Notes from Limmud 2012
Are Women's Intellects "Poor"? Struggling with the Rambam
[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]The Rambam famously stated that (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:13):
The Sages commanded that a person shouldn't teach his daughter Torah because the minds of most women are not attuned to study. They turn words of Torah into nothingness because of the poverty of their intellects.
The words of the Rambam are difficult, because his description of women's intellect is clearly at variance with what we see in the world; and yet we want to continue living with the Rambam. The way of the Torah is to understand the Rambam and where he is coming from: the tradition of Torah study supports dissenting opinions. The Talmud says that Beis Hillel learned the words of Beis Shammai before their own.
Hilchot Yesodei haTorah 4:13. The Rambam begins with an outline of intellectual matters that everyone—men and women—should know.
Having learned this, we are surprised when three books on, he writes:
The issues of these four chapters, concerning these five commandments (to believe in God and His unity, to love and fear God and to worship Him) were known by the first sages by the term פרדס (orchard).
They said that "four entered the orchard" and, even though these were leaders of Israel and great sages, they didn't all have the strength to understand all of these things in their essence.
I say that only a person who has already eaten "bread and meat" should journey in the "orchard". This "bread and meat" is to know to clarify what is permitted and forbidden and their ramifications from the other commandments.
Even though the sages called these things "small"—for they said (Succah 28a) that the Divine chariot was a great matter and the arguments of Abbaya and Rava were small ones—they gave them precedence. For they settle a person's mind and they are the greatest goodness that the Holy One bestowed on this world, in order to inherit the next one.
Everyone can know them: great and small, man and woman, someone of wide heart and someone of a narrow one.
A woman that studies Torah receives a reward.1 But, because she is not commanded to study, hers is not the reward of a man.2 Anyone who does something without being commanded receives a lesser reward than someone who is commanded.
Even though she receives a reward, the Sages3 commanded that a person shouldn't teach his daughter Torah because the minds of most women are not attuned to study.4 They turn words of Torah into nothingness because of the poverty of their intellects.
- He's not saying it's forbidden that women can't learn.
- He's quoting a Gemara now about how women should not study. He's not talking about the big five now, but the specific mitzva of וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אֶת־בְּנֵיכֶם "you shall teach your children".
- It's actually only one Sage.
- This seems to be a sociological statement rather than a halachic one.
The Sages said, "For anyone to each his daughter Torah is like teaching her tiflut. To what does this statement refer? To the verbal Torah. Teaching her the written Torah isn't like teaching her tiflut but in the first instance he shouldn't teach her.
What is tiflut? It only occurs half a dozen times in the Talmud, and not at all in the Bible. We don't entirely understand what it means. How to figure it out? Let's go to the commentaries on the Mishna.
Mishna, Sotah 3:4:
R. Eliezer says, "Someone who teaches his daughter Torah is teaching her tiflut." רבי אליעזר אומר המלמד את בתו תורה מלמדת תפלות׃
Rambam's commentary: "Nothingness and words of vanity."
We don't know what תִּפְלוּת comes from, but the Rambam links it to תָּפֶל.
We can use the parallelism here to deduce the meaning of תָּפֵל.
Lamentations 2:14 איכה ב יד Your prophets have seen nothingness and emptiness (תָּפֵל) for you: and they have not discovered your iniquity, to turn away your captivity; but have seen for you false burdens and causes of banishment. נְבִיאַיִךְ חָזוּ לָךְ שָׁוְא וְתָפֵל וְלֹא־גִלּוּ עַל־עֲו ֹנֵךְ לְהָשִׁיב שְׁבוּתֵךְ וַיֶּחֱזוּ לָךְ מַשְׂאוֹת שָׁוְא וּמַדּוּחִים׃
Job 6:6 איוב ו ו Can a dish without taste (תָּפֵל) be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg? הֲיֵאָכֵל תָּפֵל מִבְּלִי־מֶלַח אִם־יֶשׁ־טַעַם בְּרִיר חַלָּמוּת׃
Why does the Rambam, having started in positive manner, interpret R. Eliezer as a universalistic statement, which has been used to suppress education of women down to modern times?
[a variety of audience reactions]
SourcesThe Rambam's sources take us into the Sotah ritual [in the Torah for determining whether a woman accused of adultery was innocent or guilty]:
This ritual is only suppose to work when the men are faithful; it was stopped during the Second Temple period, because the moral state of men declined:
Numbers 5:27 במדבר ה כז When he has made her to drink the water, it shall come to pass, that, if she is defiled, and has done trespass against her husband, that the water that causes the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot; the woman shall be a curse among her people. וְהִשְׁקָהּ אֶת־הַמַּיִם וְהָיְתָה אִם־נִטְמְאָה וַתִּמְעֹל מַעַל בְּאִישָׁהּ וּבָאוּ בָהּ הַמַּיִם הַמְאָרְרִים לְמָרִים וְצָבְתָה בִטְנָהּ וְנָפְלָה יְרֵכָהּ וְהָיְתָה הָאִשָּׁה לְאָלָה בְּקֶרֶב עַמָּהּ׃
If she's guilty, she's going to die after having drunk the water. How soon? The Mishna (Sotah 3:4) says:
Sotah 47b סוטה מז ב Our teachers have taught, "The man shall be free of sin" (Numbers 5:31). As long as a man is free from sin then the water will examine his wife. If a man is not free from sin then the water will not examine his wife. תנו רבנן (במדבר ה) ונקה האיש מעון בזמן שהאיש מנוקה מעון המים בודקין את אשתו אין האיש מנוקה מעון אין המים בודקין בודקין את אשתו
The rabbis must have known that this did not happen to all women. How did they reconcile this?
As soon as she's drunk her face goes green, her eyes bulge and her veins protrude. They say, "Get her out, get her out before she makes the courtyard!" אינה מספקת לשתות עד שפניה מוריקות ועיניה בולטות והיא מתמלאת גידין, והם אומרים הוציאוה הוציאוה, שלא תטמא את העזרה׃
A regular weekly salary was about two kav a week. We still don't know what תִּפְלוּת is, but it feels more like being married than the Rambam's "nothingness".
If she had merit then this would defer it. Some merits would defer it for a year, some for two years, some for three years.
For this reason Ben Azzai said, "A person is obliged [much stronger language than the Rambam!] to teach his daughter Torah so that if she drank she would know that the merit deferred her death."
R. Eliezer said, "Someone who teaches his daughter Torah is teaching her תִּפְלוּת."
R. Yehoshua said, "A woman would rather than one kav and תִּפְלוּת have nine kavs and chastity."
אם יש לה זכות, היתה תולה לה׃ יש זכות תולה שנה אחת, יש זכות תולה שתי שנים, יש זכות תולה שלש שנים׃
מכאן אומר בן עזאי, חיב אדם ללמד את בתו תורה, שאם תשתה, תדע שהזכות תולה לה׃
רבי אליעזר אומר, כל המלמד את בתו תורה, כאלו מלמדה תפלות׃
רבי יהושע אומר, רוצה אשה בקב ותפלות מתשעה קבין ופרישות׃
Sotah 21b סוטה כא ב
Ben Azzai says that a person is obliged to teach his daughter Torah while R. Eliezer says that anyone who teaches his Torah is teaching her תִּפְלוּת.
תִּפְלוּת!? Perish the thought! [literally, your head's fallen off!] Let me say "like teaching her תִּפְלוּת."
R. Abahu gave R. Eliezer's reasoning by quoting Proverbs (8:12): "I, Wisdom,1 live in guile and I find out knowledge of deception." As soon as wisdom came to mankind, so did deception.
אומר בן עזאי חייב אדם ללמד את וכו׳׃ רבי אליעזר אומר כל המלמד את תיפלות סלקא דעתך אלא אימא כאילו למדה בתו תורה מלמדה תיפלות תיפלות׃ אמר רבי אבהו מאי טעמא דר״א דכתיב (משלי ח) אֲנִי־חָכְמָה שָׁכַנְתִּי עָרְמָה וְדַעַת מְזִמּוֹת אֶמְצָא׃ כיון שנכנסה חכמה באדם נכנסה עמו ערמומית׃
1. In an unpointed text this could also be read as "I am a wise woman", but we don't read it this way.
Lechem Mishneh on Hilchot Talmud Torah:
Rashi interprets "like teaching her promiscuity" (on Sotah 21b). Not printed in today's Rashi.
תִּפְלוּת is actually sex!
Women love sex, and the prospect of death just two years away doesn't frighten them as much as death instantly. The knowledge that death can be deferred by, for example, giving צְדָקָה is enough to take the sting away. (It's possible they would have died within two years in childbirth anyway.)
Jeremiah 23:13-14 ירמיהו כג יג I saw תִּפְלָה in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in the name of Baal, and led my people Israel astray. I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem disgusting things: they commit adultery, and walk in lies. They strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that they do not return from their wickedness; they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and their inhabitants as Gomorrah. וּבִנְבִיאֵי שֹׁמְרוֹן רָאִיתִי תִפְלָה הִנַּבְּאוּ בַבַּעַל וַיַּתְעוּ אֶת־עַמִּי אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵל׃ וּבִנְבִאֵי יְרוּשָׁלִַם רָאִיתִי שַׁעֲרוּרָה נָאוֹף וְהָלֹךְ בַּשֶּׁקֶר וְחִזְּקוּ יְדֵי מְרֵעִים לְבִלְתִּי־שָׁבוּ אִישׁ מֵרָעָתוֹ הָיוּ־לִי כֻלָּם כִּסְדֹם וְיֹשְׁבֶיהָ כַּעֲמֹרָה׃
R. Eliezer is extreme: Where the law says you can circumcise on Shabbos, he says you can [possible lacuna].Talmud Yerushalmi, Sotah 3:4 [the following story was given as involving R. Eliezer, but in the copy of the Jersualem Talmud I have here, it's R. Lazar, i.e. Eleazar]:
A lady asked R. Lazar, "Why did the people of the golden calf, although their sin was the same, die in three separate ways?"
He said to her, "The wisdom of a woman is only in her distaff" and quoted the verse, "Every wise-hearted woman spun [yarn] with her hands" (Exodus 35:25).
His son Hyrcanus said to him, "By not replying to her with a word of Torah you've lost me 300 kor [120m3] of מַעֲשֶׂר every year."
He said, "Let the words of Torah be burned and let them not be transmitted to women."
מטרונה שאלה את רבי לעזר מפני מה חט אחת במעשה העגל והן מתים בה שלש מיתות׃
אמר לה אין חכמתה של אשה אלא בפילכה דכתיב וכל אשה חכמת לב בידיה טוו׃
אמר לו הורקנוס בנו בשביל שלא להשיבה דבר אחד מן התורה איבדת ממני שלש מאות כור מעשר בכל שנה׃
אמר ליה ישרפו דברי תורה ואל ימסרו לנשים׃
Theof the mishna is that if you learn Torah you can use it to do things you shouldn't.
But how does the Rambam relate to that? Why does he change the meaning of תִּפְלוּת from sex to something not very important, in the passage we opened with?
Actually, the Gemara is much worse: He's changing the entire realm of the discussion from reasons involving sex into reasons about intellectuality. Sometimes the Rambam does this because he wants to make his own view. He's afraid of the sexual power, and is afraid of giving them that agency.
He's also making R. Eliezer look better, and changing his absolute prohibition on women learning to a weaker prohibition that is dependent only upon the majority of women.—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.