Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Did Jacob practice coitus interruptus with Rachel

Did Jacob practice coitus interruptus with Rachel? No, of course not, but at least one interpreter, Ralbag, thinks this, or some other form of birth control, may have been what was behind Rachel's complaint when she said "Give me children or I'll die."

Jacob's reply - am I instead of God - is understood by Ralbag  to be a denial of the accusation. I'm not the one preventing you from having kids. God is.

Now, certainly this is an astounding and crude interpretation, and one that puts Rachel in a bad light, as it suggests she's too innocent to know what her own husband is doing to her. . But is that alone reason enough to discount it out of hand? Must he shut our ears to interpretations that offend our sensibilities, merely on the grounds that our sensibilities have been offended?

My own view is this: I don't know what happened. I will never know what happened. In fact, I don't even know if the story of Rachel and her infertility is true. 

But I do get a kick out of seeing how the words can be interpreted. I like seeing what different Jews thought,  at different times, and I like trying to work out how those ideas originated. 

Our goal can't be to work out what actually happened. That's impossible. The only thing we can do is attempt to work out why a particular Rabbi thought what he happened to think..

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