(I’ve been told that the proper pronunciation of Datan is with two syllables, not three. HT: Steg)
Perusing the Torah Temimah this Shabbos I noticed something that is noteworthy for one reason, and possibly very noteworthy for another. I admit that the second part of this post is speculation, but I welcome your thoughts on my thoughts.
The Passuk in Chayei Sarah declares that “God blessed Avraham Ba’kol.” Literally this means that God blessed Avraham with everything. The Talmud in Bava Basra (16B) relates a five-way dispute amongst the rabbis as to specifically what “Ba’Kol” means. We only need to look at the first three.
R’ Meir says that Avraham was blessed by not having a daughter. R’ Yehuda says that he was blessed with a daughter. The Acheirim say that he was blessed with a daughter named “Bakol”.
The Torah Temimah explains (translation my own, parentheticals are my additions):
The opinion of R’ Meir is consistent with other information we have about R’ Meir as R’ Meir was the one who established the blessing of “shelo asani isha” as is explained in Menachos 43B. This is because the measure of women was light in his eyes, because the thinness of their mind, as it says in Avodah Zara 18B that R’ Meir fled from the Land of Israel to Babylonia due to his shame as a result of his wife Bruria. (According to Rashi in Avoda Zara, R’ Meir was challenged by his wife Bruria regarding his assertion that women had inferior minds to men. R’ Meir wanted to show that the principle was correct and so he responded by having one of his students seduce Bruria. She resisted for a while but eventually she relented. When she came to her senses, she was so upset that she hanged herself. When R’ Meir discovered her, he fled to Babylonia.)
Additionally, because he sinned with that one woman as it is described in Seder Hadoros (I am not familiar with this reference), and for this reason, the text in Menachos (that teaches us to make the blessing of shelo asani isha) is R’ Meir and not R’ Yehuda (apparently, the text of this Talmudic passage was in dispute).
What is the Torah Temimah saying?
First of all, many different apologetics have been used to explain the blessing of shelo asani isha. The gist of all of them is the women are either equal or superior to men and the blessing is not indicative of a negative feeling toward women in the Talmud. The Torah Temimah is saying that no amount of apologetics can explain R’ Meir’s opinion and halachic rulings about women. He did have an issue with women. It was part of who he was.
Thus, it seems a bit disingenuous to say that R’ Meir really thought women were superior to men and that the blessing is not meant to establish women as inferior to men. The Torah Temimah is connecting his halachic rulings with his life experiences. He interpreted Avraham’s blessing of “ba’kol” as not having a daughter! So while I think it is fair to say that the blessing of shelo asani isha and the dictum of nashim datan kalot are not as nefarious as some people may feel (as I have written previously: Apropos of Nothing (well… maybe something): Rabbi Julie Schonfeld Edition), I also think it is fair to be honest, and the Torah Temimah is telling us that R’ Meir in particular had a feeling about women that was negative.
I think that is unquestionably a fair inference from the Torah Temimah.
I now present a bit of speculation.
It is possible that the Torah Temimah was trying to distinguish R’ Meir’s opinion from the other rabbis. It is possible that part of the point over here is that it was R’ Meir and only R’ Meir that had these opinions about women and it came from a confluence of events and issues that arose in his life. In other words, not all rabbis agree with R’ Meir that nashim datan kalot. It was his opinion but not everyone agreed.
I admit that there are a plethora of other examples in the Talmud that portray women less than admirably. But as far as the blessing of shelo asani isha and the principle of nashim datan kalot, they may not have been as universally held as some believe. I think the Torah Temimah is trying to do this, at least obliquely. But as I said, it is speculation. Certainly, it is interesting food for thought.
What do you think?
Read the Torah Temimah here: PDF