Galilee Diary: Fringes

July 27, 2010

by Marc Rosenstein
(Originally published in
Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary)

That shall be your fringe, look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge.
        -Numbers 15:39

Three stories, no comment:

On Rosh Chodesh Tevet of this year (in December), the Women of the Wall held their monthly morning service at the Western Wall plaza. This service, ostensibly religious, also has obvious overtones of political protest, seeking to draw attention to the unequal status of women dictated by Orthodox control of an area which seems like it ought to belong to everyone. One young woman put on a tallit, which aroused the ire of some bystanders who called over the police (of whom there are always plenty at the Wall), who arrested the offender and held her for several hours "for questioning" at the local station before releasing her. This past week on Rosh Chodesh Av, Anat Hoffman of the Center for Religious Pluralism was arrested for carrying a Torah.

Later this month I will be leading a group of visitors around the Old City of Jerusalem, and want to include the Temple Mount in our route. Not having been there for years, I decided I should make an advance review visit. So on a recent day when I was staying over in Jerusalem, I got up early and, on the way from my hotel to HUC, walked through the awakening alleyways of the Old City. This is a lovely time to walk there: the streets are mostly empty, the fragrance of fresh-baked bread wafts from the bakeries, shopkeepers are sweeping the pavement, kids are hurrying home with breakfast purchases from the local grocery, and religious Christians, Moslems, and Jews are on their way to and from morning prayers. I was first in line at the security gate to the Temple Mount, which opens for Jews at 7:30. After convincing the guard that this was an innocent visit and not a right-wing provocation, he waved me through with the warning: "Remember, no praying, and no entering the mosques; you walk around and you leave!" But the guy manning the x-ray machine studied the image of my backpack carefully, opened it, and pulled out a plastic bag. "What's this?" "A tallit." "Sorry, you have to leave it outside." "But I'm not going to pray." "Doesn't matter, you can't take it in." I tried to suggest I leave it with him until I finished my visit, but no way. So I missed my opportunity, on that morning, to tread on holy ground.

Once there was a man who was very careful in his observance of the mitzvah of tzitzit (fringes - a small tallit worn as an undergarment). He heard of a prostitute in a far-off city who charged 400 gold pieces; he sent her a prepaid reservation, and came to the door. She let him in and led him up six silver ladders, through six silver beds, and up a seventh, golden ladder, to a golden bed. She removed all her clothes, and so did he, until he was wearing only his tzitzit, at which point his fringes slapped him on the face and he and his partner tumbled to the ground. "What defect did you find in me?" she asked. "I have never seen a woman as beautiful as you," he answered. She demanded an explanation; he told her about the mitzvah of fringes, and that his fringes seemed to him witnesses to his bad behavior. The woman gave a third of her wealth to the king, a third to the poor, and kept a third (including the beds); she followed him home, studied Torah, converted, married him, and they lived happily ever after. The beds in which they had not slept in sin, they slept in in holiness.

        -Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Menachot 44a

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