Women in Judaism

Study Sheet #1


Objective: Halacha unmistakably distinguishes between men and women. Gender is, as such, a halachic category that creates different halachic responses. Our objective, therefore, is to:

a) clarify this distinction within the halachic spectrum (halacha);

b) attempt to understand this distinction (hashkafa).

We also recognize that as we use the analysis of mitzvot to understand the gender distinction, this analysis will also yield significant insights into specific mitzvot and general Torah precepts.

Process: Using the Sefer HaChinuch as our framework for investigation, we will proceed through the 613 mitzvot, identifying every place where men and women are distinguished. As we look at each mitzvah, we will gather relevant information from Torah sources, organizing and analyzing this information as we attempt to meet our objective:

(i) specifically as regards the subject at hand;

(ii) globally in our understanding of the gender distinction in general.

Tangents, as they arise, will also be investigated in this manner.

In starting our analysis from the Chinuch's mitzvah description, we will begin the procedure of investigating the mitzvah through:

(i) noting any distinction in the subject of the mitzvah;

(ii) noting any other distinction referred to in the body of the description, specifically as it may relate to the object of the mitzvah;

(iii) reviewing the Chinuch's explanations for the mitzvah, noting any possible leads on gender distinction or whether the reason seems to elude gender distinction (leading always to the obvious question that if the reason for a mitzvah seems to apply to both sexes why make a distinction);

(iv) presenting any questions on the Chinuch related to gender distinction.

We will then turn to sources, usually starting with the Talmudic analysis of the matter.

The project is expected to move slowly, methodically, analytically.

Parameters: Orthodox a priories are obviously a given. The discussion may actually force us to investigate what the boundaries of Orthodoxy are, declaring which perceptions, attitudes and ideas are within the spectrum of acceptable positions within Orthodoxy and which are beyond the pale.

We also recognize that this discussion will demand an investigation and clarification of our own assumptions regarding life. Our assumptions may generate questions with possible answers arising from the rejection of those assumptions. If we wish to maintain our assumptions (and reject these answers), we will have to present arguments why our assumption is actually valid within the Torah system.

We must also recognize the difference in context between the question of women's rights within Western society and women's position within Torah society. In modern society, women are fighting for greater freedom, attacking restrictions and impositions placed upon them. In the Torah context, however, the issue is generally one of obligation - distinctions lying in cases where a man is obligated while a woman is exempted but could perform the mitzvah if she wished. While often the result of the exemption may also involve exclusion, from a Western societal perspective, in that the woman has a choice while the man does not, the problem would be perceived as the lack of male freedom. In that we perceive the lack of obligation as the problematic issue, we must recognize that the Torah context must be perceived as different than that of Western society and we must proceed with sensitivity to this distinction. The full repercussions of this distinction must be examined as we proceed through the material.

Mitzvah #1 - Pru U'rvu (procreation)

Distinction in subject of mitzvah:

men commanded, women not commanded.

Distinction in object of mitzvah:

The fulfilment of the mitzvah necessitates having a male and a female which implies gender is a factor

Questions on Chinuch: 1) This Mitzvah is derived from a plural statement made to, it would seem, Adam and Chava. If Chava was commanded, why are women now exempted?

2) The reason presented, that G-d wishes to have the world populated and developed would seem to be equally applicable to men and women.

3) Women are a necessary part of this mitzvah. It would seem strange that they are excluded from the obligation. (This question, we will see, will become increasingly more problematic as we further the investigation.)

In cases where there is a distinction in object as well as a distinction in subject, we will proceed to investigate the former first. It is felt that any further clarification of the mitzvah should precede the investigation of distinction in subject.

Next step

Distinction in Object

Opening source: T.B. Yevamot 61a,b.

Additional study targets

Context and Value of Obligation

Opening Source: T.B. Kiddushin 31a

T.B. Horayot 13a

The Verse of Command

Opening Source: Bereishit 1:28

Distinction in Subject

Opening Source: T.B. Yevamot 65b

Next Step outlines the topic and opening source(s) for the next area of investigation within the project.

Additional Study Targets outline topics and opening sources for study issues introduced and of importance to the project that will be further investigated in the future. Participants in the project are invited to proceed with their own research on these issues and to report their findings to the project.

NISHMA B'IYUN: Women in Judaism is under the direction of NISHMA, an international Torah study network dedicated to the intellectual pursuit of Jewish thought and law. If you would like to participate in this project or require information about our other publications and programs, please contact the Toronto Nishma Centre at 1-800-267-6474 or (416) 630-0588. The NISHMA fax number is (416) 630-7702.

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