I hestate to psychoanylize the Avot, but it’s been remarked by others that Yitzchak is, by far, the most reserved of our patriarchs. He’s quiet, sickly, and aside for one episode with Avimelech, very much a background actor. Some have said the trauma of the Akeida is what produced this personality. To this, Dr. Fleischman’s shocking suggestion adds an interesting wrinkle.


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My Father and the Talmud

I idolized my dad and resented him. As I’ve untangled our relationship, I adopted his passion: Talmud study