August 8, 2022

Ketubot 27

Today’s daf (Ketubot 27b) recounts how the brother of Mari bar Isak, who had spent his early years with Mari but who was then taken by his father and raised in Beit Choza’ah (a district on the caravan road along the Tigris) while Mari remained in Babylon, reunited with Mari following the death of his father at which time he asked that his father’s possessions be divided between them.
Mari responded by saying לא ידענא לך – literally, ‘I don’t know you’, and in this case meaning, ‘I don’t recognize you and I’m therefore not certain that you are my brother’. The brother, feeling rejected, sought the advice of Rav Chisda while, upon meeting up with him, likely asking: ‘how is it possible that someone doesn’t recognize their own brother?!’. In reply, Rav Chisda reminded the brother of the story of Yosef when ‘Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him’ (Bereishit 42:8).
In terms of our Gemara, its main focus is the question of the requisite level of evidence/testimony for sharing an inheritance when situations like this occur. However, as we are just days away from Tisha B’Av I am drawn to the words of Mari when he said: לא ידענא לך – I don’t know you/I don’t recognize you/I don’t regard you as being part of my family, because while the Jewish people are fundamentally a large family, many Jews sadly don’t regard other Jews who practice their Judaism differently to them as their brothers or sisters. Instead, they treat them as strangers and, through their words and their behaviour, communicate a message of לא ידענא לך.
As Rav Chisda points out, this is seemingly not a new phenomenon, and we read something very similar in the story of Yosef. However, there is a big difference between the Yosef and Mari bar Isak story and situation where we find ourselves today. In both those cases one of the children was taken to a distant land and was not in contact with their sibling for many years, so while there is something tragic in the fact that Yosef’s brothers didn’t recognize him, or Mari bar Isak did not recognize his brother, this is nevertheless understandable given those unique circumstances.
Today, however, we actively ignore familial bonds with other Jews, knowing full well that they are part of the Jewish family. And why? Because life is less complicated if we pretend that we don’t have a sibling whose lifestyle is, in some instances, radically different to ours.
Of course, siblings bicker and can even have heated arguments, and in terms of the Jewish people, we certainly see that different Jews with different ideologies bicker and argue – sometimes constructively, although oftentimes not. Yet, unless a situation like that of Yosef or Mari bar Isak has occurred, we should nevertheless always be able to say that, notwithstanding our differences, we are sisters and brothers. This is our task and our mission for our time and for these days. And it is one that we must rise to.
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