1) TALKING TO A WOMAN IN ORDER TO SAVE ONE'S LIFE
QUESTION: Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav relates that there was a man who became infatuated with a certain woman. He became so sick out of his longing for her that the doctors said that unless he could be together with her, he would die. The Chachamim declared that he should die rather than sin with the woman. The doctors then said that if she were to stand in front of him unclad, the man would live. The Chachamim again ruled that it is better that he die. The doctors then said that if she speaks with him from the other side of a fence, the man would live. The Chachamim still ruled that the man should die and not speak with the woman from the other side of a fence.
The Gemara then records a dispute about the circumstances of the case. According to one opinion, the woman was married, and thus the ruling of the Chachamim was clear: the Isur of Eshes Ish is an Isur d'Oraisa of Arayos and it is appropriate to make safeguards in order to prevent transgression of this severe prohibition. According to another opinion, the woman was not married. The Gemara asks that according to this opinion, why did the Chachamim not permit the man to see or speak with the woman in order to save his life? Even if doing so would lead them to sin, the sin would not be so severe since she was not married. (See ARUCH LA'NER.) Rav Papa answers that the Chachamim did not permit it because it would have caused a serious blemish to the reputation of the woman's family. Rav Acha brei d'Rav Ika says that the Chachamim wanted to prevent Jewish girls from becoming accustomed to standing in front of men and acting in an unchaste way.
The dispute about whether the woman was married or not seems to have practical ramifications. According to the opinion that the woman was married, if the same situation would occur with a single woman, apparently the sick man would be permitted to see her or speak with her in order to save his life.
The RAMBAM (Hilchos Yesodei ha'Torah 5:9) rules that even in a case in which the woman is unmarried, the Chachamim do not permit the man to see or speak with the woman in order to save his life. They made this decree in order to prevent Jewish girls from acting in an unchaste way.
The BEIS YOSEF (YD 157) questions why the Rambam rules this way. Since there are two opinions in the Gemara, and the unresolved question involves saving the man's life by letting him see or speak with the woman, out of doubt the law should follow the lenient opinion so that the man's life will be saved ("Safek Nefashos l'Hakel"), and the man should be permitted to see or speak with the unmarried woman!
(a) The BEIS YOSEF gives two answers. In his first answer, he explains that acting stringently in this case involves inaction; the woman is instructed not to do anything (such as speak with the man). Even though that inaction may lead to the man's death, that is preferable than permitting an action to be done which will lead to a sin.
(b) In his second answer, the Beis Yosef explains that since the Gemara continues with a discussion of the reasoning of the opinion that the case involved an unmarried woman, this implies that this opinion is the accepted one in practice.
According to the Beis Yosef's first answer, in any case involving a question of life and death (Safek Nefashos) one may not act leniently when doing so would involve doing an action of sin, while the stringency would involve an inaction. RAV SHLOMO EIGER challenges this assertion. On Shabbos, one is permitted to clear away rubble from a fallen building if there is any doubt that a living person might be trapped beneath it. The Beis Yosef himself rules this way (SHULCHAN ARUCH OC 329:3). However, according to the Beis Yosef here, acting stringently in that case involves an inaction (not clearing away the rubble), and thus one should remain inactive and not desecrate Shabbos out of doubt!
(c) RAV SHLOMO EIGER offers an alternative explanation for the Rambam's stringency. He prefaces his answer by quoting the TERUMAS HA'DESHEN (#199) who discusses when one may or may not sacrifice his life in order to avoid violating a Torah prohibition. The Terumas ha'Deshen asks, what is one supposed to do in a case in which there are some authorities who rule that he must sacrifice his life, while others rule in that case that he must not sacrifice his life? Does one follow the rule that one should be lenient with regard to matters of life and death? The Terumas ha'Deshen says that this rule is not always applicable. The rule that one is lenient in matters of life and death applies only in a case in which the Torah clearly says that it is better to violate a certain prohibition than to lose one's life. However, in a case which involves a matter of Kidush Hash-m, it might be better to die than to transgress the Torah.
Rav Shlomo Eiger explains that the case of the Gemara here is also different, and the rule that one should act leniently in a case of life and death does not apply to this case. In the case of the Gemara here, permitting the man to talk to the unmarried woman would establish a dangerous precedent that might cause Jewish girls to become promiscuous, which would pose a serious risk of major harm to the well-being of the Jewish people. The RAN (in Shabbos) cites the BEHAG who equates a risk of damage to the public well-being of the Jewish people to a life and death situation. Therefore, in this case the Rambam does not apply the normal rule that one should be lenient in a case involving a question of life and death.
(d) The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM quotes a source that teaches that the rule of "Safek Nefashos l'Hakel" does not apply in this case, because the man brought his troubles upon himself by constantly letting his evil inclination overcome him with thoughts about this woman. Since his dilemma is of his own making, he is told that the way to extract himself from that dilemma must also be of his own making; he must fight against and defeat his Yetzer ha'Ra. (See RASHI to 31b, DH led'Ziv Lei, regarding Mar Ukva, who defeated his Yetzer ha'Ra in a similar situation and merited to receive a spiritual light over his head.) (Y. MONTROSE)
2) THE PROHIBITION AGAINST MARRYING ONE'S MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER
QUESTION: Rav Ashi implies that the specific female relatives whom a man is forbidden to marry may be derived from the corresponding relatives of his wife whom he is forbidden to marry. The Gemara asks that the Beraisa in Yevamos (21a) teaches that a man's grandmother is prohibited to him as one of the Sheniyos (the relatives prohibited by the Rabanan). According to Rav Ashi, just as the maternal grandmother of a man's wife is forbidden to him by Torah law, his own maternal grandmother also should be forbidden to him by Torah law.
Abaye answers that the verse specifically excludes a man's grandmother from the prohibition of Arayos when it says, "Imcha Hi" -- "she is your mother" (Vayikra 18:7); the Torah forbids only his mother, not his grandmother.
Why does the Torah include in the prohibitions of Arayos the grandmother of one's wife, while a man's own grandmother is not included?
(a) The ME'IRI explains that the Torah understands the nature of people and it forbids that which is more common.
What does the Me'iri mean? Certainly a relationship with a mother is not common, and yet the Torah still forbids it! The Me'iri apparently addresses this question when he continues and says that since a mother is in close bodily contact with her son all the time, especially when her son is young, the Torah found it necessary to write that from the time that her son reaches the age of nine, a mother will be guilty of having relations with her son.
(b) The RADVAZ (1:352) explains that normal logical methods, such as a Kal va'Chomer, may not be used to determine what is forbidden with regard to the prohibitions of Arayos. These prohibitions are decrees from Hash-m; certain individuals are permitted to a person and certain individuals are forbidden.
The Radvaz seems to follow the view of the RAMBAN (Vayikra 18:6) who writes that there is no simple or obvious reason for why the Torah forbids these specific relationships. The Ramban adds, however, that there is a hidden reason (based on Kabalah) related to the "Sod ha'Ibur," but he does not reveal this reason.
In contrast, the RAMBAM and IBN EZRA explain that the women whom the Torah prohibits to a man are those who are around him the most. The Torah seeks to ensure that the close relationships do not lead to immoral conduct.
The Ramban challenges the explanation of the Rambam and Ibn Ezra with many questions. One of those questions is based on the Gemara here. A man's own grandmother is usually around him much more than his wife's grandmother. According to the logic of the Rambam and Ibn Ezra, there is more reason to forbid his grandmother than to forbid his wife's grandmother!
This question may be answered based on the words of the Me'iri cited above, and as elucidated by the Radvaz. The Radvaz gives a logical reason for why the Torah prohibits the grandmother of one's wife and not a man's own grandmother, even though, as he explains, no logical reason is necessary. He writes that when a fifty-year-old man marries a sixteen-year-old woman, her grandmother easily could be a few years younger than her husband, and her husband could be attracted to her. Therefore, the Torah prohibits this relationship. However, a man's own maternal grandmother will always be much older than he, making it extremely uncommon for such an attraction to occur. According to this explanation, the reasoning of the Rambam and Ibn Ezra is clear. The Torah forbids relationships based not only on the frequency of the presence of those people around him, but based also on how attractive such a relationship would be to him. Therefore, the Torah does not find it necessary to prohibit a man's grandmother, while it does find it necessary to prohibit a man's wife's grandmother. (See SEFORNO for additional insight into the nature of these prohibitions.) (Y. MONTROSE)