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A Possible “Feminist” Reading in a Genizah Fragment

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The Fragment of the Month from the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Project:

In this fragment the anonymous commentator explains to his (most probably male) readers: ‘There is nothing that satisfies her more than that you will listen to her’. The commentator supports his argument with reference to the Jewish sources of Late Antiquity, the Mishna, and the Talmud, but adds a new and interesting creative interpretation. The Mishna (Qiddushin 1:1) states: ‘A woman is acquired in three ways’, and the sages of the Talmud ask two simple questions: (1) why does the Mishna use the word ‘acquired’ as if a woman is ‘bought’ or ‘acquired’, instead of saying ‘a woman becomes betrothed in three possible ways’; (2) Why use the passive voice and not simply say ‘a man betroths a woman in three possible ways’? Unfortunately – as is often the case with Genizah fragments – we don’t have the commentary on the Talmud’s explanation of the first question as to the use of ‘acquired’, but we do have what remains of the commentary on the second question.

The Talmud states that the Mishna chose to put the focus on the woman in order to emphasise that the marriage cannot take place without her will. Our commentator takes this one step further and offers an interpretation that can be seen as a ‘feminist reading’ of the Talmud. According to this interpretation, the Jewish sages taught that in the marriage contract the groom is seemingly active and the bride is passive, while in fact the opposite is the case. The groom’s role in the ceremony is to satisfy the bride’s will and to act accordingly. This is why the groom gives his bride a ring (or equivalent). Perhaps our anonymous commentator sought to advise young couples in how they should interact and respect each other throughout their married life.

3 Responses to “A Possible “Feminist” Reading in a Genizah Fragment”

  1. 1
    DF:

    Its feminist to say a woman cannot forcibly be married? I guess its true then, by that definition, we are all feminists!

    As for the “one step further”, lets see the actual language please, and not the author’s spin. If the commentator (whoever he is) says the husband must do his best to make his wife happy and be sensitive to her needs and wants, well, then he’s doing more than saying what the Talmud already said.

    And how would even that be “feminism”? That women need to be coddled, or that their needs must be taken into account? Does anyone feel it necessary to say that men also have needs, that women need be sensitive to them, etc? A feminist would assume the woman to be the leader, and thus would be speaking of how important it is to treat their husbands well, listen to them, etc. Any class or lecture that advises men how to treat their wives assumes the man to be the driver and is the exact opposite of feminism.

  2. 2
    DF:

    second paragraph above correction – he’s doing NO more than saying, etc.

  3. 3
    DF:

    Indeed, think about it. There are very, very few classes or books that speak of how wives need to treat their husbands, and the services they should be doing for them. You don’t hear any of this because society assumes the man is the head of the family, and thus all the advice books are written for him (like books for CEOs or parents.) On the few times you do see a woman speaking of how important it is to be respectful to their husbands, the feminists come out and accuse the speaker of being “submissive” or “subservient” or whatever. Think about it! Like so much of today’s absolutely rootless liberalism, they’ve got it completely backwards.

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