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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Coveting: Is it possible this Negative Mitzvah is often violated

The reading of the Aseret HaDibrot recently spawned a discussion about the definition of the term "covet." While young school children will offer up a nice vort of being happy with what you have, and older children might define coveting as jealously, none of these definitions satisfy me in defining one of the Aseret HaDibrot.

What I found in The Concise Book of Mitzvoth compiled by The Chafetz Chayim, regarding the definition of covet, literally left me trembling (I don't know why I never learned a more advanced definition of covet myself). Is it possible that the social structure of the Orthodox world, where parents are pressured into support that they often do not happily volunteer, sets a trap where the violation of such a mitzvah is a given?

Here is the piece I found. Read it for yourself and leave your comments. Am I correct to be left trembling? Am I applying this definition incorrectly? Or, a combination of both?:

40. It is a negative commandment not to covet (desire) anything belonging to one's fellow-man as Scripture says, You shall not covet, etc. (Sh'moth 10:14). Now coveting denotes that a person invests effort to put his thought into action; he sends many friends to the fellow, and importunes him, until he takes it [the object he desires] from him. Even if he has given him a great price for it, he thus violates it [the commandment]. This often occurs when a son-in-law pressures his father-in-law before the wedding that he should give him this-and-that object, which they did not stipulate when the t'na'im (conditions of the marriage) were written. Even if his father-in-law nevertheless violates this prohibition not to covet, etc. (and see Rabad on Rambam, Yad, hilchot g'zelah, i.).

This is in force everywhere, at every time, for both man and woman.

(Postscript: I do not have access to the Rabad on Rambam, so if someone would like to expound in the comments, I invite you to do so).

I can think of many circumstances where pressure is applied on parents (and even grandparents) to provide or "support." The pressure comes from a variety of sources: children, in-laws, mechutanim, and others. I hope my reading is wrong. But, it seems that if a person doesn't want to give, but is pushed involuntarily, especially to the point of breaking, that the negative commandment of not coveting, found in no lesser place, than the Aseret HaDibrot, has been violated. I hope my reading is way off base!

Update: Posters have pointed out from the Chofetz Chaim's example, that there is some room for negotiation before the ta'anim is written. I agree, but I wonder what the bounds of negotiation are and when they need to take place. I also should point out that in Ashkenazi circles (not Chassidish circles) the ta'anim is standard in its form, I believe, and is signed the day of the chuppah, not prior to engagement. These details are probably important in this discussion.

Since the subject of coveting (and getting out of the 1st grade in our definition) is of interest, I hope to make a further post about common situations where one could run the risk of coveting. So, if you of a common situation (doesn't need to be marriage related), please include it in the comments.


Anonymous said...

Nope, you are 100% right. Pressuring anyone into giving up something that is rightfully theirs, falls under the banner of coveting.

AlanLaz said...

I'm not too familiar with the perushim on the Rambam outside of the Magid Mishna, Kesef Mishna, etc. Do you mean the Radbaz instead of the Rabad? Let me know and I can get it for you....

SephardiLady said...

AlanLaz-I just copied the English from the Sefer. It said Rabad, although you could try the Radbaz. I'd say, in this discussion, the more sources the better.

JH-Last night I received a high-pressure solicitation call from a frum organization. It really got me upset because she practically tricked me into giving what I specifically said I was unwilling to give. Maybe I will make a future post about this. It really got me my ire.

jdub said...

No, it's the Rabad, or Ra'vad. Don't remember what it stands for, but he's one of the biggies, and usually disagrees with the Rambam.

SephardiLady said...

Thanks JDub. I haven't seen Rabad in print. Since a bet and a vet are interchangeable, if someone could look up the Ra'vad on the RambaM, that would be fantastic.


kasamba said...

Fantastic point and new way to look at demanding from parents.
Scary though if this gets out...

Harry Maryles said...

I hope my reading is way off base!

I don't think so. I believe this is one of the most violated of the ten commandments thre are. The Chaftez Chaim tends to be Machmir on these issues. But I think he is right on target here.

The only thing one can perhaps say in defense of this truly indefensible pratice is that the practice of extorting money from potential FILs is so common that there is almost a pre-expectation in certain circles that this will occur, thus taking it out of the realm of "Coveting" and into the realm of "business as usual".

But I'm not really sure.

Anonymous said...

"which they did not stipulate when the t'na'im (conditions of the marriage) were written. "

sounds like the CC Does think you can negotiate before the tanaim.

David Linn said...

I agree with you and Harry Maryles that the prohibition against coveting is, perhaps, the most disregarded of the aseres hadibros.

On this particular example, however, your reading disregards the CC's point about the tenaim. Basically, if a marriage is entered with the knowledge of such support, there is no issue of coveting. Unless, of course, someone attempts to change the rules mid-stream and applies pressure to give additional support that had not been previously contemplated.

SephardiLady said...

Anon, I agree there may be room to negotiate before the ta'naim is written. However, even when negotiating, there can be a ton of pressure.

A story: My friend's sister was *already* engaged to a young man pursuing high levels of learning, and rightfully so. The chatan's father called the kallah's father and told them, in no uncertain terms that he was to give so much to an apartment to support the learning or the engagement was off.

The father, while making a nice living, did not have available and ready to go cash. But, this is who the daughter wanted and ultimately the father "paid up."

In Ashkenazi circles, the ta'naim is NOT written at engagement, it is signed before the wedding. And, as far as I know, it is not detailed, it is standard, like the Ashkenazi ketubah. (Sephardim don't tend to make ta'anims, but the ketubah can be quite detailed).

One must wonder when the negotiations for the ta'anaim should take place and with what tact?

David Linn-Good points too. But, as we all know, "the rules" often change based on a couple's situation and whatever was agreed upon often changes.

(I could tell some stories here too, particularily one of a man's family that supports, but the support seems to only grow and grow and cause some dissention between the parents providing it).

miriam said...

The Ra'avad (R. Avraham ben David of Posquieres, who was somewhat older than the Ramabam and whose disagreements with the Ramabam's Mishneh Torah are well-known and printed on the page of most editions of that work...) does seem to say otherwise in the Mishneh Torah, Laws of Theft and Loss, Ch. 1 halakhah 9. (Ramabam and Ra'avad cited and summarized below:)

רמב"ם הלכות גזלה ואבדה פרק א הלכה ט
כל החומד עבדו או אמתו או ביתו וכליו של חבירו או כל דבר שאפשר לו שיקנהו ממנו והכביד עליו ברעים והפציר בו עד שלקחו ממנו אף על פי שנתן לו דמים רבים הרי זה עובר בלא תעשה שנ' +שמות כ' ט"ז+ לא תחמד, ואין לוקין על לאו זה מפני שאין בו מעשה, ואינו עובר בלאו זה עד שיקח החפץ שחמד, כענין שנ' +דברים ז' כ"ה+ לא תחמד כסף וזהב עליהם ולקחת לך חימוד שיש בו מעשה.
Loosely: Anyone who covets someone elsee' stuff and pesters the guy so much that he gets it from him, even if he gives him a lot of money for it,* violates this commandment.
(In the next halakhah, and in Sefer ha-Mitsvot, Rambam says that the coveting itself is a violation of "lo tit'aveh" whereas successfully pressuring/plotting to get the object violates "lo tahmod.")

*Ra'avad modifies Ramabm's ruling:
+/השגת הראב"ד/ כל החומד עבדו או אמתו וכו' אע"פ שנתן לו דמים יקרים. א"א ולא אמר רוצה אני..+

Rambam said: "...even if he gives him a lot of money [he still violates 'lo tahmod.']
Ra'avad says: [he only violates the prohibition] as long as he [the taken-from] didn't say "I am willing."

So, according to Ra'avad, if you fall in love with someone's pet rock and take it without permission, you've violated "lo tahmod" even if you leave them a million dollar check.
however, if you fall in love with the rock, offer to trade you rlunch, your house, and finally a million dollars for it and the guy says "ok, ok" just to make you go away, you have not violated "lo tahmod." of course you're probably not a very nice person, but you haven't technically "coveted."

According to the Ramabm, however, not only is pressuring someone to get stuff you want assur (if you get it), wanting something you could pressure them into giving (and, presumably, pressuring unsuccessfully) is also assur de-Oraita.

Also interestingly, by the way, it seems that according to the Rambam coveting things you could not get from someone (eg, their appearance?) would not even be included in "Lo tit'aveh."

Good post, btw.

SephardiLady said...

Thank you very much Miriam! I really appreciate you stepping in. It seems that no matter what authority you side on regarding "lo tahmod," you want to be careful.

Steve Brizel said...

R Harry Maryles has a horror story re Lo sachmod and shiiduchim that I highly reccomend.