July 12, 2022

Ketubot 6

On three occasions, today’s daf (Ketubot 6a-b) draws a halachic comparison – twice when discussing the physiological consequences of a woman having sex for the first time, and once when discussing the psychological distraction of a groom who is soon to have sex for the first time.
In terms of the first two cases, the reader is asked to consider the halachic similarity between sex and the act of pushing a stopper into a beer barrel, and the halachic similarity of sex on Shabbat and how it is permitted to enter a narrow area on Shabbat notwithstanding the certainty that pebbles will be dislodged. And in terms of the third case, the reader is asked to consider the halachic similarity between the distracting thoughts about sex experienced by a groom (which would exempt a groom from reciting the Shema), and the distracting thoughts about loss experienced by a mourner (given that a mourner is required to recite the Shema).
Significantly, when speaking about the halachic implications of the act of sex, our Sages seem to be comfortable drawing comparisons with more mundane acts, whereas when discussing the halachic implications of the psychology of sex, it is clear that they see a difference between sex and other life experiences. Still, it is possible that the discussions in the first part of our daf may prompt unsophisticated readers to think of sex as a mundane act. Moreover, the comparisons provided by our Gemara might even be interpreted by an unsophisticated reader as conveying a message that objectifies women.
Few would disagree with the statement that the Gemara is a sophisticated collection of halachic and theological teachings, and a sophisticated reader of Gemara recognizes that when a halachic comparison is being made, this does not mean that the two actions being compared are equivalent.
The problem is that Gemara – however revered it may be – is often taught to, often read by, and at times even taught by unsophisticated readers, which means that unhealthy and, in some cases, even dangerous conclusions can be derived from misreading and misinterpreting what the Gemara is actually saying. And this is why a thoughtful teacher and reader of Gemara must always be clear about what the Gemara is actually saying, and where appropriate, explicitly counterbalance any possible misreadings or misinterpretations.
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