Women in Judaism

Study Sheet #6

Mitzvah #1 -- Pru U'rvu (procreation)


Distinction in Subject (continued)

Opening source: T.B. Yevamot 65b

The mishna records a disagreement: the tanna kamma exempts women, Rabbi Yochanan ben Beruka obligates them. The latter's view is straightforward -the verse of command, Bereishit 1:28, is in the plural, speaking to both Adam and Chava. As such, the mitzvah should apply to both sexes, which would seem to also conform with our rational expectations. It is the tanna kamma that would seem to be in need of further explanation, both in the technical halachic sense and within its greater hashkafic philosophical meaning.

Tangent: The Definition of Reasons

It is important to recognize that the question "why" may initiate different inquiries depending upon the type of reason under investigation. For example, the question "why are you alive?" could yield a variety of answers depending upon whether one is investigating the meaning of life, the biological functions that maintain life or the source of life. The question of 'why" must, therefore, always be understood within its proper context.

Similarly, the question "why" as it regards a halacha also may yield different inquiries depending upon its nature and the area of investigation that is being pursued. One form of this question is the halachic why, which wishes to uncover the technical halachic reasons for a law. A second is the philosophical or hashkafic why, which wishes to uncover the motivations for a law. At this juncture in our investigation it is important for us to identify this significant distinction. We will be investigating both types of "why", as it is important for us to understand the halachic reasons presented for a law as well as the various hashkafic arguments presented to explain a law. We must recognize, however, that these two investigations are independent of each other - although, in certain circumstances, we may wish to further investigate whether there is a correlation between the two. It is therefore necessary for us, at all times, to be clear as to which "why" we are investigating.

For a further study of this matter, see Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, Examining the Why, NISHMA III.

The gemara presents two technical reasons (within the realm of halachic analysis) for the tanna kamma's position. It seems that these two approaches are mutually exclusive and, as such, each one represents a unique perception of the issue at hand. Rabbi Illa states in the name of Rabbi Elazar bar Shimon that the exemption is technically derived from the word kivshu'ha, you shall conquer it, found in Bereishit 1:28. Rav Yosef argues that the exemption is based on the singular statement of procreation, prei u'rvei, pronounced to Yaacov in Bereishit 35:11.

With the introduction of Rav Yosef's view, the question arises: from exactly which verse do we learn the obligation of pru u'rvu? Tosfot, Yevamot 65b states that according to Rav Yosef, the operative verse is that of Bereishit 35:11; the statement to Adam and Chava serving solely as a bracha. According to this, the argument between the tanna kamma and Rabbi Yochanan ben Beruka could be based upon which verse serves as the operative directive and which serves as a bracha. The Maharsha, Yevamot 65b does, in fact, state that according to Rabbi Yochanan, Bereishit 35:11 must be for a bracha, exactly the opposite of Rav Yosef's explanation of the tanna kamma. (For Maharsha's full view on the operative verse, though, see below) In this light, any challenges we would have upon the tanna kamma's position based upon the plural nature of Bereishit 1:28 would be inherently inapplicable. Yet it is clearly not universal that the tanna kamma does not rely upon Bereishit 1:28 as the operative verse of command. Chinuch, mitzvah 1 clearly sees this verse as the operative one even though he follows the view of the tanna kamma. This, in fact, may be the view of Rabbi Illa who finds the reason for the exemption within Bereishit 1:28. In any event, clearly according to the position of Rabbi Illa, the questions regarding the plural nature of Bereishit 1:28 would remain - as Rabbi Yochanan ben Beruka argues, the verse seems to inherently include Adam and Chava, male and female, in the context of pru u'rvu and it is difficult, based on a limud such as kivshu'ha, to go against the very nature of the verse. The answer of Maharsha, Sanhedrin 59b is that the limud doesn't simply teach us the exclusion of women but that the term pru u'rvu is not directed to Adam and Chava qua two individuals, male and female, but rather as generic Mankind - through the ages - and is specifically directed as an obligation upon the males. The question, however, arises, according to Maharsha, whether the term pru u'rvu when applied as a bracha also only applies to males.

Tangent: The Verse of Obligation

The debate as to which verse serves as the mitzvah directive can be continued. Rashi, Bereishit 35:11, as further explained by Siftei Chachamim, does seem to support an argument that this verse is a bracha. A further argument for the verse of Adam and Chava representing the mitzvah is the connection we found, during our discussion of the Distinction in object, between the mitzvah and briyata shel olam, the creation of the world. We could continue with arguments for Rav Yosef and further reasons to dissent, but of greater significance is that, according to many commentators, neither of these verses is actually the operative one. Basing themselves on T.B. Sanhedrin 59b and T.B. Ketubot 5a, Maharsha, Sanhedrin 59b and, it would seem, Ramban, Bereishit 9:7, consider G-d's second statement to Noach of pru u'rvu, Bereishit 9:7, to be operative. How do these views reconcile with the gemara in Yevamot?

The view of Mizrachi, Bereishit 9:7, building on Rashi, Bereishit 9:7, is that they simply do not. The sugya in Yevamot considers Bereishit 1:28 (or, according to Rav Yosef, perhaps Bereishit 35:11) to be the verse of command while these sugyot in Sanhedrin and Ketubot consider Bereishit 9:7 as such. (See Rashi, quoting T.B. Yevamot 63b, for how the former would understand Bereishit 9:7.) The Mizrachi's underlying assumption may be that the operative verse must also be the verse that contains the instruction regarding women. We are, therefore, left in a query regarding the status of women within this mitzvah according to this new approach. It, though, may be significant that the plural pru u'rvu found in Bereishit 9:7, is directed to Noach and his sons - males - as indicated in Bereishit 9:1. Yet, in that these verses concern the Noachide Code which applies to both males and females, an understanding of the audience as only males may not be easily contended.

Maharsha, Sanhedrin 59b, however, disagrees with Mizrachi's approach stating that there is no disagreement between the sugyot. In fact, Maharsha argues that the normative position is that the verse of obligation is Bereishit 9:7 and argues this to be the view even according to Rabbi Yochanan ben Beruka and Rav Yosef. The verse of command and the verse teaching about the status of women need not be one and the same. However, a connection between these verses must be presented which Maharsha does.

Of most importance to us, though, is that, bottom line, according to all views, it is not sufficient to simply explain a verse but an overall understanding of every usage of the term pru u'rvu must be presented. In debating which verse is for the command and which serves another purpose, the commentators present various arguments for their views - which, upon close analysis, would seem to have some practical application at least in our understanding of this concept.

Before continuing, it may be important to explain what is meant by a verse of obligation. Rambam, Perush HaMishnayot, Chulin 7:6 states, as a cardinal principle of Torah, that the Torah mitzvah obligations arise from the command of Hashem to Moshe Rabbeinu, not from any statement, command or action preceding. We are not obligated to have children because Adam or Yaacov were so commanded unto the generations. The reason is a directive originating with Sinai; it just so happens that Hashem wished to relate this obligation in Torah through the narrative of a Yaacov, an Adam and Chava or a Noach. The verse of command is where we learn this obligation. In this light, though, it would still seem that the narrative is still important for if Hashem intended for the halacha to be conveyed through this story than this story must have significance even halachically.

Next step

Distinction in Subject (continued)

Opening Source: T.B. Yevamot 65b

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