Monday, December 31, 2007

Yitz's Comments on "Women & Judaism" Post & Comments

Yitz, at A Waxing Wellspring, has a very nice post reflecting on the the Guest Post at Dixie Yid by the author of The Moon's Lost Light. A big part of his post, though, relates to the comments section on that original post.

Click here to read.

-Dixie Yid

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Ariella said...

Dixie Yid, I am very open to the free and open exchange of ideas and of opinions, as Bob Grant would say. But I really have to point out that you fall into logical fallacies in framing the presentation of D. Heshelis's books. Here you are engaged in stacking the deck by highlighting a favorable reaction with a post of its own, ignoring the cogent arguments made by Jacob, Tzipora, Rabbi Brown (aka Chaim AB) or yours truly. I could go through numerous logical fallacies in her attempt at defense point by point (hey, rhetoric is something I taught for years), but that would take quite a while. ANd you would once again retreat into the equivalent of backpedaling by saying "She was certain that the statements that she made were backed up by something in chazal." And then in a non sequiter suggest that she should not be held accountable to answer.

yitz.. said...


perhaps i misunderstood all of the comments in the previous post, could you state your thesis in a simple manner even I could understand? (I never taught rhetoric theory, and I'm probably not very good at it in practice.) I'm aware your comment was addressed to Dixie Yid but I would also like to understand, if you wouldn't mind humoring me?

What are you trying to say about Rebetzin Heshelis' book? (as that was the subject of the original post)

Chaim B. said...

Since Ariella is not feeling well (see what happens when you question the Zohar? :) I hope ishto-k'gufo my answer on her behalf suffices. My wife's original comment raised two points: 1) Women are different than men, but it does not necessarily make sense to speak of higher/lower in a heirarchical sense (my wife suggested that her approach works better in Braishis and later parshiyos); 2) To attribute all women being "lower" to Chavah's original sin imposes on complex reality a simplistic and deterministic sin-punishment cause-effect mechanism which assigns blame to women for their own plight. Why don't women have the same rights as men - because they are guilty (as I wrote in my comments, damned by original sense) and don't deserve those rights. My wife equated that harsh theodicy with attempts to blame Holocaust victems for their fate.

In response, Heshelis claimed her approach must be true becayse it stems from Zohar which is revealed b'ruach hakodesh, e.g. "Therefore, the idea that Chava’s sin caused her lower position is not in the category of a particular man or woman’s view. It is coming from Hashem." and "This is what I taught in the book because this is what is taught in Kabbala." It would be more correct to say it is Heshelis' own interpretation of the Zohar and her application of the ideas she has extracted to current history rather than to say the ideas are found in the Zohar, which paints any questioner as challenging G-d's word. Like any thesis, it is up to Heshelis to defend whether her interpretation is justified and whether it is better or worse than other ideas and interpretations that have been advanced through the ages. Is it? Well, I guess we won't know because the only response the author seems capable to providing is that it is all based on kabbalah and therefore discussion is closed.

Regarding the second point, Heshelis' responded, "The writings of the prophets stress over and over again that the suffering of the Jewish People is because of their sins. Anyone who disagrees with this is disagreeing with the prophets and with the Torah itself." Again, she attempts to paint disagreement as arguing with G-d rather than her interpretation. Anyway, as noted by myself and other commentators, Heshelis' seems naively unaware that the view she dismisses as against the Torah and Prophets was espoused by the L. Rebbe.

Longer than I wanted this to be, but hopefully it was clear enough.

Chaim B. said...

Just out of curiosity: do you believe Judaism categorically views women as "lower" than men? If yes, do you believe women deserve this fate because they all share in the guilt of Chavah's original sin?

DixieYid said...

Chaim, I'll try to write more later. But to clarify: She never said women are lower. Again, please do me a favor and read her book. She addresses these issues and again, there are sources that are not only her own interpretation. She said there are two areas. Service and value (value wasn't the word but I lent the book to someone so I can't check). She said women are lower in the area of service but not in the area of value. Whennever anyone fulfills their potential, they are equal or greater than someone with a higher level on the "service" scale. She was discussing being lower in one area of life, but not in actual value as a Jew or as a person. Again, I'd suggest reading the book. It won't take you long and most of the misunderstandings here will be adressed.

-Dixie Yid

yitz.. said...


after sleeping on all the potential answers to your question, i want to turn the question around on you, i think this is a more relevant question:

do you believe that a Jewish woman couldn't possibly find a basis to feel/think she was lesser than a Jewish man?

I believe that there are plenty of reasons that a Jewish woman might feel/think she is less important.

And I believe Rebbetzin Heshelis' book addresses this potential feeling/thought that a Jewish woman may have that she is less important than a Jewish man.

I think you and Rebbetzin Heshelis actually agree that Chazal do not feel this way at all, and have tremendous respect for both women and men. (as well as all created beings.)

----- on to your actual question:
As to your specific question, I think that there is much halachic precedent to make it clear that a women's reshut is not always her own, (nedarim, divorce, the fruits of her labor, kinyanim, minhag, etc) whereas a man is beholden only to HaShem. (and is thought to be sinning if he takes another master over himself other than HaShem)

I believe Chazal does explain the fact that women are subject to the reshut of their husband as having to do with the sin of the etz haDa'ath. Though I don't know if that is the consensus.

As to whether i believe that anyone deserves anything, the Baal Shem Tov (via Rebbe Nachman and the Notzer Hesed) taught me never to judge the situation of others, unless I want to bring down judgement on myself.

Chaim B. said...

I guess Yitz we will agree to disagree. I find it hard to accept a theodicy that damns people because of original sin (I thought that was a different religion) to a lesser status, whether it be lesser in service or in value.
Of course women perceive Chazal as discriminatory. Telling them its their own fault because of Chavah's original sin is not going to make them feel any better. Telling them that halacha does match reality, but when Moshiach comes it will all change is small comfort to those of us living in the here and now.

Chaim B. said...


As I noted in one of my comments, Heshelis wrote an article which almost word for word matches her book. I have read it (I'm the one who asked if she is the same author as D. Jacobs, the pseudonym she used for the article).

Anyway, to address your point: A company which claims, "Of course we value ALL our employees, but management positions are reserved only for men" is guilty of discrimination. Yet, you feel happy to make the same claim in the name of religion, i.e. "Of course we value ALL people equally, but certain tasks are reserved only for men". Or, as Heshelis put it: "Woman have a slightly lower status in the hierarchy of service"..."These changes did not cause woman to have less value in G-d’s eyes..." I don't see why the former is discrimination but the latter is not - can you pls explain?

Ariella said...

t better now, Yitz, so let me address you as a woman who also was educated in the RW school system and is still quite frum. I had the same questions the author said troubled her as a young person and I sought out answers. Some attempted justificaiton along the lines of, women cannot be eidim becuae they are too emotional. Others tried to say there is no view of female inferiority. One teacher went so far as to totally twist the Hebrew on R' Bechaye's observation that if women could be prophets, as Miriam was, that indicates nashim eynan t'feylos legamrey.
So, was I forced to accept sophistry or to lash out against tradition or to find an ultimate answer? I don't think the last option is possible. As Rabbi Twersky says in his review of Heshelis's books, for some questions there are no answers within our comprehension. So what to do with female status? Accept it for what it is, but do not attempt to project explanations for it. We accept the fact that two brothers-- even if they are Moshe and Aharon -- could not join in testimony because the matter is set. We accept that a king does not give testimony. So we can accept the status of witnesses without attempting to rationalize why women are not included in that category.
But I find telling women, you must accept that you would not make a fair witness, for your womanly nature dooms you to the irrational as you are too governed by emotion, is not a positive or comforting thing. Heshelis is doing something similar to what those teachers did (albeit with different source material) in attempting to justify women's lower place in the hierarcy (and she does use such terms) for a clearly identified reason.

While ayn simcha kehatas sfeykos -- there is no joy like the end of doubt -- which is why Heshelis book may be viewed as a joyful revelation for those who see it as the hataras safeik for their question, I don't think it can be said to be the truth with such certainty. And I would seem to have R' Twersky on my side of the argument in this. Check out the middle part of his review:
Thus the legitimacy and appropriateness of the author’s first question is itself open to question. Moreover, ultimately Mrs. Heshelis must also invoke this teaching of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi. In her words, “The principle of nekeivah tesoveiv gever does not mean that women will become altogether identical with men … men and women will each have primary virtues, while also having abilities on the other side.”13 So writes Mrs. Heshelis, and, undoubtedly, she is absolutely correct. But why will they not be identical? The response, of course, is kach gazra chachmato. The initial “why” question–“Why do women sometimes appear to have a secondary position [supporting role] in Judaism?”–warrants a similar response.14

I am inclined to think that Mrs. Heshelis would agree with the preceding analysis. Perhaps she intended only to offer a perspective on women’s secondary/supporting role and introduced the issue with a rhetorical question. First appearances not withstanding, she also disavows the meaningless “why” question.

The author’s second question, which focuses on the disparity between rabbinic descriptions and contemporary impressions of women, raises a different methodological issue. The question axiomatically assumes that not only rabbinic statements but also our impressions are sources of truth. Clearly if our impressions have no epistemological validity, the second question simply disappears. Thus the methodological issue is, are our impressions (especially when apparently in conflict with the words of our Sages) to be regarded as a source of truth or knowledge?

The answer from a Torah perspective, I believe, is “yes, but….” Rabbi Sa’adiah Gaon substantiates the “yes” component of the response. He writes in the introduction (par. 5) to his Emunot VeDeot that both sensory perceptions as well as logical inferences from these perceptions are sources of truth. We observe increasing numbers of women succeeding and even excelling in pursuits that require a high degree of abstract intelligence. Ergo, we infer that these women possess keen abstract intelligence. According to Rabbi Sa’adiah Gaon, both links in the chain–our perception as well as our inference–are epistemologically valid. Thus we know that women possess a high degree of abstract intelligence, yet our Sages seem to indicate otherwise. Accordingly, Mrs. Heshelis’ second question is entirely legitimate.

There is, however, a “but.” Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explains and illustrates the epistemological “but” in one of his responsa15 concerning deaf-mutes (cheresh). It is, of course, widely known that the Talmud classifies deaf-mutes, alongside the deranged and minors, as people lacking “da’at,” legal competence. Accordingly, they are exempt from mitzvot, cannot betroth (according to Torah law), set aside terumah, et cetera. But what status do contemporary educated deaf-mutes enjoy? Did our Sages classify deaf-mutes as legally incompetent because they were ineducable and thus de facto incompetent? Does the ruling of our Sages extend to contemporary deaf-mutes?

Rav Shlomo Zalman thinks that deaf-mutes are considered legally incompetent because of their de facto incompetence. Nevertheless he opines that even today all deaf-mutes are, according to our Sages, still classified as legally incompetent.16 Rav Shlomo Zalman comments that our observations of contemporary educated deaf-mutes do not accord with our Sages’ ruling. Even so, writes Rav Shlomo Zalman, “We must say that our Sages, in their great wisdom, knew that a deaf-mute is a person who cannot be viewed as responsible for his actions. Thus we do not take his actions into account even if, according to our understanding, he possesses a quick and sharp mind and all his actions are carried out with alertness and complete understanding.” In other words, when our observations and conclusions clash with those of Chazal, there need not be an answer. We are less perceptive and understanding than Chazal; accordingly, we may not know what subtle, intangible quality (or qualities) to look for, and, as a result, we may err.

Rav Shlomo Zalman’s position does not conflict with Rav Sa’adiah Gaon’s epistemology; instead, it adds an important caveat. Our impressions and inferences are indeed sources of truth. When, however, these impressions or conclusions contradict a teaching of the Sages, we must humbly remind ourselves that our understanding is superficial whereas theirs is profound.

What then should our attitude be towards Mrs. Heshelis’ question regarding the disparity between our impressions and our Sages’ depiction of women? As per Rav Sa’adiah Gaon’s epistemology, the author is absolutely right to search for a way to harmonize these apparently conflicting sources of truth. As per Rav Shlomo Zalman’s caveat, however, the search has to be conducted humbly, with the realization that there may not be an answer.

Anonymous said...

1. I think r Twersky is more troubled by the fact that RYBS said tav lemeisiv is a chazaka that is based on breishis than anything else. RYBS statement was made in the context of a polemic and i have seen no evidence that tav lemeisiv is based on the klala to chava, nor that a klala cant be surpassed (must women bear children in pain too? must men work by the sweat of their brow?) and to those not wedded to RYBS will not have the same problem R Twersky had with the book.

2. I think her answer is pretty much the correct answer - with or without the kabbalistic stuff, we live with halacha that we cannot change, and we really dont know what changes a sanhedrin would make. Different strokes for different folks (I am a woman too.)