Women in Judaism

Study Sheet #9

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


Distinction in Subject (continued)

Opening source: T.B. Yevamot 65b

Bereishit 1:28

kivshu'ha (continued)

We have already seen approaches within the commentators that assert that the "conquering" that is being referred to by the word kivshu'ha is related to the interaction between men and women. The difficulty with these approaches lies in the context of the verse. Other commentators, as such, understand this word differently. The difficulty with these approaches will lie in the connection to the exclusion of women from the mitzvah.

We have already seen one of the explanations of Siftei Chachamim on Rashi, Bereishit 1:28, connecting kivshu'ha to the interaction of male and female. His first explanation of Rashi, though, is that it is the way of man to conquer in war. What exactly does this mean? What is the essence of this distinction between men and women? Is the male's greater propensity to wage war simply a result of the male's greater physical strength or is there an inherent psychological distinction between men and women that draw the former more into battle? or is this a statement of propriety, that men should be more involved with war than women? Above all, though, what possible connection can there be between an involvement with war, a possible drive for violence, and pru u'rvu? Is this methodology of exemption simply a halachic mechanism by which to exclude women from this mitzvah or does it reflect a deeper meaning?

Rashi, T.B. Kiddushin 35a d.h. darcho l'kavesh actually himself presents this very explanation but with one simple elaboration: only men are obligated in pru u'rvu for it is the way of men to conquer the land in war. Rashi adjusts the focus. It is not the conquering of battle per se that is distinctive but rather the conquering through war of the land - an object which by the way fully connects to the original verse. But what is Rashi saying about this unique aspect of the male - is it war or land development that is the essence? The gemara itself, in a different context, actually presents the war distinction between men and women. T.B. Kiddushin 2b states that it is the way of men to wage war, not the way of women. War is the paramount thought in that context, but that gemara is not discussing pru u'rvu. (It is most interesting, though, that the context is marriage, although the reference to war is actually for technical reasons.) It may be, however, that the emphasis in the context of this mitzvah should be on the conquering of the land; pru u'rvu would thus connect with the expanding development of this world. On this level, a tie to population growth can be seen with strong implications on the nature of this mitzvah. But are not women also involved with this development process? And still, what is the connection with war? See Torah Temima, Bereishit 1:28, note 65.

A land development view without connection to war, though, also exists. Ramban, Bereishit 1:28, while not specifically discussing the exemption of women from the command, focuses fully on the land development concept. Kivshu'ha gave man dominion over the world - to build, to mine for minerals, to develop what we would term "human" life and society. He does not mention the aspect of war - kivshu'ha refers solely to conquering the land. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Bereishit 1:28 presents a similar theme - and then makes the tie to pru u'rvu. "Conquering" the land, with all its idealistic sides, is also the way that we earn our livelihoods and as this "is primarily the duty of the male sex, the duty of marriage and establishing the home is given directly and unconditionally to the man." To have children must demand the livelihood to support children, therefore, the obligation of pru u'rvu rests only on the man for it is the male who enters the workforce. With this explanation the development of the land concept is tied to pru u'rvu; how, though, can we relate this reason to the reality of modern life and the clear acceptance of women in the workforce? Must we conclude that Rabbi Hirsch's reason is an outgrowth of his society and, as such, tied to that historical reality? To simply make such an assumption would remove from his reason an element of the eternal, always a problematic path in the world of Torah study. We perhaps could argue that Rabbi Hirsch is actually presenting his view of the Torah ideal, that underlying this verse is not what is but what should be - and it should be the male and not the female that is concerned with livelihood thus the distinction in the mitzvah? While this understanding would give an element of the eternal to Rabbi Hirsch's explanation, Rabbi Hirsch's language must be carefully read to see if he is describing a reality or projecting an ideal (or perhaps both). In addition, such an approach may raise new issues as the challenge to the modern concepts of the career woman would have to be further investigated.

Tangent: The Study of Ta'amei Hamitzvot

Our above analysis of Rabbi Hirsch characterises one of the most difficult areas within the study of ta'amei hamitzvot. An initial view of his position would seem to indicate a link to his particular historical reality. Tying this reason to his particular society or historical reality, though, would seem to challenge the concept that Torah overrides history or particular society and rests eternal. Arguments such as the one presented above - that Rabbi Hirsch is presenting an ideal - while rectifying the problem of the eternal, raise new issues specifically in regard to societal development and moral growth. Cannot new insights challenge previous perceptions? But does not that idea challenge the very basis of Torah?

The fact is that the realm of Hashkafa, Jewish Thought, is very different then the realm of Halacha, Jewish Law, on precisely this point. In the world of Halacha, the parameters are rigid. The world of Halacha is eternal. No changes from society can simply challenge a law; the precedence of the past is absolutely binding. See, however and further, Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, Examining the Ideal, Nishma

Update, Dec./92. The world of Hashkafa, though, is less rigid. Jewish thought is our attempt to understand the Divine - and we are bound to search for this meaning - but that does not mean that the explanations presented are necessarily, eternally correct and/or all-encompassing. Reasons presented for a law can be challenged by modern insights; we are still, though, bound to observe the law. Ultimately if a reason is disputed then the weakness was in our search for meaning, not the law. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Me'ila 8:8 and Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, Torah She B'aal Peh, Nishma VI. Our challenge to Rabbi Hirsch's reason does not change the law that women are exempt from this mitzvah. It simply means that we have a problem with Rabbi Hirsch's explanation and must move on. But still the dilemma does, to an extent, remain. Can we honestly simply reject, declare wrong a reason for a mitzvah that stood in the eyes of a giant of Torah? The reason is still part of the corpus of Torah; we cannot simply reject or simply accept. Is it possible that ta'amei hamitzvot provide different messages for different societies and time periods? See further Torah Temima, VaYikra 12:3, note 22 and HaRif on Ein Yaacov, T.B. Niddah 31b. Some in fact argue that a reason for a mitzvah may in deed only fit or need fit a specific historical perspective. Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim III:34 contends that while a mitzvah must, by its nature, be eternally binding on all, it may not necessarily benefit all but only the majority. For certain individuals, even perhaps specific time periods and societies, the reason for command may be totally inapplicable. The Moreh Nevuchim is, in fact, full of reasons for mitzvot that only fit a specific time period or societal setting.To Rambam, mitzvot once commanded are eternally binding but they may have been commanded for reasons which may no longer apply. See also Eli Rubenstein, A Rational Apologia, Nishma I, II and III.

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Opening source: Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Issurei Bi'ah 21:26

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