Volume 28 Number 80
                 Produced: Thu Jun 17  6:38:48 US/Eastern 1999

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Male Primary Caretaker is not Exempt from PTBM/C
         [Jay Rovner]
Some comments on Commandments women are free from
         [Russell Hendel]
Women and procreation
         [Clark, Eli]
Women's Exemption from Time Bound Commandments
         [Jay Rovner]


From: Jay Rovner <jarovner@...>
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 10:54:53 +0000
Subject: Male Primary Caretaker is not Exempt from PTBM/C

saul berman in: Response 12 (1981) pp. 12 f., explains that since the
halakhic system is organized along lines of personal status (the two
genders each have a separate status), the particular situation (primary
caretaking) is not of equivalent halakhic effect for men as for women. he
does see some flexibility re: women's obligation to filial piety as
affected by her personal status vis a vis marriage: if married, her own
family comes first; if unmarried, her parents have prior claim, but he
does not see how time-boundness could tolerate such flexibility.

jay rovner


From: Russell Hendel <rhendel@...>
Date: Sun, 13 Jun 1999 21:00:55 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Some comments on Commandments women are free from

Several posters commented on why women are exempt from Mitzvoth
(e.g. Eli Clark v28n71, Jay Rosner v28n67, Sheldon Meth, Yisrael
Maydad etc). While many good points have been made there seems to
be some fundamental confusions outstanding. I also wanted to present
Rav Hirsch's theory on these matters which fits most facts.

1st) A General principle having NOTHING to do with women is that if
you are involved in one mitzvah you are exempt from others--e.g. the
original law is that you don't have to daven maariv on your wedding
night since you are busy thinking about how to make your wife happy
(a Biblical commandment--Rambam Shma 4:1--Rambam mentions further
prerequisites---see also Shma 2:5--"A person involved in a community
errand is exempt from Shma").

Thus the reason that Yisrael Maydad was exempt from Shmah while taking
care of his children in the hospital while his wife delivered was
because of a SPECIFIC situation. (This should not be confused with
the statement that women NEVER say Kriath Shmah because they are USUALLY
involved with bringing up children--it is only when you actually have
something to do that you are exempt).

2nd) Most people are unaware that not all halachic principles are handed
to Moses at Sinai. Thus Chazal tried to GUESS the criteria for birds to
be Kosher---it was only the LIST of BIRDS that was given to us (Lev 11).
The principles were good inferences. In a similar manner we know thru
traditions which commandments a women is free from. Chazal attempted to
find some underlying unity to them--but this is only a man made attempt.

3rd) IT was Rav Hirsch who pointed out that there are MORE EXCEPTIONS
COMMANDMENTS". Eli Clark already brought some examples: Women are exempt
from Tefillin, Succah but liable to prayer and Shabbath. Why? Again this
is a question on Chazal's attempt to find a unifying prinicple.

4th) Rav Hirsch therefore tried to find his OWN UNIFYING principle. Rav
Hirsch's principle is as follows:

>>Women are exempt from periodically recurring symbolic commandments whose
>>purpose is to remind the performer not to succumb to outside pressures
>>when dealing with the outside world.

Thus Tefillin (normally worn all day)reminds people to be honest when
working in the outside world. The Shofar reminds us to wake up, leave
the outside world and return to God. Succah reminds us not to depend on
our own roofs when we deal with the business world but rather to depend
on God.

By contrast, Passover although periodic and symbolic has nothing to do
with withstanding outside pressures. Its purpose is to remind us of the
exodus (in which women were saved)!! Similarly, Shabbath is to remind us
that God owns the world (and is independent of whether we are in the business
world or not because we can't do anything in the house either).

5th) Note that Women are free from certain commandments that SYMBOLIZE
steadfastness when exposed to the pressures of the outside world. They
are only SYMBOLS. Hence it is reasonable to exempt the CLASS of people
that is usually not in the outside world from these commandments. Since
they are symbols it is not relevant whether they are ACTUALLY there or
not---all that is relevant is whether they are usually there.

Hopefully I have raised some interesting issues in this very short
introduction. I would seriously invite further discussion. I believe
we can learn discover new things.

Russell Jay Hendel; Phd ASA RHendel@ mcs drexel edu
Math & Comp Science Drexel Univ


From: Clark, Eli <clarke@...>
Date: Mon, 14 Jun 1999 16:37:00 -0400
Subject: Women and procreation

Louise Miller writes:

>I will not attempt to jump into the subject of the general exemption of
>women from time-bound mitzvot (collective sigh of relief,) except to
>comment to Eli Clark that I believe that the reason women are exempt
>from the mitzva of procreation is that pregnancy and child-birth are
>potentially life-threatening events.

I appreciate your comment and do not question the genuineness of the
threat posed to you and other women by childbirth.  Your posting
nevertheless prompts two comments.

First, let us assume that women's exemption from the commandment of
procreation indeed stems from the threat to the life of the mother.  If
so, one must wonder whether this supports the notion that I questioned
in my previous post, viz., that there is some broad conceptual
explanation regarding women's exemption from certain time-bound
commandments that is rooted in idealized gender roles.  I would suggest,
rather, based on the example of procreation, that the Rabbis seem to
have examined and evaluated each case independently.

Second, I believe that the sources contradict the popular notion that
women's exemption from the commandment of procreation relates to concern
for the life of the mother.  The exemption first appears in the Mishnah
in Yevamot, at the end of chapter 6, the subject of a dispute between
the anonymous author of the mishnah and R. Yohanan b. Berokah.  The
Gemara (Yevamot 65b), as is its wont, inquires into the basis of the
exemption, and offers several explanations, all of them rooted in
interpretations of biblical verses.  For instance, the well-known verse,
"be fruitful and multiply " (Gen. 1:28) continues with the injunction to
"fill the earth and subdue it (ve-khivshuha)."  Says the Gemara (in a
comment that would be condemned by contemporary Western feminism), it is
normally the man's role to engage in the subduing.  This text appears in
Bereshit Rabbah as well, with certain textual variants.  There is no
mention of the threat to a woman's life.

The rule regarding women's exemption appears in all of the codes
(Mishneh Torah, Ishut 15:2, Tur, Even ha-Ezer 1, Shulhan Arukh, loc.
cit.) and neither they nor their standard commentators propose an
explanation at variance with that of the Gemara.

Indeed, a number of authorities have stated that women, while exempt
from the biblical obligation of procreation, are nevertheless obligated
by its rabbinic analogue of "shevet," which is rooted in the scriptural
statement that God created the earth in order to be inhabited.  Needless
to say, those authorities obviously assume that this rabbinic obligation
is not overridden by concern for the woman's life.

Besides the textual evidence to the contrary, the purported explanation
has other weaknesses. First, in addition to the exemption from
procreation, women are exempt from marriage.  While marriage poses many
challenges (as all married persons can attest), it is not (generally)
considered a threat to one's life!  Second, the obligation of Jewish
males to procreate necessarily imposes a risk on their wives, and the
women's technical legal exemption does not protect them from those
risks. Third, other commandments, such as circumcision, also pose
potentially life-threatening risks.  While a child who is ill is not
circumcised, the basic obligation of circumcision (which falls on the
uncircumcised individual at age 13) remains in force.  Only in very
narrow circumstances have halakhists recognized a complete exemption
from circumcision; yet a potential threat clearly applies to all males.
I am in no way suggesting, because I am not competent to do so, that the
risks posed by circumcision are -- or were -- comparable to those posed
by childbirth.  But it seems clear that Halakhah is willing to tolerate
a certain level of risk in assigning legal obligation.

Kol tuv,

Eli Clark


From: Jay Rovner <jarovner@...>
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 11:47:44 +0000
Subject: Re: Women's Exemption from Time Bound Commandments

	i apologise for the length of this posting, but eli clark's
response shows that the matter is not simple, and that the question of
women's exemptions from positive commandments (both time-bound and not
time-bound) is of intrinsic interest and deserves consideration and analysis.
    mr. clark raised a number of  relevant points, among them women's
obligation to tefillah and their exemption from sukkah, the fact that
families lived in one room for much of jewish history, and the problem
with ideal types as a way of conceptualizing a halakhic pattern.
    let us start with saul berman's lists of mitsvot in order to
establish some basic facts. 
	women are exempt from the following positive time-bound
commandments: reciting shema, tefillin shel rosh and shel yad, tsitsit,
counting the omer, living in the sukkah, taking lulav, and hearing the
shofar. in addition they are exempt from the following positive
non-time-bound mitsvot: study of the torah, for a king to write a torah,
for kohanim to bless the people, procreation, for a groom to celebrate
with his wife for a full year, circumcision of sons.
    to make sense of the exclusions, i find the following pattern of
gender-distinction instructive. it accounts for most items on the list.
i will note the exceptions. for men, the associations are: action in the
public sphere, assertive activity and behavior. for the feminine sphere,
i find privacy, family, the home, chastity/modesty. the feminine sphere
is well explained in M.B. peskowitz, the work of her hands
(Ph.D. diss., 1977- i think it was published as a book but can't verfy
that ). peskowitz demonstrates that the mishnah's
preferred feminine economic activity is weaving. this was the economic
activity recommended for women thruoughout the greco-roman world in
which hazal functioned (in eretz-israel). it has strong associations
with the domestic sphere, the private sphere, and it connotes chastity
and womanliness. did some men weave? yes. did economic necessity or
other factors bring women into public economic life as marketers and
laborers? yes. although the standard pattern was violated by the
requirements of reality, this did not alter the mishnah's prescribed
pattern for women, as it did not force the general culture of the area
and the times to alter it.
    bearing the above dichotomy of male / female in mind, let us examine
the above lists. we will expect to see that the particular manifestation
of this gendered distinction will arise from the public and oral nature of
learning amongst hazal, public cultic or liturgical activity, and a mixing
of public and private concerns judged intolerable for women and men
together (Sukkah).
	taking the non-time bound mitsvot first, we can see
that they all are public-sphere activities. study of torah is an oral
exercise involving assertive public debate. (it was not done in private
using written texts as is much of what we do today: even study of
written torah involved a lot of rote repetition, even though the written
torah was to be read, in liturgical settings, from a scroll). 
on the public in-your-face culture of the rabbis of the talmudic period
(hazal), see for example, m. jaffee, "the oral-cultural context of the
talmud yerushalmi: greco-roman rhetorical paideia, discipleship, and the
concept of oral torah" in: P. schaefer (ed.), The talmud yerusshalmi and
graeco-roman culture (tubingen, 1998), pp.27-61).
	the king is a public figure and a leader;
kohanim are cultic analogues of the political ruler, and their
work in the cult is public and demands great physical strength, while
the birkat kohanim is a liturgical element of their cultic labor; for
those who say that procreation is incumbent upon the male (and this is
not unanimous, it is the assertive act of derekh ha-ish likhbosh that
obligates the male and exempts the female, who is seen as the passive
partner. the same dichotomous characterization extends to the grooms
active obligation to give joy to his passive, receiving, bride.
circumcision may not fit the overall pattern - there are exceptions - but
this is seen as a gendered activity.
    taking up the time-bound exemptions, we begin with tefillin.
tefillin are clearly linked with talmud torah and the exemption for both
go together in the beginning of the classic sugya on kiddushin 34a.
they are closely connected in the mekhilta to exodus 13:9 (bo, section
17, ed. horovitz, p. 68) and in the mekhilta de-r. yishmael, p. 41. the
mitsvah to read the shema is a form of talmud torah and women are
therefore exempt. taking the lulav and hearing the shofar are liturgical
and therefore public.
    two exceptions are tsitsit and counting the omer. as for the omer, i
have not investigated it; it is not liturgical in the sense of public
liturgy inasmuch as arvit was not obligatory in mishnaic times; i do not
know if it is an exception or not, nor can i imagine how the average
person kept track without table in a printed siddur or a mailing from a
	tsitsit is a secondary exemption. by this i mean that it started
out as a required commandment, with only shimon bar yohai dissenting
(although the bavli lists it as an exemption on kiddushin 34a, the sifri
bemidbar (ed. horovitz, p. 124 and yerushalmi kiddushin 1:7
[ed. venice/krotoschin, fol. 61c] list it among the obligations of
women, with r. shimon dissenting).
    the final PTBM is sukkah. by combining the story of heleni ha-malkah
(with a sukkah of many rooms) with the material on bavli sukkah 25b
concerning the exemption of a bridegroom from sukkah because of yihud,
the exemption of women becomes clear. a groom is exempt from sukkah,
either because it would cause problems of yihud (if he leaves to attend
to his needs, another male might enter and be alone with his bride, and
it is forbidden for a man and a woman who are not husband and wife to be
alone). one other reason given is for the hatan's exemption from sukkah
is "tsaar hatan," the suffering of the groom. rashi explains that, since
sukkot were flimsy and needed only three walls, the groom would not feel
comfortable being intimate with his wife, even in a non-overtly sexual
way. women and sukkah do not go together because it is not feminine (as
defined above): to conclude, a sukkah is both public and private in an
intolerable mix, which causes embarassment and leads to unchaste
behaviour, if only in its most superficial ways.
    mr. clark's point that jews have historically dwelled in one room
dwellings is well-taken as far as it goes. even so, it does not refute
the idealized dwelling structure that the rabbis would have preferred:
cf. the above discussion of the discrepancy between women whom economic
necessity forces into the public sphere and the rabbinic and greco-roman
ideal. we constantly have to look at the idealization, while living in the
real. and in point of fact, it seems that the simplest dwellings
in the talmudic period (in palestine) had four rooms at a minimum (cf.
yizhar hirshfeld, bet ha-megurim ha-erets-yisreeli ba-tekufah
ha-romit-bizantit [jerusalem, 1987]). unfortunately, hirshfeld does not
tell us what the sleeping arrangements were. the bedroom would be the
smallest room in the house. i suggest that it is possible that the
children slept elsewhere. however, i have no facts at this time to a
answer the interesting question mr. clark addresses to the sleeping
	in the interest of food for thought/ tavna le-disha i would
say that the background to my thinking of separate sleeping arrangements
comes from experiences in bucharest. i had occasion to be in some
apartments that were, maybe substandard by our standards, but middle class
by romanian standards. the apartments had four rooms: a tiny kitchen for
preparing food, a small bathroom (which a rabbinic house would not have),
a sleeping room that held one double bed, and a large living area. the
living area was for dining, living, and sleeping. what they had for sofas
were actually beds with a cushion against the wall. of course, it was hard
to use them as couches because they had the depth of a bed (they were the
kind of couch-beds israeli have, except that they have bedrooms for
them!). so i wonder if the sexually active members of a family didn't
sleep separately from the rest, in eretz-israel in the talmudic period (i
haven't found any information for bavel)
    for interests of space, i will not burden the list with an analysis
of the mitsvot to which women are obligated, save to point out that, re:
the requirement of women to tefillah (petitionary prayer): since women
were not taught berakhot in mishnaic times, and, e.g., r. akiva does not
require one who cannot recite the shemoneh esreh (prayer was also oral)
to say that form of tefillah, it is unreasonable to assume that women
would have been required to recite it as their mishnaically enjoined
responsibility to tefillah.

    jay rovner


End of Volume 28 Issue 80