Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A question for the Taliban women

Summary: What are they doing out of their homes? We see from Rashi, Ralbag, and Rambam, that it is a breach of tznius for a woman to leave her home. And an analysis and response to this, of why this is not obligatory or even a good idea for present-day women.


Important note: The beginning of this post is written tongue-in-cheek. Don't take this as a real suggestion.

In this week's parasha, we read of Dinah's "going out", and her eventual rape. Rashi cites Midrash Rabba which is not in favor of her 'going out'.

1. Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to look about among the daughters of the land.א. וַתֵּצֵא דִינָה בַּת לֵאָה אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לְיַעֲקֹב לִרְאוֹת בִּבְנוֹת הָאָרֶץ:
the daughter of Leah: And not the daughter of Jacob? However, because of her going out she was called the daughter of Leah, since she (Leah) too was in the habit of going out, as it is said: “and Leah came forth toward him” (above 30:16). [from Tanchuma Vayishlach 7] (And concerning her, they devise the proverb: Like mother like daughter.) - [Gen. Rabbah 80:1]בת לאה: ולא בת יעקב, אלא על שם יציאתה נקראת בת לאה, שאף היא יצאנית היתה, שנאמר (ל טז) ותצא לאה לקראתו (ועליה משלו המשל (יחזקאל טז מד) כאמה כבתה):

The Ralbag lists on each parasha a series of תועלות, which are benefits/purposes/lessons we can glean from the parasha, whether in דעות of מדות. Among those for middos, he writes the following:

"The fourth toeles is in middos, and this is that it is not fitting for a woman to go out of her house. Do you not see what negative results happened to Dinah when she went out to look among the daughters of the land, until this was almost a cause for the destruction of her entire father's house, were Hashem not aiding them?"
(That is, that the nations might have taken revenge for the destruction of Shechem by Shimon and Levi.)

We see similar sentiments in Midrash Tanchuma. Besides the yatzanis aspect, we have:
ותצא דינה בת לאה זה שאמר הכתוב: כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה (תהלים מ"ה).ו

אמר ר' יוסי:
כשהאשה מצנעת את עצמה בתוך הבית ראויה להינשא לכהן גדול ותעמיד כוהנים גדולים, שנאמר: כל כבודה וגו'. 
אם תכבד עצמה בתוך הבית, ממשבצות זהב לבושה, תינשא למי שכתוב בהן: ושבצת הכתונת שש. 

א"ר פנחס הכהן בר חמא: 
בזמן שהיא צנועה בתוך הבית, כשם שהמזבח מכפר, כך היא מכפרת על ביתה, שנאמר: (תהלים קכ"ח) אשתך כגפן פוריה בירכתי ביתך, ואין ירכתי, אלא מזבח, שנאמר: ושחט אותו על ירך המזבח (ויקרא א'). 
"And Dinah the daughter of Leah went out: This is what Scriptures (Tehillim 45) states, 'All glorious is the king's daughter within the palace...'
Rabbi Yossi said: When she keeps herself hidden [tzanua] in the house, she is worthy of marrying the Kohen Gadol, and to bear Kohen Gadols, as is stated, 'All glorious is the king's daughter within the palace...' If she honors herself in the house, [the pasuk continues], 'her raiment is of chequer work inwrought with gold,' [meaning that] she will be married to the one about whom is written [Shemot 28:39], 'And thou shalt weave the tunic in chequer work of fine linen...'
Rabbi Pinchas HaKohen bar Chama said: At the time she is tzenua within the house, just as the altar atones, so does she atone for her house, as is written [Tehillim 128], 'Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine, in the innermost parts of thy house...', and there is no yarkesei, 'innermost parts' except for the altar, as is stated [Vayikra 1], 'and he shall slaughter it on the yerech of the altar'.
We might also bring in the Rambam, in Hilchos Ishus, 13:11:
יג  [יא] מְקוֹמוֹת שֶׁדַּרְכָּן שֶׁלֹּא תֵצֵא אִשָּׁה בַּשּׁוּק בְּכֻפָּח שֶׁעַל רֹאשָׁהּ בִּלְבָד, עַד שֶׁיִּהְיֶה עָלֶיהָ רָדִיד הַחוֹפֶה אֶת כָּל גּוּפָהּ כְּמוֹ טְלִית--נוֹתֵן לָהּ בִּכְלַל הַכְּסוּת, רָדִיד הַפָּחוּת בְּכָל הָרְדִידִין; וְאִם הָיָה עָשִׁיר--נוֹתֵן לְפִי עָשְׁרוֹ, כְּדֵי שֶׁתֵּצֵא בּוֹ לְבֵית הָאֵבֶל אוֹ לְבֵית הַמִּשְׁתֶּה:  לְפִי שֶׁכָּל אִשָּׁה יֵשׁ לָהּ לָצֵאת וְלֵילֵךְ לְבֵית אָבִיהָ לְבַקְּרוֹ, וּלְבֵית הָאֵבֶל וּלְבֵית הַמִּשְׁתֶּה לִגְמֹל חֶסֶד לְרֵעוֹתֶיהָ וְלִקְרוֹבוֹתֶיהָ, כְּדֵי שֶׁיָּבוֹאוּ הֶם לָהּ--שְׁאֵינָהּ בְּבֵית הַסֹּהַר, עַד שֶׁלֹּא תֵצֵא וְלֹא תָבוֹא. 

יד  אֲבָל גְּנָאי הוּא לָאִשָּׁה שֶׁתְּהֶא יוֹצְאָה תָּמִיד, פַּעַם בַּחוּץ פַּעַם בָּרְחוֹבוֹת; וְיֵשׁ לַבַּעַל לִמְנֹעַ אִשְׁתּוֹ מִזֶּה, וְלֹא יַנִּיחָהּ לָצֵאת אֵלָא כְּמוֹ פַּעַם אַחַת בְּחֹדֶשׁ אוֹ פַּעֲמַיִם בְּחֹדֶשׁ, כְּפִי הַצֹּרֶךְ:  שְׁאֵין יֹפִי לָאִשָּׁה אֵלָא לֵישֵׁב בְּזָוִית בֵּיתָהּ, שֶׁכָּךְ כָּתוּב "כָּל-כְּבוּדָּה בַת-מֶלֶךְ פְּנִימָה" (תהילים מה,יד).ש
"Places where it is the women's custom not to go out to the market with only a kupach upon her head, until she has upon her a radid which covers her entire body like a talis, this he gives her among the garments [he is obligated to give his wife], the least of all radids; and if he is wealthy, he gives her in accordance with his wealth, so that she may go out in it to the house of the mourner or the house of feasting. For each woman may go and come to her father's house to visit him, and to the house of mourning and the house of feasting in order to perform deeds of kindness for her friends and relatives, and so that they will come to her -- for she is not in prison, such that she cannot come and go. 
However, it is a reproach for a woman to be always coming and going, sometimes outside, sometimes in the streets, and a husband should prevent his wife from doing this, and not permit her to go out except such as one or two times per month, in accordance with the need. For it only beautiful for a woman to sit in the corner of her house, for such is written (Tehillim 45:14), kol kevudah bat melech penimah, "All glorious is the king's daughter within the palace..."
And so I ask why we are seeing these Taliban women out on the streets. If they were really tznius, they would heed the Midrash Rabba, Rashi, Rambam, and Ralbag and stay in their homes.

Of course, this is a joke. Just because I can harness rabbinic sources for a position does not mean that this is how women should be acting today. What Ralbag and Rambam wrote was, perhaps, appropriate for their day, their place, and their social circle. But it is more than inappropriate in other situations.

Yes, tznius is in many respects a function of cultural norms. The gemara in Kesubos refers to daas Moshe and daas Yehudis in terms of head coverings, and one well-established way of understanding daas Yehudis is as a function of cultural norms.

The Rambam, who writes of wearing the radid, freely admits to this. He prefaced all this with:
Places where it is the women's custom not to go out to the market with...
That is, specifically in those places is where the wife would then be expected to wear a radid, in which case the husband is obligated to furnish her with one. There are other cultural aspects of tznius. For instance, he see that a tefach of exposed flesh has some status of ervah only in those places where it is common for women to keep that area of the body covered.

And one could debunk each of these rabbinic sources with rabbinic counter-sources. Fault Dinah's going out, and connect it to Leah's "going out"? What about the pasuk in Vayeitzei that states that:

ו  וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם, הֲשָׁלוֹם לוֹ; וַיֹּאמְרוּ שָׁלוֹם--וְהִנֵּה רָחֵל בִּתּוֹ, בָּאָה עִם-הַצֹּאן.6 And he said unto them: 'Is it well with him?' And they said: 'It is well; and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep.'

Clearly, as a shepherdess, Rachel did not spend all days indoors either! See another Rishon, Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi, who does not seem to take such a negative attitude to Dinah's going out:

ותצא דינה בת לאה .  זה חסד גדול מנותן התורה כי הודיענו סבתה

which then presents is as a sort of justification of Dinah.

And see the more recent Malbim, who writes (in haTorah veHamitzvah):
"And Dinah went out: It informs that Dinah was not guilty in this, that you should not say that the breached the fence of tznius, for she was 'the daughter of Leah', who was tznuah in her tent, and 'whom she bore to Yaakov', that her birth was associated with Yaakov, that she was a modest and worthy person, for the 'going out' was not to go after the young men but rather 'to see the girls of the land' and their ways."
This admittedly does not get us precisely at our destination, but a good portion of the way. Dinah is no longer to blame for the "untznius" act of "going out".

But one need not resort to this. There is normal behavior in this world and in this society, and there is non-normal behavior. The wives of many, many great rabbis, for many generations, did indeed leave the house more than once or twice a month. As just one example, as if this needed evidence, the Chafetz Chaim's wife managed a store. Maybe for the Rambam, living in Arab lands in the middle ages, this sort of behavior was not out of the ordinary. I don't believe that the Rambam (or Ralbag), being the same great talmid chacham he was, but living today in our society and knowing of our society and our women, would be saying the same thing.


yaak said...

Re: Rahel Imeinu, it may not be a proof since she went out completely covered by the sheep - not in front or in back of them.

Source (on p.2):

נראה לי בס"ד, דרך הרועה שילך אחרי הצאן, כדי שיהיו כל הצאן לנגד עיניו, ולא
יוכל אדם לחטוף מן הצאן כלום, שבזה תהיה עין השגחתו עליהם בטוב.
אך רחל אמנו ע"ה לא היתה נוהגת כשאר רועים ללכת אחרי הצאן, אלא היתה
הולכת בתוך הצאן באופן שתהיה מוקפת מן הצאן בכל צדדיה, כדי שיתכסו
פסיעותיה הנאות בצאן מכל צד, ולא יהיה נראה חצי התחתון של גופה לעוברים
ושבים וההולכים במדבר, והיא היתה עושה זאת משום צניעות.

joshwaxman said...


Yes, I was debating with myself whether to include this Ben Ish Chai.

At any rate, I discuss it in a parshablog post from back in 2008, here:

Most meforshim would not agree with the Ben Ish Chai, and it tells us more about the Ben Ish Chai and the surrounding Iraqi culture than it tells us about Rachel Imeinu.

kol tuv,

Chanokh said...

I don't know why you say it tongue-in-cheek. Le-shitatan, this is indeed what she should be doing. The whole custom of covering entirely, which existed in Ancient Persia, Babylonia, and Greece, and still persists among Afghani and Pakistani clans, is a concession, in times of need, to the general rules of purdah, which means not leaving the house. See this article for example. By definition, if you are a burka-kind of person, you don't go shopping, you don't walk your kids to school or whatever. You stay at home and have maids do all the work. You only go out, in a closed carriage or, at the very worst, a burka, to visit your relatives once in a blue moon. Exactly what the Rambam says. But they won't do that, obviously, because deep inside their values are, like it has been said, fundamentally "modern" : they want to go out, to make their own rules, to be independent. It's similar to what happens among the Muslim youths in Europe who take on the hijab or the niqab: it is explicitly a way for them to emancipate from the parents' traditional practices (which include forced marriages) by embracing what they think is "true Islam", advocating female emancipation through veiling. To all this I say: give us a break, will you?


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