From In-Laws to Intimate Enemies: The Debate Regarding tzarat habat in Palestinian Sources and the Evolution of Attitudes towards Beit Shammai in Palestinian Sources
Keywords:tzarat habat, yevamot, talmud yerushalmi, palestinian talmud, halachic pluralism, beit shammai
This article traces rabbinic discourse surrounding the debate between the Houses of Hillel and Shammai regarding the tzarat habat, “the daughter’s co-wife,” in classical rabbinic sources of the Land of Israel. The first section analyzes the discussion in t.Yevamot 1:8-12 and m.Yevamot 1:4. The Tosefta consists of two units which present contrasting traditions regarding the implications of this dispute. The first unit portrays this disagreement as having posed a threat to the social integrity of the rabbinic community which persisted for generations after the Houses themselves ceased to be functional. The second unit in contrast describes how the Houses lived together harmoniously in a single, pluralistic community, overcoming threats to unity posed by their disagreements. The Mishnah presents a reworked version of this second Toseftan source, which downplays the radical pluralistic implications of the original text.
The second section presents a literary and historical analysis of the Yerushalmi’s version of the story of Dosa ben Harkinas and his ruling on tzarat habat. This story is perhaps the most extreme critique Bet Shammai in all rabbinic literature. Through its portrayal of Jonathan ben Harkinas, the last Shammaite, it launches a broad attack on the Shammaites and their methodology. They are presented as a deviant sect, who casuistry leads them to false conclusions and to moral and social failure.