Friday, March 4, 2011

Rabbinic Chauvinism - Pirkei Avot 1:5 (Part II)

Read my original posting on the subject here.

The online conversation got a little out of hand, as some people thought my original comments to be outlandish, if not just pulled out of left field. I admit the actual interpretation of אשה v האשה in the mishnah is my own application from someone else's idea in a different context, but I stand by the argument that the word האשה certainly does not refer to all women, minimally refers to a specific kind of woman, and may refer to - as is the interpretation that says Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi exposited the middle third of the mishnah - one's wife.

OK.  That said... here is my follow up to the comments of others.

To the Moderator:
This has been an interesting week, and the exploration of this mishnah has brought me down roads I have never traveled. Some have taken the thoughts I originally posted to task, so I appreciate the opportunity to respond in kind.

To [the person] who asked if I can produce any evidence for this reading in the vast literature of commentary on perki avot spanning the centuries. We had the conversation offline, but I will share the sources I shared with him:

An important source in all of this discussion (as he is quoted by many many people) is the Midrash Shmuel on Avos 1:5.

No one says the exact interpretation regarding "Ha'Ishah," however the reference to the pesukim in Kohelet that I mentioned are made by the Midrash Shmuel above, and Rabbenu Yonah in his commentary on Mishlei 6:24. Rabbi Yaakov Emden's comments on the mishnah also include a focus on the difference between "Ha'Ishah" and "Ishah."

The ShLa"H (Shnei Luchos Habris) in Shaar ha'osiyos, Emek Bracha 5 talks about the connection to the Rabbi Akiva mishnah of Avos 3:13 in which he talks about how schok v'kalos rosh bring one to violate ervah sins.

[Another respondent] speaks of Judaism's beautiful views of women. I agree with these views and his overall assessment of rabbinic Judaism's presentation of women. But as others will point out, there are many quotations, which when viewed out of context could seem to be disparaging to women. I will proceed to demonstrate, like you, that perhaps this mishnah is more disparaging to men. In the meantime, you asked me to "explain what “problems” with biblical Judaism needed addressing by Rabbi Akiva."

I had mentioned Rabbi Jonathan Duker's book, so I will just quote from his book:

"[Rabbi Akiva insisted] on openly expressing love for one's wife, a view that often clashed with that of his colleagues. 'Rabbi Akiva taught, Who is wealthy? One who has an exemplary wife.' (Shabbat 25b) Rabbi Akiva's affection for his Rachel caused the wives of the other scholars to feel jealous. (JT Shabbat 6:1)"

"Where earlier scholars had ruled that women should not wear makeup or attractive clothing during the time when they may not have relations with their husbands, Rabbi Akiva changed the law so that wives could be attractive to their husbands at all times (Shabbat 64b)."
I don't believe it was Rabbi Akiva who did this, but once upon a time a woman who was given a "get" could receive it even against her will and it was valid. Now the law is that she (or her shaliach) must accept it for it to be valid.

To [the woman who found fault in "men discussing this mishnah" and doing a poor job of it], While I do not know what it takes for "a woman to become the hostile type who wants to seduce a man," I have found quite a few interpretations (and I said this as well in my original posting) that say this mishnah is as much a warning to men in terms of their own behavior, as much as it might be of what to "watch out" for.

Examples of the point I just made about "warnings" include:

The ShLa"H (mentioned above) who writes " anyone who has true fear of sin should save himself from actions which will bring a person to violate znus prohibitions. Both man and woman who participate in such activities are equally guilty – it takes two to tango." . כי כולם אפשר לו לאדם לעשותם לבדו, והזנות אי אפשר לעשות אלא עם שנים איש עם אשה או אשה עם איש, נמצא שניהם חוטאים ומחטיאים

Sefer HaPliah (sv "va'asah l'hadbik b'darkheihem hatovim") writes " Just as a woman could be the cause for a man to fall, the man could be equally at fault. He should not dress himself up in such a manner, and walk in front of the ladies, in a manner that he might be attractive to them."

Finally Akeidat Yitzchak 45 – "It seems to me that this mishnah is much more damning of the actions of males, because they are the ones who pursue the aveirah to its fruition"

ספר עקידת יצחק - שער מה
אבל אני רואה שאין עקר התלונה כי אם על האנשים, כי הם הרודפים אחרי העבירה עד רדתה

And finally, to the original professor who triggered my involvement in this conversation, The Alshikh (Vayikra 9:23-24) agrees with you (As does the Tosfot Yom Tov who quotes the Midrash Shmuel) that Yose ben Yochanan said his list of three items. Rabbi Judah the Prince added the part about "B'ishto Amru Kal Va'Chomer B'Eishet Chaveiro," most likely following the inference made by many, including the Midrash Shmuel and Bartenura on the mishnah, that the "Hay Ha'y'diah" in the word Ha'Ishah is specific and refers to one's wife..

You write "And in any case the commentary [referring to Rabbi Judah's the Prince's line - AB] itself must be taken seriously as part of the Mishnah." And I agree with you. But the question of why men are instructed not to have excessive conversations with one's own wife, which you claim you "don't think is defensible" is one I would still like to address.

You say "the argument about isha vs ha'isha is not credible." Then how would you explain Kohelet? You claim "the mishnah itself explains that "haisha" at the beginning refers to "ishto," one's wife, not some other and wicked woman." While that is certainly one way to read it, according to the idea that Rabbi Judah the Prince added the second phrase, it could certainly be understood that that was his interpretation, and not the only way to read the mishnah.

Regarding your second argument that "'ha'isha' not necessarily negative in the Tanach…" Again, I agree with you in your sentiment. But I specifically brought examples from the perspective of one author, Shlomo Hamelekh in Kohelet, who presents a contradictory notion in a few short chapters, to make the Ha'Ishah vs Ishah comparison.

As far as "why men are instructed not to have excessive conversations with one's own wife," I will share a few teachings I have found that perhaps shed light on this odd piece of instruction, concluding with a notion that is not as much practiced in our 21st century existence. Some may seem anachronistic, but I think that they may still apply to some men and some women, and the particular relationships they may have.

Ibn Ezra Mishlei 5:20 – Focuses on the word "Tarbeh" - Talking too much, on account of loving too much – this removes a person from [adequately] serving God

Me'iri Avos 1:5 – The conversation referred to is "idle chatter." David says regarding the Torah מה אהבתי תורתיך כל היום היא שיחתי (all day it is my conversation) – these are the kinds of conversations we are supposed to have. "Conversations of a necessary nature – topics related to the home, care, details of his business, etc. – none of these conversations lead to anything bad because they are purposeful, seeking advice, counsel, etc."

Sefer Charedim 47 – Too much conversation, even with men, is prohibited. Rather, conversations men have with women should be to the point (see Eruvin 53b – the story of Bruriah and Rabbi Yosi Haglili)

Midrash Shmuel 1:5 – Explains that it refers to a certain kind of conversation not to have with one's wife - Not to talk about tzedakah with her, because she'll prevent him from doing what he has to do… [Again, this may seem anachronistic as there are quite a few women who are heavily invested in making sure to give tzedakah. On the other hand, there are those who are not, who might not be as in tune to a. family finances, and b. the nature of the particular tzedakah and the connection the man may have to the recipient and to the mitzvah]

Midrash Shmuel 1:5 – If a man is so dedicated to the conversations he has with his wife, he might neglect the important mitzvah of welcoming and bringing guests indeed (IOW – don't let these conversations prevent you from fulfilling this mitzvah)

Rabbenu Yonah Mishlei 6:24 – One should not be drawn to his wife all the time – one difference between humans and animals in this regard is that our unions are for a purpose. As Talmud Brachos 22 says, we should not be running to our wives like chickens… Talmud Avodah Zara 20b says a little self-control (healthy separation) brings about greater purity

Sefer Hapliah –Frankly, there are times she needs (prefers) to operate without a man around.

Rabbenu Yonah Mishlei 6:24 – "Thoughts of Torah will not materialize in front of his eyes as long as he is drawn to these conversations. They are two diametrically opposed thoughts which the heart cannot process at once."

Bartenura Avos 1:5 – Hagiga 5 – a person is accountable [to God] for all conversations. [Which is why even the conversations one has with one's wife need to be to a point, and serving a particular purpose]

Sefer Ha'pliah – One is supposed to love his wife more than his own body (Rambam discusses this Ishus 15:19-20). Don't ask your wife for permission to go learn Torah because she always prefers spending time (etc), and doesn't realize how much good he is doing for her (and for them) when he goes to study Torah

Alshich Vayikra 9:23-24 – The Mishnah has three instructions which are to be done together – open house, poor people welcome, but don't talk too much with your own wife in their presence so the guests will learn not to extend familiarity towards her (for them – she eishes chaveiro) [Think of how Avraham related to Sarah when the 3 angels came to visit. She was in the tent, and all he said to her was "Maher, Shlosh S'im Kemach Soles Lushi Va'asi Ugos." Even when they asked about her, he said "She' in the tent." He did not want to call attention to her. And she knew how important this mitzvah was to him. - AB]

Midrash Shmuel – If she's a niddah, the conversation can lead to sin

If she's "tehorah," rather than have an idle conversation, one could be learning Torah "and this is the meaning of the phrase 'wastes time from Torah study' – it refers to talking too much with one's wife."

Sefer Derekh HaChaim 1:5 – Talks about the difference in nature of women v man – how the women is more "material" (not materialistic)… WHEN A MAN PURSUES A WOMAN, she wants something. But THIS IS NOT A FLAW IN THE WOMAN – this is how Man falls from his level, to be drawn to the woman on account of extra conversations. OBVIOUSLY HE IS SUPPOSED TO LOVE HIS WIFE – One has nothing to do with the other. But it is the over-conversing, which removes him from the level of being a male and draws him to pursue "material" in which he too "wants" something (העדר) – and this is what is גורם רעה.

Rabbi Heshy Grossman shared with me an article he wrote which includes this segment:
" This dual purpose of Torah study - knowing how to live as a Jew on earth, and study as an exercise in non-earthly concerns - reflects the different roles of women and men in creation. While the success of the man is measured by the extent to which his mind is fully occupied with Torah, the success of the woman is measured by the extent to which she gives material life to that Torah.

Certainly a woman's mind is capable of comprehending Talmudic analysis. This is not the issue. The issue is that Talmud study - Torah sheb'al peh -symbolizes un-actualized ideas - and is not congruent with the woman's role of "actualizer-on-this-earth."
In the letter he sent me, he mentioned the idea of "Chomer" (material) to describe female, while Tzurah (kabbalistically) refers to man's role in the world. The Maharal wrote along similar lines.

I realize, of course, that some of these ideas do not jive well with the way some or many of us have chosen to live our lives. Some view the Rabbis views of men and women as antiquated and extremely out of touch with reality. I do believe that the de-emphasis on Torah as the focus on one's life is one of the biggest challenges we face in our collective Jewish communities, and that perhaps an overfamiliarity with others breeds a tremendous amount of wasted time. I readily admit I am as guilty as everyone at this.

Most of us might prefer to hang out with our friends and to chat and shoot the breeze than to say, "You know what? I'm going to pick up a sefer and study Torah now that I have a few minutes. Hey – why don't you join me?" (See Sefer Charedim above)

The major points that are brought out are that conversations are meant to be focused and pointed and should go as smoothly as possible to serve a purpose. Beyond that purpose, one's goal and focus is meant to be on God and Torah study. In this respect, frivolous conversations (especially those that lead to sin) are viewed as a waste of time – and lead to the point the rabbis said, that they bring bad upon oneself, cause Bittul Torah, and lead one gehinnom-ward.

Does the mishnah suggest one should never speak with one's wife? Not at all.

And I would venture to say that speaking with one's wife is very very important. But it is suggesting that a line needs to be drawn between shooting the breeze and unnecessary idle chatter, and conversations which serve a purpose for the furtherance of raising children and taking care of important matters related to one's home.

Please do not misunderstand me. I hope I am making clear that while some conversations are important, some are not. And both men and women, in a marriage, can use a little space every now and then. [I may be going out on a limb here, but I would extend this idea to say that even the "abuse" of cellphones contributes to the problem, as no one has any space – always available at beck and call. Because if you turn it off or don't answer, "Where WERE you?"]

And no, I don't think this mishnah is the best piece of advice for marriage therapy. But when a man and woman in a marriage are on the same page in many more ways than many fewer ways, and Torah is extremely important to them, then this mishnah is a good guide for how to conduct oneself, with modesty and fear of God as their crowning achievements in their pursuit of a life of Avodas Hashem.

AFTER THIS - someone challenged me to bring halakhic sources to prove the point. I provided the following. (all in Shulchan Arukh. YD = Yoreh De'ah, EH = Even ha'Ezer)

There are several, and I bring up different halakhos based on elements of the conversation that were raised.
YD 182:5 – With regard to man making attempts to attract women

With regard to ability to study Torah and the issue related to the presence of women
YD 246:2
YD 246:24
YD 246:25

With regard to how to behave/interact with other women, including one's own wife
EH 21:1
EH 21:4 – For those who feel "Sicha" constitutes "Kalut rosh"
EH 21:6

And when the same challenger rejected this argument saying "the Halachot in Shulchan Aruch that Avi Billet quotes have nothing to do with "talking" – either a little or a lot – with women. Nor are they derived from the Mishnah in Avot. Indeed R. David Shlomo Eybeschuetz in his Arvay Nachal, Derush 4 on Ha'Azinu, quotes the Midrash Shmu'el on Avot as saying that the statement in the Mishnah is "Mussar Haskel," which is a far cry from Halacha."

I penned the following email to him

Hi. I happened to notice your latest response to the Avot 1:5 discussion, and I disagree with you. I write to you directly because I've posted enough to lookjed on the subject.

In the post in which I mentioned the different halakhot of Shulchan Arukh, I specifically wrote "There are several, and I bring up different halakhos based on elements of the conversation that were raised."

I don't know if you read the posting I had submitted prior, but it was with those thoughts in mind that I offered the different sources.

To prove the point - Rambam in Issurei Biah 21:2,4 makes similar points to the ones I referred to in Shulchan Arukh EH 21. The Maggid Mishneh on that Rambam (21:2) quotes Avos D'Rabi Nosson, but is essentially combining the mishnah I quoted of Rabbi Akiva in Avos 3, and our mishnah of Avos 1:5 to say that "Schok and Kalus rosh" bring one to violate ervah, and he quotes "al arbeh sicha im ha'isha" is an example of "schok and kalus rosh." Which gets me back to the SA EH 21:4, where he is clearly referring to how one relates to his niddah wife. I would like to assume that when Shulchan Arukh says not to engage in "schok and kalus rosh" with one's niddah wife, we can agree that he does not even imagine someone would be engaging in some physical activity that would constitute "schok and kalus rosh." Instead he refers to a conversation which would constitute a form of "schok and kalus rosh" which is forbidden because it might lead to (again), what Rabbi Akiva talks about in Avos 3.

I mentioned a few sources who discuss how "al tarbeh" might be referring to talking to one's niddah wife during that period (which I also mentioned is not a good ingredient for a marriage -- that is perhaps the 'best' time to 'talk' about 'other' things - to have an intellectual conversation, perhaps, as opposed to one which might lead to 'schok' and 'kalus rosh' -- or to talk about matters related to the home which do not fall into the category of "tarbeh sicha." Talking about one's sex life with one's niddah wife on the other hand is an example of a frivolous and idle conversation that the mishnah flatly disapproves of).

My point simply is that I feel you flippantly took the sources I quoted out of the context in which I brought them. Frankly, I don't believe I suggested that the mishnah referred to any kind of "prohibtion against talking to women." (I even pointed out in my first post that the mishnah does not say "al tarbeh sicha im nashim")

In my first post, I suggested it referred to specific kind of women (the mantrap kind)
And in my second post, I suggested it referred to talking too much to one's wife, which would take one away from Torah study, a thought I concluded with a lament that most men who opt not to talk to their wives are not usually running to the beis medrash in place of having that conversation.

I appreciate your sentiment from the drashos that it may be mussar haskel. But I also think in my heart of hearts that if people were to engage in Torah in place of what would constitute unnecessary conversations with their spouses, the Jewish people as a learned, thinking (and yes, halakhic) group of people would be a lot better off.

Thanks for listening.

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