Tag Archives: Talmud

The Meaning of “Bashert” in Rabbinic Judaism and its Implications

YUTOPIA's 10 Year Anniversary SpecialIntroduction 1

In colloquial Jewish vernacular, the description “bashert” essentially means “from God” or the consequence of divine intervention. When someone refers to an event as “bashert,” he is asserting that the invisible Hand of God was intimately involved in its fruition. This is usually due to the improbably circumstances surrounding the event, or its heretofore unappreciated fortuitous outcome. Bashert is perhaps most used in the context of dating and marriage, where the divine intervention refers to the finding, or even the preordained selection, of one’s spouse. Thus the word “bashert” has become synonymous with “soul mate,” the person whom one was divinely ordained to marry.

The primary source for the Jewish idea of a soul mate is the statement by R. Yehuda in the name of Rav in B. Sotah 2a:

א”ר שמואל בר רב יצחק: כי הוה פתח ריש לקיש בסוטה, אמר הכי: אין מזווגין לו לאדם אשה אלא לפי מעשיו, שנא’: +תהלים קכה+ כי לא ינוח שבט הרשע על גורל הצדיקים. אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר ר’ יוחנן: וקשין לזווגן כקריעת ים סוף, שנאמר: +תהלים סח+ אלהים מושיב יחידים ביתה מוציא אסירים בכושרות. איני? והא אמר רב יהודה אמר רב: ארבעים יום קודם יצירת הולד, בת קול יוצאת ואומרת: בת פלוני לפלוני בית פלוני לפלוני שדה פלוני לפלוני! לא קשיא: הא בזוג ראשון, הא בזוג שני.

R. Samuel b. R. Isaac said: When Resh Lakish began to expound [the subject of] Sotah, he spoke thus: They only pair a woman with a man according to his deeds; as it is said: For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous (Ps. 125:3). Rabbah b. Bar Hanah said in the name of R. Johanan: It is as difficult to pair them as was the division of the Red Sea; as it is said: God setteth the solitary in families: He bringeth out the prisoners into prosperity (Ps. 68:7)! But it is not so; Rav Judah said in the name of Rav: Forty days before the formation of a child, a heavenly voice issues forth and proclaims, The daughter of this person is for that person; the house of this person is for that person; the field of this person is for that person! — There is no contradiction, the latter dictum referring to a first marriage and the former to a second marriage.[Emphasis added]

Although the idea of divinely matched soul mate is certainly romantic, it does pose significant theological problems especially in the aftermath of divorce or abusive relationships. Perhaps the most significant theological challenge to the preordained bashert is the denial of one’s free will. In fact this definition of bashert is explicitly rejected by Maimonides on these very grounds in his Shemoneh Perakim Chapter 8.

שמונה פרקים לרמב”ם פרק ח
אבל הלשון הנמצא לחכמים, והוא אומרם: “הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים” – הרי הוא אמת, ומכוון אל מה שזכרנו, אלא שהרבה יטעו בו בני אדם, ויחשבו בקצת מעשי האדם הבחיריים – שהוא מוכרח עליהם, כגון הזיווג לפלונית, או היות זה הממון בידו. וזה אינו אמת, כי זאת האשה, אם היתה לקיחתה בכתובה וקידושין, והיא מותרת, ונשאה לפריה ורביה – הרי זו מצוה, וה’ לא יגזור בעשיית מצוה; ואם היה בנשואיה פגם – הרי היא עבירה, וה’ לא יגזור בעבירה.

[There is no contradiction to this from the following] statement of our Sages: “Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven.” 2 This statement is true and conforms to the conceptual framework that we have explained. Nevertheless, many people err with regard to it and imagine that a person is fated with regard to many of the matters in which he is given free choice: e.g., whether he will marry a particular woman or acquire a sum of money through theft.

This is absolutely not true. For if a person marries a woman, granting her a marriage contract and performing the rites of kiddushin, he is performing a mitzvah, 3 and God does not decree that we will perform any mitzvot. Should the marriage be forbidden, [entering into it] is a sin, and God does not decree that we will perform any sins. 4

Given the theological difficulties inherent in the classical definition of “bashert,” and based on numerous alternative contradictory sources in Rabbinic literature, I will propose a radical reinterpretation of the passage in B. Sotah 2a and redefine the Talmudic approach to bashert. Those who are personally committed to believing in a Jewish concept of a soul mate should minimally interpret this essay as an explanation for Maimonides who does seem to contradict an explicit Talmudic passage. 5 Otherwise, I hope to offer an approach which best represents the myriad of opinions found in the Rabbinic sources, and thus provide a more accurate and defensible portrayal of the compelte Rabbinic tradition.

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Notes:

  1. The following essay was initially prepared and presented in honor of the Auf Ruf of my friend, chavruta, and world-class educator Rabbi Mordy Friedman at the Hotel Paradise (now Leonardo) in Be’er Sheva in June 2002. But this study is also meaningful to me for other personal reasons. One of my greatest resentments in popular Judaism is the pervasive tendency among laity and Rabbis to cite one passage – in or out of context – as the singular opinion on a theological issue, often to the exclusion of all other conflicting sources. Even the specific corpus of Rabbinic literature is so vast that it is rare that one singular text may be honestly presented as exemplary of the entire body of work. Utilizing the academic methodologies I studied under Dr. Yaakov Elman in Revel and inspired by having finished reading Ephraim Urbach’s The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs cover to cover, I began compiling a series of classes in Rabbinic Thought and Theology or Machshevet Hazal. This essay on bashert was my first foray into my endeavor to prove that Torah does not necessitate obedience to a mono-dogmatic religion, while also attempting to dispell a popular, though possibly debilitating, theological myth.

    While I have given this essay as a class on multiple occasions, I had refrained from publishing it in essay form, preferring to wait until the event of my own engagement. Given the uncertainty of when that may actually occur (as an aside, any comments referring to my personal dating status will summarily be deleted) I decided that now would be as good of an alternative occasion as any being part of YUTOPIA’s 10th Anniversary and Tu B’Av.

  2. B. Berachot 32b, B. Megillah 25a, B. Niddah 16b
  3. See Hilkhot Ishut 1:2
  4. Translation by R. Eliyahu Touger p. 48
  5. Although there is no requirement to accept all aggadic statements as literal fact, it is unusual to reject a Talmudic passage so definitively.
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Daf Yomi Tweets – Masechet Berachot

When the Daf Yomi cycle restarted this past summer, I and many others started learning one page of Talmud every day. Keeping up this pace we will complete learning the entire Talmud in roughly 7.5 years which is certainly a daunting commitment, especially considering how difficult certain parts of the Talmud can get. In fact, some critics of daf yomi object to the accelerated pace as being a fairly superficial approach to Talmud study. Speaking only for myself, I have found daf yomi to be incredibly useful. Not only has it forced me to review and reevaluate passages I had seen before, but as I learn additional passages of Talmud (or gain new perspectives) I can immediate integrate them into sermons and classes, not to mention updating and correcting previous talks I have given.

It has also given me the opportunity to spread my thoughts via Twitter and engaging in fascinating discussions using the #DafYomi and #DafChat hashtags, though it took me a while to get into a Tweeting groove. With this in mind let me present my collection of observations and witticisms from learning, and now completing, Tractate Berachot through Daf Yomi.1

  1. I’d like to thank the people responsible for the Koren English Talmud, which made this much easier and to all readers, friends, and followers who have “enjoyed” the tweets.
Posted in Daf Yomi Tweets, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Ep. 73 Rabbinic Thought and Theology 5 – Theodicy and the Problem of Evil

The question of evil and divine justice has engaged and vexed theologians of all religions for centuries. In the class, Rabbi Yuter demonstrates the range of approaches in Rabbinic literature and offers his unique approach towards finding a resolution. (An update of the earlier post Talmudic Theodicy)

Rabbinic Thought and Theology – Theodicy and the Problem of Evil Sources (PDF)

Rabbinic Thought and Theology – Theodicy and the Problem of Evil

Posted in Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Rabbinic Thought and Theology. Tagged with , , .

Ep. 64 Rabbinic Thought and Theology 1 – Introduction / Angels

Rabbi Yuter’s introduces his new series on Rabbinic Thought and Theology with a survey of Angels in rabbinic literature, and a discussion on the methodological approach of the class.

Rabbinic Thought and Theology 1 – Introduction / Angels Sources (PDF)

Rabbinic Thought and Theology 1 – Introduction / Angels

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Eretz Yisrael / The Land of Israel In Rabbinic Thought

In a special class in honor of Yom Haatzmaut, Rabbi Yuter explores Rabbinic perspectives regarding the land of Israel, including those from Babylonian sources.

Eretz Yisrael in Rabbinic Thought Sources (PDF)

Eretz Yisrael in Rabbinic Thought

Posted in Jewish History, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Lectures, Podcasts, Politics, Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Class Series

In the Spring Semester of 2011 I had the honor of addressing the NYU Jewish Law Students Association for a weekly series covering Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law. Below are the links to the specific lectures in the order given with audio and PDF source sheets available. As always, comments are welcome. If there is interest in me delivering any of these lectures or the entire series in person, please contact me directly.

  1. Free Market Ethics in Torah
  2. Halakhic Market Controls
  3. Halakhic Labor Laws
  4. Social Welfare Programs
  5. Taxes and Tzedakah (Charity)
  6. The Laws and Ethics of Universal Health Care in Torah
  7. Tikkun Olam
Posted in Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Lectures, Podcasts, Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah. Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Part 7: Tikkun Olam

The rabbinic idiom “Tikun Olam” literally means “repairing/fixing the world” and has been invoked to promote advocacy for numerous causes and policies. But what did “Tikun Olam” mean to those who coined the phrase? In the final installment of his Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law series, Rabbi Yuter explores the specific instances of Tikkun Olam to extrapolate and infer the ideal social system as understood by the Rabbinic Sages.

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law – Tikkun Olam Sources (PDF)

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law – Tikkun Olam

Posted in Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law, Jewish Law / Halakha, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava, Lectures, Podcasts, Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah. Tagged with , , , , , , , .