What is a 'mamzer'?

Clearing up misconceptions about what a mamzer is - and another insight into what it means to be rich.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple,

 Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple
PR


Q. What is a “mamzer”?

A. Much misunderstanding surrounds the law that says, “lo yavo mamzer bik’hal HaShem” – “A mamzer shall not enter the congregation of the Lord” (Deut. 23:3).

The English translations call a mamzer a bastard, which wrongly gives the impression that the mamzer is a child born out of wedlock. In Jewish law, however, the term applies to the child of parents who could never marry each other, either because of adultery (where a married woman has relations with a man other than her husband) or incest.

A child born to parents who were not, but could legally have been, married to each other is not a mamzer.

A second misapprehension applies to the words, “shall not enter the congregation of the Lord”.

The phrase does not imply that the child is not Jewish, that if a male he is not counted towards a minyan, or that he is debarred from holding communal office. A mamzer’s only (though serious) impediment is that he or she may not marry a non-mamzer.

Obviously the child is suffering from the sins of the parents, and the halakhah uses every possible leniency in applying the law, but prevention is better than cure, and couples who think of breaking the law should think again.

THE RICH LIST

With the end of a year, many people look back and sum up the events of the past 12 months.

For some the major concern is how much money they made or failed to make, whether interest rates went up or did not go up, whether they got into the “rich list” or missed out once again.

There is no harm in having these conversations with oneself. After all, every month on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh we pray for “a life of prosperity and honour”, and we know that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, editor of the Mishnah, used to give honour to rich people (Eruvin 86a).

In the light of these facts, I suppose I for one have to conclude that I’m a nobody, a failure. The past year did not make me wealthier. My assets did not appreciably increase. I wasn’t in the rich list last year, and I’m still nowhere in striking distance.

But I am not too disappointed with myself, since it is possible to be rich in other ways. Pirkei Avot asks, “Who is rich?” and the answer is given in psychological, not financial terms. Who is rich? “He who is contented with his lot” (Avot 4:1).

This is not an argument for being a stick-in-the-mud without ambition or drive, a person content to be in a rut. What we are being told is that if you are a stable, settled personality at ease with yourself and without major neuroses, you can regard yourself as fortunate – and rich.

There was once a porter who helped people with their shopping in the Machaneh Yehudah markets in Jerusalem. He went about his work singing “Ana HaShem hoshi’a na” from the “Hallel”. If you asked him why he’s so happy, he replied, “'Baruch HaShem', I’m rich!” It’s rather obvious that he barely made a living, but he still thinks he’s rich.

If you asked him why, he answered, “'Ani ashir', I really am rich, because 'ashir' is the abbreviation for 'einayim', 'shinayim', 'yadayim', 'raglayim' – eyes, teeth, hands and legs. I have a healthy body, and if you have health you have everything. I’m a rich man!”

Isn’t it good to have some money too? Naturally, but it’s not worth it if you’ve gained it less than honestly, if money has become an obsession and if you use your money to bully and bribe your family (“Do as I say or I’ll cut you out of my will!”).

If you have riches, use it wisely. Disraeli said, “Great wealth is a great blessing to him who knows what to do with it”.

Why did Yehudah HaNasi honour rich people? Because if the rich are generous they are useful to the community.

The financial rich list is not for everybody, only for the top 200 or so. But Baruch Hashem, we can all be on the rich list of those who can say Baruch Hashem!


 






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