Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bava Metziah 59A

A Rabbi I really love and respect quoted the following Gemara to me- it's from Bava Metziah 59a:

וגו' א"ל רב פפא לאביי והא אמרי אינשי איתתך גוצא גחין ותלחוש לה לא קשיא הא במילי דעלמא והא במילי דביתא לישנא אחרינא הא במילי דשמיא והא במילי דעלמא

R. Papa objected to Abaye: But people say, If your wife is short, bend down and hear her whisper! — There is no difficulty: the one refers to general matters; the other to household affairs.16 Another version: the one refers to religious matters, the other to secular questions.

The point of this is: Man has the final say in religious/ spiritual matters and woman presides over household matters.

Now, here is my question- how can you take a woman, raise her in a religious atmosphere so that she learns, is knowledgeable, can think for herself and so forth and then simply place her in charge of household matters? I understand how the Chareidi world operates; the woman is raised to submit to her husband's knowledge and authority. In fact, this must be part of what R' Avigdor Miller was basing his points on. But when it comes to those of us who operate within the Torah U-Madda world, exactly how does one interpret this? My Rabbi was simply making the point that in the end, although there can be discussions, I have to defer to my husband about religious matters. Here's the thing: Gemara or no Gemara, there is no way that I will be ruled by my husband. Authoritative figures who try to force things upon me do not bode well for any sort of healthy future. You cannot truly respect someone if you are ruling over them; the power is always in your favor. Now, in the time of the Gemara when the women had to do plenty of time-consuming work and their domain was truly the practical halakhic considerations of house and home, I see how this statement makes sense. Yet how does it apply nowadays? Do you really mean to tell me I must submit to the religious decisions made by my husband, whether I agree with them or not? There is no way that is happening.

15 comments:

Gavi said...

I think in today's day and age you have to read that gemara as referring more to following your husband's minhagim and such, rather than to be completely cut out of religious decision-making.

For example: my wife, the eishes chayil that she is, started waiting 6 hours in between meat and milk when we got married, even though she had waited 3 hours before...

But she definitely does not let me "rule" her with regard to religious practice - and I don't want to!! The only thing that really matters is that we are both "ruled" by halacha... Like my brother always says, we try to be "shulchan aruch jews".

See Rav Shlomo Wolbe's Ma'amarei Hadracha Lechatanim where he discusses how much men must respect their wives' intellect. To quote a bit: "and who among us is greater than Rabbi Akiva Eiger, who had 36 set times to learn torah each week, and yet he often discussed matters of faith with his wife, staying up half the night!!"

rashi said...

Chana,
I think that today, especially in the modern Orthodox world with Torah Umadda values, marriage is much more of a partnership than it was previously. If in the time of the Gemara the spiritual realm belonged to the husband, and the secular to the wife (as is still the custom in some charedi circles), then today both, the husband and wife, are involved in spiritual and secular matters.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why you're troubled by this gemara if you're set on "there is no way this is happening", regardless.

You'll find aggadot/midrashim/statements by Chazal that very often conflict with and contradict one another. Not every one of them will make sense to everyone. Clearly, the gemara speaking about a responsibility to work for a living has been somehow missed by kollel people.

Shades of Grey said...

I agree with Gavi. I don't think this means any sort of absolute dominance to the point of a woman not having a say whatsoever.

Rather, he is sort of a defacto halachic authority in the home - as in if she has a question, she should consult him and respect his ability to verify the halacha rather than going above and ask a rabbi - unless of course there's a need if he doesn't know.

Similarly with minhagim - his minhagim take precedence, although I've heard/read (and seen) from several sources where a blending of minhagim, or in fact dominance from the woman's minhag. In one case that I am aware of, my own shul Rabbi's wife's minhag of NOT eating gebrachts won out (and they are charedi/yeshivish).

Also, just as a general point, since this is seemingly an aggadic gemara and not a halachic discussion, this conclusion should only be taken as good advice, and not de facto psak.

I read somewhere (I forget where) that as a psychological point - guys have egos, and it certainly makes a wife more endearing if she respects his learning abilities/religious committment/Torah knowledge. He needs that feeling of being looked up to.

I do not think that means however, that if the husband is not making sound halachic decisions that the wife must cowtow and go along without protest. She certainly has an obligation, and perhaps an even greater duty to keep religious order in the house as the foundation of the family. Certainly with the children's education she has a very primary role that isn't quite as intrinsic for the husband until they are bit older.

The same rebbetzin I mentioned above even told me on one occasion that I need to marry someone a little frummer than me - to keep me in line religiously. I think that frames things nicely.

Dana said...

isn't the whole point of saying "But bend down to hear her whisper" indicate that what the wife says is EXTREMELY important?

Elie said...

The way I've always seen it is Modern Orthodox Jews do not have a big problem with overlooking Aggadic statements if society has drastically changed since when the Gemara was written. Halachik statements, on the other hand, are much less mobile even after society has changed.
Haredi circles will disagree with the above point.

Shadesof said...

There was a trailer for a recent video regarding singles and the Upper West Side. Rabbi Yosef Blau is briefly quoted and touches on this issue and traces it to education(4:20 into the second trailer on link).

Practically, today, I think many couples will have some sort of partnership, even if not exactly 50% 50%, for spiritual matters as well.

This is the above link:

http://westsideindependent.com/2009/07/26/movie-examines-singles-crisis-on-the-upper-west-side/

Anonymous1:45 said...

At the time the Agadah was written the overwhelming norm was females were more knowledgable in domestic matters and males were more knowledgable in torah. It is important to not that this is a story in the Gemarah and not a ruling (the anshei knesset hagdolah, who recieved their authority all the way from hashem on har sinai, did not vote and make such a ruling stating 'a wife must listen to her husband torah ruling'). There is a reason that some things in the talmud are rulings and some are agadah, otherwise it would all be stated as a ruling. I get this and the following line of thinking from studying Rav Adin Steinsaltzs'(head of the revived sanhedrin) statements (research his views on the talmud to fully understand where i'm coming from). There is a reason why tora shebealpeh was supposed to be bealpeh. When something is written it is fixed and unchanging. I am not saying tha torah bealpeh is not law. I am saying that the essence of torah, as Rabbi Haramati taught me, is 'Veasita Hayashar Vehatov Be'einai Hashem'. The Torah shebealpeh was passed down from generation to generation orally because the torah would have to be infinitely long in order to specifically adress every single possible situation for all time to come. So, torah bealpeh was passed down from moshe rabeinu to zkeinim...as the beinning of pirkei avot notes. Since torah shebechtav is not infinitely long, one of the points of the torah shabealpeh is to make sure that each generation keeps the mitzvot and is able to understand what is "hayashar vehatov be'einai hashem" in whatever new circumstance, invention, situation, technology, and generation that may arise. As Rambam notes due to problems that happened to the jewish people (arising from our aveirot)as well as other reasons, the Rabanim (who had recieved real smicha in the chain going all the way back from moshe rabeinu) decided that they had to write down the shebealpeh lest we all become like the karaites and not do right by god. Thus when you understand why the torah shebealpeh was meant to be bealpeh you can then differentiate between what is a ruling of law in the gemarah and what is a rabbis advice for that generation- continued below-

Anonymous1:45 said...

If this isn't that clear then research Rav Steisaltz on this issue. So, when you understand why shebealpeh was meant to be bealpeh you can differantiate between a ruling and an agadah to advise the generation, since one of the reasons shebealpeh is bealpeh is that each generation has different needs in order so that they may do Hayashar Vehatov Be'einai Hashem. The conversation in 59A is clearly not a ruling but a parable meant for that time in order to make sure that the mitzvot were carried out. Today this is not the case. Don't forget that the goal is to follow Hashem. If the wife knows more or the same as the husbad then she should have eaqual say input since the goal is to do the right thing that hashem wants so whatever method ensures that outcome best must be the method of choice. At that time that was the method of choice since it would lead to Hashems mitzvot being done most often. Today, if the wife knows the same or more than the husband then following this agadah would actually cause the right thing to be done less. If your wife knows more than you in finance and your goal is to make money then you follow her opinion; so too, if your goal is to do hashems' will, and your wife is more knowlegable then you follow her advice. Remember ,hashem told Avraham to listen to Sarah. Inany case the whole thing is a moot point since ('Asei Lecha Rav'). The couple should find a Rabbi that you trust to bring you closer to Hashem. And if you have a difference of opinion on torah, you should let the Ravs' ruling stand; not the Husbands' or the Wifes'. Lastly please don't forget, a major thrust of 59a: 'R. Chelbo said " a man should always be careful about his wifes honor, because blessing is found in a persons house only on account of his wife... as Rav told the people.."honor your wives in order that you may become wealthy". Also , see Rambam on how husbands and wives should treat each other. Lastly, the torah says Asei lecha rav -Make for yourself a rav, and not find a rav or choose a rav. This is because you make the Rav in that you resolve to always listen to this person. So be very careful who you make you rav. Quick rule to weed out the bad ones. If a rav rails hatred and invective against fellow jews; I'm not talking about saying they're wrong or they should be helped or pitied; but rather if he says this sect or that sect of jews is evil or go bicker with them then run away from this person.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why you're troubled by this gemara if you're set on "there is no way this is happening", regardless.
=============================

A good question indeed. Perhaps you might ask yourself why I say "there is no way this is happening" before doing more research on the topic.
KT
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

wow, really? did you just say "gemara or no gemara"? What happened to the 'torah' part of torah u'mada? i doubt very much that the gemara actually means what you think it means, but if it did what are your alternatives? to decide, 'nah, that one directive of chazal is not for me'? Well I'm pretty sure the Rambam in several places would call such a person a kofer.

How about instead of getting irate get curious; in what context is that gemara talking? who were r' pappa and abaye and why would they have such an exchange? what do the early and later commentators say?

Also, do yourself a favor and don't hide behind a veil of torah u'mada. That's unfair, an inaccurate. if it's chazal vs. torah u'mada i'd have to go with the former; there's no commandment to follow the tenets of torah u'mada, there is one to follow the words of chazal, even if they seem to be telling you your left hand is your right hand.

Uri said...

Anon Oct 22 10:56 am said:"How about instead of getting irate get curious"

Anon, you know, it's you who is coming across as irate. You are in attack mode instead of debate and it's not OK.

Anonymous said...

Uri,
I think that's what I tried to do.
KT
Joel Rich

Mikewind Dale said...

Two points:

(1) I think we have to understand just what Hazalic advice is. Rambam and his son long ago said that all science in the Gemara was based on Hazal's own times, and I think it is safe to say that their lifestyle advice is similar. As Hyam Maccoby, quoted by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (Jewish Wisdom) says, the Talmud is a corporate effort to include all matters of life under the aegis of the Torah. But just because marital advice is valuable and holy - and therefore Torah - does not mean it is al pi mesorah or Sinaitic or any such. Rabbi Marc Angel notes (in an article in Tradition, titled something like, "The Avot of R' Reuben Eliyahu Israel") that Rabbi Reuben Eliyahu Israel of Rhodes, in his perush on Avot, includes advice to young men on how to court young women; Rabbi Angel notes that to a traditional Judeo-Spanish rabbi, there is nothing unusual about a rabbi giving such advice. Similarly, notes Rabbi Angel, Rabbi Israel's brother, also a communal rabbi, had a personal notebook filled with both Torah hidushim and medical advice for his congregants. For a traditional rabbi, all of life is holy, and all of life's needs are to be met by the rabbi. So when Hazal gave lifestyle advice, it was in the capacity of caring spiritual leaders, not as transmitters of the Sinaitic tradition.

(2) Aggadah in general, according to ALL the Gaonim and Rishonim, is umdena, speculative wisdom. Thus, the Gaonim and Rishonim all explicitly say that if a given aggadah or midrash contradicts reason, then we pay no regard to that aggadah or midrash. Rambam, for example, in the Moreh, says that if a fool doubts all the words of Hazal because he finds them ridiculous, then this fool is a fool but not a heretic. In his famous letter on astrology, Rambam says that one may find words of Hazal that contradict his view of astrology, but, he says, one should not discard proven and verified words (i.e. Rambam's) for words that are either speculative or unreliable or the opinion of one lone individual (i.e. Hazal's). Rabbi Azaryah de Rossi and Rabbi S. R. Hirsch follow this approach, and it was only the revolutionary and unprecedented opinion of Maharal (followed by Haredim today) that overturned what had been the universal opinion of ALL rabbis until his time. See Rabbi Hirsch's letter on aggadah (Hebrew, English).

See also Maharal’s Be’er ha-Golah and His
Revolution in Aggadic Scholarship —
in Their Context and on His Terms
, pp. 22-54.

-------

According to all of the forgoing, we should not be concerned with this statement in the Gemara. If the Gemara tells us to trust our wives only in mundane matters, or only in household matters, and not in religious matters, so what?

Since when are we beholden to the aggadah? As the Gaonim all say with one voice (cf. Rabbi Shemuel ha-Nagid's Mevo laTalmud), we do not bring proofs for or against aggadah. In other words, we do not dialectically argue whether an aggadah is true or not.

Mikewind Dale said...

Anonymous1:45,

Your take on why TSBP was Oral is EXACTLY what Rabbis Moshe Shmuel Glasner and Eliezer Berkovits say.

For example, in Rabbi Glasner's words, "Thus, whoever has due regard for the truth will conclude that the reason the [proper] interpretation of the Torah was transmitted orally and forbidden to be written down was not to make [the Torah] unchanging and not to tie the hands of the sages of every generation from interpreting Scripture according to their understanding. Only in this way can the eternity of Torah be understood [properly], for the changes in the generations and their opinions, situation and material and moral condition requires changes in their laws, decrees and improvements. Rather, the truth is that this [issues from] the wonderful wisdom [and] profound insight of the Torah, [which teaches] that the interpretation of Torah [must be] given over to the sages of each generation in order that the Torah remain a living force with the nation, developing with it, and that indeed is its eternity."

Similarly, Rabbi Berkovits says, "[Let us now] understand why the Written Torah is not enough, why it needed to be completed by an Oral Tora, and why the halacha could not be anything else but oral teaching. Every written law is somewhat “inhuman”. As a code laid down for generations, it must express a general idea and an abstract principle of what is right, of what is desired by the lawgiver. But every human situation is unique. No general law speaks to the specific situation. The uniqueness of the situation will often call for additional attention by some other principle, which has its validity within the system. ... Resolution can be found only in the totality of the ethos of the law. But no written code can provide the resolution. The code can deal only with the general, not with the specific. Once you write it down as a code, you have generalized it. Only the Oral Tora, alive in the conscience of the contemporary teachers and masters, who can fully evaluate the significance of the confrontation between one word of God and another in a given situation, can resolve the conflict with the creative boldness of the application of the comprehensive ethos of the Torah to the case. Thus, the Oral Tora as halacha redeems the Written Tora from the prison of its generality and “humanizes” it. The written law longs for this, its redemption, by the Oral Tora. That is why God rejoices when he is defeated by his children. Such defeat is his victory [a reference to the famous incident of the oven of aknai]. ... This is our share in the covenant, the existential component of our participation in it. Loyalty to the Tora, to the divine partner to the covenant, demands that we accept the responsibility, notwithstanding the risk involved in the subjective aspect of our participation. Only in this way may the generality and abstractness of the Written Tora be transformed into torat hayim, a Tora of life, its realization in whatever situations Jews find themselves in the course of history."

See Rabbis Glasner and Berkovits on the Oral Law.