Think like a Haredi?! The Roots of Haredi Misogyny

It has long been my contention that if you want to understand the mindset of the ultra-Orthodox world in Israel and in the Diaspora today, one must first learn how to think like one. Having been once an ultra-Orthodox Jew, I thought it would be helpful to deconstruct their way of thinking, which is probably a mystery to most normal thinking people.

וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ  — You shall teach them to your children  . . .  (Deut. 6:7).

The Talmud in tractate Kiddushin 29b discusses the scriptural obligation of teaching children Torah and its limitations. Commenting on the Mishnah’s directive, “a father is obligated to teach his son Torah,” the Talmud later asks: “How do we know it? — Because it is written, “you shall teach them unto your sons” (Deut. 6:7). If his father failed to instruct him in Torah study, he is obligated to teach himself, for it is said, “ and you shall study …”

But does the mother have a duty to instruct Torah to her children? The answer to this question is not as obvious as it might seem. According to the Talmudic scholars, “The mother has no legal obligation to provide instruction since she is exempt from Torah study herself, and anyone who is exempt from Torah study has no obligation to instruct others!”

Obviously, the Talmudic discussion reveals some harsh economic realities of the age; unlike today, most families could not afford to provide a Jewish education to all their children. In terms of the hierarchy of responsibility, men had to first provide themselves with a good Jewish education so that they could teach their children. However, if a child was exceptional, the son took priority. With respect to a woman who was struggling to provide food on her table, the Sages out of compassion exempted her for survival of the family mattered most.  If she could not provide her children with an education, the responsibility fell upon the community itself (Kiddushin 29b).

Scriptural proofs more often than not are used as props for already existing social practices; this was undoubtedly the case in the centuries that followed the destruction of the Temple. Needless to say, בָנֶיךָ “your children,” invariably meant all children—sons and daughters alike, and one would be hard pressed to cite examples in the Tanakh where it is otherwise.

In  summary, the Talmudic discussion all depends  interpretation  on how literal one wishes to translate the word בָנֶיךָ “your children,” which many of the Sages understood as referring to בָּנִים—male children and not בָּנוֹת “daughters.”

While economics plays an important role in the development of the Halacha, so too does misogyny; one could say that misogyny is the original sin of human civilization–and its roots certainly can be traced throughout the bible, when Adam blames Eve for the problems of humankind.

Early rabbinical thinking reflected here certainly is consistent with the majority of Sages of Late Antiquity, but not everyone concurs. The Mishnah in Sotah 3:4 records the view of Simeon ben Azzai, who argues that a father is obligated to instruct Torah to his daughter since the term  בָּנִים can just as easily refer to daughters as well! Continue reading “Think like a Haredi?! The Roots of Haredi Misogyny”