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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Yebamoth
teaches that the Divine Presence does not rest on less than two thousand and two myriads of Israelites.1 Should the number of Israelites happen to be two thousand and two myriads less one, and any particular person has not engaged in the propagation of the race, does he not thereby cause the Divine Presence to depart From Israel! Abba Hanan said in the name of R. Eliezer: He deserves the penalty of death; for it is said, And they had no children,2 but if they had children they would not have died. Others say: He causes the Divine Presence to depart from Israel; for it is said, To be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee;3 where there exists 'seed after thee' the Divine Presence dwells [among them]; but where no 'seed after thee' exists, among whom should it dwell! Among the trees4 or among the stones?
MISHNAH. IF A MAN TOOK A WIFE AND LIVED WITH HER FOR TEN YEARS AND SHE BORE NO CHILD, HE MAY NOT ABSTAIN [ANY LONGER FROM THE DUTY OF PROPAGATION].5 IF HE DIVORCED HER SHE IS PERMITTED TO MARRY ANOTHER, AND THE SECOND HUSBAND MAY ALSO LIVE WITH HER [NO MORE THAN] TEN YEARS.6 IF SHE MISCARRIED [THE PERIOD OF TEN YEARS] IS RECKONED FROM THE TIME OF HER MISCARRIAGE.
GEMARA. Our Rabbis taught: If a man took a wife and lived with her for ten years and she bore no child, he shall divorce her and give her her kethubah,7 since it is possible that it was he who was unworthy to have children from her.8 Although there is no definite proof for this statement9 there is nevertheless a [Scriptural] allusion to it: After Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.10 This11 teaches you that the years of his stay outside the Land12 were not included in the number.13 Hence, if the man or the woman was ill, or if both were in prison, [these years] are not included in the number.14
Said Raba to R. Nahman: Let deduction be made from Isaac, concerning whom it is written, And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebecca etc.15 and it is also written, And Isaac was threescore years old when she bore them!16 — The other replied: Isaac was barren.17 If so,18 Abraham also was barren!19 — That text20 is required For a deduction in accordance with the statement of R. Hiyya b. Abba. For R. Hiyya b. Abba stated in the name of R. Johanan: Why were the years of Ishmael counted? In order to determine thereby the years of Jacob.21
R. Isaac stated: Our father Isaac was barren; for it is said, And Isaac entreated the Lord opposite22 his wife.23 It does not say 'for his wife' but opposite. This teaches that both were barren.24 If so, And the Lord let Himself be entreated of him23 should have read, And the Lord let Himself be entreated of them!25 — Because the prayer of a righteous man the son of a righteous man is not like the prayer of a righteous man the son of a wicked man.26
R. Isaac stated: Why were our ancestors barren? — Because the Holy One, blessed be He, longs to hear the prayer of the righteous.
R. Isaac further stated: Why is the prayer of the righteous compared to a pitchfork?27 As a pitchfork turns the sheaves of grain from one position to another, so does the prayer of the righteous turn the dispensations of the Holy One, blessed be He, from the attribute of anger to the attribute of mercy.
R. Ammi stated: Abraham and Sarah were originally of doubtful sex;28 for it is said, Look unto to the rock
Rab Judah son of R. Samuel b. Shilath stated in the name of Rab: That7 was taught only in respect of the early generations who lived many years. In respect of the later generations, however, whose years of life are few, only two years and a half, corresponding to three periods of pregnancy8 [are allowed].9
Rabbah ruled: These general principles13 are to be disregarded.14 For consider: Who compiled our Mishnah? Rabbi, of course; but the years of life were already reduced in the days of David. For it is written, The days of our years are threescore years and ten.15
With regard to the assumption that 'it is possible that it was he who was unworthy to have children from her',16 is it not possible that it was she who was unworthy?17 — Since she is not commanded to fulfil the duty of propagation she is not so punished.18 But surely it is not so!19 For the Rabbis once said to R. Abba b. Zabda, 'Take a wife and beget children', and he answered them, 'Had I been worthy I would have had them from my first wife'! — There he was merely evading the Rabbis; for, in fact, R. Abba b. Zabda became impotent through the long discourses of R. Huna.20
R. Aha b. Jacob was once attacked by dysuria,21 and when he was supported on the college cedar tree a discharge issued like a green palm shoot.
R. Aha b. Jacob stated: We were a group of sixty scholars, and all became impotent through the long discourses of R. Huna;20 with the exception of myself who followed the principle, Wisdom preserveth the life of him that hath it.22
IF HE DIVORCED HER SHE IS PERMITTED etc. Only a second husband23 but not a third;24 whose view, then, is represented by our Mishnah? — It is that of Rabbi. For it was taught: If she circumcised her first child and he died,25 and a second one who also died,25 she must not circumcise her third child; so Rabbi. R. Simeon b. Gamaliel, however, said: She circumcises the third, but must not circumcise the fourth child. But, surely, the reverse was taught;26 now which of these is the latter?27 — Come and hear what R. Hiyya b. Abba stated in the name of R. Johanan: It once happened with four sisters at Sepphoris that when the first had circumcised her child he died; when the second [circumcised her child] he also died, and when the third [circumcised her child] he also died. The fourth came before R. Simeon b. Gamaliel who told her, 'You must not circumcise [the child]'.28 But is it not possible that if the third sister had come he would also have told her the same!29 — If so,30 what could have been the purpose of the evidence of R. Hiyya b. Abba? [No]. It is possible that he meant to teach us the following: That sisters also establish a presumption!31
Raba said: Now that it has been stated that sisters also establish a presumption, a man should not take a wife either from a family of epileptics, or from a family of lepers. This applies. however, only when the fact had been established by the occurrence of three cases.32
What is the decision?33 — When R. Isaac b. Joseph came he related: Such a case was once submitted to R. Johanan in the Synagogue of Ma'on34 on the Day of Atonement which fell on a Sabbath. A woman, it happened, had circumcised her child35 who died; her second [sister circumcised her child] and he also died, and her third sister appeared before him. He said to her, 'Go and circumcise him'. Said Abaye to him:36 See, you have permitted37 a forbidden38 and a dangerous39 act.
Abaye, however, relying upon this statement40 married Homa the daughter of Isi son of R. Isaac the son of Rab Judah, although Rehaba of Pumbeditha had married her and died, and R. Isaac son of Rabbah b. Hana had subsequently married her and also died. And after he had married her, he himself died also.
Said Raba: Would any one else have exposed himself to such danger? Surely he himself had said that Abin was reliable41 but that Isaac the Red was not a person to be relied upon;41 that Abin was well acquainted with any change42 [in the views of R. Johanan] but Isaac the Red was not acquainted with any such changes! Furthermore, it might be said that their dispute43 extended only to the case of circumcision; do they, however, differ also in the case of marriage? — Yes; for so it was taught: If a woman was married to one husband44 who died, and to a second one who also died, she must not be married to a third; so Rabbi. R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said: She may be married to a third, but she may not be married to a fourth.45
In the case of circumcision, one can well understand [why the operation is dangerous with some children and not with others] since the members of one family may bleed profusely46 while those of another family may bleed little;47 what, however, is the reason in the case of marriage?48 — R. Mordecai answered R. Ashi: Thus said Abimi from Hagronia in the name of R. Huna, 'The source49 is the cause'.50 But R. Ashi stated: '[The woman's] ill luck is the cause'.50 What practical difference is there between them?51 — The difference between them is the case where the man only betrothed her and died,52 or also when he fell off a palm-tree and died.52
SAID R. JOSEPH SON OF RABA to Raba: I enquired of R. Joseph whether the halachah is in agreement with Rabbi, and he replied in the affirmative. [I asked] whether the halachah is in agreement with R. Simeon b. Gamaliel, and he again replied in the affirmative. Was he thereby merely ridiculing me?' — The other replied: No; there are several anonymous statements [in the Mishnah] and he informed53 you [that in the matter of] marriage and flogging [the anonymous Mishnah]54 agrees with Rabbi, and that in the matter of menstrual periods and the ox [whose owner has been] fore-warned55 [the anonymous Mishnah] agrees with R. Simeon b. Gamaliel.
As to marriage, there is the statement just discussed.56
'The menstrual periods'? — As we learned: A woman may not
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