by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
Regarding the previous article “They Seem to be Senseless,” which discussed some rabbinical rules, a number of you wrote back about how wrong it is to group women and dogs and pigs! One man was offended enough to say that my writings were “sick.” And my statement about the non-Jew not walking between two Jews was “extremely racist and offensive,” and the letters became louder and louder!
When the Rabbis warn about not letting a woman, a dog, or a pig walk between you and your friend, they are not saying that a woman is a dog, or a pig, G-d forbid. What is being grouped is that all three of these have a strong impact on man, albeit for entirely different reasons. Whereas a woman’s very strong impact on a man is through desire, a pig’s strong impact is through disgust, and a dog’s impact might be due to fear. Yes, they are all related in that they all evoke strong reactions, but obviously, they evoke strong responses for entirely different reasons.
As to my saying that the Rabbis warn against letting a non-Jew walk between you and your friend, know that there are different levels of rabbinical laws. First, of course, are the laws actually written in the Torah. Then, there are the Rabbis’ fences, which were erected to protect us from breaking the Torah laws.
So, for instance, the Torah forbids writing on Shabbos, but then the Rabbis jumped in and erected a rabbinical fence forbidding even the handling of pencils and pens on Shabbos. The Torah allows handling pencils and pens on Shabbos; it only forbids writing. But the Rabbis knew that if you handle a pencil or pen you will probably come to write, so they forbid even handling them on Shabbos.
The rabbis went further and also gave us “warnings” and “good advice” edicts. One such warning was mentioned in the previous article, relating to not allowing a woman, a pig, or a dog to walk between you and your friend, since they could cause you some type of damage. A warning does not carry the weight of a rabbinical fence (gezera), but still, it is a rabbinical rule.
Then, there is the Rabbis’ “good advice.” For instance, they caution that Jews should be careful when walking on the way with a non-Jew. They say that we should keep him to our right side and not allow him access to our left side. This rule comes because the non-Jews of that time and place were dangerous, and they could very well attack the Jew. Therefore, we were warned, keep him on your right side, away from your heart, so your right arm could defend you, and so he could not stab you in the heart.
I can hear you screaming now. But, this is the reality that we have faced, and it is the reality that some of us face even today. And this is what the Gemora talks about.[i]
Then, there are the mystical warnings, such as are found in the Zohar. The Zohar warns not to walk between two non-Jews, nor to let them walk between you and your friend. The Zohar is not merely warning us about the physical damage that can come from walking between non-Jews; it is addressing the spiritual damage, too.
Here, where I live, this warning is not only a spiritual caution. It is also a valid, physical warning. In my neighborhood, no normal Jew would be comfortable allowing an Arab to walk between him and his friend, nor would he want to walk between two Arabs who were walking together.
I live in the Old City of Jerusalem. Actually, my apartment is the last apartment on my side of the street before the Arab housing begins. I step out of my apartment each morning at 1:30 (a.m.), and I am very careful about whom I walk between.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is, ask before you scream. The Rabbis probably had a good reason to say what they did.
[i] Chulin 91a