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

4 comments:

Ben-Yehudah said...

B"H At first glance, the Mishnah Torah, Hil. Mezuzah 6:7 suggests support for women being hayavoth, or at least having some of inclusion regarding this misswah. However, further investigation is warranted. It is not a misswath 'aseh bizman, so I wonder if they in fact are included.

Evahava said...

I’m a novice in the blog world and I read your stories and comments with a lot of interest. I couldn’t help and jump in to share with you this amazing website I just recently discovered, www.fridaylight.org. It addresses to all Jewish women who are interested in lighting the Shabbat candles.

I personally lit my first Shabbat candle 2 months ago, at the age of 26. Reciting the blessing in front of the flame made me realize how meaningful this action is. I felt overwhelmed with peace and serenity. Now I’m registered on www.fridaylight.org and I get the lighting times every week by email and on my cell. Check it out, I think you’ll like it… Let me know!

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

It looks Lubavitch to me, and anyways, I'm not a woman.

Jocelyn said...

Very interesting entry, thank you. One question that I still have, though, is if we learn the mitzva of mezuza from "u'chtavtam al mezuzot beitecha u'visha'arecha," then wouldn't it make sense that only those who are obligated in k'tiva are the ones obligated in k'viya? Since women are not obligated in k'tiva, then, they shouldn't be obligated in k'viya. But halacha l'ma'aaseh, that is not what we do, to the extent that women even make brachot when they put up mezuzot.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...