The Status of Women in Halacha
The status of women in society is one of the important topics of public debate — in secular and religious circles as well. The liberation of women in the past century is one of the great accomplishments of Western civilization. In the not-too-distant past women did not have the right to vote, and now they serve as heads of state, executives of large corporations, university professors, and fighter pilots. Therefore we, the people of Daat Emet, come to clarify the status of women in Halacha (Jewish law), so that you should know and see how Halacha treats women.
It is appropriate to explain that we will deal here only with pure Halachic (legal) status and not with the public mood. Just as in the secular society strides are being taken towards equality, so too in the religious and Charedi communities are certain changes taking place on the way to women’s equality. But there is an essential difference: while the secular society, in its laws, promotes women’s equality even before society at large becomes aware of necessity of such promotion, in the religious and Charedi communities the opposite is true. The public mood does indeed change, but Halacha does not. One example of this is the Halachic law which determines that a daughter does not inherit from her father if she has brothers. Since this is no longer considered fair nor seen as equitable (even a religious person senses and feels this), a decent Jewish man who has received an inheritance gives his sister her fair share of it. But the Halachic rule does not change, and therefore women must rely on the fairness and honesty on their brothers and they have no legal recourse within Jewish halacha.
Another example: According to Halacha the whole relationship between a man and his wife is unequal. The woman is simply her husband’s slave and she must, according to Halacha, serve him in degrading ways. But today, when the spirit of equality wafts even over the Charedi community, it is unheard of in religious households for the wife to wash her husband’s face, hands, and legs, or to pour him a drink whenever he wants one as an explicit Halachic law requires of her (Maimonides, Laws of Interpersonal Relations chapter 21, halacha seven). All the financial arrangements in the Jewish marriage contract are considered irrelevant and even the rabbinical courts are forced to judge according to the enlightened secular custom of equality between the two sides. Upon divorce property and possessions are divided equally, as opposed to what is written in the Jewish marriage contract.
You should know that the status of women in modern Judaism is somewhat similar to the status of slaves in 19th century United States. The law did not force any slave-owner to abuse his slaves, but there also was no legal barrier to abusive acts. Decent people treated their slaves decently and evil owners abused their slaves. In any case, the slave had no written and actual legal recourse to protect him. Though certainly the majority of Jewish men are decent, women still have no Halachic protection against the evil ones. Thus Halacha falls far short of enlightened secular law which protects the status of women and her rights. Anytime we hear the argument “How do you dare say that women are discriminated against in Judaism? I treat my wife wonderfully,” we answer:
“Our topic is the status of women in Judaism and not the situation of the woman in your house. Most Jews are indeed more fair than most Halachic laws which deal with women.”
There are bad Halachic laws which are not enforced and which are bypassed, but most such laws cannot be bypassed. It seems there is no way to bypass laws like those regarding the testimony of women, and therefore the discrimination remains. So until Halacha is thoroughly and comprehensively changed (and it is not clear when or how this will happen) the status of women in Judaism will stay inferior and significantly less than equal.
To illustrate the tension within the religious community between on the one hand faith and the acceptance of Jewish halacha and on the other hand their feelings, which tends towards equality and fairness, we will quote Rabbi Yehuda Henkin’s article “The Torah Women,” published in the HaTzofeh newspaper, September 14, 1998: “Some thirty years ago they first offered Gemara as an elective at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women in New York. My future wife registered for the course…Afterwards she presented her Masters thesis in Jewish history…The thesis was rejected. Why? Because she hadn’t written it — they claimed. A woman, after all, can’t read and understand responsa…How much have things changed since then! Today there is a new world of girls’ schools…but still teaching women Torah at all, and specifically Gemara, is considered a ‘leniency.’ Maimonides wrote ‘the Sages commanded that a man not teach his daughter Torah, since most women are not given to being taught…’ 1) the objection is directed at the teacher, not the student, 2) no objection is directed at one who learns of her own will…”
This is a touching attempt by Rabbi Yehuda Henkin to settle Halacha and the sense of decency and the wish for equality. But, like all rabbis, he does not dare simply say: “Halacha must be changed. A woman can learn and teach just like a man.”
Chapter 1–The Status of Women in Public and Social Roles
- Women are invalid witnesses
As brought in Tractate Shvuot 30a: “The vows of testimony apply to men but not women…[for women are invalid as witnesses–Rashi]. The Torah says ‘And the two men stood’ [Deuteronomy 19:17] when speaking of witnesses [to teach you that women do not bear witness–Rashi].”
Similarly, it is written in Bava Kama 88a: “A woman, who may marry into the community, is invalid to give testimony.”
Thus ruled Maimonides in Laws of Testimony, chapter nine, halacha two: “Women are invalid to testify. This is from the Torah, for it says, ‘based on two witnesses,’ using masculine nouns and not feminine.” (See the Kesef Mishneh and Ridbaz for why Maimonides came up with this innovative explanation.)
And thus it is written in the Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, Laws of Testimony, paragraph 35, section 14: “A woman is invalid [to testify].”
We find that in every case which requires two witnesses a woman is invalid to testify, be it in monetary suits or in capital suits, and she is even invalid to witness a marriage. There is no greater discrimination and insult–a thoughtful and wise person is not allowed to testify before the beit din about things that person witnesses simply because that person is of the female gender!
Some rabbis are not comfortable with this grave discrimination which takes the right to testify away from women. These rabbis go and find excuses which do not match the explicit Halachic stance, and they say that a woman is invalid to give testimony because it is not the way of women to leave their homes and go to the beit din, for “all the honor of the king’s daughter is inward.” Not only does this argument not solve the existing discrimination, it does not even explain why women are invalid to witness marriages, since they are, in any case, at the wedding ceremony to gladden the hearts of the bride and groom. Also, there is an explicit Tosfot which says that were it not expressly forbidden by the Scriptures, women would have to testify, even though it is “her nature to stay home” (in those ancient days). The Tosfot on Tractate Shvuot 30a, commented on the Gemara: “All the honor of the king’s daughter is inward — and if you say: even now, that it deals with bearing a testimony, where do we find that the Scripture excludes women? It may be that the Scripture specified men because all the honor of the king’s daughter is inward [so it would not be honorable to mention women in this regard, but this does not mean they cannot testify in court] — it should be answered that [this consideration is irrelevant] to witnesses because they must, in any event, come to the court for hearsay evidence is not valid; but when a woman is one of the parties in a case, she may set her claims forth through an agent.”
- Women are invalid to judge
Tractate Niddah 49b: “All who are valid to judge are valid to give testimony, and there are those valid to give testimony who are not valid to judge.” Since women are invalid to bear testimony, they are invalid to sit in judgement as judges. As the Tosfot wrote on Tractate Yevamot 45b, s.v. mi lo: “Women are not suitable to serve as judges as it says, ‘All who are valid to judge are valid to bear testimony’ (Niddah 49b). In the Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Yoma, it is explicitly stated that since women do not testify they do not judge.”
The Shulchan Aruch ruled similarly in Choshen Mishpat paragraph seven, section four: “Women may not judge.”
Even though we have found in the Scripture that Deborah was a judge, as written in Judges 4:4, “Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, was a prophetess; she judged Israel at that time,” the Tosfot on Tractate Bava Kama 15a explain: “The verse (Judges 4:4) about Deborah, ‘she judged Israel,’ should not serve as proof that a woman may judge; people only accepted her because of the Shechinah.” Similarly, the Tosfot on Tractate Shvuot 29b: “The Scriptures (Judges 4:4) write that she judged Israel. It means that she taught them laws. Since she was a prophetess, they accepted her upon themselves.” In the Igrot Moshe responsa, Yoreh Deah, paragraph 45, it is clarified: “They accepted Deborah of their own free will, that is, they were not forced. What is meant by invalid to judge isn’t the actual judgement, but the enforcement of the verdict.”
We see that a woman may not serve as a judge who enforces her verdicts and rulings. Let us compare this discrimination to the civil courts: female judges preside on all levels, from district courts to the Supreme Court, and they rule with wisdom and justice and enforce their rulings and verdicts.
To illustrate how illogical it is to make women invalid to judge, we will bring the law of a non-Jewish woman who wishes to convert. The ritual immersion of a convert must be before a beit din, as brought in the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 288, section four. But how will the judges watch the naked female convert immerse herself? Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah paragraph 288, section two: “And if she is a woman, women place her in the water up to her neck with the judges outside, and [the judges] teach her some lenient and some strict laws while she is sitting in the water. Afterwards she immerses herself in front of them [the male judges–one hopes the water is cloudy…] and they turn back around and leave so as not to see her rising from the water.”
The excuses by various rabbis that women are not accustomed to leaving their homes fall to naught with this law, for the opposite is true. It is obvious that women are accustomed to visit the ritual bath and could testify easily that the female convert had immersed herself. It is the male rabbis who are not usually in the women’s ritual bath.
And since a woman is invalid to judge, she is invalid to revoke vows,as brought in Pitchei Teshivah, Yoreh Deah, paragraph 228, subsection two: “See the responsum of R’ Akiva Eiger, in the omissions from paragraph 73, where he wrote that it looks reasonable that relatives [can revoke vows], for they are not personally disqualified in this regard since they may judge others; and [it] also [looks reasonable that vows may be revoked] at night, for only time differentiates in this case [between court sessions, which may not be held at night, and revoke of vows] — but this is not the issue with women [who cannot revoke vows].”
3. Women cannot be heads of state or queens or fulfill any otherrole of authority,
As brought in Sifri (Deuteronomy, section 157): “‘You shall place,’ and if he dies, appoint another instead. ‘A king,’ and not a queen.” And thus it is in Midrash Tannaim (HaMidrashHaGadol) on Deuteronomy 17:15: “‘You shall place upon yourself a king’ — and not a queen; this teaches that one may not appoint a women to reign and all positions of authority over Israel are filled only by men.”
Thus ruled Maimonides in Laws of Kings, chapter one, halacha five: “We do not place a woman to reign, as is said, ‘upon you a king’ — and not a queen. And so for all positions of sovereignty over Israel, only men are appointed.” The Igrot Moshe responsa, Yoreh Deah 2, paragraph 44, found no source for Maimonides’s ruling that women may not be appointed to any position of authority; the abovementioned Midrash Tannaim (attributed to R’ David bar Amram of Aden) eluded him, and therefore he ruled that one should be lenient in a case of great necessity and appoint a woman as kashrut supervisor: “Yet, I do not know myself of the source of his words, for in the Sifri, cited by the Kesef Mishneh, the Ridbaz, and the Meor Einayim, only the issue of a king and not a queen is mentioned — but the law that all positions of authority shall not be filled by women is not mentioned there, and it must be said that he deduced this on his own… Therefore when the need is great, in order to maintain the widow and her orphaned sons, one should rely upon those who disagree with Maimonides and appoint her to her late husband’s place as supervisor.” And in the compendium of Israeli rabbinical courts’ verdicts, part four, page 206, the regional court of Tel Aviv — the honorable judges S. B. Werner (the head of the beit din), Y. HaLevi Epstein, and S. Tenne — explained the reason why daughters may not inherit the job of their father, who served as a synagogue sexton (not that a woman, G-d forbid, could be a sexton, but the daughter’s husband could be): “Since the daughter is not eligible to inherit the position and fill it, for it is written ‘king’ and not queen, neither does her husband have any right to inherit the position and be appointed successor in his father-in-law’s place.”
In the HaModia newspaper of March 11, 1969 Agudat Yisrael announced that they were leaving the government following the appointment of Golda Meir as prime minister: “As for their opinion on the new prime minister, Mrs. Meir, Augdat Yisrael representatives said that they have an honest appreciation of Mrs. Meir, but this does not alleviate their dissent in regard to appointment of a woman as prime minister — a thing which contradicts their worldview.”
From what was said above we see that according to Halacha a woman cannot be even a kashrut supervisor or synagogue sexton, much less a mayor or head of a religious council, nor can she fill any other public role which carries authority.
In summary: From this chapter we clearly see that according to Halacha a woman cannot be a partner in important and central public and social issues. She cannot be part of the judicial branch (she is invalid to judge), the legislative branch (for women are not appointed to any roles of authority in Israel and certainly not to the Knesset — see the list of Knesset members from the Shas and Yahadut HaTorah lists) nor of the executive branch (for she cannot be a minister in the government nor even a police officer, as this is a job which has an element of authority no less than does the job of kashrut supervisor).
Chapter 2–The Status of Women/Daughters in the Family
- The daughter may be betrothed by her father at his will
Deuteronomy 22:16: “And the girl’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to wife’,” and in the Mishnah (Tractate Ketubot 46b): “The father has a right to betroth his daughter,” (a minor girl or an adolescent–Rashi. The term “adolescent” designates the age from 12 to 12 1/2; then she’s considered grown), and in the Gemara: “Her father may betroth his daughter, as is written in Deuteronomy 22:16, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to wife’.”
It is clear that the father does not ask the daughter’s opinion, as brought by Maimonides, Laws of Interpersonal Relations, chapter three, halacha 11: “The father may betroth his daughter without her consent as long as she is a minor, and when she becomes an adolescent she still remains under his custody, as is said, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to wife’.”
But a woman may not betroth her daughter, as brought in Tractate Sotah 23b: “A man betroths his daughter, and a woman does not betroth her daughter. For it is written [referring to a father], ‘I gave my daughter to this man to wife’.”
It is important to remember that it is the father’s right to betroth his daughter and not his son, which follows from what is said: “I gave mydaughter to this man.”
It should be noted that even though the Torah allows the father to betroth his daughter, our rabbis forbade this. Kiddushin 41a: “It is forbidden for a man to betroth his daughter while she is a minor, until she grows and says I want this man.”
But in later generations the permission to betroth a minor daughter was renewed. Tosfot on Tractate Kiddushin 41a: “And now we do betroth our daughters, even minor ones, since each day the exile overpowers us more and a man may doubt how he will give his daughter a dowry, for it may happen that after some time he will not be able to and his daughter will remain abandoned forever.”
And thus ruled the Rama in Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer, paragraph 37, section eight: “There are those who say that we now do betroth our minor daughters since we are in exile and we cannot always provide a dowry. We are also but a few and do not always find a worthwhile match (Tosfot, the beginning of ha’ish mekadesh chapter). And this is the custom.”
- A father may sell his daughter as a maidservant
Exodus 21:7, “And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.” This holds as long as she is a minor and not an adolescent, that is, until she is 12 years old. Again: this law of selling children applies only to daughters, not to sons, and it is the father who may sell them, not the mother.
This is only practiced in times of the Jubilee. Maimonides in Laws of Slaves, chapter one, halacha 10: “We do not practice laws of a Jewish maidservant or Jewish slaves except when the laws of the Jubilee are practiced.”
Another restriction is that a father may not sell his daughter if he has money. Maimonides, Laws of Slaves, chapter four, halacha two: “The father may not sell his daughter unless he is so poor that he has nothing left, neither land nor chattel, nor even the garment he wears is his, and even so the father is forced to redeem her after she is sold to prevent shame to the family.”
On the status of a daughter until the age of 12 1/2, it is appropriate to cite the Mishnah (Ketubot, chapter four, mishnah four): “The father is permitted to give her for betrothal through money, by contract, or by sexual intercourse, and is permitted what she finds and what she earns, to revoke her vows, and to accept her divorce papers.” All these laws are practiced only in relation to a daughter and not to a son. See Tosfot Ketubot 47a, s.v. mishum eivah.
In summary of this chapter: In the family, all ownership rights accrue to the men, be they fathers or sons, and women have no rights. The woman is devoid of all status within the family.
Chapter 3–The Status of Married Women
- Just as the daughter is subject to her father’s power, a married woman is considered subject to her husband’s power on various matters, as Chazal said in Ketubot 48a: “She is always subject to her father until she is subject to her husband.”
The act of matrimony–The man purchases the woman and subjects her to his authority. Therefore only the man enacts a marriage and not a woman. Tractate Kiddushin 5b: “Our rabbis teach: How by money? If he gave her money or something worth money and said ‘By this you are sanctified to me, by this you are betrothed to me, by this you are my wife’–she is married, but if she gave to him and said ‘By this I am sanctified to you, by this I am betrothed to you, by this I am your wife’ — she is not married.” Pay close attention to the text of the marriage ceremony in Tractate Kiddushin 6a: “By this you are purchased by me’ — she is married. “By this you are mine,’ ‘by this you are under my custody,’ ‘By this you are dependent on me’ — she is married.” All of these are euphemisms for the ownership of property.
- A man’s obligations to his wife–After the marriage ceremony what are the man’s Halachic obligations to his wife and what are the woman’s Halachic obligations to her husband? Exodus 21:10: “If he takes another wife, her kinship, her coverings, and her times of cohabitation he shall not diminish.” Rashi explained: “Kinship is sustenance; coverings — as is understood plainly [clothes]. Times of cohabitation — intercourse.” Maimonides ruled in Laws of Interpersonal Relations chapter 12, halacha 2: “There are three obligations from the Torah: kinship, coverings, and conjugal rights. Kinship is sustenance, coverings are as is plainly understood [clothes], times of cohabitation is that he should have intercourse as do all people.”
Nachmanides, on the other hand, says that food and clothing were obligations instituted by the Sages and are not from the Torah. He interpreted kinship as bodily association, coverings that he should cover her, and times of cohabitation as intercourse. On Exodus 21:9, “This is the correct interpretation, for it is the Scripture’s way in all places to mention intercourse in brief, euphemistic language, and therefore it hinted at it here as kinship, coverings, and times of cohabitation, the three parts of what passes between a man and a woman when they are together. This sits well with Halacha, if one agrees that woman’s food and clothing are their [the Sages’] ruling.” According to Nachmanides, the man’s whole obligation from the Torah is to have intercourse with his wife in a regular fashion. Clothing and food are Rabbinical obligations.
All other obligations are also Rabbinical, a sort of financial agreement so that peace will reign between the husband and wife. Maimonides, Laws of Interpersonal Relations, chapter 12, halacha two: “There are seven obligations which are all conditions set forth by the beit din. One is the basic sum specified in the marriage contract and the rest are called conditions of the marriage contract: to heal her if she is ill, to redeem her if she falls captive, to bury her when she dies, to provide for her from his property and to give her lodging in his house after his death as long as she remains a widow, to provide for her daughters from his property after his death until they are betrothed, and for her male sons by him to inherit the property rights stipulated in her marriage contract in addition to the inheritance they share with any other brothers.”
- A woman’s obligations to her husband–Maimonides wrote in Laws of Interpersonal Relations, chapter 12, halacha three: “And the four things he gets are all determined by Rabbinic legislation: her work is his, what she finds belongs to him, he eats the produce [profits] of all her property as long as she lives, and if she dies during his lifetime he inherits from her, and he is first among all who might inherit from her.” According to the Raabad, it is the Torah’s law that the husband inherits from the wife, as he wrote: “I say that the husband’s right to inherit is from the Torah.” There is no need to say that if the husband dies the wife does not inherit from him–see below!
- Tasks the woman must do for her husband–Maimonides wrote in Laws of Interpersonal Relations, chapter 21, halacha 7: “We find that every woman performs five tasks for her husband. She spins, washes his face, hands, and legs, pours his drink, makes the bed, and serves him. There are six tasks some women do and some don’t: grind and bake and cook, wash, nurse children, and feed the animals.” In halacha 10 he wrote: “Any woman who does not do the tasks which she is obligated to do is forced, even with a stick.” And the Raabad wrote in his gloss on this ruling: “I have never heard of hitting a woman with a stick, but one reduces the necessities given to her and her food until she gives in.” He should not, then, hit her, just starve her until she agrees to serve him.
We thus conclude form the Sages’ regulations: a married woman has no property or money of her own, and therefore they said in Bava Kama 87a: “A slave and a women who harmed other are not liable.” (They have nothing with which to pay. If the woman is divorced or the slave freed and they bought property, they must pay, for they are, in principle, obligated to pay, but they simply have nothing with which to pay. A husband has a lien on his wife’s property and benefits from her property as well as inherits it — Rashi.)
Therefore the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah paragraph 248, section four) ruled that one should not accept charity from a woman: “The charity sexton accepts nothing from women, servants, or infants but a pittance, and nothing big, which is to be considered stolen from others [for it is impossible for a woman to have her own property or belongings unless she stole them…].”
- The woman is subjected to the man’s sexual use whenever he wants; the man is only required to have intercourse with her at specific times. As brought in the Chatam Sofer’s responsa, part seven, paragraph 25: “He sells himself and his body is subjugated, as is known, for kinship, coverings, and times of cohabitation. In exchange, by the Torah’s law, she is sold and subjugated to him for intercourse.”
Similarly, in the responsa Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim section four, paragraph 75: “This means that the woman is subjugated to her husband for intercourse whenever he wishes, even not at the specific times, if she is healthy; but the husband is obligated only at the specific times determined by the Sages, the night she immerses in the ritual bath, before he travels, and when he sees that she is making an effort to attract him and please him and decorate herself for him.” This is also the meaning of the Ran in Nedarim at the end of chapter two of the commentary on the Gemara: “A woman came to Rabbi and said: ‘Rabbi, I have laid my husband a table, and he overturned it [sodomized her]!’ He answered her: ‘My daughter, the Torah permitted you’,” and the Ran wrote: “As is written, ‘And a man takes a woman — he takes her to do with her as he wishes.”
- Not only on sexual matters is she subjugated to her husband, but the very essence of marriage is that the woman passes into her husband’s ownership and not the opposite. Many Halachic laws stem from this basis and exemplify the dreadful status of the woman.
- a) Honoring one’s parents
Since the woman is under her husband’s authority, she is exempt from showing fear and honor to her parents, as brought in Kiddushin 30b: “What does this mean? [Every man shall fear his mother and his father–Leviticus 19:4]. A man has it within his capability to do so, a woman does not, for she is under another’s control [her husband’s — Rashi]. Rav Idi the son of Abin quoted Rav: ‘If she was divorced [from her husband, and then according to Halacha she is as his brother in terms of honor–Rashi] they are equal.” Similarly, in Kiddushin 31a: “One widow’s son asked R’ Eliezer: my father asks me to give him to drink and my mother asks me to give her to drink, who gets first? He said to him: “Leave aside your mother’s honor and give you father honor, for both you and your mother are duty-bound to honor your father.” In Tosfot on Tractate Kiddushin 30b: “For others have authority over her–and even though the work of her hands belonging to her husband is only Rabbinical, in any case, she is not to be found near her father but near her husband.” In the responsa Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim part one, paragraph 158: “It is written in Kiddushin 30 that a woman hasn’t the means to fulfill the commandment of honoring her parents because she is subject to another’s authority, which seems to be a pretty puzzle, for the woman’s work belonging to her husband is only a Rabbinical decree and yet the Scriptures specifically say ‘man.’ See the Tosfot Yashanim on Ketubot 39, where they rejected the explanation of R’ Isaac, who used the notion that she hasn’t the means, to prove that marriage removes her from her father’s authority — for this is a Rabbinical decree only. But it should be said that though there is no Torah law regulating to whom a married woman should be subjugated, there is a law that a woman should stay with her husband, for this is the essence of marriage — and therefore she has no means to go feed and give drink to her father and see to his honor.” And in Sefer Abudarham, Birkot HaMiztvot Umishpateyhem, it is written: “The reason that women were exempted from time-bound positive commandments is that the woman is subjugated to her husband, to fulfill his needs. And were she obligated to fulfill the time-bound positive commandments, it might be that at the specified time her husband will command her to do his will, and if she fulfills the Creator’s command she will neglect her husband’s, and if she fulfills her husband’s command she will neglect the Creator’s, and woe is she. Therefore the Creator exempted her from His commandments so she will live in peace with her husband.” You see the lot of the maidservant of two masters, who has no rights of her own.
- b) Revoking vows
“But if her husband revokes it on the day that he heard” (Numbers 30:13). Since the woman becomes subjugated to her husband’s authority, he revokes her vows, as brought in Tractate Ketubot, chapter four, mishnah five: “She is always subjugated to her father’s authority (to revoke vows) until she becomes subjugated to her husband’s,” while the wife of a man who makes a vow may not revoke his vow; he must go to an expert sage or to three laymen to have his vow revoked. Thus Maimonides ruled in Laws of Vows, chapter 11, halacha eight: “From when does a husband revoke his wife’s vows and pledges? From when they stand under the marriage canopy, and he can always revoke them, until he divorces her and the bill of divorcement is in her hands.”
- The husband divorces at his will and the woman is divorced even against her will
Deuteronomy 24:1: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it comes to pass that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.”
In Tractate Yevamot 112b: “The woman goes out whether or not she wants to, and the man sends her out only if he wants.”
Thus, too, ruled the Shulchan Aruch, Eben HaEzer, paragraph 119, section six: “He may divorce her against her will.”
And the Rama’s gloss on that section: “All this is by law, but Rabbeynu Gershom declared one shouldn’t divorce a woman against her will if she has not changed her religion, as brought above in paragraph 115. And even if he wanted to give her the marriage settlement, he should not, in our era, divorce her against her will (SMaK, paragraph 184). If he nevertheless divorced her against her will in our era and she has remarried, the man is not considered a transgressor any longer. If he divorced her with her consent and a problem was found with the get, he can afterwards divorce her against her will.”
From here you see that a woman who has ceased to fulfill the commandments may be divorced without her consent.
- A man may marry more than one woman; a woman is forbidden to marry two men
Deuteronomy 17:17–“Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away,” and in Tractate Sanhedrin 21a: “He shall not multiply wives–only eighteen. Rabbi Judah says: he may multiply for himself, as long as they don’t turn his heart away [from G-d]. Rabbi Simeon says: Even if he has one and she turns his heart away — he should not marry her. So why then did it say ‘Neither shall he multiply wives to himself’? Even if they are as Abigail.” But these things are said only of a king.
Of a regular Jew the Shulchan Aruch (Eben HaEzer 1, paragraph nine) ruled: “A man marries several women if he can maintain then, but in any case the Sages suggested that a man not marry more than four wives so that each will have her turn every month… [paragraph 10] Rabbeynu Gershom banned one who marries more than one wife…but this regulation was not accepted throughout all lands, and it holds only until the end of the fifth millennium.”
But though the fifth millennium has passed, religious Jews continue to accept upon themselves this decent behavior, though according to Halacha every Jewish man can marry several women.
And know that both of Rabbeynu Gershom’s prohibitions can be permitted with the agreement of a hundred rabbis, as brought in the Tzitz Eliezer responsa, part 19, section 44: “Since the days of Rabbeynu Gershom the Light of the Exile — who banned divorcing a woman against her will (as mentioned in the Ran’s responsa and elsewhere, this ruling spread throughout the world), and who also banned marrying an additional wife except in special cases,having received permission from one hundred rabbis — since then the initiative for the act of divorce was taken from the husband and given primarily to the rabbis and rabbinical courts in each generation and to their rulings; they do not bring the matter to pass without inquiry and investigation, through seven tests, to ensure that the demand is justified and to ensure, as far as possible, that both sides agree and that [divorce] is really necessary.”
In our days, with so many rabbis, there are several cases of “permission by a hundred;” we know for certain of two cases just in recent years, and in both the woman was greatly discriminated against.
Summary: Know, from what has been said in this chapter, that a married woman has no money or property of her own, and she is not free; she is subjugated to her husband to the extent that the Scriptures has released her from the commandments of honoring her parents, and according to Abudarham this is the reason for her being exempted from all time-bound positive commandments. Her husband revokes her vows, and in certain cases may divorce her against her will or marry another wife in addition to her. There is no need to state that a woman may not divorce her husband, revoke his vows, or marry an additional man. All of Halacha points to the woman’s inferior status as a slave or object.
Chapter 4–The Halachic Status of the Jewish Mother
- The women is not commanded to be fruitful and multiply
As brought in Yevamot 65b: “The man is commanded to be fruitful and multiply, but not the woman…the Scriptures said (Genesis 1:28), ‘Fill the world and conquer it.’ It is the way of men to conquer, but it is not the way of women to conquer.” This is why a man must divorce a woman who cannot bear children, as written in the Shulchan Aruch, Eben HaEzer, paragraph 154, section 10: “If one married a woman and she lived with him for ten years and did not bear children, he should send her out and give her the marriage settlement or marry a woman who can bear children.” But if the husband is sterile the woman may not divorce him, for she is completely exempt from the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.
- The mother is exempt from educating her sons
In Tractate Kiddushin 29a: “All commandments about the son which fall upon the father–men are obligated and women are exempt…the father must circumcise his son, redeem him, teach him Torah, marry him off to a woman, teach him a trade, and some say the father must teach his son to swim.” Moreover, the Tosfot Yashanim wrote on Yoma 82a, s.v. ben shmonah: “Our rabbi says that [the duty of] education is binding only upon the father but does not belong to another man,” and similarly in the Tosfot on Nazir 28b: “R’ Yochanan says that [the duty of] education is binding only upon the father,” and so the Magen Avraham ruled in Orach Chayim paragraph 616, subsection two: “According to R’ Yochanan, [the duty] of a minor boy’s education is binding only upon the father.” The Mishnah Berura, paragraph 616, subparagraph five, related that there is a disagreement between Halachic arbiters: “Educate him–that is, they do not let him eat [on Yom Kippur] as he generally does. The commandment of educating [the child] is binding only upon the father, and on no other. Some commentators say it is not binding upon the mother (although [if she educates him] he performs a good deed), but some commentators [see Chikrei Lev, who brought this in the name of the Rashba and the Meiri on Yoma — Sha’ar HaTziyun] wrote that the obligation to educate is binding upon the mother, too.” Notice that the arbiters’ disagreement refers only to teaching children not to transgress prohibitions (such as eating on Yom Kippur, in which case, to some opinions, the mother must tell her son not to eat), but it is universally held that woman has no obligation to circumcise her son or teach him Torah, etc. as brought in the Kiddushin we cited earlier. Halacha does not see the mother’s involvement in her son’s education as obligatory.
Chapter 5–The Woman Does Not Inherit From Her Father or Husband, Nor From her Sons and Daughters
- A daughter does not inherit from her parents (when there are sons)
Numbers 27:8: ” And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying, If a man dies and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter.” The Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, paragraph 276, section one: “The order of inheritance is: one who dies, his son inherits from him. If no son of his is found, they check to see if his son had offspring, be it male or female, through all the generations — and this offspring stands in the son’s place and inherits everything. If there is no issue of his son, if he has a daughter she inherits.”
This rule is simple and there is no debate. It is appropriate to bring here the words of Rav Ovadiah Yosef in his responsa, Yichaveh Da’at, part four, paragraph 65: “Since it is known that according to the laws of the Torah daughters do not inherit from their fathers when there are sons, may daughters, according to Halacha, demand their share of the inheritance in secular courts and get an order in accord with the law, based on Chazal’s saying, ‘the law of the land is the law’?”…
“Answer…in summary: According to Halacha, our holy Torah which is our life and our longevity, and whose words are a candle at our feet and a light upon our paths, categorically forbids to deal with matters of inheritance, estates, and monetary issues in any way other than according to the eternal Torah, which is not subject to change at any time, G-d forbid. It is said, ‘The revealed things are for us and our sons forever to uphold all the words of this Torah’ (as Maimonides wrote in Laws of the Fundamentals of the Torah, chapter seven, halacha seven). Therefore it is strictly forbidden to turn for judgement on all these matters to the legal systems which follow the laws of the gentiles, of whom it is said, ‘The laws they know not.’ There is no difference between a situation in which the judges are gentiles or Jews who judge according to gentile laws and not the laws of the Torah. If the sons want to give up some of their portions in the daughters’ favor so that they share in the inheritance, they should go to a rabbinical court in their town and transfer ownership directly or indirectly (like a coin which is not purchased through exchange) in a manner compliant with the Torah’s law. And all this people will be in their places in peace.”
We hope that the majority of religious Jews do indeed accept in their hearts the principles of equality and decency and give their sisters a share in the inheritance… As we said at the start of this essay: if the brother decides not to give his sister one cent from their parents’ property, he has the permission and full support of Halacha and his sisters have nowhere to turn for help or assistance.
For a woman to have money in order to marry, the Sages gave her a “living,” as Maimonides wrote in Laws of Interpersonal Relations, chapter two, halacha one: “The Sages ordered that a man shall give some of his property to his daughter so that she may be wed. This is called a ‘living,’ and one who marries off his daughter shall not lessen the amount below that given to a poor Jewish woman, as we have clarified. When does this apply? When the father is poor, but if he is rich then it is appropriate to give her according to his wealth…A father who dies and leaves a daughter, they estimate what he would have given as a living…and if they do not know, the beit din estimates and gives her a tenth of his property as a living.”
- The husband inherits from his wife, but the wife does not inherit from her husband
In Tractate Bava Batra 111b: “Our rabbis said: she’ero (Numbers 27:11) — this is his wife; to teach you that the husband inherits from his wife. Could it be that she inherits from him? It says ‘and he shall inherit from her’ (Numbers 27:11) — he inherits from her, but she does not inherit from him.” Plain and simple.
There was a disagreement on this between Halachic arbiters, whether this law is the Torah’s one or Rabbinical. Maimonides, in Laws of Interpersonal Relations, chapter 12, halacha three: “The four things he gets were all established by the Sages: he benefits from her labor, what she finds belongs to him, he has the benefit of all her property while she lives, and if she dies during his lifetime he inherits it from her, and he has priority over all the rest in regard to inheritance.” But in the Raabad’s opinion, it is the Torah’s law that husband inherits from his wife: “‘And if she dies during his lifetime he inherits from her and he has priority over all the rest in regard to inheritance.’ Said Abraham [the Raabad]: That the husband inherits [from his wife] is the Torah’s law.” So it is in the Shulchan Aruch, Eben HaEzer paragraph 90, section one: “The husband inherits from his wife, be it usufruct or mortmain. This applies only to that which is held, but that which she is due to inherit, if she dies while the person from whom she is to inherit from still lives, her husband does not inherit in her stead.”
About a woman inheriting from her husband, Maimonides wrote in Laws of Inheritance, chapter one, halacha eight: “A woman does not inherit from her husband at all, and the husband inherits all the woman’s property, according to the words of the Sages, and he has priority over all the rest in regard to inheriting from her.” This is one of the worst discriminations against women in Halacha.
- A woman does not inherit from her sons and daughters
Numbers 27:11: “If his father had no brothers, you shall assign his property to his nearest relative in his own clan, and he shall inherit it.” Tractate Bava Batra 109b: “How do we know that ‘his kin’ [the inheritor mentioned in Numbers 27:11] is the father? It is written, ‘she is your father’s kin’ (Leviticus 18:12). But it may be said that ‘his kin’ is the mother, for it is written ‘she is your mother’s kin’ (Leviticus 18:13)! Rava said: it is written, ‘From his own clan, and he shall inherit her’ (Numbers 27:11). The father’s family is called clan, but the mother’s family is not called clan, as it is written ‘by their clans according to their fathers’ houses’ (Numbers 1:2).” Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat paragraph 276, section four: “The mother’s family is not called clan, for the mother does not inherit from her son or daughter. Maternal siblings do not inherit from each other, but each leaves an inheritance to his father’s family.”
When Chazal saw that a widowed woman is left with nothing, they ruled that she should be maintained from the property left to the orphans, as explained in Tractate Ketubot 95b: “A widow is maintained from the property of the orphans. The profit of her work goes to them, but they are not obligated to bury her. Those who inherit her property rights, stipulated in her marriage contract, are obligated to bury her.” Maimonides, in Laws of Interpersonal Relations, chapter 18, halachot 1-2, ruled: “A widow is maintained from the inheritance as long as she remains a widow, until she gets possession of the funds due her in accordance with her marriage contract. Once she gets possession of these funds through the beit din she is not maintained, nor is she if she sells her property rights, as stipulated in her marriage contract, completely…When the widow gets engaged she loses her right to be maintained [from the inheritance]. As she is maintained after his death from his property, so is she given clothing and bed linen and shelter. She remains in the home where she lived while her husband was alive and uses the bed linen and servants she had use of while her husband lived. If the house falls down the inheritors have no obligation to rebuild it.”
Any reasonable and honest person would agree that the Sages’ ruling only helps a little. It is urgent that our rabbis make a big change in the Halachic laws regulating woman’s status, as demanded by public opinion, even the opinion of the religious Jews. We can no longer keep these views of inequality and discrimination, and it is appropriate that a man and woman should be treated equally in regards to money and property.
Chapter 6–The Woman in a Priestly Family
Though most laws of the priesthood do not apply when the Holy Temple does not stand, it is appropriate to bring some of the laws of the priesthood, for also the laws of priesthood which involve women are drawn from the evil spirit of discrimination and scorn for the status of women.
- The holy labors — practiced by men only
Tractate Kiddushin 36a: “Mishnah. The laying on of hands, the waving, the presenting before the altar, the taking of a handful, the burning of incense, the cutting of birds’ necks with the thumbnail, the collecting of blood, and the sprinkling to men but not to women, aside from the offering of the adulterous woman and the female Nazarite, which the women themselves wave.
Gemara. Laying on of hands, for it is written: ‘Speak to the sons of Israel…and he shall lay on his hands’ (Leviticus 1:2-4). The sons of Israel lay on their hands, but the daughters of Israel do not lay on their hands.
The waving, for it is written: ‘Speak to the sons of Israel.. and he will wave’ (Leviticus 7:29-30). The sons of Israel wave, but the daughters of Israel do not wave.
Presenting before the altar, for it is written: ‘This is the law of the grain offering: the sons of Aaron shall present it before the altar’ (Leviticus 7:6). The sons of Aaron, but not the daughters of Aaron.
Taking of a handful, for it is written: ‘And he shall bring it to the sons of Aaron and they shall take a handful’ (Leviticus 2:2). The sons of Aaron, but notthe daughters of Aaron.
Burning of incense, for it is written: ‘And the sons of Aaron shall burn it’ (Leviticus 3:5). The sons of Aaron, but not the daughters of Aaron.
Cutting of birds’ necks with the thumbnail, for it is written: ‘Cut the bird’s neck with a thumbnail… and burn it’ (Leviticus 1:15). The cutting of the bird’s neck was equated with the burning [of incense].”
So you see that in the Temple work, the main Judaic ritual of when the Holy Temple stands, women are given no role at all.
- The eating of the terumah
Leviticus 22:12: “And the priest’s daughter, if she gives herself to a strange man — she shall not eat of the holy terumah.”
Tracate Yevamot 88a: “Rav Judah in the name of Rav: it is written, ‘And the daughter of the priest, if she gives herself to a strange man….’ (Leviticus 22:12). Since she was with a man forbidden to her, she is disallowed.” In two cases a priest’s daughter is disqualified from eating of the terumah: one, if she marries an Israelite (not of a priestly family) and two, if she has a sexual contact with a man she is forbidden to marry, like a divorced priest’s daughter who has contact with a priest.
But a male priest? These two situations do not apply to him. If he marries an Israelite woman he continues to eat the terumah, and even his Israelite wife eats of the terumah, as she is now a priest’s wife. And even if he has sexual contact with a woman forbidden to him, e.g., if he marries a divorcee, he continues to eat of the terumah.
Maimonides, in Laws of Tithes, chapter six, halacha seven, ruled: “If the daughter of a priest is with a strange man she does not eat of the holy terumah. There are two issues included in this prohibition. If she is with a man forbidden to her and becomes a harlot or a profaned person, as we have explained in Laws of Forbidden Sexual Intercourse, then she may not ever eat of any kind of terumah, like any other profaned person who is equated to a stranger in all regards. If she marries an Israelite she is forbidden to ever eat those parts of meat sacrifices which should be eaten — the chest and the thigh — even if she becomes divorced or widowed. But she eats of the terumah if she becomes divorced or widowed from an Israelite or he dies without male issue from her.”
- The prohibition against being defiled by the dead
Leviticus 21:1-3: “The Lord said to Moses: speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: None shall defile himself for any person among his kin except for the relatives that are closest to him — his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother. Also for a virgin sister, close to him, who has never been with a man — for her he may defile himself.”
We learn two things from these verses. One, that the daughters of Aaron have no part in the holiness of the priests and may defile themselves for the dead, as Rashi wrote: “The sons of Aaron and not the daughters of Aaron.”
The second thing is more grave. A priest may not defile himself for his sister who is not a virgin. He does not escort her on her final journey, bury her on the day of her death. As written in the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah, paragraph 376, section four: “He may not be defiled. (Similarly, he is not defiled) for his engaged sister — even if she is engaged to a priest — nor if she was raped or seduced.” See the lack of equality: if a male priest rapes a woman, his brother must remain with him on the day of his death until he is buried. But a woman, a priest’s daughter, who is raped, suffers not only that, but is given an additional punishment: that her brothers may not defile themselves on her behalf and escort her on her final journey.
Another thing is that priests defile themselves for paternal, but not for maternal siblings, as the Shulchan Aruch ruled in paragraph 373, section four: “And for his brothers and sisters from his father (he defiles himself) even if they are ineligible to serve [in the Temple], unless they are born of a maidservant or a gentile woman, but for his brothers and sisters from his mother he does not defile himself.” Whatever comes from the mother — is inferior.
- A priest may not marry a harlot, a profaned woman, or divorcee
Leviticus 21:7-8: “They shall not marry a harlot or a profaned woman, nor shall they marry one divorced from her husband, for they are holy to their G-d and you must treat them as holy, for they offer the food of your G-d; they shall be holy to you for I the Lord who sanctifies you am holy.”
Because of the priests’ holiness a male priest is forbidden to marry a “harlot” (who slept with a man forbidden to her), a “profaned” woman (born from a marriage forbidden by the Torah) or a divorcee. All these laws do not apply to females of priestly families, for they are not included in those “holy to their G-d.” Thus wrote Nachmanides in his commentary on Leviticus 21:6: “‘They are holy to their G-d’ — the holiness is separation, as I have explained above (19:2). It should be said that the priests must separate themselves even from what is permitted an Israelite; they must refrain from becoming defiled through the dead and marrying women who are not worthy of them in purity and taintlessness.”
Look at this, too: a divorced daughter of a priest is not worthy of marriage to a priest since she is not worthy of him in purity and taintlessness, while a male priest who is divorced or had inappropriate sexual relations, or even one who has raped women continues to eat the terumah and work in the Holy Temple and marry appropriate and pure women. Nothing is taken away from him; he continues to be taintless and pure.
Chapter 7–Things Which According to Law Women may Do, But Halachic Custom Forbids
Jewish custom is as law and its force is as that of explicit Halacha.
- Ritual slaughter by a woman
Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 1, section one: “All are allowed to slaughter, without reservation, even women. [The Rama’s] gloss: Some say that women should not be allowed to slaughter, for it is already customary that they do not slaughter. And this is the custom, that women do not slaughter.”
- Women do not circumcise
Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, paragraph 264, section one: “All may circumcise, even a slave, a woman, a minor, and an uncircumcised Jew whose brothers died after having been circumcised. But if there is a grown-up Jewish man who knows to circumcise, he is given priority over all others. (There are those who say that a woman should not circumcise) (SMaK and Hagahot Mordechai), (and this is the practice we follow to look for a man).”
- A woman shall not put on phylacteries
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, paragraph 38, section three: “Women and slaves are exempt from putting on phylacteries, because it is a time-bound positive commandment. [The Rama’s] gloss: and if women wish to be stringent, they are not allowed to.” The reason is written in the Mishnah Berura, subparagraph 13: “Because they need clean bodies [don’t pass gas!] and women are not stringent enough to be careful.”
- A woman shall not read from the Torah in public
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, paragraph 282 section three: “All go up to be part of the seven who read the Torah [and in the Mishnah Berura it is written in subsection 11: but not to be part of the three] — even a woman or a minor who knows to whom he blesses. Yet, the Sages said: a woman shall not read in public due to the public’s honor.” That is, a woman reading the Torah would wound the whole public’s honor!
- The woman does not join the after-meal quorum
(If two men and a woman eat, the woman does not count.) Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, paragraph 199, section six: “Women, slaves, and minors are not counted towards an after-meal quorum, but make their own quorums.” The Mishnah Berura (subsection 12) adds: “And even a woman with her husband and sons should not join the quorum for this reason.” And the reason, out of which women are not obligated to say blessing after meals with a quorum but are only allowed to if they will, is laid down in the Mishnah Berura (subsection 16): “Since it is not all that common that they are expert in the quorum-bound section of the blessing.” This is nonsense. The whole quorum-bound section is 12 words. What sort of expertise is required here?
- Women are lazy and it is inappropriate to rely upon them for the fulfillment of commandments (like checking for chametz)
The Tosfot wrote on Tractate Pesachim 4b: “In any case, were checking for chametz from the Torah, we would not believe women because it is great effort and requires precision, as is evident from the Jerusalem Talmud, which explains that women are lazy.” The Shach (Yoreh Deah, paragraph 127, subsection 30), expanded upon this lack of trust in women about anything which involves a great deal of bother: “In that which involves bother women should not be trusted, for women are lazy, as the Tosfot wrote [there] and thus I was taught, that women are not faithful koshering the hindquarters, for there is no greater bother, and due to their laziness they will not be too fastidious.” And the Mishnah Berura (paragraph 437, subsection 18) concurred: “From the outset, one should not command these [women, slaves, and minors] to search [for chametz], since the search is a bother and one should be wary lest they become lazy.”
Chapter 8: Judaism’s General Approach to Women
These are the words of the Scriptures, Chazal, the Rishonim, and the Achronim, which every religious man learns, has grown up with, accepts, and relies upon. These viewpoints form and determine the man’s approach to women, her status, and her place in the religious community.
- When lives are in danger — the man must be saved before the woman!
Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, paragraph 252, section eight: “[When redeeming captives,] a woman has priority over a man, and if the captors are sodomizers, the man should be redeemed first. (And if they both are drowning in the river, the man is saved first).” About this the Taz wrote in subsection six: “This means that a man and a woman are in danger of drowning in the river…and it seems to me the reason is that the man is obligated to fulfill more commandments.” Since the man is obligated to fulfill more commandments, he should be saved and not the woman.
- Women are not to be taught Torah because they are sexually wanton!
Sotah 21b: “R’ Eliezer says: Any who teaches Torah to his daughter teaches her lewdness.” Rashi explains: “For from it she learns treachery and does her things on the sly.” Maimonides in Laws of Torah Study, chapter one, halacha 13: “A woman who learns Torah gets reward, but it is not like the reward of a man — for she is not obligated to, and anyone who does something, to which he is not obligated, gets a lesser reward than one who does it because he is obligated. And even though she does get a reward, the Sages said a man should not teach his daughter Torah, since most women are not given to being taught. They twist the words of Torah to nonsense vanity because of their own poverty of thought, so the Sages said that any who teaches his daughter Torah is as though he teaches her lewdness. To what does this apply? To the Oral Torah, but the Written Torah should not be taught to her from the outset — yet, if one did teach her, it is not as though he taught her lewdness.”
Sotah 21b: “R’ Joshua says,’ A woman prefers one measure and lewdness to nine measures and abstinence.” Rashi explains “She consents to a minimum of food, given that her lewdness will be abundantly satisfied through marital relations, and prefers it ‘to nine measures [of food] and abstinence’ — to be abstinent from lewdness. Therefore it is not good for her to study Torah.” Understand this well: ‘lewdness’ here refers to sexual wantonness, and it is forbidden to teach women Torah, according to Rashi, because learning will make her sly, and she will know how to cheat on her husband! It seems that there is no more evil excuse for discrimination against women in regard to Torah study.
- Words of the Torah should be burned rather than taught to women
Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Sotah, chapter three, halacha four, 19a: “A matron [who donated three hundred measures of wheat to Rabbi Eliezer] asked Rabbi Eliezer: why did they commit a single sin with the Golden Calf and were subjected to three deaths? He said to her: a woman’s wisdom is only in her spindle, as is written, ‘And every woman who has wisdom in her hands shall spin’ [i.e., don’t ask about things beyond your comprehension]. His son Horkanus said to him: in order not to answer her with words of the Torah you have lost three hundred measures of tithes each year. He answered: words of the Torah should be burned rather than taught to women.” And the Tosfot on Sotah 21b, s.v. ben Azai, cited this passage from the Jerusalem Talmud.
- A woman’s desires subjugate her to her husband
Genesis 3:16: “And you shall desire your husband and he shall rule over you.” Nachmanides wrote on this verse: “‘And you shall desire your husband’ for sexual intercourse, even though you will dare not demand it of him, but he will rule over you: it is all from him and not from you — thus Rashi says. But this is not correct, for this is woman’s praise [and therefore is not a punishment] as they said: ‘This is a good quality in women’ (Eiruvin 100b). And Rabbi Abraham wrote: ‘”And you shall desire your husband” means obedience, that is, you [woman] should listen to what he commands you, for you are under his authority to do as he pleases.’ But I have only seen ‘desire’ used in the sense of lust and urges: it seems right to me that [G-d] punished her by making her very attracted to her husband, in spite of the pain of pregnancy and birth. He keeps her as a maidservant, and it is not usual for a slave to desire the master — the slave will usually run away if possible. This is [punishment] measure for measure, for she gave [the forbidden fruit] to her husband and he ate at her command, so she is punished never to command him again; but he will command her to do all that he pleases.”
- “Now, I find woman more bitter than death; she is all traps, her hands are fetters and her heart is snares. He who is pleasing to G-d escapes her, and he who is displeasing is caught by her” (Ecclesiastes 7:26).
- The prohibition against conversation with women
The Mishnah in Tractate Avot, chapter one, mishnah five: “Do not overly converse with women. It was said of his wife, how much more so with another’s wife. From this the Sages concluded that as long as a man overly converses with women he causes himself harm and voids the words of the Torah, and he will ultimately inherit hell.”
And in the Minor Tractates, Tractate Derech Eretz, chapter arayot, halacha 13, it is written: “Do not overly converse with women, for all their conversation is but matters of adultery.” About this see above, paragraph 2.
- Eminence does not become a woman
Tractate Megillah 14b: “Rav Nachman said: Eminence does not become a woman. There were two eminent women and both their names are loathsome. One was a bee [Deborah] and the other was a rat [Chuldah]. Of the bee it is written, ‘She sent to call for Barak’ (Judges 4:6) — she did not go to him herself — and of the rat it is written that she said ‘tell the man’ (II Kings 22:15) and not ‘tell the king [Josiah]’.” Imagine if this statement were made about a male prophet. Not only would it not be written anywhere, it would be considered disrespectful towards Heaven, while of female prophets Chazal allowed themselves to make disrespectful and cutting remarks: “their names are loathsome.”
- Males are always preferable over females
Tractate Pesachim 65a: “The world cannot be without males and females, but happy is he whose children are male and woe to him whose children are female.”
Tractate Sanhedrin 100b: “A daughter brings a man no good. He will not sleep for fear about her–when she is little that she will be seduced, when she is an adolescent that she will become a harlot, when she is grown, that she will not marry, when she is married that she will not have sons, when she is old that she will become a witch. That is why the rabbis said: The world cannot be without males and females, but happy is he whose children are male and woe to those whose children are female.”
- Women are easily seduced
Kiddushin 70b: “A man should not close himself away with two women, but one woman may close herself away with two men…Why? They said in the study hall of Elijah: because women are frivolous,” Rashi explains: “They are both ready to be seduced [by a single man].”
Rashi on Ecclesiates 7:28, “‘As for what I sought further’ — beyond what is said above, that I sought and did not find — my soul also sought a worthy woman and did not find one, for they are all frivolous.”
- Women are chatterboxes
Kiddushin 49b: “Ten measures of talk descended to the world. Women took nine.”
- One who heeds a woman’s advice inherits hell
Bava Metzia 59a: ” Rav said: any who follows his wife’s advice falls into hell, as it is written: ‘There was no one like Ahab [who became addicted to do evil… urged on by Jezebel his wife]’ (I Kings 21:25). Rav Papa said to Abaye: yet, there is a common saying that if one’s wife is short, one should bend to listen to her. There is no contradiction: in one instance it is spoken of worldly matters, and in the other — of household matters. Another version: in one instance it is spoken of heavenly matters, and in the other — of worldly matters .”
- The woman recites the blessing “Who has made me according to His will”
After all this it is no wonder that instead of the man’s blessing of “Blessed be He who made me not a woman,” a woman, in her baseness and inferiority, says, “Blessed be He who made me according to His will.” Abudraham, in the section on the morning blessings, explained it thus: “‘Who made me not a woman’ — because she is not obligated to fulfill time-bound positive commandments, as we have explained in the introduction to this book. A man is like a worker who goes into another’s field and plants there with permission. A woman is like one who enters without permission. As long as the fear of her husband is upon her, she cannot fulfill even what she is obligated to. Women, in place of ‘who made me not a woman’ customarily say ‘Blessed be He who made me according to His will’ as one who justifies the evil sentence which is his lot.”
Maimonides in Laws of interpersonal Relations, chapter 15, halachot 19-20, nicely summarizes the reciprocal relations between a man and his wife: “The Sages ordered that a man should honor his wife more than his own person and should love her as his own self. If he has money he should see to her welfare commensurately, he should not unduly frighten her and he should speak nicely to her, not sadly or angrily. The Sages also ordered the woman to honor her husband and fear him and follow his word in all her actions and view him as an officer or king, following all he likes and distancing herself from all he hates. This is the way of the holy daughters and sons of Israel, who are pure in their mating, and in this way their adobes will be seemly and praiseworthy.”
This is how Halacha instructs people to behave: the husband must honor his wife and treat her well, and she must do everything he says. He pays her attention and she serves him. He speaks nicely and lovingly to her and she does all the housework, births and raises the children and supports the family. All income or profit from her work belongs only to her husband. In exchange for all this she gets words of praise. This is the “equality” Jewish law dictates.
In summary: All of the above proves that the woman’s Halachic/legal status is incomparably inferior to that of the man. This conclusion finds expression in the words of Chazal in Tractate Berachot 17a: “In the World To Come there is no food nor drink, no reproduction nor negotiation, no jealousy, no hate, and no competition — only righteous men sit crowned and enjoy the luster of the Shechinah, as is said: ‘They beheld G-d and they ate and drank’ (Exodus 24:11). The promise G-d made to women is greater than that He made to men, as it is written: ‘You carefree women, attend, hear my words! You confident ladies, hear my speech!’ (Isaiah 32:9). Rav said to Rabbi Chiya: How do women earn their share in the World to Come? They walk their sons to learn Torah and send their husbands to learn Torah and wait until they return from the study halls.” You see that Chazal’s whole worldview is that the woman has no way of her own to earn a place in the World To Come; she earns it only by helping her sons and husband in their Torah studies (learning, itself, is also forbidden to the women).
One who carefully reads what we have written here will only smile and be amused by what Rabbi Ephraim Semel wrote in El HaMekorot (5736) in a section titled “The Image of Women in Judaism”: “About the image of women and the attitude to them according to our holy Torah and Jewish tradition, for some reason there is a sense that her status is inferior, that she is discriminated against in society and deprived of rights in her home, that degradation is everywhere her lot. This perverse view, unfounded and baseless, belongs to those typical patterns of thought which many adopt without subjecting them to personal conceptual examination…The image of women as stamped by the Creator, and men’s attitude to them as laid down by the Torah are true sureties for complete love…A worthy daughter of Israel, all of whose honor is inward, who is a wonder of chastity both in dress and action, is a jewel for her husband’s love. And he, who knows only her, is like a magnet attracting her love, and therefore their relationship is eternal, flaming like a blaze of passion beyond any limit or boundary…”
This is what we say to Rabbi Ephraim Semel: Read what we wrote above and analyze it honestly and fairly. Is this what you call “true sureties for complete love”? Or is this complete legal subjugation of woman to man? And why were you so careful not to say a single word about the Halachic stance toward women? The whole issue of Halacha, laws, and customs — the rules of life for the observant community — is ignored by you! You speak of a “relationship [that] is eternal, flaming like a blaze of passion beyond any limit or boundary” — but it is only gobbledygook not mentioned in any Halachic codex, which determine the status of women. The “jewel for her husband’s love” (and who exactly made Rabbi Semel custodian of husbands’ love for their wives?) is not allowed to bear testimony, does not inherit from her father or husband, is forbidden to fill any public office, is suspected of not fulfilling the commandments, is not important enough to entrust her with the duty of children’s education, is Halachically considered as lecherous, lazy, a chatterbox, and frivolous. She is sold by her father and bought by her husband. Look: if she and her beloved husband are drowning in a river, Halacha unambiguously determines that he should be saved first!
Rabbis who deny the truth gussy-up the status of women, claiming that their natural modesty and living up to “all the glory of the king’s daughter is inward” aid in a marital relationship and love. With malice and with evil intent they ignore the woman’s Halachic/legal status, which is the only thing that really determines her place in religious society. This type of rabbi embraces propaganda tactics similar to those of the Communist party described in George Orwell’s book “1984.” There the Communist “rabbis” declared that
war is peace
freedom is slavery
ignorance is power
What do the rabbis here say?
Subjugation (of women) is honor
exploitation is love
Words of True Knowledge