Volume 15 Number 47
                       Produced: Mon Oct  3 22:45:46 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Marriage part 3
         [Constance Stillinger]
Western Culture and Torah
         [Marc Shapiro]
Women's and men's roles
         [Aleeza Esther Berger]


From: Constance Stillinger <cas@...>
Date: Fri, 30 Sep 1994 13:55:31 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Marriage part 3

Shaul Wallach <F66204@...> wrote:

>      In the remarks of the two ladies to whom I replied in Part 2, I
> could not but be struck by what seemed to be a protest against the
> male-oriented tone in my previous posts. I make no apologies for this.
> The Torah does not speak in the 20th century language of freedom
> and equality. It is not a bill of rights, but of duties - the 613
> commandments - and each person's duties and responsibilities fit his
> station in life, be he man or woman, free man or servant, Jew or
> non-Jew. Moreover, only men are required to study the Torah. The Talmud
> was written by men and for men, to study it themselves and to pass its
> message to their wives and daughters only when they are directly
> concerned (Sota 20a; Rambam, Hil. Talmud Torah 1:13).

Let's recall the very simple point various posters made provoking Mr.
Wallach's reaction.  Namely that divorce rates in the face of increased
"freedom" (in the narrow sense of having options) could just as well
reflect a high rate of miserable marriages as increased licentiousnes.
Therefore we cannot infer that rising divorce rates indicate increasing

Mr. Wallach has read far too much into people's responses to him, I
believe, though in retrospect I will agree with him that his writings
have been rather androcentric.  Although Mr. Wallach apparently hears
the echo of various recent civil rights movements whenever the word
"freedom" is mentioned, the word has generally been used here in its
clinical meaning as a description of the extent of choices available to
a person, regardless of whether having choices is good or bad.

The matter of how much Torah women can and should learn, on the other
hand is in fact a matter of debate within orthodoxy.  But women can't
discuss Torah issues with men who think they have no right to enter the
debate at all.

Dr. Constance A. (Chana) Stillinger    <cas@...>
Research Coordinator, Education Program for Gifted Youth
Stanford University


From: Marc Shapiro <mshapiro@...>
Date: Sat, 1 Oct 1994 23:03:03 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Western Culture and Torah

I would just like to clarify a few more things regarding the
relationship between Western culture and Torah values. In doing so I am
taking issue with a number of things people have written, in particular
what my friend Shalom Carmy wrote about more Torah study helping
eliminate racism. I think it is clear to anyone who knows something
about Jewish history, and human history, of the last millenium that with
few exceptions, people can read anything they want into the Torah. Once
you leave Orthodoxy the margins are even bigger (witness the infamous
Conservative teshuvah permitting homosexual relationships) but even
within Orthodoxy the margins are very big. What determines how people
read the Torah are views they have acquired, either from the
"atmosphere" of the Bet Midrash, Western culture or other places.
	Let me give an example which will illustrate this clearly.
Although it may surprise some people, the common medieval Jewish view of
women is negative, almost exclusively so. Medieval commentaries are full
of comments about how women were secondary in creation, that they were
created to serve man, that they are not as important as men, that they
cannot make any decisions without asking their husbands' permission etc.
I know that modern Orthodox apologists won't talk about this but it is
true nonetheless.(In general, when it comes to honesty, apologists rank
up there with politicians and used car salesmen. Some are just ignorant
of the facts, but most are intentionally misleading because of what they
regard as higher goals.[those who read my essay on the thirteen
principles know that I argued that Maimonides did the same thing] I
won't deny that apologists have their time and place [less so now than
in years past], but they shouldn't be confused with objective
discussions of the facts) Just last week I bought one of the new books
of Makhon Yerushalayim, Meshivat Nefesh by a leading Geramn rabbi some
500 years ago and on parshat Bereshit he elaborates on this theme. This
work is especially fascinating because the author claims that men and
women were originally created separate and equal, each with their own
role, and it was only after Eve's sin that women were demoted in rank so
that they are now inferior to men.
	Now why is it that ideas such as this make modern Orthodox, and
even right wing Orthodox uncomfortable?  How come such ideas are not
generally found in contemporary commentaries which like to stress that
men and women are both equal in God's eyes, with the same importance and
level of kedushah, and that they just have different roles but that
women are not subservient to men.  Do we understand the Torah better
than the medievals. Obviously not. What has happened is the same thing
that occurred re. the sciences. When people read the Torah today they
accept modern science so they don't take passages literally which depart
from this science. In other words, their preconceived notions determine
how they read the Torah. As our sages say, look into it for everything
is there. That is, whatever is found to be true by science is in
agreement with Torah.
	The same can be said re. ethical insights etc. Modern Jews are
sure that women have just as much importance and dignity as men, and
therefore they cannot believe that the Torah would teach otherwise, so
they read the Torah in a way different than the medievals did. But why
is this so. These new insights did not come from a closer reading of the
Torah which the medievals missed. On the contrary, in a ghetto there
would have been no change in the evaluation of women. No one reading
this list would have felt uncomfortable with the medieval view of
women. Probably some would have felt uncomfortable with Maimonides'
ruling that a women who refuses to do her womanly duties is whippped
(there is a mahloket aharonim if the Bet din or the husband is to
administer the punishment), but they would have been able to find
comfort in Raavad's view that she can be starved into submission. The
notion that women are able to live their own lives and make their own
choices is simply not an option for medievals (and this includes
Christians and Muslims).
 Those of us who have a more positive view of the place of women got
this insight from modern society, accepted the truth of this insight,
and then read it into the Torah, which of course must be in accord with
all Truth. Alas, the medievals were stuck in a time which was not privy
to such knowledge and were thus led to write what appears to most of us
as untrue, and even cruel. (Some might sense that this type of approach
as relevance to many different areas. E. g. women's torah study. It is
very difficult for modern Orthodox women who love to study Torah to
accept the fact that according to many (all?) gedolim it would be better
if we were still in a ghetto when women would not be exposed to secular
studies and therefore would not have to study Torah. Let's not forget
that Bet Yaakov was the answer of a society in crisis, not a
lekhatchilah approach.)
	This is exactly what has happened throughout history and is not
merely natural but the only way history develops. When Rambam approached
Torah he "knew" that certain insights of Aristotle were correct and
therefore could not read the Torah in any other way but in accordance
with Aristotle. To show how the Torah can be manipulated, he even said
that he could, if he wished, interpret the book of Genesis in accordance
with Aristotle's view that the world is eternal! We all know Rav Kook's
view that Genesis can be read in accordance with evolution. When Hirsch
came on the scene he was convinced of the value of secular educaation
and therefore read this view into the Torah, or better read the Torah in
accordance with this view. Rav Kook loved Zionism and therefore all
Torah became a proof text for his view. The Satmar rebbe hated Zionism
and therefore all Torah became a proof text for his anti-Zionism. The
point is that there is very little objective proofs for anything in the
Torah (our sages speak of one who can prove the kashrut of something
unkosher.) All of the people mentioned in this paragraph first came to
their views of the world (a very complicated process), and then
interepreted Torah in accordance with these views.
	Therefore, it is foolish for anyone to seriously criticize
Western values since much of what we believe has its origin in these
values. It is true, that now that we accept these values we see that the
Torah also teaches them and teaches them much better than anyone
else. But the fact remains that we didn't discover these values in the
Torah, and left in a ghetto would never have discovered them (Some
segments of Judaism are still in a ghetto and thus know nothing about
what many of us see as central Torah values).
	Having said this,it is now easy to see why gedolim are so
important. Since basically any idea can be read into the Torah, how can
we be sure that the idea is authentically consistent with the Torah. How
to prevent anarchy? The idea of the gadol teaches that the sage, because
of his great learning, can sift out the authentic from the
inauthentic. It is true, that even the gadol's views are conditioned by
ideas formed outside of the gemara in a complex way, but we have faith
that the gadol will be able to determine which ideas are consistent with
Torah and which are not. Thus, there can be a variety of different ways
to understand the tradition, and as long as they have the support of a
gadol, should be considered valid and consistent with Torah truth, since
there are seventy faces of the Torah.
						Marc Shapiro


From: Aleeza Esther Berger <aeb21@...>
Date: Sat, 1 Oct 1994 22:40:51 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Women's and men's roles

Shaul Wallach writes:
>     While opinions are agreed that people demand more intimacy in
> marriage today, it is still unclear to me why this is so... 
> most important expression of the change in her position in 
> society is the fact that today's woman has a formal education,
>just as the men do.... 
>As a result, both the woman and her husband see her more as an
>equal partner in marriage, someone to whom more and more authority
>and responsibilities can be entrusted, and with whom more and more
>experiences can be shared. This, together with the overlapping of
>marital roles, creates the potential for greater disagreement and
>     In conclusion, my opinion is that extended dating is not
>going to do much to solve our marriage problems. Rather, I think
>men and women should relearn the marital roles that the Jewish
>tradition has assigned to man and wife and readapt them to modern

Few of the sages' statements about women's role, quoted by Shaul in
Part 3 of his series are actual halakha.  Therefore I feel free to
believe that the marital roles are flexible within the Jewish tradtion.
Taking advantage of the flexibility may be confusing (e.g. taking turns
at child care, career-building, learning, kiddush, or lighting shabbat
candles, instead of using the traditional roles) and hard work, but
ultimately worth it if one believes that the advances in women's rights
and education are a good thing.  I do not see any particular value in
forcing people into "traditional roles" if the Jewish tradition does not
require it.  In fact, some people may unnecessarily choose to leave
observance, or not join it in the first place, if such roles are
perceived as fundamental parts of Judaism.

Some people like the traditional roles, that is fine.  However, the
traditional model lends a much more public and authoritative role to the
husband and much less to the wife.  If in Judaism, knowledge is power
(as Shaul Wallach's statement quoted next about the "house Rav"
implies), it doesn't seem to make much sense to grant no power to a
knowledgeable person just because she is female.  This is what would be
difficult - and unnecessary - about asking a Western- educated woman to
relearn such a role.

>     A simple example of this can be found even in Haredi circles,
>among whom women often are more knowledgeable in practical halacha
>than the men, who devote themselves almost wholly to the fine
>points of the Talmud. As a result, it will sometimes happen that
>in everyday problems the wife will feel she is correct against her
>husband, while the husband will feel that she is usurping his
>traditional position as the Rav in the house.

For a discussion of this subject, see "Educated and Ignorant" by Tamar
El-Or.  This is a sociological study of a community of Ger women in
Israel, focusing on adult women's education.  El-Or did not find that
the women felt they were correct against their husbands, even though the
women were educated in practical halakha.  They always asked their
husbands about the things they had learned in the class, and the
(female) teachers of the class always emphasized that each women should
consult with her husband. My commennt: If this is in fact the situation
in the haredi communities, then "women's changing roles" cannot be
blamed for marital discord.

El-Or's interesting analysis of the present-day situation in the haredi
community is that while an educational system has been established
(based on the Hafetz haim's ruling that women need to be educated in
order that they not fall prey to influences of the outside world), an
ambivalence is expressed in that the haredi education for women has
built into it the idea that the women ought to be kept ignorant.

To a lesser extent this ambivalence pervades other segments of the
Orthodox community as well (all those who think the only reason for
women to learn is a "negative" one, i.e. the Hafetz Haim's reasoning).
Another point of view, to which I subscribe, is that Western society has
made positive advances for women.  The parts of Western culture which
have led to women's changing roles in education and other areas is not
merely something to guard against, but rather is a good thing.  Women
should learn because everyone should learn, not for some negative

One anecdote from the sociological study;
One mother wondered, in a letter to a haredi women's magazine, why
the school was upset when she kept her daughter home for several
days to help her take care of a sick younger child.  After all, if
women's primary responsibility is to take care of the home, and the
school was supposed to be educating her daughter to grow up to be
a woman, why should they object to the girl staying home? 

>     Moreover, all the modern talk about "equal rights" seems to
>have brushed over the fact that man and woman are still very
>different -physically, intellectually and emotionally. No amount
<of advance preparation can prevent the appearance of the polar
<differences in the ways they interact with each other. 

In the field of statistics, when one wishes to prove differences between
groups, the usual procedure is to test many individuals who are members
of each group. Why not simply test one member of each group?  The
assumption always is that individuals vary from each other, so it is
necessary to test many individuals to find an average for the group.  If
men and women differ, when speaking of marriage, that seems almost
irrelevant in comparison to the incredible amount of variation among
individuals. Since one marries an individual, not a group, it seems
logical to spend a lot of time finding out whether that individual is
compatible with oneself.

Aliza Berger


End of Volume 15 Issue 47