By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 107 – The Importance of Appearances, with the Right Balance
A girl whose father was niftar and is still not bas mitzvah can be married off by her mother or older brothers. This marriage is effective only m’drabanan. If she wants, she can terminate the marriage without a get, so long as she is still a ketana. That’s called miun (lit. refusal). According to Beis Hillel, she can even do this if her husband died and now she is subject to either yibum or chalitza of the yavam.
There’s a machlokes in the Gemara how far this goes. According to Rabi Oshiyah, the miun a ketana does vis a vis a yavam is only effective to cancel out the effects of any kiddushin that he may have given her, but she’ll still need chalitza. Ulah, though, holds that her miun completely nullifies the zikas yibum because it retroactively uproots the original marriage and she does not even need chalitza anymore.
Rava asks a kashya on this.
Let’s say a girl (not bas mitzvah) was married off by her father and subsequently divorced. She is now considered an “orphan” during her father’s lifetime, meaning that he no longer has any power to marry her off.
She goes of her own accord and remarries (she is still a ketana). Her second husband is her uncle; her father’s brother. This second marriage is only m’drabanan and she could theoretically do miun to terminate it at any time. Her husband-uncle dies and leaves behind her and another wife that he had.
Generally, the rule would be that since her father cannot do yibum with her, so too is her co-wife completely exempted of any trace of yibum (because she is a tzaras ervah). However, in this case, the halacha is that her father cannot do yibum with the co-wife, but she does need him to do chalitza. Why? Because she was somewhat like a co-wife to an ervah. Since the ketana was married m’drabanan to the deceased uncle, the co-wife is like a tzaras ervah. On the other hand, since it was a marriage that could have been terminated by miun, it is not considered full-fledged and in that sense the co-wife is not a tzaras ervah.
So, here’s Rava’s punch line. According to Ulah, why don’t we just tell the ketana to do miun now, thus retroactively uprooting her marriage to her uncle, and the “co-wife” thus becomes the only wife and can do yibum with the ketana’s father?
The answer, says the Gemara, is that it’s a matter of appearances. In as much as this ketana did not do yibum during her husband-uncle’s lifetime, and as a result of her marriage to him she fell to a (potential) situation of yibum with her father, it very much looks like a classic case of tzaras ervah. Therefore, although technically you are correct, we cannot allow the co-wife to do yibum with the ketana’s father because it may cause people to think that a co-wife of an ervah in general can do yibum.
This halacha, like many others having to do with maris ayin, indicates quite clearly that appearances do matter. Although sometimes inconvenient, it is important to bear in mind the perception of others regarding what we do. Elsewhere, Chazal tell us that being “clean” in the eyes of our fellow Jews is a mitzvah. It is not enough that we are clean before Hashem. Even if He knows that whatever we did was 100% glatt kosher, we still need to be concerned with what other people may think of us.
At the same time, it is also important to be aware of the fact that concern for the opinion of others carries the potential to become a negative obsession.
Rav Fischel Schachter puts it like this. Baruch is remodeling his kitchen. Shimmy his neighbor comes over and says, “I want you to make the countertops green. That’s my favorite color.” Of course, an aghast Baruch responds, “Who do you think you are, telling me what color I should make may countertops?!” “Well,” answers Shimmy, “you’re only doing this remodeling to impress me, so you may as well make it a color that I really like.”
Obviously, that is an extreme illustration (I don’t think Rav Schachter meant that that actually ever happened; at least I hope not). Still, it’s not a bad idea for a person to ask himself from time to time if perhaps he realizes that there are things that he could or should be doing that he isn’t only because of his concern for public opinion. As necessary as it is to yes be concerned with others’ perceptions of what you do, that is only to the extent that you are taking that consideration into account because it is a mitzvah. Not because others’ opinions is what fuels you.
Essentially, a person should be functioning as a unique individual, following the dictates of his well-informed conscience.
For example, let’s say you determine that for your child school x is the best option. Just what? In your circles it may raise a few eyebrows if you send your child to that school. If concern for others’ perceptions has mutated from a mitzvah-concern to a desperate need for acceptance and external validation, a person could very well make a bad decision that could have seriously negative repercussions for his child.
Where being “clean” in others’ eyes does apply is as in the following situation. Someone once wrote to Rav Moshe Feinstein that he was shocked to see the Rosh Yeshiva riding in a car so close to shkiah before Shabbos. The letter writer claimed that it was maris ayin of chillul Shabbos. Rav Moshe replied that, really, maris ayin is applicable only to situations where people don’t realize what it is that you are really doing. You are doing A, but they think you are doing B. In this situation, though, said Rav Moshe, anyone could glance at their watch and see what time it is. They just may not know the halacha that it is mutar to ride at that time. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe concluded that he would no longer ride that close to shkiah since it apparently could cause a negative perception in others’ eyes.
In that example, taking into account others’ perceptions was not holding Rav Moshe back from doing something that he really should have been doing, it was just causing him a bit of inconvenience. He knows that what he was doing was perfectly fine al pi halacha, but, being aware that appearances do matter, he exercised sensitivity to how others may incorrectly interpret his actions, and decided to desist.
It’s about striking the right balance.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at email@example.com.