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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Compartmentalized Judaism

Daf Yomi Kesubos 79


When I was in my first year of college, I would be at university during the day and I would attend yeshiva and have a chavrusa (Torah study partner) in the evenings.    It was weird: at one point I felt like I had two separate lives.  During the day, I was a college guy, socializing, hanging out.  And at night, I was a yeshiva bochur, learning Torah, keeping company with my chaverim in the yeshiva.  

At the end of the year, I decided to go to Israel and do another year in yeshiva full-time.  When I returned, I continued my university.  But this time was very different.  I shifted my timetable so that now I was in yeshiva during the day and took college classes at night.  Gone were my days of hanging out at university – I would simply go in, take my courses and leave.

The Mishnah states: If a woman brought personal property into the marriage, Rabbi Shimon distinguishes between different types of property:  Property that the husband is aware of, she may not sell; and if she sold or gifted it, the transaction is null and void.  Property that the husband is unaware of, she should not sell; but if she did sell or gift it, the transaction is effective.

The Beraisa states: One who wishes to conceal her assets from her husband, what should she do?  Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel says, ‘She should write a technicolour (passim) contract to someone else.’  But the Sages say, ‘If the recipient would want, he could laugh off her eventual claim.’
Rashi explains:  A technicolour contract is one in which the giver asks the recipient to accept their assets as a gift, in order to avoid them passing to her husband upon marriage.  But the giver has no intention of the recipient keeping the assets.  The recipient, however, might laugh off her claim (when she eventually requests their return) and hold on to the assets forever.

A technicolour contract, or a contract of many colours (passim), masquerades as something it is not.  Officially, the property is being transferred to a third party, but it’s a sham transaction that the woman never truly intends to effect.  As the Sages say, it’s laughable and not to be taken seriously. 

Why is it called a contract of many colours?  Because this individual is presenting herself as one identity to one person (her husband) and as another identity to someone else.  It’s a contract of many colours or many identities because she presents different faces depending upon who she’s dealing with.  In the end, the Sages laugh her off and tell her that her ruse won’t work. 

Many people compartmentalize their life and wear different faces and identities depending on where they are and who they are dealing with.  They’ll act pious in the synagogue and community, but then throw off the yarmulke and become ruthless in the workplace.  They’ll keep the most scrupulously kosher homes but then join their colleagues for a treif business lunch.

Who are you?  Are you the same person in shul as you are at home as you are at work?  Or do you have a face of many colours?  Do you compartmentalize your life into different contracts or are you the same person, no matter what or who is watching?  Don’t be laughable in the eyes of Heaven!  Be true to yourself and true to those around you by maintaining your face of righteousness and piety wherever you go!


When my friend, Rabbi Jonathan Gross of Beth Tfiloh in Baltimore is asked, ‘Where are you a rabbi?’ he responds, ‘Wherever I go!’  May you merit being a sincere and transparent Yid wherever you go!