Shabbos 62 Important women versus the “cows of Bashan”

In a recent post, we discussed the ancient Talmudic  concept , extremely “progressive” in its time,  of an  “important woman” or אשה חשובה, one who due to her profession, wealth, or religious stature is not subservient to her husband and has obtained a status of equality, if not similarity , to the men of society .

We also noted how poskim in the past millennia, long before the modern drive for feminism, have noted that the woman of our society ALL have this status .

This is no way contradicts the biblical prohibition of cross-dressing between males and females (I am not addressing the issue here of transgender people, who are very likely a completely different category,) also sometimes extended to symbolizing the importance of unique roles assigned to each gender, and many halakhoth based on the “equal but different” mantra are still in force – women are allowed and expected to be women, and men are allowed and expected to be men.

Little girls should not be pushed to play with fire engine toys and little boys should not be pushed to play with dolls- gender is part of nature and biology and the Torah expects us to recognize and honor that, while still leaving the door open for certain exceptions based on the individual , so long as certain boundaries are not crossed.

Yet at the same time, there is a toxic side to femininity, just like there is a toxic side to masculinity.

Whereas the latter is often expressed in unnecessary violence and acts of war (which our sages considered to be “degrading” to the point that a sword is not considered to be a valid form of garment or adornment to be worn on shabbos ), as well as in rape and other physical abuse, the former  is often expressed in overly ostentatious and provocative dress, designed to make women into sexual  objects , as is so common in Hollywood.

The above excesses are not elegant and classy, like the “Jerusalem of Gold” worn by the ” Isha Chashuva”, of the likes of Rabbi Akiva’s wife Rachel, and Yalta, wife of Rav Nachman, but pure hedonistic and overtly sensual  displays of wealth and/or immorality.

These are the “cows of Bashan”  that the prophet Amos ( chapter 6 ) cries about, who anoint themselves with the best oils, sleep on beds of ivory AND oppress the poor, rather than show the acts of kindness these “important women” are known for ( recall How Rabbi Akiva’s wife initially slept in a barn for so many years and waited for her husband to come back from the studying she had pushed him to do )

These are the girls and women of Jerusalem that Amos mentions and Chazal elaborate on, who would intentionally try to seduce young lads to sin, and their equally perverse male counterparts, who would swop wives with each other and walk around the house naked , urinating on the floors as they were too lazy to get dressed to go out to the toilet.

Judaism does not reject beauty- Jewish women  are allowed to look attractive, and supposed to ( see Kiddushin  30b re how a father must make sure his daughter is attractive.), without compromising their modesty, as are men in their own way .

but it certainly rejects “over the top” ostentatious and hedonistic behaviour, which can destroy an otherwise observant Jewish society .

It’s a delicate but essential balance for us to strive for, the difference between building a Torah world, like the wife of Rabbi Akiva merited to do, and destroying the first commonwealth, as Amos’s  “cows of bashan”  played a major part in doing

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf . They are not intended as psak halacha

Shabbos 59 Woman’s status in Torah life

It is well known that women are excluded from many aspects of Jewish public life, and many presume that this is due to their subservience to men in biblical and Talmudic culture.
While there might be some truth to this, perhaps even rooted in the biblical verse והוא ימשול בך , it is far from a foregone conclusion, as can be seen by the case of the “important woman”- who wears an “עיר של זהב ” – a Jerusalem of Gold ornament
Although this is one of the ornaments that the Mishna prohibits wearing in a public domain, in case she takes it off to show to her friend , the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer is recorded which permits it, given that the kind of woman who wears such an implement is an “important woman” who does not show an ornament to her friend ( probably because she does not see the need to boast of her jewelry in such a way)
The example given on the daf was the wife of Rabbi Akiva , and earlier on ( Shabbos 54b) , we also saw a reference to Yalta, the wife of Rav Nachman, regarding special treatment during child-birth .
One also cannot help recalling the almost comical exchange between Rav Nachman, Ullah, and his wife, Yalta, at the end of שלושה שאכלו ( brachos chapter 7) , where Ullah refused to give her the cup to drink from, and she smashes 400 barrels of wine in her anger . When he attempts to pacify her, she shoots him down halachically.
An “Isha Chashuva” is also required to lean during the seder, unlike a regular woman who is not.
There is much to discuss re the definition of an “important woman”, and opinions range from one who is wealthy, to one of is not subservient to her husband ( for whatever reason) , but it is fascinating to note that over the past few hundred years, poskim have noted that “our women are ALL important “, possibly an incredible acknowledgement that cultural norms have changed and that in our time and society, woman are no longer consider subservient to their husbands .
It is up to qualified poskim to rule on the extent to which this change impacts on halacha, but it is certainly a very significant concept with strong grounding even in far less “modern” periods than ours.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.