Monday, March 05, 2007

Looking at Beauty

The Talmud says[1] that when one is examining a perspective bride to be wed, if her eyes are beautiful, then he need not check the rest of her body. Rabbi Yosef Chaim explains[2] that "eyes" refers not to her physical eyes, but rather to her wisdom. If the bachelorette posses the proper wisdom, she should be able to mask any physical blemishes which she may have, and thus does not require further examination by the groom. Rabbi Ya'akov Reischer explains[3] that the beauty of eyes either refers to physical beauty because a woman's charm is within her eyes or to a "good eye" as opposed to an "evil eye.[4]"
While the eyes are a female's marker of beauty, the eyes of a man are a dangerous tool, which can be used to commit serious sins. In Rabbinic Literature, two men "made a treaty" with their eyes in order not to look at improper sights. These two men were Job[5] and Abraham[6].

In comparing Job to Abraham, the Talmud says[7] that while Job never looked at women to whom he was not married (even unmarried virgins[8]), Abraham did not even look at women to whom he was married, that is, Sarah. Only when Abraham said[9], "Behold now I know that you are a beautiful woman" did Abraham actually look at his wife. However, Rabbi Shmuel Eidels asks[10] that since Abraham kept the entire Torah and the Talmud rules[11] that one is not allowed to betroth a woman before seeing her, then how was Abraham allowed to marry Sarah without ever having looked at her. He answers that Abraham actually Sarah when she was still a young maiden, but did not look at her after their wedding. Therefore, he assumed that she naturally lost her beauty with age; however, in reality, she miraculously retained her physical beauty even in old age[12], and therefore Abraham was astonished to see his still-beautiful wife on the road to Egypt. Rabbi Yehudah Low (1525-1609) explains[13] that Abraham actually did see his wife Sarah. However, all Abraham saw of Sarah was her face, not the rest of her body. He explains that one is not moved by the physical beauty of another's face because the face is a body part, which is visible to the entire world, so the power of its beauty is weakened. On the road to Egypt, Abraham saw Sarah's reflection in the Nile River, and through that incident, he saw her true inner beauty. It was from this beauty, which Abraham was moved and astonished.

Others explain that Abraham truly did not look at his wife at all, but for some reason he was allowed to marry her without looking at her. Rabbi Ya'akov Reischer explains[14] that one is only not allowed to marry a woman whom he has not seen because he might later find a physical deformity in her and later divorce her. However, this reason did not apply to Abraham because he prophetically knew that he and Sarah were destined to be man and wife, he therefore was allowed to marry Sarah without having ever seen her. Rabbi Eidels answers[15] that Abraham only kept the Torah from the time of his circumcision and onwards, so at the time that he first married Sarah, he was not bound by the Torah's laws yet, so there was no prohibition for him to marry a woman whom he has not seen[16].

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Braun writes[17] that it is actually not forbidden to marry a woman before seeing her because Maimonides writes[18] that it is just "improper", which implies that it is permitted to do so, but not correct to do so. He quotes the explanation of Rabbi Yechezkel Landau who explained[19] that one cannot marry a woman whom he has not seen because he lacks the proper mindset to legally make the marital transaction complete. This again implies that there is no prohibition of marrying such a woman, rather there is a technical reason for why such a marriage is frowned upon. With this, Rabbi Braun explains the words of Rabbi Ya'akov Emden[20] who said that a modest man would marry a woman without even seeing her. The modesty of such a man would overpower this ideal of seeing one's wife before marrying her, but had there been a prohibition of marrying such an unseen girl, the fact that the man is modest does not negate the prohibition.

[1] Taanis 24a
[2] Ben Yehoyada to Taanis 24a
[3] Iyun Ya'akov to Taanis 24a
[4] The concept of "evil eye" is explained by Rabbeinu Yonah to Avos 2:11 as referring to one's power of temptation and inclination toward evil as well as jealousy.
[5] Avos D'Rabbi Nosson 2:5
[6] Chiddushei Geonim to Bava Basra 16a
[7] Bava Basra 16a
[8] Avos D'Rabbi Nosson 2:5
[9] Genesis 12:11
[10] Maharsha to Bava Basra 16a
[11] Kiddushin 41a
[12] See Rashi to Genesis 23:1
[13] Gur Aryeh to Genesis 12:11
[14] Iyun Ya'akov to Bava Basra 16a, see also Einei Shmuel to Bava Basra 16a
[15] Maharsha to Bava Basra 16a (second answer)
[16] This echoes the words of the Maharsha to Yevamos 100a, see also Ahavas Eisan to Bava Basra 16a who says the same answer and then attempts to differentiate between "seeing" and "gazing". He says that Abraham actually "saw" his wife, so he was allowed to marry her, but never "gazed" at her, so he was still later surprised by her beauty.
[17] She'arim Mitzuyanim b'Halacha to Bava Basra 16a
[18] Laws of Marriage 3:19
[19] Noda B'Yehuda, Version One, Even HaEzer §77
[20] Hagahos Ya'avetz to Shabbos 53b

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ohe haCHAIM IN vAYETEI (i THINK talmid chacham should marry preety girl RADAK SAYS BEAUTY IS REAL BEAUTY NOT ALL THE DRUSH

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