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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Are you a prisoner of society?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 51


When Gilad Shalit was taken captive by Hamas, as well as two soldiers who were subsequently murdered by Hizbollah – Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev – every shul began reciting a prayer for captured soldiers.  Once we were already saying it, most shuls elected to include the State of Israel’s other unaccounted for MIAs – Guy Hever, Ron Arad, Zachary Baumol, Yekutiel Katz and Zvi Feldman. 

Thank G-d, Gilad Shalit was eventually brought home safe and sound.  But then the debates began around the world: do we continue to recite the prayer for the remaining MIAs?  While most had long since despaired of their return, their parents still yearn for them and some have dedicated their lives to finding answers as to their children’s whereabouts.  At Beth Israel, we decided to continue saying the prayer.

About a year later, an incredible miracle took place in Cleveland, Ohio.  A couple of young ladies who had been held captive for over a decade in a personal home managed to escape after a neighbour heard their cries for help.  At that point I realized that if people could be held captive in a major city in America for years, it is not a far stretch to believe that these MIAs are still alive somewhere in the Middle East and I committed myself to reciting the prayer with extra kavanah (focus) each week.

But the question on everyone’s lips when the Cleveland girls were found was: Why did they appear to submit to the will of their captors?  Why couldn’t they find an opportunity to leave sooner?

The Mishnah states: Even if a man did not explicitly write in the ketubah, ‘If you shall be captured, I shall redeem you and bring you back to be my wife,’ he is nonetheless obligated to do so, for that is a stipulation prescribed by the Beth Din (court).

The father of Shmuel taught: A Jewish woman who was violated is forbidden to her husband, for we are concerned lest she was initially coerced but eventually consented.  Rava disagreed and taught: Any woman who was initially coerced but eventually consented, remains permitted to her husband.

Rabbi Judah taught, ‘Women who were kidnapped remain permitted to their husbands.’
The Rabbis questioned Rabbi Judah, ‘But what if they were offering their captors bread?’ i.e. they seemed to be acting willingly?
‘They do so out of fear,’ he responded.
‘But what if they prepare their weapons for them?’
‘They do so out of fear,’ he replied once again, ‘but certainly, if they were freed and they remained of their own accord, they would become forbidden to their husbands.’

The young ladies who were imprisoned in the house in Cleveland became typical abuse victims.  Their submission and cooperation did not indicate their agreement or willingness to remain in captivity.  Rather, they had sadly become so used to life in captivity that it was the new normal for them.  They were not acting of their own volition, they were acting, as Rabbi Judah explains, out of a fear that had completely enveloped them until they couldn’t imagine any other life.

How many of us live in constant fear of expressing our spiritual selves?  The Haggadah enjoins us that ‘In each generation, one must see himself as if he personally left in Egypt.’  Egypt comes from the root word meitzar, meaning ‘constraint.’  We are often captive to the constraints of the society around us and so we have become accustomed to living in fear of what people will think or say if we express our Judaism openly.

What will my colleagues think if I bring a kosher lunch to work?  What will my neighbours say if I put up a sukkah?  What will my friends think if I decide to stop answering my phone on Shabbat?  If you’re experiencing any such feelings, you’ve become a captive of your environment.  You are living a life of fear, which has become your new normal. 


It’s time to leave Egypt!  It’s time to break free from your self-imposed constraints!  It’s time to stop living in fear!  May you merit escaping the shackles of your environment and liberating yourself from the constraints of this world!