Monday, January 17, 2011

Reuven's Vow IV

Later the court met behind closed doors and debated the case.

“The case is clear,” Rabbi Gershom of Hebron stated. “The dead have no claims on the living, especially in matters of marriage. The vow is null!”

“But,” the rabbi from Safed explained. “A vow is a vow. Even if made in jest, and even to a corpse, it must be fulfilled, and it abrogates previous vows…The assertion had strong precedent." Everyone began to speak at once. Eventually, Rabbi Menachem of Tiberias was able to make his voice heard above the rest.

“Good Jews, if we allow this corpse its claim, bodies will rise from the hollowed ground to redeem all manner of things, from marriage rights to property claims, and there will be no end to this. This court will never adjourn. The earth will shake to its very foundations and God, blessed be his name, will damn our generation. A way must be found to annul the vow!”

There was a great deal of bickering. It seemed the case could not be resolved in Reuven ben Sosa’s favor. He would have to marry the corpse and, God forbid, consummate the marriage. Then a rabbi from Beersheba  burst into the chambers with a old book of rabbinical responsa, crumbling about its bindings.

“Holy men,” he proclaimed, “I have found a way out!”

The court reconvened. The whole town was crowded into the crusader castle to hear the verdict. Reuven was brought in, followed by the corpse. When it appeared again, there was a fresh round of fainting. It was no less terrifying from repeated exposure. Rabbi Simcha of Jerusalem spoke for the court:

“A vow is sacred,” he started, “and should not be entered into frivolously. Japheth vowed to sacrifice a human being and was forced to slay his own daughter! Reuven ben Sosa has committed a grave sin and vowed a binding vow in jest…” and here the crowd murmured, thinking Reuven would have to marry the corpse.

“In such a case,” Rabbi Simcha continued, “the conclusion is foregone. The most recent vow is the binding one… its abrogates all previous vows, whether it was made in seriousness or in jest, to the living or the dead…” There were a great many screams. Reuvan’s mother collapsed, imaging a corpse for a daughter-in-law. When the turmoil ceased, Rabbi Simcha continued.

“However, this is a special case. The bride and groom were betrothed before each of them was born. The vow was made not by the bride and groom, but by their parents. There is a precedent: Rabbi Meir bar Pinchas, the great sage of Babylon, wrote that such a vow can not be annulled unless one of the party dies before the day of the wedding. Such a vow is ordained in the chambers of heaven, since the souls of the bride and groom are still dwelling in our Father’s Mansion. Therefore, this court annuls the vow of Reuven Ben Sosa to this corpse, and commands this poor body to return to the earth!”

The corpse let out a wail in one moment and in the next fell to the floor in a jumbled heap of bones and tattered shroud. Half the Jews in the hall fled in terror while the other half wailed and cowered. When things calmed, the Burial Society was summoned to claim the remains from the crusader castle. They carefully removed Reuven’s ring from its finger.

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