Walking between two women/men

In an earlier post, I remained בצריך עיון without an adequate understanding of how a certain bad spirit רוח רעה could cease to be a concern for the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, Ramo and others, and yet become an issue again over the last 200 years. I wondered whether the particular manifestation of רוח רעה might have disappeared for a period of time, and if so, how and why later poskim decided that the cause of such harm had returned. Alternatively, perhaps from a bland rational stance, an increase in צרות and bad happenings to Jews caused Poskim to re-examine possible causes and re-introduce once discarded so-called הלכות.

Onto the matter at hand: there are two places in Shas which discuss whether (amongst a range of other things) a male/female is permitted to pass between two females/males: one is in Horayos, and the other in Pesachim. The source in Horayos describes the practice less in terms of being forbidden, but more in terms of the action as being a “cause of forgetting” one’s Torah learning. In other words, passing between two women has (or potentially has?) the effect that it can cause the male/female to forget what they have learned. Is this like the prohibition of unpeeled eggs overnight , another instance of a particular metaphysical effect that is beyond our physical discernment, and that we would be well advised to stay away from? To be sure, the Gemora also lists a series of “antidotes” in the sense that these promote a heightening of one’s ability to remember what they have learned. The antidotes include consumption of particular food stuff. I think that my own inability to remember things that used to roll off my tongue is simply due to me not doing חזרה revision. I have a tendency to read things that I have never studied, rather than things that I once had studied. That’s probably the academic in me. Here is a list of items designed to help ones memory.

1. Eating bread baked on coals (and all the more so, the coals themselves);
2. Eating a scrambled egg without salt;
3. Frequent consumption of olive oil;
4. Frequently drinking wine and smelling spices;
5. Drinking water left over from kneading a dough;
i. Some say, also sticking one’s finger in salt and using that finger to eat.

One side of me is tempted to adopt the approach of R’ Schachter on the issue of eating Fish and Meat together. R’ Schachter contends that not eating fish and meat together was the “best medicine of the time” but that we are enjoined to follow the best medicine of our time. Accordingly, that is the reason why many Poskim do not consider there to be any issue today in eating fish and meat together. In our case of walking between to humans of the same gender, could it be argued that the list of 5 (from Horayos 13b) constituted the best medical advice of the time (given the primitive understanding of medicine back then) and that in our day, we should only follow evidence-based, and medically sound treatment?

The items which stymie one’s ability to function well in their Torah (only?) learning, the Gemora lists:

1. Passing under the reins of a camel, and all the more so under a camel itself;
2. Passing between two camels; passing between two women; and a woman who passes between two men (causes difficulties for the men);
3. Passing where one can smell a carcass; passing under a bridge which has not had water under it for 40 days;
4. Eating bread that was not fully baked; eating the froth that accumulates on the spoon used to stir cooking meat; drinking from a stream that passes through a cemetery;
5. Looking at the face of a corpse;
i. Some say, also reading what is written on a tombstone.

I haven’t done the due research to find out if it was commonplace for medics in those times to also include non physiological causes, but I suspect that it was indeed common.

Interestingly and strikingly, it would appear that the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, again decided not to include the advice that one should not walk between two women/men. I am sure that there are Acharonim that discuss the reasons for this. I regret to say that I haven’t done adequate research. I understand that Rav Aviner does indeed permit it in his גן נעול.  Rav Aviner’s “right hand man” contacted me to clarify that Rav Aviner asks the same question as I do in his גן נעול and remains בצריך עיון but he doesn’t permit the practice להלכה except using well known leniencies. Unfortunately, being Erev Pesach, I was unable to procure a copy of the relevant pages in גן נעול.

It was with interest then, that I was reading on Shabbos, the newly published Piskei Halacha of R’ Yisroel Belsky who together with R’ Schachter are the senior poskim of the OU (may R’ Belsky continue with a Refuah Shelema). In this book it states:

Most poskim maintain that women may perform actions that cause forgetfulness of Torah (Shemiras HaGuf V’Hanefesh pages 98-99). Practically speaking, though they should l’chatchillah be stringent (R’ Belsky).

The halacha of not walking between two women applies whether a man is walking between two women that are stationary (R’ Belsky, Minchas Yitzchak 10:68:3) or if a man walks between two walking women. Certain poskim question whether this issue applies to one walking between non-jewish women (Maharsham 4:148). Practically speaking one should be stringent (R’ Beslsky, Shmiras HaGuf VeHanefesh 111:9, Beis Baruch 1:39).

One should not walk between his wife and his daughter (R’ Belsky, Shmiras HaGuf VeHanefesh page 33. Refer to Shevet HaKehasi 2:325 who permits if the girls are under 12).

There is a misconception that one who eats the end piece of a loaf of bread is susceptible to forget his Tora knowledge. However, there is no real source for this minhag, and one is permitted to eat it (Orchos Rabeinu 3, page 104 states that the Steipler did not eat the end of the loaf).

It seems to me, that the problem exists only if the two women or men (or beasts!) are companions. Otherwise, no one could go anywhere, since there are enough men and women in the world that one is always passing between them?

The aforementioned stricture of a male/female passing between two females/males is brought in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Siman 3:8 and the Chazon Ish is known to have been very careful with this (as quoted by R’ Kanievsky in Ta’ama D’Kra page 108 (6th edition)). So the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch mentions it, but the Rambam and main Shulchan Aruch ignore it. Do you understand that? I don’t.

The Magen Avraham סעיף קטן ג בשם כוונות also notes that one should not put on two clothing items together for the same reason. This is perhaps germane when one puts a hat on, together with the yarmulka inside the hat. In Rivevos Efrayim from Memphis, Tennessee (ח”ח סימן רצא) R’ Greenblatt was asked whether a man who is walking with his wife in the street (on his right) and then passes another woman to the man’s left, if the man is transgressing. He answers that this is okay, because the Gemara talks about two stam women, not a woman and a wife! I’m not sure whether this is a Litvish piece of hermeneutics which seeks to avoid an uncomfortable issue, or not. The Ben Ish Chai שנה ב’ (פרשת פינחס אות יז) qualifies this general Halacha to when the three people (man and two women or woman and two men) are in a straight line, and when there is less than four Amos between them.

Is this Halacha similar to the eggs overnight or meat and fish issue? Is this a Halacha that stems from medical advice, or is it one that derives from metaphysical considerations, such as Shedim or Spirits? If it is the latter, then I ask again, why the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch didn’t include it. The latter, R’ Yosef Caro certainly was deeply steeped in Kaballah as is well-known. Today is also the Mechaber’s Yohr Tzeit. May he have a Lichdige Gan Eden.

The Sefer Leket Yosher (d. 1490) who was a Talmid of the Terumas Hadeshen perhaps enlightens us on the general issue. He states

עיין בשער המצות (ס׳ וילך) וז״ל: צריך לזהר במאד מאד שלא לאכול שום לב בהמה וחיה ועוף, חכלית שרש התקשרות נפש הבהמית, ואם יאכלהו האדם מחקשר בו נפש הבהמית ההיא לגמרי, והיצה״ר מתקשר בו. ומטע״ז ג״כ ארז״ל שהאוכל לב בהמה גורם לו שכחה וטפשות הלב. עכ״ל.

Incredible stuff. He states that eating the heart of an animal (one of the other things one should not do for the same reason) is dangerous because one is effectively eating the soul (life source) of the animal, and as such he eats the source of גשמיות and יצר הרע, the Animal Soul or the Nefesh Habehamis. It seems to me to show that this is not a medical piece of advice (at least for this item) but a more metaphysical/kaballistic piece of advice. Note also, quite interestingly and perplexingly for those who forbid these things, that the Ramoh in Yoreh Deah at the end of Siman 11, says explicitly about Shochtim (who generally must be more punctilious with Mitzvos than the rest of us)

“And it is customary to eat from the heart”

On that note, I’ll sign off and wish everyone a Freilich’n and Kosher’n Pesach … חג שמח

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

4 thoughts on “Walking between two women/men”

  1. The gemoro says a man should not walk between two women, two dogs, two pigs, or two palm trees. Now it should be obvious that it is permitted to walk in a palm orchard, or down a path lined with palm trees. Nobody would think that the gemoro meant to prohibit this. Rather, the problem is specifically walking between two trees. Similarly I think we must understand that there is no problem walking among women, dogs, or pigs, or down an aisle lined on both sides with women, dogs, or pigs; the problem is specifically when there are a pair and one breaks them up by walking between them. I suspect that it is related to zugos.


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