Falling Into Sin

I heard a lot of perplexing things during two years of Daf Yomi but none more perplexing than the case of the man who fell off a roof and into sex with a woman.

What an acrobat, I thought.

Then there’s the holy and horny rabbi who comes into town and seeks a wife for the night.

I could understand the desire but it didn’t fit my view of acceptable rabbinic behavior.

Marc B. Shapiro explains all:

Despite his age, Prof. Breuer was always prompt in answering all of my questions, and I will be forever grateful. I am also in his debt for another reason. No doubt realizing that he would not be able to write about everything in his files, he offered to give me unpublished material relating to the controversy over the talmudic commentaries of R. Joseph Zvi Duenner, chief rabbi of Amsterdam. Needless to say, I was thrilled, and I thank my friend, Aharon Wexler, who went to his house, picked up the material, and mailed it to me. I hope to be able to publish it before too long.

For those who don’t know, Duenner’s approach anticipated that of Halivni in some respects, primarily in the assumption that the answers given by the amoraim, while binding for halakhic purposes, are not necessarily the best explanation of the Mishnah. Duenner also pointed to a couple of passages in the Talmud — both of which are in the current daf yomi tractate — which he believed are interpolations from the heretics, intended to mock the rabbis. He claimed that the rabbis would never have discussed the case of one who falls off a roof and while landing on a woman has sex with her (a highly improbable scenario, to put it mildly), or that a holy sage would come into a new town and announce that he was looking for a wife for the night (Yevamot 37b, 54a). According to Duenner, these texts are the product of those intending to mock the rabbis, and were unfortunately taken by later scholars as authentic.

Breuer’s grandfather, Rabbi S. Z. Breuer, was one of the leading opponents of Duenner, going so far as to threaten to place him into herem if he didn’t stop publishing his hiddushim, and put the ones already in print into genizah. Duenner refused, and the threat of a herem was never carried out. His hiddushim were later reprinted by Mossad ha-Rav Kook, and some unpublished material was also included in this new edition.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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