Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Playing with children" - earliest reference to abuse

This is the earliest reference I have found to child abuse in the Jewish literature. I can not find any elaboration or further discussion of child abuse - until the writings of the  Tzemach Tzedech and Sho'el U'Meishiv in the 19th century.

Nida[1](13b):  Our Rabbis taught: Converts and those that play with children – delay the coming of Moshiach. I can understand the reference to converts as it fits with the view of R’ Chelbo. R’ Chelbo said, Converts are as difficult for the Jews as a irritating scab. However what is the meaning of “those that play with children?” It can’t be referring to those who rape children – because that is punishable by stoning and not merely by delaying Moshiach. It also can’t refer to those who molest children without sodomizing them [but it involves zera l’vatala – Rashi] – because they are deserving of the punishment of bringing a flood to the world. Rather this braissa is referring to those who marry young girls who are not capable of having children yet. This in accord with R’ Yosse who said, The Son of Dovid (Moshiach) will not come until all the souls are born....

[1] נדה (יג:): ת"ר: הגרים והמשחקין בתינוקות מעכבין את המשיח. בשלמא גרים - כדר' חלבו, דא"ר חלבו: קשין גרים לישראל כספחת. אלא משחקין בתנוקות מאי היא? אילימא משכב זכור - בני סקילה נינהו! אלא דרך אברים - בני מבול נינהו! אלא דנסיבי קטנות דלאו בנות אולודי נינהו, דא"ר יוסי: אין בן דוד בא עד שיכלו כל הנשמות שבגוף,...


  1. This isn't condemning or even referencing child sexual abuse.

    The gemara's problem is that sex with this girl cannot produce children because she is not yet sexually mature, and that means the man is wasting seed that should instead be used to impregnate another female who is mature, and that will bring down another soul to this world and reduce the number of souls waiting for their chance to be born.

    And as you must know, there is a line of Jewish mystical thought that says that storehouse of souls must be emptied before moshiach, the messiah, comes.

    That said, do have a source citation for the Shaul u'Meishiv? (Who, BTW, was very close to a couple ancestors of mine).

    1. The gemora explores three possiblities of "those who play with children" that might be punished by delaying Moshiach - and it rejects two of them. These two types of "playing with children" are clearly types of child abuse. The first involves sodomizing male children and the second one involves sexual contact described as derech avaraim - which doesn't involve sodomizing but does involve zera l'vatala. Why would you claim that these two types are not child abuse? Apparently you are focusing on the third type of "playing with children" which does result in delaying Moshiach. It is marrying a girl who is too young to bear children. The gemora itself is referring to the mystical concept.

      I don't see what there is to disagree - the gemora is very clear. The gemora is only asking which type of negative "playing with children" results in the delay of Moshiach. It clearly views all three types of "playing with children a bad behavior.
      This is the citation. BTW do you have any additional information about this teshuva or any other earlier references to abuse?

      Sho’el U’Meishiv (1:185): Rumors spread about a certain teacher who had lived in that city for 8 years. Children that he had taught while they were young and now were 13 years or more older testified that he had sodomized them when they were younger. The previous summer a certain G d fearing man found out about this and was outraged and informed the rav of the community. However the rav did not want to accept this testimony… However the Maharik and the Terumas HaDeshen wrote and the Rema rules in Shulchan Aruch that in a situation where kosher witness are not necessary - then even a woman or child is believed. If so, in this matter it is definitely impossible for there to be adult males and it is impossible for there to be testimony in the matter. That is because without a doubt this man – even if he is wicked and dissolute – keeps his deeds secret and he only amuses himself with small children and claims he is only playing with them. Therefore it is obvious that they should be believed. However we are not trying to disqualify him from being a witness or making an oath but we only want to be able to say whether he perhaps did this. Our Sages said in Nida (61) that while it is prohibited to believe lashon harah, the concern aroused by it is required. And in Mo’ed Koton (18) they said that regarding bad talk – at least some of it is true. Therefore woe is to us that in our days such a thing happened that a man like this should be a teacher of children who are pure creatures and there is concern that he violated them. Therefore in my opinion it is appropriate to remove the crown of teacher from his head. They need to be concerned for their souls until he completely repents with appropriate afflictions and only then can he considered a full member of the community and it will be an atonement for his sins. Furthermore as long as he hasn’t confessed his sins then repentance is not possible as the Tevu’os Shor wrote in siman 2…. But in this case where there is testimony – even though it is not from kosher witnesses it is worth more than rumors and it is obvious he should be prevented from getting students to teach.

      This is the Tzemach Tzedek

    2. http://hirhurim.blogspot.co.il/2007/03/important-responsum-regarding-child.html contains the Hebrew Text as well as a translation

  2. "It can’t be referring to those who rape children – because that is punishable by stoning and not merely by delaying Moshiach."

    Huh? Rape isn't punishable by death, even if it is a child being raped. Unless you're talking about gay rape. But then all gay sex is punishable by death, consensual or rape.

    1. It is talking about sodomizing a male child - see my previous comment. The second type is sexual conduct which is not intercourse which is non the less condemned apparently because of the zera l'vatala aspect.

    2. So the death penalty is applied due to the homosexual sex, not anything else. All homosexual sex is subject to capital punishment.

      If he sodomized a female child the laws are different.

    3. Yes you have raised an important point regarding the first type of "playing with children" . However the second category of derech avarim would apply to both male and female children.

      I am not claiming that child abuse was viewed the same way as it is today - but it clearly is describing activity that we would call abuse and it is being condemned. The first because it is homosexual rape and the second because it involves zera l'vatala. Child marriage is being criticized solely because it won't result in children until the bride physically matures.

    4. "However we are not trying to disqualify him from being a witness or making an oath"

      So if someone was denounced by 100 underage boys for sodomy, we do not disqualify him from being a witness, but if he has Internet oder an I-phone, we do???

      Interesting priorities!

    5. you missed the point. The Shoel UMeishiv is not putting him on trial to determine guilt or innocence. He is dealing with whether the rumors and underaged testimony reaches the threshold that it is reasonable to deny him a teaching position - because he might be a danger.

      In general the procedures for rodef and protecting others has a significant different standard of evidence then deciding whether he is guilty of a particular crime.

      In the case of internet there are rabbis who feel that there has to be severe consequences to stop people utilizing the internet. It is an issue of social control.

      the disqualifying of someone with internet from being a witness is not because he has committed a crime but because he has violated community rules.

    6. You missed the point. A community that disqualifies someone from being a witness for using Internet, but not for allegedly raping underage children has slightly disbalanced priorities.

      Can you see that?

      But then, women are per se disqualified, so why should I bother...

    7. Don't know what the fact that you are a woman has to do with the question.

      If they disqualified as witnesses in both cases - would you be satisfied?

      My point is that we are dealing with two different processes - a community decree to prevent use of internet and a community concern that a person might be a danger to children. There is no inherent reason why they result in the same or greater sanctions. Disqualifiying a person from testimony because of the use of internet is a punishment for violating a decree while the suspected child molester is simply being kept away to protect against possible danger to children. How is disqualifying his testimony protecting the children?

    8. My point was that women, for the mere fact that they are women, are treated worse than suspected child molestors (no right to testify, even if completely innocent).

      I think it is a serious problem when a society gives more credibility to a child molestor than to someone whose only "sin" is to use Internet - or to have two x chromosomes.

      Even if the results come about in completely different contexts, there has to be some overall consistency - or the system is out of balance.

      I think that the jewish justice system has indeed come out of balance - which is understandable after centuries and centuries of very limited competences.

      The Rabbis are so concerned "community matters", that they over-punish little details, while major offenses - like child molestations - are out of their competence.

      this is OK as long as they admit that they don't deal with criminal justice and send the cases to the appropriate courts - as should be done.

      But when they over-punish small offenses on the one hand and protect major criminals at the same time, the system looses its credibility.

      This case of "withdrawing the witness status" is but one example of this huge imbalance.

  3. Let me first say that I might not be objective as this is a very painful subject for me.
    Imagine you read somewhere that someone who kills a child by drowning them in wine, will get a very big punishment because it is wasting wine. Is this source saying that murdering a child is evil or that wasting wine is evil? Is it not in fact saying that wine wasting is worse?

    The gemorah that you bring really disturbs me. What has also disturbed me for years is what Rabbeinu Yonah says in shaarai teshuva "and one who plays sexually with female minors, or masturbates,using his hand or foot to do so, incurs the penalty of death at the hands of heaven"
    How can the two even be put in the same sentence? How can most healthy males, including a lot of great and kind people, simply be put together with child tortures?

    These questions have tormented me for years.

    The bottom line is that the gemorah seems to be concerned about masturbation, not the actual child abuse.

  4. ספר שערי תשובה לרבינו יונה שער ג ד"ה קיב והמשחק

    קיב והמשחק עם התינוקות ומנאף בין ביד ובין ברגל חייב מיתה בידי שמים. ואמרו רבותינו זכרונם לברכה (נדה יג, ב): כי ענשו כעונש דור המבול שהיו משחיתים דרכם, וכן העושה כמעשה ער ואונן, דש מבפנים וזורה מבחוץ לאבד הזרע, חייב מיתה, שנאמר (בראשית לח, י): "וירע בעיני ה' אשר עשה וימת גם אותו", ונאמר על המוציאים את הזרע לבטלה (ישעיה נז, ה): "הנחמים באלים תחת כל עץ רענן שוחטי הילדים וגו'".

    The gemora does not say that a child is being tortured. The focus of the gemora - and Rabbeinu Yonah is solely on the issue of zera l'vatala. Then Rabbeinu Yonah also adds the case of Er and Onan - which involves spilling the seed after sexual intercourse.

    So your question really is why is there a punishment of death from Heaven for zera l'vatala?

    An answer can be found regarding this question in Shulchan Aruch (E.H. 23)

    שולחן ערוך אבן העזר הלכות אישות סימן כג

    א (א) א] אסור להוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה ועון זה חמור מכל עבירות שבתורה. ב] לפיכך לא יהיה אדם דש מבפנים וזורה מבחוץ, ב (ב) ג] [א] ולא ישא קטנה שאינה ראויה לילד.

    If you look at the Beis Shmuel he says that this that the Shulchan Aruch says that it is the worst sin in the entire Torah is from the Zohar - but it is lav davka- not to be taken literally

    בית שמואל סימן כג

    א אסור להוצי' ש"ז - כתב ח"מ בשם ספר החסידים אם מתירא שאל יכשל בא"א או בנדה ח"ו טוב לו להוצי' זרע לבטלה רק יתענה מ' יום בימי הקיץ או ישב בקור בימי החורף לפ"ז מ"ש בזוהר וכאן דעון מוציא ש"ז חמיר מכל עבירות לאו דוק':

    This is discussed in the Rambam commentary to Sanhedrin - where he says that Chazal exaggerated concerning the consequences of sexual sins in order to scare people into compliance and also in Igros Moshe where he says it is not the worst sin - but it is a serious sin.

    1. The modern definition of child abuse - does not require that the child suffer or even being aware of what is happening. It is the use of a child for sexual satisfaction of the perpetrator. That is what is being described in this gemora.

  5. What does RMS Shlit'a say about this post and comments?
    Or does he trust you on this one too?

  6. Don't you think throwing in geirim violates the command re harassing them? Yes, I know 'it is written', but as the old saying goes, not everything written needs to be publicized. Not to mention that there is a whole machlokes as to what the Gemara means with its reference to geirim and how it could just as easily be in praise of them (and which fits in to much better with the classic view on conversion vis a vis Avraham, Tzipporah, Yisro, Rus, etc.)

    So where is/was the discretion?

    1. If you are referring to my quoting the gemora -there really is no reason to apologize for mentioning a clearly gemora. If you are questioning why the gemora stated it - simple answer is because it is true.

      If you are worried that someone might read my blog and be offended - again - it is a well known gemora

  7. As someone who has merited the appellation 'incredibly dense and arrogant' from the baal ha'blog in the aforelinked Tzemach Tzedek thread, I am amazed at the respectful treatment Scott Rosenberg received above.

    For an individual whose greatest hits in a narrow and somewhat repetitive repertoire of catcalls directed towards often polite commenters on his own blog include "little brain" and "comprehend", his staggering incomprehension of a four-sentence snippet of Talmud accompanied by signature smugness towards the baal ha'blog (who is, by all accounts, infinitely more knowledgeable), never mind his failure to concede as much after this was pointed out, serves to shock once more yet is entirely unsurprising. What is surprising is the tenderness and politeness with which the baal ha'blog goes about addressing this howler.

    Furthermore, for a blogger supposedly concerned for the welfare of the Jewish community (although strangely, no concrete actions on his part come immediately to mind) and possessing great knowledge of the subjects he covers (as evidenced here and here), Scott Rosenberg demonstrates remarkable ignorance of a classic teshuva concerning molestation which has been discussed and linked to on leading Jewish blogs for over 5 years. More shocks, still no surprise. The surprise here is the baal ha'blog proceeding to somewhat servilely request of Mr. Rosenberg to disclose any "additional information" or "earlier references" his vast repository of facts might contain.

    Let me humbly posit that a blogger who combines a unique blend of malice, ignorance and irresponsibility be treated with just a tad more harshness than a humble commenter expressing disagreement in another thread. Scott Rosenberg, muckraker extraordinaire ("THE destination for those who want dirt about Orthodoxy" --NY TIMES), who has recently to all appearances begun blogging during Shabbos (or prehaps I'm just a "liar and a fool, a tiny little man with brain of – and the demeanor of – an ass"), is one such deserving blogger.

    1. you remind me of a story told to me by a close talmid of Rav Moshe Shapiro. He told me that in the inner circle a long time student might be told ,"that wasnt' good enough to be called stupid".

      One day someone wandered in to a private session for the inner circle by mistake and started participating in the discussion. When he asked a particularly dumb question Rav Shapiro told him - that is definitely something I need to think about.

      When the talmidim asked Rav Shapiro why he responded that way - he answered - this person wasn't knowledgeable enough for me to call him an am haaretz.

  8. 1. Does this gemara mean that Yitchak delayed Moshiach by marrying Rivka at age 3?

    2. How do we reconcile this gemara with Niddah 44b (mekudeshes through biah from age 3)?

  9. What makes no sense to me is this, the gemora needs to find a reason for the punishment, with regards to the convert the Gemora says "Converts are as difficult for the Jews as a irritating scab" why does the gemora not simply say "child abuse is as difficult to a child as an irritating scab." The gemora rather says that it is because they are not bringing a soul into the world.
    You write "It clearly
    views all three types of "playing
    with children a bad behavior" but all that is clear is that the gemora views sodomy, spilling seed and not bringing down souls as bad.
    But what about "playing with children" in a way that does not have these three problems? An example would be that the abuser is a woman.
    Would the gemorah say that a woman that "plays with a child" is worse or better than a man masturbating?

    The only way I can understand this gemora is to say that in those days somehow no one knew about how terrible child abuse is, therefore if there is a punishment there must be an external reason for it.
    Do you agree with me? How else can on make sense of this?

    1. Let me go one step beyond. Your explanation is that abuse produced horrible damage but no one was aware of it so therefore the gemora didn't mention it.

      There is an alternative - abuse is not inherently traumatic as we find it today. Apparently many people who are abused simple get over it. One woman told me that here maid from South America told her she had been raped 5 times - but that was life. No trauma.

      It could be that the trauma that is experienced today is a result of the psychological sensitivity that is part of our society.

      This is also observed in trauma counseling. The assumption is that if your high school has a massacre or your community has a deadly flood - the best thing is to get psychologists to allow the surivors to talk about their feelings. There are many studies that indicate that for some people the best way to deal with tragedy is get on with life and forgot about the experience. For these people talking and constantly remembering only makes things worse.

      Historically the concern for abuse developed in the 1970's as a result of the trauma of Vietnam veterans and the Feminist movment concern for trauma of battered wives and kids. What happened to traumatized people before that. Apparently many survived with minimal trauma.

      A related issue is marriages previously were not based on love and psychological sensitivity - but on necessity and sharing life and burdens. Love in fact primarily existed in adulterous relationships.

      So there seems to have been a significant shift in psychological sensitivity and vulnerability.

    2. I think what has evolved is the perception of the victim's plea by society.

      When spousal rape and marriage without consent was an accepted practice within society, or when rape victims are accused of not watching over their purity, the victim's pleas just went unheard.

      Some were resilient and could live more or less normally despite the trauma, others had their lives destroyed, but no-one paid attention to it.

      By the way, I think that in our society the victim still has to carry too much of the burden of the damage that was done by the perpetrator.

      When psychologic illness ensued from sexual abuse, society would point fingers at the victims and say "look at this crazy (nymphomaniac, drug-addict, you name it) person."

      This is still what happens today: Abusers and their helpers systematically try to undermine the victim's credibility pointing out the psychological damage that was done by abuse. (See the Webermann case now and the defense strategy of Weberman's side).

      Therefore, I think that the idea that rape is not as bad as they make it look now, is quite outrageous. I am specially surprised that it comes from a psychologist. But true: in the culture that prevailed at talmudic times, there were many kinds of rape victims whose pleas would just go unheard.

      In some culture, there are still forms of accepted rape and pedophilia (marriage without consent, for example, or the case of strong economic disparity and forced prostitution of males and females or the respect of family privacy even in cases of incestual rape)

    3. We are talking about two different issues. I am proposing - not asserting that the trauma is much more severe today as a result of psychological sensitivity or vulnerability that didn't exist before. You might read the "Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan - the grandmother of the women's liberation - where she discusses the shift from physical punishment to psychological punishment i.e., withholding love or making love contigent on good behavior. She correctly notes that physical punishment is much less traumatic and its effects are transient compared to punishment through conditional love.

      BTW rape is condemned in the Torah and in the gemora. That includes wife rape. I am not saying that rape is good. I am proposing that the trauma of rape was less in the old days and that is the reason that the focus was on the nature of sin rather than the trauma to the victim. it could be that the trauma was there and no one thought to ask about it. I am simply looking for data to support either of these views.

      I agree with the possibility of your view being the correct one - I am simply exploring alternatives.

      Please disengage from your ideological & cultural straitjacket and try looking at things - at least tentatively - from a different perspective. You might also benefit from reading about the psychological differences between different nationalities of UN soldiers who were captured by the North Koreans during the Korean War. The ones who were successfully brainwashed and collaberated with the enemy were the Americans. The Turks on the other hand were not influenced at all by brainwashing and refused to cooperate.
      The explanation given is that the identity of an Americans is highly dependent upon the approval of outsiders. They desperately want to be liked by others. This was used to manipulate their identity by making them feel that they had been misled in an unjust war against the peace loving North Koreans. The Turks on the other hand knew where their loyalties lay and they followed orders without question - they would even charge enemy tanks with sticks when their ammunition ran out. They had no psychological vulnerablities.

    4. I think, on a general leve, that structural injustice is worse than an individual crime. Individual crime, punished by society, will probably always happen. But what is worse is when a society declares the crime legal and gives no punishment to the offender: in this case, the victim has no recourse whatsoever against the perpetrator.

      I thought that this concept was important in jewish law. e.g. when it is forbidden to bring a fugitive slave back to his master.

      As far as I know, the sages often use the metaphore of "S'dom" for structural injustice: s'dom was destroyed, according to the midrash, because a young girl, who in the purity of her heart had done the right thing (given bread to hungry person), was executed in a cruel way, because the laws had outlawed "doing the right thing".

      Therefore, I am quite shocked that you should believe - or propose - that rape is less incisive when the rape victim not only suffers the abuse, but is also stripped of any possibility to make it cease or to be compensated for the damage suffered.

    5. Therefore, I am quite shocked that you should believe - or propose - that rape is less incisive when the rape victim not only suffers the abuse, but is also stripped of any possibility to make it cease or to be compensated for the damage suffered.
      That is not the issue I raised. I am discussing the issue of trauma - was rape less traumatic in previous generations. is Abuse less traumatic psychologically in Third World societies then in the Western World. Why is this question so difficult for you to comprehend?

    6. Taken from:

      "Has anyone ever tried understanding what a victim goes through in their lives, on a DAILY BASIS? Can one ever explain to a non victim the thoughts, actions, feelings of insanity that invades the mind? I wish I can go into a child's brain, and see the paths the abuse takes when this child is molested. Do all the chemicals in the brain go haywire? Do feelings, and thoughts get jumbled? If I do get into the brain of that child, how do I explain it to the world? How do you explain how a victim would willingly hurt another child, all the while knowing he's hurting him? Is he doing it willingly, or does his mind have a power over him? And, most importantly, who is to blame? The abuser of the abuser of the abuser?"

      Dou you still propose that this person suffers just because the culture around speaks about abuse and calls it abuse?

      I propose that the suffering of such a victim in Yemen is the same, even though the surrounding culture would not aknowledge it is abuse.

  10. Another way to ask this question: is psychological trauma something that always existed but which there was no vocabulary for (and hence was difficult or impossible to think about?) Or perhaps a different vocabulary was used to describe it? If the latter, how precisely does that different vocabulary "map" onto the psychological one? Is rape trauma a modern construct in its entirety? Is the Third World/Western world distinction contingent on how brutal and time consuming mere survival is, and in the Third World there isn't time to pay attention until it reaches the level of serious impediment to survival; a physical analogy might be the loss of a finger (which would be much more of a handicap to a pianist or a surgeon than to a laborer) versus the loss of both hands (which in a subsistence economy would be a grave handicap indeed.)


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