Repentance & Prostitution

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We’re in the midst of aseret yemei teshuva  the Ten Days of Repentance — so I thought I’d share a Talmudic text about repentance (from Tractate Baba Metzia 85a) that I came across recently.

The text is both fascinating and puzzling, and I haven’t figured out what to make of it yet, so if you have any ideas, feel free to share.

Rabbi visited the town of Rabbi Tarfon. He said to them: ‘Has that righteous man [Rabbi Tarfon], who used to swear by the life of his children, left a son?’

They replied: ‘He has left no son, but a daughter’s son remains, and [because he's so good looking] every harlot who is hired for two [zuz] hires him for eight.’

So he [Rabbi] had him [Rabbi Tarfon's grandson] brought before him and said to him: ‘Should you repent, I will give you my daughter.’ He repented. Some say, he married her [Rabbi's daughter] and divorced her; others, that he did not marry her at all, lest it be said that his repentance was on her account.

And why did he [Rabbi] take such [extreme] measures? — Because, [as] Rab Judah said in Rab’s name — others Say, R. Hiyya b. Abba said in R. Johanan’s name — others say, R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan’s name: He who teaches Torah to his neighbour’s son will be privileged to sit in the Heavenly Academy, for it is written, If thou will cause [Israel] to repent, then will I bring you again, and you shall stand before me.

Posted on October 2, 2008

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