Friday, May 25, 2007

Women, Torah, Life, and Mezuzah

The Talmud understands[1] that when the Torah says[2] "You shall teach your sons…", the Torah means to exclude women from the commandment of studying Torah, for it says "sons" not "daughters". On this the Talmud asks that if women are obligated in the commandment of Mezuzah, and the commandment of Mezuzah is juxtaposed to the commandment of learning Torah, then one could reason that women are also obligated in the commandment of learning Torah. The Talmud answers that women are obligated in the commandment of Mezuzah because the Torah says on should perform the commandment of Mezuzah "so that you shall prolong your days and the days of your children…[3]." The Talmud reasons that if the raison d'être for the commandment of Mezuzah is to lengthen one's life; there is no reason why men would be obligated in the commandment to have their life lengthened, while women would not be able to have their life lengthened. Therefore, it must be that women are obligated in the commandment of Mezuzah just as men are.

Tosafos ask[4] on this passage that just as the Torah attributes to the commandment of Mezuzah certain life-giving powers, the Torah attributes the same life-giving abilities to the fulfillment of the commandment of learning Torah[5]. Therefore, Tosafos ask that just as women are obligated in Mezuzah because it lengthens one's life, they should also be obligated in the commandment of Torah-studying. Tosafos answer that the verse that describes the Torah as one's lifeline is not discussing the commandment of learning the Torah; rather, it is merely saying that the fulfillment of all the commandments of the Torah is one's lifeline. Rabbi Yosef ben Moshe of Trani (1568-1639) asks on this answer of the Tosafists[6] that the Talmud in the same tractate uses[7] that exact verse in discussing Torah learning, not merely fulfilling the various commandments of the Torah.

Tosafos offer an alternate answer: They explain that the commandment of learning Torah has a specific hermeneutical exegesis which excludes women from that commandment (because it says "sons" not "daughters"), but Mezuzah has no such scriptural imperative barring them from the commandment of Mezuzah. Therefore, even if learning Torah is called "life", there is already a pre-existing reason to differentiate between women and men in regard to Torah learning, so women are exempt from the obligation to engage in Torah study. However, by Mezuzah, since there is no scriptural imperative excluding women from the commandment, then logic can dictate that they are obligated in the commandment because of the fact that Mezuzah is called a lifeline and there is not reason to differentiate between women and men in regard to being able to lengthen one's life through Mezuzah. However, this answer is difficult as well because the Talmud entertains[8] the possibility that women are exempt from the commandment of Mezuzah because the Torah says "You [male tense] house"[9] concerning Mezuzah, not "Your [female tense] house." Then the Talmud said that since the commandment of Mezuzah gives life, then women are equally as obligated in Mezuzah as men are. However, according to Tosafos, this is circular reasoning because Tosafos say that one can only apply the logical idea that women and men are equal if something is life giving if there is no pre-existing scriptural imperative, which explicitly excludes women from the commandment. Yet here the Talmud is explaining that there is no scriptural imperative because of the logical idea that women and men are equal because Mezuzah is life giving.

Rather one must explain the reason to differentiate between the commandment of learning Torah and Mezuzah in regard to women's obligation in another fashion. Others Tosafists explain[10] that the foundation of the commandment of Mezuzah is in order that one should have the ability to lengthen one's life. Thus, the root of the entire commandment is its life-giving abilities, so there is no reason to differentiate between men and women, therefore both women and men are obligated in the commandment of mezuzah. However, this is not so concerning Torah learning. The Torah never says that the root of the commandment to study Torah is to gain life; it simply commands one to learn Torah. The fact that Torah has life-giving properties is a side-effect of the fulfillment of the commandment, but it is not the reason behind the commandment. Therefore, men are obligated in the study of Torah like the way they are obligated in any commandment, while women are exempt from the commandment of studying Torah because the Torah only says "sons" not "daughters" about the commandment of studying Torah.

[1] Kiddushin 34a
[2] Deuteronomy 11:19
[3] Deuteronomy 11:21
[4] To Kiddushin 34a
[5] See Deuteronomy 30:20 where the Torah is called "your life."
[6] Chiddushei Maharit to Kiddushin 34a
[7] Kiddushin 39b
[8] Yoma 11b
[9] Deuteronomy 11:20
[10] See Tosfos Tuch and Tosfos HaRosh (this idea is also expanded upon in Ohr HaGanuz, a recently-discovered work written in the time of the Tosafists by an anonymous Tosafist) to Kiddushin 34a

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Shavuos - Pre-Sinaitic Commandments

I hope to have some interesting posts up after Yuntiff, until then please enjoy yourselves with this post about Pre-Sinaitic Judaism.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sweet Transformation: A Qoton Classic

Here's as selection from a Qoton Qlassic post from last year:

The sheer sweetness of honey not only has physical holistic healing properties, but it represents a hidden message of transformation. Many medical tell their patients to place a drop of honey under their tongues to alleviate headaches; this act is alluded to by King Solomon in the Scriptures. The Ba'al HaTanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Baruchovitch of Liadi (1745-1812) wrote that the mere concentration of honey is so powerful that it can incorporate anything into itself and make that element become like . Scientifically, honey is so concentrated that it is used as a means of preserving foodstuffs (and dead people) because bacteria and mold cannot live within its confines. Honey functions as a means of wholly transferring bitterness into sweetness. When dough is mixed with honey to make Maztah (unleavened, wafer-like bread), its product is given the name “rich Matzoh. The sweetness of honey is commonly used as a metaphor or means of comparison to show how precious and dear something is. In popular culture, some refer to their beloved spouses or relatives as “honey” to allude to their charm and sweetness. Indeed, the land of Eretz Yisroel is praised for its flow of honey. The term honey or “devash” can technically refer to one of two popular sweet foods produced in the Israel-region.

Continue Reading This Qlassic Post...

Herod and the eternal sancitiy of the Holy Temple

Don't forget to vote for Reb Chaim HaQoton for Best Torah Post for Holiday of Trees.
In recent news, the grave of King Herod the Great has been found (see here for news items) this week.

The Talmud (Bava Basra 3b) records two reasons for the prohibition concerning destorying a synagouge even with the intent to rebuild it fancier: the first reason it is forbidden is because an issue might come up which might prevent the rebuilding and the second reason is that the congregants will have no place to congregate in prayer while the synagogue is destoryed before it is rebuilt. In light of this prohibition, the Talmud asks how Bava Ben Buti was allowed to advise King Herod the Great to destory the Holy Temple and rebuild it in a grand fashion. The Talmud answers that either Bava Ben Buti saw a crack in the Temple which was going to cause its eventual destruction on its own anyways or Bava ben Buti knew that King Herod would be able to re-build the Temple after he destoryed it because even the modt unusual circumstances cannot block a king from carrying out his commands. However,Rabbi Avraham Shor (Toras Chaim to Bava Basra 3b) asks, this latter reasoning only justifies destorying the Temple if the reason for the prohibition of destroying a synagouge is because there is reason to beleive it might not be rebuilt, but if the reason is because the there is no place of prayer in the interim, then how could Bava Ben Buti have advised King Herod to destory the Temple to rebuilt it in its granduer, if the interim there would be no place for the sacrifices? Rabbi Shor answers that since the sancitity ofthe Temple Mount is everlasting, then even when the physical construction of the Temple's building is destoryed, sacrifices are allowed to be offered on the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Yosef Patzanavsky (Pardes Yosef to Exodus 25:8) offers two proofs to this concept of the eternal sancitification of the site of the Holy Temple. The last verse in Parshas Behar, says, "You shall observe my Sabbath and hold my Temple in awe". Just as the observance of the Sabbath is everlasting, the sanctrity of the Holy Sanctuary in Jerusalem is also everlasting. Similarly, in the curses of Parshas Behukosai, the Torah says that if the Jews do not follow the Torah, "I will destory your Temple." This shows that even when the Temple is destroyed, it is still called a Temple because its holiness lasts forever.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Carobs and Dates

Don't forget to vote for Reb Chaim HaQoton for the following individual post catagories for the JIB Awards:
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The Talmud says (Shabbos 33b) that when Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was hiding in a cave with his son for thirteen years, HaShem miraculously created a carob tree and a spring of water from which the duo was physically sustained. Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555-1631) explains (Maharsha to Shabbos 33b) that the significance of the carob was because there was as double miracle involved: The Talmud (Ta'anis 23a) says that one only reaps the fruit of a carob tree only after seventy years has passed since the tree was planted. So, not only did HaShem sponteanously generate a carob for usage by Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, but He also allowed its fruits to grow immediately. Rabbi Yehuda Low (Maharal to Shabbos 33b) explains that the fact that Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai is especially significant because although one can surivive on a carob fruit, it is indeed the bare minumum (as the Talmud says Brachos 8b concerning Rabbi Chaninah ben Dosa). Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad explains (Ben Yehoyada to Shabbos 33b) that the acronym created by combining the hebrew word for "Carob" and "water" equals 48, which is an allusion to the forty-eight methods by which one can "acquire" the Torah (Avos, Chapter 6).

The Eitz Yosef points out that the Midrash (on the verse "And also Vashti" in Esther) has an alternate version of this story, which says that Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai ate dates and water, not carobs and water. According to this Midrash, one loses the "double miracle" of the Maharsha. Although one can reconcile the seeming contradicition by explaining that one version is discussing the first twelve years which the father and son spent in the cave and the other version is discussing their diet in the last twelve months there. Nonetheless, one can explain that dates are especially portent because rightoeus men, tzadikkim, are compared to dates (see Bava Basra 80 based on the end of Psalms 92). Furthermore, the acronym formed by combining the Hebrew words for "water" and "dates" equals the Hebrew word Tam, a description of Jacob (Genesis 25:27) who sat in the tent learning Torah from Shem and Ever for fourteen years, just as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai sat in the cave learning Torah with his son for thirteen years.

This is the celebration of Lag B'Omer, the holiday of the Torah. (Sorry for any mistakes in this post, I wrote it by heart because I'm on my cousin's laptop and I don't have any seforim with me here).

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