Women in Judaism

Study Sheet #8

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


Distinction in Subject (continued)

Opening source: T.B. Yevamot 65b

kivshu'ha (continued)

The exclusion of women from pru u'rvu is tied, by Rabbi Illa in the name of Rabbi Elazar bar Shimon, to "conquering" - which is the way of man but not woman. The commentators are bothered: What exactly is this conquering that is solely the domain of the male? Furthermore, what is the connection between conquering, the male-female relationship and pru u'rvu?

One approach within the commentators is to assert that the conquering that is being referred to is related to the interaction between men and women. We saw in Faxsheet #7 one way of applying this approach - that the conquering that is being referred to in this gemara is the restraint a man places on the behaviour of the woman, specifically preventing her from going out to the market place and becoming a yitzonit, a gadabout. Applying this language to our gemara, we can expand the Talmudic statement to read that it is the way of man to restrain his wife but not the way of woman to restrain her husband. What exactly does that mean? Is it the way of men psychologically, part of their inherent nature, to restrain their wives in this manner, not to let them go out, while women have no desire to limit the behaviour, in this manner, of their husbands? Or is it a statement of ability - that the stronger male has the ability to so limit the female? Or is it a societal statement reflecting norms - although if one wishes to choose such an approach we enter the difficulty of a halachic position being tied to norms which could or could not possibly change? There is also a possibility that this statement is reflecting a halachic ideal - a husband should so restrain his wife and make this behaviour part of the nature of husband and wife. Bereishit Rabbah 8:12 would seem to support the argument that this type of behaviour does reflect a halachic ideal although, as presented in the last Faxsheet, this is a matter for further discussion. Of course, combinations of these variant approaches are also possible.

As different approaches to kivshu'ha are presented, we should continue to ask questions of this nature. It is important that one not assume that the gemara's reference to this distinction in conquering implies a support for such a distinction in behaviour between men and women. The gemara may simply be stating a reality - especially if the gemara is talking in the realm of ability: a man has the ability of "conquering" that a woman may not have, but that does not imply that this ability should be exercised, in fact, there may even be a halachic demand not to so act. In fact, such an approach is taken in regard to another way of explaining "conquering" and connecting it to the male-female relationship. Siftei Chachamim, Bereishit 1:28, note chet in explaining Rashi, Bereishit 1:28 presents the possibility that "conquering" refers to the ability of a male to physically force a female to have relations against her will. A woman, though, cannot force a man to have relations against his will for ein kishui elah l'da'at, the male sexual response demands some consent and desire by the male. Within this approach the man's ability to "conquer" the female is not something that should be acted upon - in fact it is assur, prohibited to force a woman to have relations -but since there is this ability to do so, this creates a distinction in the law. According to this understanding of kivshu'ha, the absolute physical impossibility for a female to fulfil this mitzvah without the willed participation of another, excludes her from the command. Only the male who can physically act without another's consent, although this would be in violation of Halacha, can be so commanded. We may wish to contemplate this concept both in its application to mitzvot in general and in regard to this specific mitzvah.

Another approach that ties kivshu'ha to the male-female relationship is presented by Maharsha, Yevamot 65b. He simply ties it to the concept - usually identified with Bereishit 2:16, v'hu yimshal bach, "and he shall rule over you" - that a man exercises general authority over his wife. Of special significance, though, is the implied notion in the Maharsha that he would find greater significance in the kivshu'ha concept being tied to the male-female relationship than in some other understanding of "conquering": what would the greater male tendency to conquer at war have to do with pru u'rvu? He, though, does present an answer: the grammatical structure of the sentence and the word kivshu'ha does seem to imply another object of conquest beside the woman. We should now examine views that understand kivshu'ha within this context...but with the Maharsha's original question of applicability to pru u'rvu in mind.

Tangent: V'hu Yimshal Bach

The Maharsha's reference to v'hu yimshal bach raises an important question to which the Maharsha himself gave notice. This verse is part of the "curse" that is given to Chava following the episode of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In that the command of pru u'rvu preceded the curse, the concept of the husband ruling over the wife may have not been existent at the time of the command. Maharsha simply states that "for the purposes of the mitzvah of pru u'rvu [this concept] was stated before [the curse]." Does the Maharsha mean that the concept, although introduced generally as part of the curse, was in fact existent before the curse? Or does he mean that since the mitzvah exists in a post-curse world, the Torah in presenting pru u'rvu in this context also included the necessary information from this concept (historically introduced with the curse)?

At the core of this issue is whether v'hu yimshal bach is actually a positive ideal that should inherently exist or whether it is a "punishment" that does not present an ideal. In fact, the circumvention of the "punishment" would be acceptable. For example, part of the "curse" were the pains of childbirth; there is nothing wrong, though, with trying to lessen or prevent these pains. Suffering these pains is not an ideal and, it would seem, the existence of these pains are also not an ideal, only arising from the "curse" and, as such, not the optimum human condition. (See in relation to this issue Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh De'ah 2:75.) Is male "rule" over the female similar? Is it a "pain" that can be overthrown - perhaps should be overthrown - if possible? What exactly is the nature of this "rule" - sociological or psychological? If it, though, does represent an ideal, why was it part of the curse?

The fact that the husband does seem to have some dominance halachically is supported by such sources as Mishna Keritot 6:9 and Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ishut 15:20 and is a matter for further investigation. The question at this time, though, is the connection between these halachot and the curse of v'hu yimshal bach which is intended as a punishment-curse and not, it would seem, an optimum ideal which would be implied by halachic recognition. We do, though, find sources which quote v'hu yimshal bach as a source for these halachot. See, for examples, the Likutim on the mishna in Keritut and Torah Temima, Bereishit 3:16, note 22.

Interestingly, T.B. Eruvin 100b understands v'hu yimshal bach as referring to the fact that while a woman desires her husband in her heart, she is embarrassed to openly request relations boldly with her mouth. See Rashi. The gemara, though, states that this is a good trait in women (reflecting tzni'ut), resulting in the problem of an ideal being connected to the curse. Torah Temima, Bereishit 3:16, note 22 simply answers that although this is a positive trait, it is still a "curse" for a woman cannot express her desire even to her husband. Ramban, Bereishit 3:16 seems to have difficulties with this approach precisely because an ideal is connected to the punishment and develops a different approach is explaining the punishment-curse nature of this verse. See also, though, Rashi, Bereishit 3:16.

How we understand these verses of the "curse" is a most important consideration in determining the Torah ideal for women.

Next step

kivshu'ha (continued)

Opening source: Bereishit 1:28

Rashi; Siftei Chachamim; Ramban

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