Women in Judaism

1) Introduction to Women’s Issues

a - Don't Filter the Information Through Your Prejudiced Value System. Understand Judaism On Its Own Terms.

b - In Judaism All That Counts is Getting Close to the Almighty. Men and Women Are Entirely Equal in This.

c - Men and Women Are Different in Significant Ways: Therefore it Makes Sense That They Have Different Roles. Each Role is Unique and Essential. Neither Role Can Be Weighted as Being More Important Than the Other.

d - All Great Things in Judaism Are Done in a Hidden Way. Public Roles in Judaism Are Not Considered a Spiritual Advantage.

e - Torah Women Are Happy and Fulfilled With Their Role.

2) What is the Torah View of a Woman?

3) Do Men and Women Have Separate Roles?

4) Why Are Women Not Allowed To Lead the Prayers? Why Can They Not Be Called To the Torah? Why Can They Not Be A Part Of A מנין (a group of 10 men)?

5) Why Can A Woman Not Become A Rabbi? Why Can She Not Learn Gemora? Why Can She Not Be A Witness?

6) Why Are Women Not Obligated In Many Of The Commandments?

7) Why Does A Man Say the Blessing שלא עשני אישה, whereas a woman says שעשני כרצונו?

8) What is the Purpose of Women’s Modest Dress?

9) Why Do Women Have To Cover Their Hair?

10) Why Is A Woman Considered Impure During Her Menstrual Cycle?


1.      Introduction to Women’s Issues   (top)

The basic outline of the general response to women's issues is as follows: 

Most of the questions have to do with inequality of some sort and are rooted in two misconceptions:

1 -     Women to be equal to men must be the same and must have the same role.  

2 -     The more visible a role, the more important it is.

Based on the above, and coupled with great ignorance and many misconceptions, many secular women are convinced that Torah women are getting a raw deal.

The basic answers to questions on women’s issues are as follows:

a-      Don't filter the information through your prejudiced value system. Understand Judaism on its own terms.

b-      In Judaism all that counts is getting close to the Almighty. Men and women are entirely equal in this.

c-       Men and women are different in significant ways: therefore it makes sense that they have different roles. Each role is unique and essential. Neither role can be weighted as being more important than the other.

d-      All great things in Judaism are done in a hidden way. Public roles in Judaism are not considered a spiritual advantage.

e-      Torah women are happy and fulfilled with their role.

In slightly greater detail, arguments b-e are as follows:


b - What Counts Is Getting Close To The Almighty   (top)

Now, what counts in Yiddishkeit (Judaism) is getting closer to the Almighty - nothing else matters. Accordingly, there is nothing which we think important in the Western world, job, security, etc., which has intrinsic value. For all we know a dish washer may have more opportunities for getting close to the Almighty than an executive.

Two things are certain:

i - G-d wants the maximum closeness possible between Himself and any human being. Anything else is absurd.

ii - Judaism is clear about that women get as much reward for their way of serving G-d as men do for theirs, i.e. each has equal opportunity to get close to G-d through their respective roles[2].


c - Men and Women Are Different In Significant Ways: Therefore It Makes Sense That They Have Different Roles   (top)

     Each role is unique and essential. Neither role can be weighted as being more important than the other. Men and women have obvious physical differences; in addition there are many hormonal, neural and other differences. We have clear evidence that women find directions and conceptualize differently than men[3]. Below, under the questions “What is the Torah view of a woman?” and “Do men and women have separate roles?” we have shown what Judaism claims are these differences and their implications in practice.

     It is interesting that all the secular studies are confirming what Judaism has been saying about the female nature all along
[4]. What is quite amazing is that for 3000 years, Judaism has been saying things which are just now being discovered in the secular world.

      A society which does not take into account differences between people is a cruel society; a cripple should not get drafted to the infantry; a genius (who studies hard) deserves a place in college ahead of someone who has an IQ of 70 (who studies equally as hard); a heart patient deserves more health care aid than a healthy person. It is therefore to the credit of Judaism that it has taken note of the differences between men and women and structured society to accommodate these differences.

     Women have a primary responsibility for bringing up the next generation. There is no society in the history of man which did not regard the family as the core unit on which the entire social edifice rests. It is the women who will mold the next generation in their values and psychological makeup. Anyone who thinks that this is a consolation prize needs his/her head examined[5]. Sarah determined what the whole future of the Jewish nation would be by deciding that ישמעאל (Ishmael) must develop his potential outside of the Jewish nation. רבקה (Rebecca) did the same with (Eisav) עשו. Both Sarah and Rebecca had very different ideas to their husbands as to what Ishmael’s and Eisav’s future roles in world history would be. In both cases, it was the female who won out, and who determined certain basic historical patterns for all time. (See Question 2 for greater detail.) The ramifications of a woman's role may not be so obvious today, but cumulatively it is just as great.


d - All Great Things In Judaism Are Done In A Hidden Way   (top)

     Public roles in Judaism are not considered a spiritual advantage. The idea that worth is defined by public recognition is an anti-Jewish idea. In the western world, the people with the most public exposure, the movie stars the rock stars and the sportsmen, are the most highly rewarded, both financially and in terms of the number of fans they have. Yet we all know that they are the least likely to be leading morally mature lives. A billionaire with a temper, five divorces to his name, who is egotistical and insensitive commands more respect in the western world than Joe simple who controls his temper is happily married, other-relating and sensitive. In Judaism we stress that the better known one's good deeds are, the less its value. The world’s greatest Halachic (Legal) authority, Rav Elyashiv, lives without titles in a simple home in a back ally.  This leads on to the idea of (Modesty) צניעות, an idea which we have explored further below.


e - Torah Women Are Happy And Fulfilled With Their Role   (top)

     It is important to stress that Torah women are happy with their roles. The person questioning should be invited to go see this for herself[6].

2.     What is the Torah view of a woman?   (top)

     Judaism gives us a comprehensive picture of the female mystique, a picture that, in the last 20 years, has been confirmed by all the scientific studies in this area[7]. We are told of a wide range of feminine qualities all of which have to be understood together to provide us with a complete picture of what a woman is[8].

     As a starting point, let us look at the first two generations of Avos (Fathers) and Imahos (Mothers). Sarah and Abraham have a dispute concerning whether Ishmael should be a part of the Jewish nation, or whether he should be sent out of the Jewish nation to form a new nation. This dispute seems to be repeated in the next generation concerning Eisav. Isaac  seemed to feel that Eisav should be a part of Klal Yisroel (the Jewish Nation). Rebecca felt that he should be excluded. In both cases it was the woman who won out. This tells us that it is a female power to set the boundaries of something, to define the environment, to provide the basic framework in which we operate. Without this, the male force would simply dissipate[9]. This applies to the home, it applies to a baby in the womb and it applies, as we have seen, to the very definition of the Jewish people[10]. This is also why a woman defines whether the baby is going to be Jewish or not[11].

     Another way of looking at this is to see the female force as the final expression of something in this world, that which provides the framework, environment and nurturance within which something can express itself. This is the Midah (Trait) of (Kingship) [12]מלכות. It is also the ה  in the name of HaSh-m [13]ק-ה

     Because the female receives from the male, they are in a relationship of משפיע to מושפע[14]. However, it is clear from the above, that female is not just a passive recipient. נקבה (female) completes the process of השתלשלות (development) whereby there can be a final expression of reality down here[15]. The male is pure potential (מהר"ל=מביא); the female is actualization  (מהר"ל=מתקנת), providing the framework in which the initial male spark can be more than a quickly lost flash of energy[16]. Neither has any reality by themselves, and therefore neither can be said to be primary or secondary.

     The woman is the לב (heart), while the male is the (desire) מח .תשוקה, the passion to be committed to something, is therefore a female concept[17]. This helps women have greater faithfulness – אמונה than men, something which has been historically clearly evident[18]. This contributes to a greater, natural sense of שאנן & מנוחה, of inner contentment and peace[19].

     This is not to say that women are passive. On the contrary, she actively engages reality to find its essence, define it, nurture it, set boundaries and develop situations[20].

     This also helps her to have superior empathy, becoming more personally identified with the other person with greater connecting, conversational abilities[21]. In general, women are better at relationships than are men[22]. This is an extension of them being the מתקנת  (making connections), of her בינה יתירה (greater intuition facilitates a deeper understanding of and therefore connection with others) and of their being an עזר כנגדו (the desire to help and be of service to others). Other aspects of this side of her include a greater ability to be receptive and therefore responsive involving greater mercy and a desire to resolve conflict by consensus (and to prefer consensual rather than hierarchical structures.) She is less competitive and aggressive[23], less externally achievement oriented[24]. (This also draws from her tznius (modesty).)

     A combination of her tznius (modesty) and bina yeseira (greater intuition facilitates a deeper understanding of and therefore connection with others) allows her not only to be more insightful, and connecting, consensual and empathetic, but, as a result more holistic and communal[25]. Whereas men tend to break things down into details in order to understand the principles behind them, women tend to engage micro realities, combining them and building them up into wholes. This requires the ability to simultaneously engage many different, seemingly unrelated fragments of reality, a function of her קל דעת. (נשים דעתן קלות)

     The female koach (strenght), includes the ability to recognize and reveal hidden (holiness) קדושה. This draws from her midah (trait) of modesty צניעות, which is the ability to focus on the essence rather than the superficiality of any person or situation[26].  This means that she is more easily in touch with spirituality when surrounded by mundane, physical realities. She sees through superficiality, focusing on the essence. Her midah (trait) of tznius (modesty) allows her to be more inner defined.


3.      Do Men and Women have separate roles[27]?   (top)

     They most certainly do. The worst thing we could do is to try and make women be men and men be women. The women’s liberation movement has realized this for nearly two decades already, demanding not that women be allowed to act like men, but rather that they be given full opportunity to act like women! Since 1982, all psychological studies have been confirming what Judaism has been saying all along – that women have a unique contribution to make to the world.

     Women are not better than men, although they are superior in some areas on the whole, nor are they worse than men, although men do better than women in some areas on the whole[28]. Judaism encourages women to express their strengths, to understand their superior nurturing abilities, insight into people, holistic approach to life - and to use these to make the world a better place. Women are known to have superior social skills, to be more cooperative than competitive, to do better on verbal tasks and a host of other attributes.


4.      Why Are Women Not Allowed To Lead the Prayers? Why Can They Not Be Called To the Torah? Why Can They Not Be A Part Of A מנין (quorum of 10 men for praying)?   (top)

General Introduction: Why some people get commanded and others do not:

     If we see that someone is commanded by G-d to do something it means two things: Firstly, it means that the person has a need for the Tikun (fixing up) of that commandment, i.e. he/she is lacking something which doing this commandment comes to rectify. Secondly, the person must be in basic harmony with the spirituality of the commandment for the Tikun  (fixing up) to be effective[29].

     If someone is not commanded in a particular commandment, it means one of two things. Either the person is not in harmony with that particular thing; or the person does not need that particular thing.

Minyan (10 men):

     Women by their nature are communal, connecting people. In Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, the author describes how women when they have a problem seek out other people, not necessarily to find a solution, but rather to share the problem. Men on the other hand tend to withdraw to their cave. They will only share the problem with someone else if they are looking for a solution, not just for the sake of sharing.

     Women tend to seek out relationships more then men. In religious neighborhoods there is usually a Neshei, a voluntary women’s group, one of whose goals is just to be together. Yet men hardly ever do the same – they need a reason to associate.

     Women are more natural consensus builders than men. Men are more naturally competitive. In a man’s world, things tend to be more hierarchical and authoritarian than in a woman’s world.

     For this reason, men tend to need lessons in community building. They are required to go to the synagogue to make a minyan (group of 10) and participate in the services. Men need this role for their spiritual completion; women do not. Therefore, a woman who would demand to make up a minyan would be stealing that opportunity from a man, which would be an act of selfishness in the guise of spirituality.

     There is no question that one's natural instinct is to be in the limelight, but, that has nothing to do with what is really spiritually meaningful.


5.      Why Can A Woman Not Become A Rabbi? Why Can She Not Learn Gemora? Why Can She Not Be A Witness?   (top)

Please note our general introduction to women’s issues as a background to these answers.

a - Being a Rabbi and learning Gemora:

     Women are expected, in fact even required, to study Torah and they are spiritually rewarded for doing so[30]. The areas of Torah learning which a woman is expected to grasp is so large that it is hard to imagine any woman doing so in a lifetime. 

     Women as a group are not, however, encouraged to learn Gemora. Despite this, Jewish history is full of examples of outstanding (learned women) תלמידות חכמות, of women communal leaders and of women who learn and have learned Gemora. If the requirements of modesty are met, the limitations on female leadership is technically only in the area of paskening shealos (deciding on a legal matter). However, although a Devorah, the Judge, may reluctantly feel forced to play such a role, she would do it with a sense of the enormous sacrifice of her female potential that this would entail.

     A woman learning Gemora, for example, would be training herself to deal with problems in a linear rather than holistic fashion: this would reduce her insight into her children and other people, undermine her intuitive grasp of many situations and compromise her effectiveness to respond to the drama of day to day living both by anticipating events and by spontaneously adapting to new realities without compromising deeper principles. A Torah woman would not ordinarily be willing to give all that up. So it is clear that a woman's not learning certain parts of the Torah is not because she has less of a relationship with the Torah as a whole. On the contrary, the מהר"ל Maharal seems to indicate just the opposite[31].

     It is possible that for some reason the Almighty would create a particular woman with certain male aspects[32]. Such a woman may feel that her עבודת השם (service of G-d) requires her to compromise her phenomenal feminine powers and learn Gemora, which she may then do[33]. However, the number of such women is very small. The chances that you are one of those women is very unlikely. Therefore, at least you should start out by exploring the real woman's role, on the presumption that you will find it infinitely enriching and rewarding. Otherwise you may find yourself very unfulfilled.

     As for being a rabbi, if we get away from the titles for a minute
[34], a woman is expected and encouraged to play an active communal role. She can certainly tell people what the halacha (legal rule) on any issue is[35]. Jewish history is in fact replete with examples of Torah women who became fully conversant in wide areas of the Torah[36]. She may not pasken shealos, which means she cannot decide which way the halacha (law) should be in circumstances which were not clearly talked about by previous Halachic (Legal) authorities or which are in dispute by different authorities. However, most rabbis are not qualified to do this either. Only a tiny minority are ever considered (legal authorities) poskim. 

b - Witnesses :

     It is wrong to think that women cannot be witnesses[37]. The principle of עד אחד נאמן באיסורים  (One witness is believed where the issue is deciding whether something is illegal or not) is in fact learned from an (a women of menstrual status) [38]אישה נדה. The fact that I am eating this food now is testimony to my wife's reliability to testify that the food is kosher. For technical reasons, women are restricted from giving certain types of evidence[39], but so are kings, and a whole host of other people[40].


6.      Why Are Women Not Obligated In Many Of The Commandments?   (top)

     A woman is exempt from time based Mitzvahs because her entire approach to serving
G-d is one of constant readiness to respond to changing realities. For example, although one can easily provide for children's physical needs according to certain schedules, facilitating personalities, creative faculties, morals and values requires instant responses and constant alertness.

     In order to allow for this role, women were created with a superior ability to create structure and frameworks[41]. This ability reflects itself also within time-modalities. Most men need outside structure to their days, things that begin and end at a certain time, frameworks and schedules within which there are certain expectations. Women are more capable of creating these structures for themselves. Men are therefore given time-based Mitzvos which are designed to bring out their potential in this way, whereas women actualize this potential on their own.

     However, although not obligated, a woman is entitled to perform any commandment to which she feels a special relationship. However, she must do this because of genuine spiritual yearnings to become closer to G-d and not because of a desire to show that she is liberated, equal to men, or to make a statement. Therefore, those women who have done certain Mitzvos מצוות (like Rashi's granddaughters who put on (Tefillin) תפילין) have made a point of doing so in private without letting anyone know.


7.     Why Does A Man Say The Blessing שלא עשני אישה, whereas a woman says שעשני כרצונו?   (top)

     Men thank G-d for the privilege of having more mitzvos than women[42]. Men are thanking G-d for a particular privilege, not a general one[43]. It is important to note that this Blessing is being said as a part of Birkas HaShachar. These blessings are thanking G-d for our physical reality, for the fact that we can see, that we have clothes, that we can walk, that we have shoe-laces. The blessing, Shelo Asani Isha, must be seen in that context. It was never meant to be a total description of what a man and what a woman is. Time is a part of the physical creation, and a blessing thanking G-d for time-based mitzvos has its rightful place in birkas hashachar, the blessings about the physical reality.

     The Sages never gave women a bracha in lieu of the men’s[44]. They were not given any consolation prize. Sheasani Kirtzono was created by women themselves. This is an unprecedented act of creativity – there is no other known case of a new brocho, not decreed by Chazal, being spontaneously generated.

     In the end, everyone is required to understand their potential and to want to fulfill it - that is all G-d ever asks of us. It is absurd to suggest that Judaism compares potentials and grades people - everyone achieves maximum spirituality by fulfilling their potential.


8.      What is the purpose of Women’s modest dress[45]?   (top)

     Tznius (Modesty) is the quality of being able to cover over the superficiality of a situation in order to reveal the true inner essence and holiness of that situation. Since spirituality is hidden in this world
[46], someone who does not have the quality of Tznius (Modesty), will not be able to access spirituality[47].

     An example of this was the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. When the First Tablets were given, there were convulsions of nature. These proved to be a slight distraction to the Jewish people, a distraction that ultimately led to the Golden Calf and the breaking of the Tablets. When the Second Tablets were given, all of nature was quiet. The Jews were able to focus on the inner essence of the event and they successfully received the tablets. 

     Another example of Tznius (Modesty) is the actions of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is the holiest day; and the Temple was the holiest place on earth. On that day, in that place, the culminating service involved the High Priest doing the service on which the atonement of the entire world depended. Just at that time, he disappeared from view behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies. At that holiest of times, he disappeared from sight so that we could focus on the deep, inner essence of his actions, and not be at all distracted by actually seeing him do the action.

     So Tznius (Modesty) is much broader than dress[48]. It is a fundamental way of accessing spirituality, a way of becoming internally self-aware. And it applies to men as it does to women. In fact the prophet Micha states that it was one of the big three principles of Judaism, together with kindness and justice[49].

     Because Tznius (Modesty) also applies to men, Torah-observant males generally do not walk around in shorts and sandals and T-shirts[50]. And they, like women, ought to shun publicity and high profile situations[51]. It is true that women have an extra capacity for Tznius (Modesty)[52], a fact which allows her to be more easily spiritual, to find the spirituality in other people and to access to sparks of spirituality even in the physical world.

     In Modesty, the keeping brings the understanding. For example, tribal female Africans walking around with large parts of their body exposed would not understand what is wrong with that. And most secular people cannot tell you what is wrong with a woman wearing short sleeves. Once one gets used to something one gets desensitized. But who wants to be desensitized - such a lot is lost.  A person who does not dress, speak and act with Tznius (Modesty) is simply denying him/herself the opportunity of peeking behind the veil of this world into the mysteries, which lie behind it.


9.      Why Do Women Have To Cover Their Hair?   (top)

     Hair is the only part of a woman’s body, which seems to have no other function other than to add to her beauty. Women cover their hair because it is a part of their inner beauty
[53], which only their husbands, who can get to know that inner beauty intimately, can perceive correctly. Jewish women through the ages have therefore come to perceive covering their hair as the essence of being an inner defined person[54]. Strictly speaking, women need not cover their hair from other women, only from other men. But many women feel that their own internal sense of Tznius (Modesty) is violated when they keep their head uncovered even where it is halachikally (legally) permissible.

     “The head; being the part of the body encasing the mind, represents our exalted status as human beings.  By emphasizing the head, we are emphasizing this statement of humanity that we emanate (i.e. graduates wear distinctive four cornered tasseled caps, Indian chiefs wear special headdresses, the High Priest in the Temple wore a distinctive hat called the mitznefet).  A married woman covers her hair as a sign of the added dignity now accorded to her.” (Gila Manelson, Inside/Outside)

     The covering of a woman's hair is akin to including her aura within her inner essence (סוד המקיף) similar to a man's covering his head with his טלית (tallis) while praying[55].

Why Only a Married Woman?

     A woman who gets married covers her hair to reflect “a deep and irreversible change ... in undergoing the transition from being single to being married, ... from sexual naiveté to direct knowledge of intimacy... When a woman who is no longer sexually naive displays something sensual about herself, it is now likely to “radiate more energy,” because of her own experiential awareness of what it can evoke... When a woman covers her hair upon marrying she makes the statement: “My eyes have been opened - and at the same time, I intend to keep my sexuality where it belongs: in the intimacy of marriage.” (Outside/Inside pg. 46-47) In fact, the ridding of this naiveté even outside of marriage was considered reason enough to cover one’s hair. Thus Tamar covered her hair after Amnon had assaulted her. (שמואל ב יג יט). To counter the fact that her privacy had been tampered with, and in order to maintain her natural sense of   בושה and צניעות, she covered her hair when in public. This was a refinement that went beyond that which is normally expected of single girls. (Modesty-An Adornment for Life, pg. 245))

     In the time of חז"ל (our Sages of Blessed memory), even non-Jews had this sensitivity of covering their hair when married. (מס' סנהדרין נח:) The state that we find ourselves in now, of married women not feeling the need for a particular modesty once married is completely unnatural. (Modesty-An Adornment for Life, pg. 227)

Lisa Aiken, pg. 133: “Some people wonder what a married woman accomplishes by covering her hair if she is more attractive wearing a wig than when exposing her real hair. There is no reason why a woman should not look attractive; they are prohibited from looking attracting...It can still make her more aware of G-d's presence.”

     Wigs raise the issue of “the letter versus the spirit of the law”.  The permissibility of wearing a wig indicates that a woman primarily covers her hair for herself.  The head-covering serves as a reminder to the woman of her special status as a married woman. (Gila Manelson, Inside/Outside)

     Outside/Inside pg. 48-49: “Cross-culturally, when we want recognition of our higher status, we draw attention to our head. A graduating university student wears a distinctive, tasseled, four-cornered cap. Dignitaries from almost all religions wear impressive-looking
headgear. The priests of the Jewish Temple wore turban-like head apparel. Among members of a Native American tribe, the chief wears the largest headdress. All intuitively recognize that the head, where the mind lies, represents the seat of our humanness, and that by emphasizing it, you create an ever stronger statement of your stature as a human being.”

     “In this view, a woman covers her head upon marrying as a sign of the greater dignity now attributed her. (From this perspective even a bald woman would cover her head.) ... Many women, in fact, regard their head covering as a queen does her crown.”


10. Why Is A Woman Considered Impure During Her Menstrual Cycle?   (top)

     טומאה (Impurity) reflects a loss of potential. The greater the loss, the greater the (impurity) טומאה. A dead human body has greater טומאה (impurity) than that of an animal. A woman's menstruation is a signal of the loss of potential fertilization of that month's egg cell, which could have led to another human life. When a woman goes to the מקוה Mikvah (a ritual purification and cleansing bath) at the end of this period, she is renewing her creative energies for the coming month.

Pure טהרה (purity) is the highest stage of [56]דעת, i.e. the ability to connect with something or someone in a totally integrated way. Similarly, pureטומאה  (impurity) represents the furthest from קדושה  (holiness) conceivable[57].    Therefore, a dead corpse, even of an animal or an insect, is a source of (impurity) טומאה. Touching such a corpse transmits thatטומאה  (impurity) to a person (but not to a live animal who will touch it). This is because it is we humans who have a finely tuned sensitivity to spiritual realities. טומאה  (impurity) always reflects a loss of potential. Our contact with such loss effects our own spiritual realities to some degree.[58]

     “An analysis of the various species of tumah (impurity) reveals that what they have in common is the awareness of death. The most potent source of impurity is, indeed, a corpse or a part thereof. The other kinds of tumah (impurity) imply, indirectly, the suggestion of death, even if only the loss of potential life. … The Metzora … includes the withering and dying of the limbs of the leper. … the Rabbis taught that a leper is considered as if he were dead. … [So too] semen … is the loss of potential life. … A nidah (a women during her menstrual cycle) …loses an unfertilized ovum, … a whisper of death.” (Norman Lam – A Hedge of Roses, pg. 84)

 All forms of טומאה  (impurity) have purification, even the impurity of a dead person טומאת מת [59]

A woman's menstruation is a signal of the loss of potential fertilization of that months egg cell or ovum, which could have led to another human life[60]. This loss, is a kind of distancing, reflected in the (impurity of a women during her menstrual cycle) Tumas Nidah[61].

     A woman during her menstrual flow, is focused on re-preparing her body for a new cycle, a kind of healing process. Since her bodily energies are more focused on this, she is less available for the kind of holistic spiritual, intellectual and emotional unity which ought to accompany relations with her husband. Hence relations during this time would become
more of a base, physical act. This is the very opposite of the marital union, whose whole essence is purity. Hence the Torah prohibited it, as it did other forms of illicit unions

     While a woman is still a נדה  (in her menstrual cycle) until after she goes to the Mikvah (a ritual purification and cleansing bath) מקוה, the שבעה נקיים is a part of the process of purification and not just in anticipation of it. Counting is done in Judaism to show that something is dear to us[63]. For example, we count with joy towards מתן תורה "receiving of the Torah" with ספירת העומר.

     When a woman goes to the mikvah (a ritual purification and cleansing bath) at the end of this period, she is dipping, so to speak, in the primordial waters at the beginning of creation, thereby renewing her creative energies for the coming month[64]. Although the way a mikvah purifies is ultimately a mystery[65], we understand that, as primordial waters, it has to be מים חיים, waters connected to an ongoing, fresh source of water[66]. Such water is called מים חיים  because water is the source of  all life. (In fact most of our body is comprised of water, about 60%.)[67]. That is why Mikvah always comes as a transition from a lower to a higher state, such as that of a non-Jew to becoming a Jew or just before Shabbos and the Holidays [68].


[1] Some of these ideas are so different to current Western messages about women that it may take many years to fully integrate these ideas. 

[2] ילקוט שמעוני שופטים ילקוט ד ד: ודבורה אשה נביאה. מה טיבה של דבורה שנתנבאה על ישראל ושפטה אותם והלא פינחס בן אלעזר עומד? מעיד אני עלי את השמים ואת הארץ בין גוי בין ישראל בין איש בין אשה בין עבד בין שפחה הכל לפי מעשיו של אדם רוח הקדש שורה עליו.

אגרות משה אורח חיים ח"ד סי' מט - צריך לדעת כי אין זה בשביל שנשים פחותות במדרגת הקדושה מאנשים דלענין הקדושה שוות לאנשים לענין שייכות החיוב במצות שרק מצד הקדושה דאיכא בישראל הוא ציוי המצות וגם לנשים נאמרו כל הקראי דקדושה בין תחלת תנאי קבלת התורה והייתם לי סגולה ואתם תהיו לגוי קדוש שנאמר לבית יעקב אלו הנשים ותגיד לבני ישראל אלו האנשים, ובין ואנשי קדש תהיון לי שבמשפטים והייתם קדשים דשמיני וקדשים תהיו והייתם קדשים שבפ' קדשים וכי עם קדוש אתה לה' שבפ' בראשית כח:י ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע ...רש"י-  ... מגיד שיציאת צדיק מן המקום עושה רושם שבזמן שהצדיק בעיר הוא הודה הוא זיוה הוא הדרה יצא משם פנה הודה פנה זיוה פנה הדרה וכן (רות א) ותצא מן המקום האמור בנעמי ורות. 

[3] Actually, studies have revealed a very comprehensive list of differences between men and women and continue to do so. In fact if men and women were not different there would be no concept of marriage. Marriage is the structure in which each sex gives to the other what he/she is lacking. That requires that each has what the other does not have. 

[4] Until the early eighties, in the first stages of the women’s liberation movement, the stress was on the essential sameness of men and women. Women, in order to be liberated, were trying to be men. However, from the eighties onwards, there was a real change. These women began to see women as being unique. A flood of studies confirmed this. (Until then, such studies were either suppressed or simply not undertaken.) The stress was then in ensuring women equality without sacrificing their uniqueness and in seeing how female values could then be fairly represented in places like the work place. 

[5] The greatest, most creative challenge which any male or female faces is bringing up children. In the main, women have proven to have a superior parental genius - but parenting roles are just a question of degree. We expect husbands and wives to prioritize the home. As for house-cleaning - by all means ladies - stand there with the rolling pin until he does it all.

[6] Sometimes she will say something like: "Oh that's because they have been conditioned to that role." That's tantamount to saying that unless Torah women agree with her views, they've been duped. 

[7] Until 1982, it was politically incorrect to distinguish between a man and a woman. However, after the publication of Harvard professor Carol Gilligan’s study in that year, the cat was let out of the bag and all the studies from then on showed just how different male and female were. Incredibly, Chazal (Our Sages of Blessed Memory) had clearly talked about these difference over 2000 years ago

[8] See for example אשת חיל (a song that is sung every Shabbat called "Women of Valor") where a woman is described as being dynamic, creative and proactive in a wide range of endeavors.  Failure to look at all of a woman’s qualities together can lead to serious misunderstandings. For example, the Maharal sometimes describes women as being superior to men, sometimes being equal and sometimes being inferior. Clearly, the Maharal is referring to different aspects of a woman. One would have to know all that the Maharal has to say about women in order to emerge with a coherent picture of his understanding on this issue. Similarly, the much talked about female qualities of בינה יתירה, נשים דעתן קלות, צניעות, etc. all have to be understand in their dynamic relationship with each other, and not in isolation. We have attempted, in a few lines, to give some approach to this in the body of the text. 

[9] The Male, Right Side is the beginning of G-d's creative force.

The Female, Left Side takes that force and translates it into a form whereby the recipient could receive it.

היא כח מציאות התחתונים ...(המקבלים) ההשפעות שהקב"ה משפיע (רמח"ל ספר הכללים כה)

As long as G-d’s creative force remains on the Male Side, it is too spiritual, too ethereal and non-tangible to have any lasting existence in the world as we know it. Left in this state, it would not have ongoing existence, and ultimately would simply be reabsorbed back into HaKadosh Baruch Hu (G-d). The Male Side is incomprehensible until it is taken in by the Female Side, which expands, nurtures and elucidates it:           

כי בעודם בזכר הם בדקות גדול ומוסר אותם אל הנקבה כדי  להביא ההויה אל בישול מציאותה וגילויה בפועל (שומר אמונים הקדמון ויכוח ראשון אות כז(

Without the Female Force, the Male Force would just dissipate and be wasted. The Female Force provides the environment, the context and the framework which allows the Male Force to grow and develop. This is no different to the physical relationship between husband and wife. The male seed cannot reach fruition on its own. It needs to be absorbed by the woman, combined with her egg cell, and then nurtured in her womb. She provides the total environment for the developing embryo; its warmth, its food, its oxygen – the very walls in which it survives. 

[10] Other ways of saying this is that the female completes, informs, elucidates, nurtures, develops. She is therefore the מתקנת, making connections and rectifications.  (First the male is מביא (bringing), then she is  -מתקנת (making connections)-Maharal). Two other dimensions of this is to say that she is the חומר, the כלי and the מקבל, while the male is the צורה and the משפיע; she is the גוף  while the male = נשמה. (Note, the word נשמה itself is a female word, as are all the other words of the different levels of the soul: נפש, רוח, נשמה, חיה, יחידה. This is because the relationship of male to female is relative to the thing being discussed. The soul is female in the sense that it receives its השפעה  from the Ribono shel Olam (G-d). However, it is male with respect to the body, which it in turn is משפיע.)

היא כח מציאות התחתונים ...(המקבלים) ההשפעות שהקב"ה משפיע (רמח"ל ספר הכללים כה)

כי בעודם בזכר הם בדקות גדול ומוסר אותם אל הנקבה כדי  להביא ההויה אל בישול מציאותה וגילויה בפועל (שומר אמונים הקדמון ויכוח ראשון אות כז(

כי האשה נקראת חומה כדאמרינן בפרק הבא על יבמתו (יבמות סב ע"ב) ויליף מדכתיב נקבה תסובב גבר, כי האשה על ידה השלמת האדם וכל אשר שלם דבר זה הוא חוזק שלו שהוא מגין עליו (מהר"ל חידושי אגדות נדה מה ע"ב ד"ה מלמד שקלעה).

Therefore, both the creation of the world and the giving of the Torah were through the left or female side. Both ultimately required that some much higher spiritual reality be brought down into the reality of this world.

Prophecy also occurs through the left side. Prophecy is the receiving of higher wisdom down into this world. This is in contrast to תושבע"פ (Oral Torah) which is on the male side. (The difference between Nevuah (Prophecy) and Torah she Baal Peh is that Nevuah (Prophecy) works from the top down whereas limud haTorah (learning Torah) works from the bottom up. Although ultimately Torah also requires a dimension of being מושפע, the basic process is as we have described.)

For the same reason the name שכינה is feminine. The שכינה is the expression of HaSh-m’s holiness in this world, the final manifestation of קדושה. 

[11] Once the basic parameters of the child have been determined and a framework has been established, the male determines which Shevet (Tribe) the person belongs to and whether, if from Shevet Levi, he will be a Cohen or not. 

[12]  There are ten Sefiros. The last of these ten is מלכות. Therefore, when spirituality is initiated from HaSh-m and it comes down and down through many layers (השתלשלות), it finally comes down into this world through this midah of malchus. 

[13] This name of HaSh-m is the name in the Pasuk, כי בק-ה ד' צור עולמים – For with this name (K-ah), HaShem sustains (is the rock of) the (two) worlds. Another Pasuk says  אלה תולדות השמים והארץ ביום הבראם – and, since the ה of הבראם is written large, Chazal learn בה בראם i.e. He created this world of שמים  and ארץ using the ה. Therefore perforce He created the world with the other letter of That Name, i.e. with a י. In his דרך החיים on אבות, the Maharal explains why this world was created with a ה. The ה is comprised of two letters, a ד and a י. The י  is the spirituality that exists in this world, the “world-to-comeness” in this world. The י represents spirituality because firstly it is really just a point with no physical dimensions. But it is not one, it is ten. Ten is a unit of one which comes after reality fragments into its multiple parts of two, three, etc. It then recombines them into a unit of one, i.e. ten. The ד of the ה represents the fragmentation of our world into multiple realities – each person, each object has its own dimensions in space and time, its own separate identity. The ד represents this ‘atomized’ reality because it comprises two ו’s (vavs). Each vav is a line going in two directions, representing four directions in total. These represent the four directions in which reality can scatter away from the unity. (Four always represents this – four rivers come out of the one river of Gan Eden, there are four exiles, four animals with only one sign of purity, etc.) But the י  of the ה is in the epicenter of the four ends of the ד. It can operate on the ד in such a way that it pulls all these four points of the ד into a single point, the oneness of the unit of ten.

This is the female force of the ה. The ability to address a world which seems fragmented and separate into a composite whole, the ability to unite many seemingly disparate things into a higher wholeness. The male is the י, the ability to engage in pure Torah study, in pure spirituality in a physical world. The female is the ה, the ability to actually get involved in the physical and the mundane and to create spirituality therefrom. 

[14] In the language of the מהר"ל, צורה to חומר

[15] עד גמר מציאותם

[16]  כי האשה נקראת חומה כדאמרינן בפרק הבא על יבמתו (יבמות סב ע"ב) ויליף מדכתיב נקבה תסובב גבר, כי האשה על ידה השלמת האדם וכל אשר שלם דבר זה הוא חוזק שלו שהוא מגין עליו (מהר"ל חידושי אגדות נדה מה ע"ב ד"ה מלמד שקלעה).

Therefore, both the creation of the world and the giving of the Torah were through the left or female side. Both ultimately required that some, much higher spiritual reality be brought down into the reality of this world.           

For the same reason the name שכינה (Schena) is feminine. The שכינה is the expression of
G-d’s holiness in this world, the final manifestation of (Holiness)

[17] As with all these Midos (Traits), we are not implying that men lack these qualities altogether, or that they cannot develop them to a high degree. Rather, women are, in general, naturally stronger in these areas. 

[18] Men, on the other hand, have a greater natural sense of (truth)  אמת. 

[19] Maharal, דרוש על התורה, claims that women are naturally endowed with more of these two attributes. 

[20] Sometimes this takes great (strenght) עוז – courage and daring for which women are praised in the Eishes Chayil (a song that is sung every Shabbat called "Women of Valor"). It also takes intelligence פיה פתחה בחכמה, a special type of women’s intelligence, חכמת נשים בנתה ביתה 

[21] קידושין מט:
י קבים שיחה ירדו לעולם ט נטלו נשים

This fits in very well with women’s focus on connecting, relating and communicating. In contrast to men’s approach to use speech primarily as a tool for expressing an opinion, for women, the process of talking has value in and of itself. When a woman relates that she has a problem, for example, she is expressing the need to share that experience. Men, however, very often hear women as asking for advice as opposed to looking for empathy and are surprised that the advice is not welcome when it seemed to be solicited. Women respond to other people’s pain with empathy – a way of connecting and letting them know that they know what they are going through. Many men misinterpret a woman’s empathy with an attempt to detract from the uniqueness of the experience.  (You Just Don't Understand, Deborah Tannen, ch. 2) 

[22] Gray: A man’s sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results while a woman’s sense of self is defined through her feelings and the quality of her relationships.   

In general women have better interpersonal skills. It has been discovered, for example, that women smile and laugh more, gaze more directly at others, and sit or stand closer to people than men do. (Psychologist Judith Hall of North-eastern University in Boston). Women interrupt less, are more likely to be complimentary, and laugh at other people’s jokes more (Linda Carli, Professor of Psychology at Wellesley College).  Women also read non-verbal cues – facial expressions, body movements, changes in tone of voice – more accurately than men do (Hall). This ties in also with women’s greater verbal fluency, her greater insight into people, and her greater capacity to feel their pain (רחמנות, see above).

 Girls begin talking before boys, have larger vocabularies at an earlier age, and produce more varied and sophisticated sentences. Verbal superiority may continue into adulthood. Studies show that women excel at certain verbal-fluency tests, such as listing multiple words that begin with the same letter. Some researchers have also found that women are more adept at learning foreign languages than men are.  (Readers’ Digest from Susan Seligson in Redbook Aug. ’93) 

[23] Instead she is by nature a consensus builder 

[24] Therefore, hierarchical structures are more suited to men than to women. 

[25] Generally, men and women are more external and internal aspects of a whole. Men act at more of a macro level, breaking that macro into its specialized parts; women operate at a micro level, building smaller units into greater, more holistic conceptions. As a result of this, men relate more to אמת, given and concrete realities; women have deeper אמונה, allowing for greater faithfulness to all relationships, including G-d and their husbands. In the חטא העגל המרגלים, הזהב and on numerous other occasions it was the men who got into trouble and the women who remained faithful to G-d. Since the Western world stresses quantity (macro) over quality, that world has great difficulty appreciating the levels of profundity and depth involved in a woman's role. 

[26] In her own being it is the ability to also project her spiritual essence rather than her more superficial, physical aspects. 

[27] The strong form of this question is: Why do women have to be miserable, staying at home, doing housework and watching the kids, while men have all the fun studying Gemora, playing all the public roles and being out in the world fulfilling their potential? Although the question may be asked in this form, this is really a composite of several questions, questions we have answered individually below. One question presumes that the family is less important or fulfilling than the work place. A second question asks why women cannot learn Gemora and a third question asks about women in public roles. In such a case, one should point out that multiple questions are being asked and then answer one question at a time, or possible answer only one question.

[28] See the question above, Are Men and Women different, for a description of female strengths. The crux of the issue is that women have the same (Holiness) Kedusha as men in this world (Igros Moshe) and they get the same reward in Olam Haba (the Next World)  for the work they do as men get for their work. 

[29] The Ramchal explains in the Daas Tevunos that when we were commanded to do something through the Torah, we were given the power to actualize the spirituality of that commandment as well.

[30]  ב"ח (טור יו"ד רמו ד"ה כתב) כתב הרמב"ם אשה שלמדה תורה יש לה שכר וכו' בפ"ק דקידושין (ל"א) א"ר חנינא גדול מצווה ועושה יותר ממי שאינו מצווה ועושה אלא מאד גם מי שאינו מצווה ועושה גדול הוא 

[31]  דרוש על התורה: כי האיש ... איננו בעל שאנן והשקט מצד התגברותו והתפעלו, בכן אינם מוכנים גם כן כל כך אל השאנן והמנוחה הוא העולם הבא שהוא המנוחה בעצמו. אבל הנשים ראויים ומוכנים לה מצד עצמם שאינם בני פעולה והתעוררות מצד עצם בריאתן, לפיכך גדולה ההבטחה שהבטיחן הקב"ה יותר מן האנשים ...ובמעט הסיוע שמסייעים לתורה שכרם גדול מאד כאשר כבר הם מוכנים אל השאנן, וכל המוכן לדבר מה בנקל ישיגו מצד תכונתו. אבל האנשים צריכים מצד זה שיהיו עמלים וטורחים בתורה מבלי מנוח לילה ויום, וזהו גופו ותגיד לבני ישראל דברים הקשין כגידין הוא העמל הגדול הזה. אמנם לנשים בלשון רכה כי אינם צריכים כל כך, ואעפ"כ הם ראויים לשכר יותר גדול עד שלזה גם כן הקדימן הכתוב לאנשים כאמור. 

[32]  Only at the very highest spiritual levels is there a concept of pure נוקבא and pure  דוכרה

[33] פרישה  טור, יורה דעה, רמו:טו
מפני שרוב נשים אין דעתם מכוונת כו' (לשון הטור): אבל אם למדה לעצמה אנו רואות שיצאו מהרוב ולכך כתב לעיל שיש לה שכר ור"ל אם למדה התורה על מכונה שאינה מוציאה לדברי הבאי אבל האב אינה רשאי ללמדה דדילמא מוציא דבריה לדברי הבאי כי הוא אינו יודע מה שבלבה וק"ל

This was the case of ברוריה, ר' מאיר's wife and others:

עירובין סב:
ברוריה דביתהו דרבי מאיר... דתניא תלת מאה שמעתתא ביומא
(She learned 300 sugyas [sections of Gemora] a day)


[34] A woman cannot have the title Rabbi, though she may be given other titles such as  מחנכת or Rebbetzin to show her wisdom.

[35]ספר החינוך מצוה קנב: ונוהגת איסור ביאת מקדש בשכרות בזמן הבית בזכרים ונקיבות, ומניעת ההורייה בכל מקום ובכל זמן בזכרים, וכן באשה חכמה ראויה להורות

פתחי תשובה (חו"מ ס"ז ס"ק ד): אשה חכמה יכולה להורות (ע"ש)

In addition, a פוסק ought to consult with a woman who has a superior knowledge or understanding of the background information necessary for a פסק:

 שערי תשובה (או"ח ס' תסב ס"ק יז): 

הגאון מוה' העשיל ז"ל כשאירע שאלה של נפיחה (במצות) לפניו היה סומך על ראות עיניהם (של נשי ביתו) והבחנתם בעסק הוראה זאת כדת הנשים שהם רגילות במעשה אופה והם ידעו יותר להבחין וגו'

[36] For example, ברוריה, wife of ר’ מאיר, is quoted several times in the תלמוד. She began the day by learning 300 הלכות. However, in the end she was led astray with tragic consequences. (רש"י יח) Namnah, Daughter of R Shmuel Ben Ali, the גאון and head of the ישיבה in Baghdad, was so well versed in תלמוד that she would give שיעורים through the window of her house (so that she could not be seen) to the ישיבה students. The אור זרוע, the 13th century authority of Germany and France would quote halachic rulings in the name of his mother-in-law. The wife of R. Avraham Meir of Worms (14th C) delivered learned discourses before the congregation every שבת. The grandmother of T. Solomon of Luria (16th C) (ים של שלמה) would deliver תורה lectures to students while concealed behind a curtain. Beilah, mother of the דרישה (R Yehoshua Falk - 16-17th C), is quoted by her son on certain halachic issues. מגן אברהם argues with one of her opinions, but נודע ביהודה says that the law is like her, was she not a woman "whose heart was uplifted by wisdom."

[37] It has become popular to claim that, because women are more holistic than men, grasping whole gestalts rather than details, that therefore they are not suitable to be witnesses. Women's בינה יתירה (superior insight) grasp of a situation requires an element of judgment (such as women's superior ability to judge human character), unsuitable for the detached, "just say what you saw" approach to witnesses. However, this implies that women cannot be trusted to give accurate evidence, that they too readily play the role of judge rather than witness. But clearly this is not so - the ראשונים (early legal authorities) state that a woman's ineligibility is a גזירת המלך, comparable to the פסול of a מלך (including משיח), and relatives. Women are therefore kosher to give evidence in (things that are prohibited) איסורים, such as whether something is kosher or not. 

[38] וכן באבן האזר סי"ז ס"ג: אשה שהלך בעלה למדינת הים והעידו עליו שמת אפי' עד אחד אפילו ... אשה

[39] שבועות ל .מנהי מילי (מאיפה אנחנו יודעים דנשים פסולות לעדות) (דברים יט:יז) ועמדו שני האנשים (אשר להם הריב לפני ד' לפני הכהנים והשופטים אשר יהיו בימים ההם) בעדים הכתוב מדבר

 ופירש רש"י שהפסוק הקודם דבר בעדות "כי יקום עד חמס באיש לענות בו סרה" (וגם פסוק טו דבר בעדים: לא יקום עד אחד) לכן מן הסמיכות מבינים שג"כ פסוק זה מדבר בעדים. אבל בגמ' שם הסבר אחר: נאמר כאן שני ונאמר להלן (דברים י"ט) שני מה להלן בעדים  אף כאן בעדים  והאריך הת"ת להסביר שהגמ' אמרה את לימודה רק מבוסס על למוד רש"י ובסוף דבריו: ואעפ"י דבהכרח גם בבע"ד איירי כדכתיב אשר להם הריב אך משינוי הלשונות ש"מ תרתי דקאי גם על בע"ד גם על עדים ודריש אשא להם הריב כמו ואשר להם הריב, כומר יעמדו העדים וגם אלה אשר להם הריב, ודו"ק

[40] It is clear that עדות does not tell the בית דין that the event happened with certainty. For even משה רבינו as one witness would not be sufficient; whereas two unknown (observant) Jews are acceptable. Moreover, the  תורה explicitly allows for the possibility that the witnesses may be lying (עדים שקרים או עדים זוממים). Witnesses allow בית דין to pasken as if the event happened, not that it actually happened with certainty. G-d introduced a concept of בית דין which in and of itself is an enormous חידוש (for He could just have as easily taken care of all justice Himself) and He introduced the rules by which this "earthly justice" would take place in such a way that it would be a component of His total judicial system. But just as we cannot grasp the totality of His judicial system, neither do we fully comprehend any of its components, including the earthly judicial system.

[41] See the first two questions in this section on women’s issues where we showed how women provide the framework, boundaries and context in which men operate. It was the Mothers, Sarah and Rebecca who decided who would be defined as a part of Klal Yisroel (the Jewish nation) and who not, just as it is every mother who provides the total environment, the womb, as well as the identity (Jewish or not) of each child.

[42] Men express, in the negative, their potential, in harmony with the previous two blessings. All three refer to the extra commandments which a Jew, and in the last instance a male Jew, is privileged to do over a gentile (who has only seven), a slave (who has no time based ones and also lacks some others) and a woman, (who has no time based מצוות). (You will then probably have to deal with why a woman does not have time based מצוות - there are sources which say that she doesn't need them - she inherently has the spirituality which they would provide. Nevertheless, the male, despite his lack, rejoices in the privilege of doing more which coming up from behind entails.)

The fact that the formulation is negative is for a side reason:

וכתב מהר"י מינץ הא דתקנו לומר שלש ברכות אלו בדרך שלילה. ולא תקנו ברוך שעשני יהודי ברוך שעשני בן חורין. ברוך שעשני איש. הוא משום שאחז"ל נמנו וגמרו שטוב לאדם שלא נברא משנברא. ור"ל כי יותר טוב לאדם היינו לנפש המשכלת שלו (אשר בעבורה נקרא אדם ובה הוא נבדל משאר בעלי חי) להשאר במציאותה הרוחני כבראשונה משנברא בגוף. משום שזה שלקחה הקב"ה ממקור הקדושה והכניסה בגוף האדם. הוא כדי שתוסיף שלימות על שלימותה בעולם הזה עולם המעשה. כשתבחר בטוב ותלך בדרכי הקב"ה לשמור מצותיו חוקותיו ותורותיו. אבל כיון שנוטה האדם אחר כל התאוות ועושה רע א"כ טוב היה לו שהיה נשאר הנפש במציאתו הרוחני. ולכן לא יצדק לברך ברכות אלו בדרך חיוב. כי ודאי נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא לא איש ולא אשה לא יהודי ולא גוי לא בן חורין ולא עבד. האמנם מאחר שכך גזרה חכמתו לברוא את האדם. עלינו לשבח ולברך לשמו הגדול שלא עשני גוי, עבד, אשה 

[43] With the three ברכות that we do say (שלא עשני גוי, עבד, אשה), we are thanking השם specifically for the advantage of being able to do more מצוות, not for any other advantage. (תוספתא ברכות, פרק ו and all the מפרשים thereafter)

[44] The ברכה of שעשני כרצונו is not mentioned in any of the Talmudic sources dealing with these blessings (i.e. the ברייתא in מנחות מג, the תוספתא in ברכות פרק ו and the ירושלמי ברכות פרק ט הלכה א). Indeed, the טור, who appears to be the earliest source to mention this ברכה, says that it is a מנהג for women to say this ברכה, apparently something which they began themselves, whoever initiated it (although by the time of the שלחן ערוך it already had the status of הלכה - והנשים מברכות). It is not mentioned in the רוקח, nor is it in the נוסח אר"י. פרי חדש (מו: אות ד) says to leave it out and the יחוה דעת (ר' עובדיה  יוסף) and the כף החיים (מו ס"ק מז) both pasken (for בנות ספרד) that this ברכה should not be said with שם ומלכות. (Note: להלכה women are חייב to say it, for בנות אשכנז with שם ומלכות and for בנות ספרד with or without.) 

[45] This question often is backed up by saying, “If men cannot control their gazes, this is their problem.”

Secular women very often view צניעות as a part of what they see as a package of inequality and discrimination by the Torah against women. Their concept of צניעות extends only so far as women’s dress, covering of hair and not singing. Therefore, when dealing with צניעות it is important to take account for the following:

a-צניעות applies to men as well as to women. (However, women have a special relationship with צניעות.);

b-Dress is only one of many expressions of צניעות;

c-צניעות has no real translation and is perhaps best left untranslated. “Modesty” is not a good translation;

d-צניעות is a positive attribute, not a restrictive one;

e-Deal with the broader issues of צניעות before dealing with specifically women’s issues.

[46] עולם is related to the word העלם (hidden) i.e. the world which hides קדושה

 מהר"ל נתיב הצניעות פ"א: כי הצניעות היא קדושה.

פלא יועץ: צניעות - בזה האדם נבדל מן הבהמה

[47] תנחומא, במדבר (ג): וידבר ה' אל משה במדבר סיני. עד שלא הוקם המשכן דבר עמו בסנה שנא' (שמות ג) ויקרא אליו אלקים מתוך הסנה. אח"כ דבר עמו במדין שנא' (שם ד) ויאמר ה' אל משה במדין אח"כ דבר עמו במצרים שנאמר (שם יב) ויאמר ה' אל משה ואל אהרן בארץ מצרים. ואחר כך דבר עמו בסיני שנאמר וידבר ה' אל משה במדבר סיני. כיון שהוקם המשכן אמר יפה הוא הצניעות שנאמר (מיכה ו) והצנע לכת עם אלקיך. התחיל לדבר עמו באהל מועד וכן דוד אמר (תהלים מה) כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה ממשבצות זהב לבושה. בת מלך זה משה ... שהיה מלכה של תורה...ממשבצות זהב לבושה זה אהרן שנאמר (שמות כח) ועשית משבצות זהב...אמר הקב"ה כך הוא כבודי שיהא מדבר מבפנים שנאמר (במדבר ז) ובבא משה אל אוהל מועד וישמע את הקול מדבר אליו

[48] ולדוגמה בנוגע לצניעות בלשון כתב הגמ' פסחים ג. דאמר ריב"ל לעולם אל יוציא אדם דבר מגונה מפיו שהרי עקם הכתוב ח' אותיות ולא הוציא דבר מגונה מפיו שנאמר (בראשית ז) מן הבהמה הטהורה ומן הבהמה אשר איננה טהרה, רב פפא אמר ט' שנאמר (דברים כג) כי יהיה בך איש אשר לא יהיה טהור מקרה לילה, רבינא אמר עשרה וי"ו דטהור רב אחא בר יעקב אמר שש עשרה שנאמר (שמואל א כ) כי אמר מקרה הוא בלתי טהור הוא כי לא טהור תניא דבי רבי ישמעאל לעולם יספר אדם בלשון נקיה שהרי בזב קראו מרכב ובאשה קראו מושב ואומר (איוב טו) ותבחר לשון ערומים ואומר (איוב לג) ודעת שפתי ברור מללו, מאי ואומר וכ"ת ה"מ בדאורייתא אבל בדרבנן לא ת"ש ואומר ותבחר לשון ערומים וכי תימא ה"מ בדרבנן אבל במילי דעלמא לא ואומר ודעת שפתי ברור מללו. 

[49] מכות כד. - בא מיכה והעמידן על שלש דכתיב (מיכה ו) הגיד לך אדם מה טוב ומה ה' דורש ממך כי אם עשות משפט ואהבת חסד והצנע לכת עם ה' אלקך (ע"ש ואח"כ בא חבקוק והעמידן על אחת)     

[50] פלא יועץ אכילה ושתיה - וידוע מעשה הרב רבי ישראל נאג'ר בזמן האר"י ז"ל, שהיה משורר על שלחנו בקול נעים, והיו מתקבצים מלאכי השרת כבמזמוטי חתן וכלה, והיו זרועותיו מגלות מפני החם, וקל מן שמיא נפל: ברחו לכם מאצל האיש הזה שממעט בכבוד שמים, שאינו יושב בכבוד על השלחן אשר לפני ה', ותכף פרחו כלם. והרב האר"י היה רואה מביתו את המראה הגדולה זה, וגלה סודו להרב ישראל נאג'ר, וחרד חרדה גדולה, וקשט עצמו וישב בכבוד, וחזר לשורר כבראשונה, וחזרו מלאכי השרת להתקבץ כבתחלה.

In fact the long coat which you see many observant Jews wearing is as an act of extra modesty. They wear shirt and pants to cover the body and then a long coat to cover the shape of the body, a sensitivity that probably goes back to our forefathers.

[51] Judaism discourages both men and women from participating in positions where public honor or prestige is a prerequisite for the job...The more peoples' roles encourage them to view themselves as important because of how others react to them, the more these roles can detract from the people's awe and obedience to G-d (Lisa Aiken, pg. 135) 

[52] בראשית רבה יח: ב ויבן כתיב התבונן מאין לבראתה...ממקום שהוא צנוע באדם אפילו בשעה שאדם עומד ערום אותו המקום מכוסה ועל כל אבר ואבר שהיה בורא בה היה אומר תהא אשה צנועה אשה צנועה, התבונן

[53] The hair of (Eve) חוה, like the rest of her body, was not covered. Yet we see that, from the very outset, her hair was an intrinsic part of her attractiveness to Adam אדם הראשון. Thus השם (G-d) beautified her by doing her hair in an appealing manner before presenting her to Adam אדם הראשון. (מס' שבת צה.). This, despite the fact that he did not relate to her external beauty, and therefore she did not need to wear clothes. This implies that a woman’s hair, emerging as it does from the top of her entire being, is something that radiates more than a physical beauty. 

[54] ברכות כד.  אמר רב ששת: שער באשה ערוה, שנאמר (שיר השירים ד') שערך כעדר העזים

אשה סוטה:

 במדבר ה:יח והעמיד הכהן את האשה לפני ה' ופרע את ראש האשה ונתן על כפיה מנחת הזכרון

“The Cohen stands the woman (who has committed adultery) before G-d (at the entrance to the tabernacle), he reveals the head of the woman (uncovers her hair), and puts the offering of remembrance into her hands...” (Numbers 5:18)

רש"י שם:  "סותר את קליעת שערה כדי לבזותה, מכאן לבנות ישראל שגלוי הראש גנאי להן (ספרי)"

“He reveals the locks of her hair in order to embarrass her, from here [we learn] that a revealed head is an embarrassment for the daughters of Israel.” (Rashi ad loc.).

במדבר רבה פרשה ט: כך שלא יאמר הכהן אני פורע ראש האשה ורוחו גסה עליו לכך נאמר לפני ה' ופרע ופרע למה שדרך בנות ישראל להיות ראשיהן מכוסות ולכך היה פורע ראשה ואומר לה את פרשת מדרך בנות ישראל שדרכן להיות מכוסות ראשיהן והלכת בדרכי העובדי כוכבים שהן מהלכות ראשיהן פרועות הרי לך מה שרצית, ונתן על כפיה את מנחת הזכרון

(סנהדרין קט:)" ואון - שישב באנינות, פלת - שנעשו לו פלאות, בן ראובן - בן שראה והבין. אמר רב: און בן פלת אשתו הצילתו... אמרה ליה: ידענא דכולה כנישתא קדישתא נינהו, דכתיב (במדבר ט"ז) כי כל העדה כלם קדשים. אמרה ליה: תוב, דאנא מצילנא לך. אשקיתיה חמרא, וארויתיה, ואגניתיה גואי, אותבה על בבא, וסתרתה למזיה, כל דאתא חזיה, הדר. אדהכי והכי אבלעו להו..."

און’s wife knew that since the nation was holy, דכולה כנישתא קדישתא, the men of Israel, even those about to go and rebel against Moses, would not draw near the house if a woman was present with her hair uncovered.    

וזה לומדים מקמחית  יומא מז .  אמרו עליו על רבי ישמעאל בן קמחית: פעם אחת סיפר דברים עם ערבי אחד בשוק, ונתזה צינורא מפיו על בגדיו, ונכנס ישבב אחיו ושמש תחתיו, וראתה אמן שני כהנים גדולים ביום אחד. ושוב אמרו עליו על רבי ישמעאל בן קמחית: פעם אחת יצא וסיפר עם הגמון אחד בשוק, ונתזה צינורא מפיו על בגדיו, ונכנס יוסף (עם) אחיו ושמש תחתיו, וראתה אמן שני כהנים גדולים ביום אחד. תנו רבנן: שבעה בנים היו לה לקמחית וכולן שמשו בכהונה גדולה. אמרו לה חכמים: מה עשית שזכית לכך? - אמרה להם: מימי לא ראו קורות ביתי קלעי שערי אמרו לה הרבה עשו כן ולא הועילו

From here you see that the Modesty of covering one’s hair does not have only to do with men seeing it. קמחית claimed that her own internal sense of צניעות was never violated, whether anyone saw this or not.

[55] There is a concept in Judaism called  סוד המקיף. Each person has five levels of souls. The first three, נפש, רוח, נשמה are contained within the body of the person. The next two, the חיה and the יחידה are attached to the body, but are not contained within it. According to one Kabalistic view, the חיה surrounds the body, while the יחידה the highest of the souls, is attached to the body on top. (רמח"ל). This is known as the סוד המקיף , an aura of קדושה which surrounds the body. (Rabbi Matisyahu Glazerson). It is in order to express this idea, that a man covers his head with a טלית  גדול when he davens in the morning. A woman, who has an even greater sensitivity to צניעות expresses this idea by covering her head all of the time. Below we will deal with why this applies specifically to a married woman. However, amongst Ashkenazim, the טלית is also only worn after marriage (with the exception of the Yekkes); and even amongst the Sephardim where the מנהג is to wear a טלית גדול from the time of בר מצוה, the מנהג is only to wear it over the head after marriage.

                Some learn that it is the תפילין של ראש which comprises or contributes to the סוד המקיף. Therefore, Rav Shimon Schwab claimed that a woman is not obligated to wear תפילין because she, by covering her hair, is ‘wearing her Tefillin’ all day. (In Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu's Modesty an Adornment for Life, pg. 243) 

[56]  רב צדוק שם טהרות הוא המדרגה היותר גדולה בדעת  

[57] שם 

[58] The approach of Rav S. R. Hirsch is to define Tumah (impurity) as a loss of control in moral matters due to our physical taavos (desires) taking over (or for some other reason.) The word טמא, he says, is related to the דמע and טמע which means a mixture of things – something prohibited with something permitted. (See the Hirsch Chumash, ויקרא א , pg. 302, ד"ה ונטמתם בם)

[59] Even though this results from the זוהמא of the נחש, from the חטא of אדם הראשון, it has its טהרה through the פרה אדומה. Of course the real טומאה  from this, death itself, can only be purified after the tikun of  the חטא of אדם and חוה. We might have expected that contact with a dead body would also have no טהרה. Indeed the fact that we do have טהרה from the Tumas Meis is what even Shlomo hamelech could not understand about this מצוה (רב צדוק הכהן מחשבות חרוץ)

Interestingly it is only we Jews, with our unique potential for spirituality, who are, exclusively amongst humans, susceptible to טומאה.

שמות כב ל: ואנשי קדש תהיון לי ובשר בשדה טרפה לא תאכלו לכלב תשליכון אותו

ויקרא יא ד: טמא הוא לכם

In the בית המקדש, a non-Jew was allowed to come to as far as the חיל, the same place as a טומאת מת and further than the other kinds of טומאה. Furthermore, a non-Jew cannot become Tameh in a halachic sense. This includes נדה – only a Jewess could become טומאת נדה.

Yet, since the very טומאה  of a Jew comes from his connection with holiness, he can therefore always find a mechanism of Tahara.

כוזרי ג מט: הטומאה והקדושה הם שני דברים העומדים תמיד זה מול זה: לא ימצא האחד מהם כי אם  בהמצא חברו.

 במדבר יט ב: זאת חוקת התורה עיין רש"י שם .

This is a great chesed from השם, that we need never be in a state of halachic טומאה  for long. Therefore, the parshios which deal with טומאה  are ultimately a sweet thing:

שיר השירים ה יא: ראשו כתם פז, קוצותיו תלתלים שחורות

ויקרא רבה פרשה יט א-ג:  ראשו זו תורה כתם פז אלו דברי תורה . קווצותיו תלתלים שחורות כעורב - [אלא] פרשיותיה של תורה [ש]אע"פ שנראות כאילו הם  כעורות ושחורות לאומרן ברבים, כגון הלכות זיבה ונגעים, נדה וילדת, אמר הקב"ה הרי הן עריבות עלי, שנאמר וערבה לד' מנחת יהודה וירושלים (מלאכי ג ד)

Since the greater the loss of potential, the greater the טומאה

רב צדוק הכהן: טומאתן דבני ישראל [הוא] טומאה קלה לפי שעה שיש לה טהרה במקוה ישראל  לד' כמ"ש (יומא פה:) מי מטהרן אביהן שבשמים כאשר דבוקים בו שהוא שרשם הרי זה כמו השקה למעיין דמועיל לטהר מים טמאים. …  ולכך שכינת הש"י בתוך בנ"י גם בתוך טומאתם … וזהו טומאותם (ולא טומאה סתם) דייקא אצלם מצידם נקרא טומאה  (רסיסי לילה ס' יט דף 21)

A non-Jew, on the other hand,  although he does not have halachic טומאה, has a kind of intrinsic טומאה  which, because of his weaker spiritual connection with הקדוש ברוך הוא, cannot be so easily purified:

רב צדוק (שם): טומאת עמלק היא אב טומאה שאין לה טהרה במקוה כמ"ש תמחה. ושאר אומות הוא מה שא"א להשיבם  למעין כלל כי אין להם שום דביקות והשקה למעין רק בבנ"י נאמר ישקני מנשיקות פיהו

[60] During the month , the lining of the uterus thickens to accommodate the egg cell, should it become fertilized. There is an increase in blood supply in preparation of this happening. When it does not do so, this excess blood is released, and the egg cell discharged, and the potential for it to grow into a fetus is lost forever. 

[61]  ויקרא טו:יט

תהיה בנדתה

אונקלוס: תהי בריחוקה

טומאה = blockage; hence טמטום as in טמטום הלב , a blocked heart, blocked from purity or clarity, related to צמצום =  a contraction, a loss of  clarity. ) חז"ל darshen from the verse ולא תטמאו בהם ונטמתם בם ונטמתם – i.e. instead of reading Nitmeisem they read Nitamtem)

טהרה = purity; related to צוהר  (like טוהר with the צ/ט interchanged) = clarity, brightness.

Therefore the Greeks טמאו את כל השמנים, i.e. they blocked the paths of wisdom, they prevented spiritual access to clarity. (See also ספר החינוך  - שסב)

[62] ע"פ טוהר רחל פ"ג

[63] רש"י ריש במדבר: מתוך חיבתן (של כלל ישראל) לפניו מונה אותם כל שעה 

[64] See Rav Aryeh Kaplan, Waters of Eden, pg. 40-46 

[65] רמב"ם פ"א מהל' מקואות הל' א: כל הטמאים בין אדם בין כלים בין שנטמאו בטומאה חמורה של תורה בין שנטמאו בטומאה של דבריהן אין להן טהרה אלא בטבילה במים הנקוין בקרקע.

רמב"ם סוף הל' מקואות: דבר ברור וגלוי שהטומאות והטהרות גזירת הכתוב הן, ואינן מדברים שדעתו של אדם מכרעתו והרי הן מכלל החוקים וכן הטבילה מן הטומאות מכלל החוקים הוא שאין הטומאה טיט או צואה שתעבור במים אלא גזירת הכתוב היא והדבר תלוי בכוונת הלב. ולפיכך אמרו חכמים טבל ולא הוחזק כאילו לא טבל, ואעפ"כ רמז  יש בדבר כשם שהמכוין לבו לטהר כיון שטבל טהור ואע"פ שלא נתחדש בגופו דבר המכוין לבו לטהר נפשו מטומאות הנפשות שהן מחשבות האון ודעות הרעות. כיון שהסכים בלבו לפרוש מאותן העצות והביא נפשו במי הדעת טהור. הרי הוא אומר וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים וטהרתם מכל טומאותיכם ומכל גלוליכם אטהר אתכם.  השם ברחמיו הרבים מכל חטא עון ואשמה יטהרנו אמן.

It represents the primordial waters of creation – hence re-creation

 ספר החינוך: שיראה האדם את עצמו אחר הטבילה כאילו נברא באותה שעה, כמו שהיה העולם מים טרם היות בו אדם וכמו שכתוב ורוח אלוקים מרחפת על פני המים, ויתן אל לבו בדמיון כי כמו שנתחדש בגופו, יחדש ג"כ פעולותיו לטוב, ויכשיר מעשיו וידקדק בדרכי ד' ברוך הוא (מצוה קעג בהוצאת שעוול)

ר' יהודה פתיה:  קודם שברא הקב"ה את השמים ואת הארץ, היה כל העולם כולו מלא מים הנקראים תהום, עד אפס מקום לברא שם שמים וארץ  וכל כך היו המים רבים וגבוהים, עד שהיו מגעים קרוב לכסא הכבוד הנקרא רוח אלוקים (בספר מנחת יהודה, ראשית הספר) 

[66] ספר החינוך (שם): ועל כן אמרו חכמים שלא תכשר במים שבכלי,  רק במים חיים או מכונסים שהן על קרקע ואלא בכלי מכל מקום, כדי לתת אל לבו במחשבה כאילו העולם כולו מים והוא נתחדש בעלותו מהם.

ר דוד צבי הופמן: מים שיש בהם זרימה מתמדת, בלתי פוסקת, הנובעת מן המקור הטבעי שנברא על-יד ד' בורא עולם, מים שיש להם קשר עם הנצח. (פירושו על ויקרא יא עמוד רי בהוצאת מוסד הרב קוק)

[67] In fact, הקב"ה  himself is called מקוה ישראל (ירמיה יז יג ע"פ יומא פ"ח מש'  ז) (The peshat is that HaShem is the hope of Yisroel.)

Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman: Just as death is אבי אבות הטומאה, so too ד'  is אבי אבות הטהרההטהרה במהותה המוחלטת. (פירושו על ויקרא יא עמוד רי בהוצאת מוסד הרב קוק). 

[68] Similarly, it is a custom for some to go to the mikvah after doing תשובה from being a מומר

נטילת ידים – the raising of the hands before elevating the meal and turning it into a  קרבן (the table = the מזבח; the salt in memory of the קרבנות) – is to remind us of the מקוה –tahara of the Cohen before eating תרומה.

The 5 times that כהן גדול  went on יום כפור.

Every Jew before going into the  עזרת ישראל (תוס' יום טוב על יומא ג: ג)

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