Monday, July 08, 2013

May a girl ride a bicycle?

Here is an interesting "teshuva" (I am unsure that these are actual questions posed to him) from Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, in Chashukei Chemed on Pesachim. Based on (what I believe is a misquote of) a Rabbenu Chananel in the beginning of Pesachim, he rules that young girls should not ride bicycles.

The teshuva:
"Pesachim 3a: "By a woman it is not written riding"
It is improper for a girl to ride a bicycle

Q: Is it permitted for a girl to ride a bicycle?

A: It appears that it is improper for a girl [and certainly a woman] to ride a bicycle, for in Masechet Pesachim, daf 3a it is stated: 'A person should always speak in pristine language, for by a zav it is called 'riding' while by a woman is is called 'sitting'. And Rashi says that this is because it is not proper to mention riding and the separation of legs by a woman, and in Rabbenu Chananel he adds 'and it is a way of disgrace for a woman'. And from here we learn that it is improper for girls [naarot and yeladot] to ride on bicycles.

And there is to comment regarding that written in Masechet Bava Metzia (daf 9b) that a woman acquires an animal by riding, because it is the usual way in this. Thus it is usual for a woman to ride on a donkey. And the Yaabetz already evaluated this (in his glosses to Masechet bava Metzia there) and he is left with a tzarich iyun. And perhaps it is possible to answer that it is speaking of her sitting on the donkey and not riding, and the primary novelty of the gemara there is that it is not the way of a woman to pull, and it was not an easy thing there to distinguish between riding and sitting. And it is possible that it was speaking about where there were no men, for behold in the public domain a man as well acquires with riding.

And behold, it is stated in the Torah (Shemot 4:20)
כ  וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת-אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת-בָּנָיו, וַיַּרְכִּבֵם עַל-הַחֲמֹר, וַיָּשָׁב, אַרְצָה מִצְרָיִם; וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת-מַטֵּה הָאֱלֹהִים, בְּיָדוֹ.20 And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt; and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.
and Ibn Ezra wrote 
והוצרכו הזקנים לתרגם על החמור. על נושא אדם. בעבור שהוא דרך גירעון שתרכב אשת הנביא על חמור אחד היא ושני בניה. 
that it is a deficiency that the wife of the prophet rode on a single donkey, she and her two sons. And in sefer Parperet Moshe [from Rabbi Moshe Rubinstein] he understands [in Ibn Ezra's words] that it was a deficiency in tznius, and therefore [says Ibn Ezra] the [72] elders [who translated the Torah for Ptolemy, the Septuagint, as related in Megillah daf 9a] translated it as regarding the carriers [plural] of a person. [Josh: see here in Septuagint, where they translate it in the plural, and about beasts in general: And Moses took his wife and his children, and mounted them on the beasts... ] And in the gemara [in Pesachim] they answered that it wrote וירכיבם because of his sons.

And it is fitting to insist about this, that a girl, and certainly a woman, should not ride on a bicycle."

End quote from this teshuva.

I don't believe that this is the correct interpretation of Rabbenu Chananel, because it omits the very continuation of Rabbenu Chananel's words! That is, he cited R' Chananel as: והוא דרך גנאי באשה, as an addition to Rashi's words. Thus, to cite the relevant words above:
And Rashi says that this is because it is not proper to mention riding and the separation of legs by a woman, and in Rabbenu Chananel he adds 'and it is a way of disgrace for a woman'.
This is, that it is a way of disgrace for a woman to ride, for the separation of legs by a woman is a disgrance. But that is not what Rabbenu Chananel said (click to see large):

That is, to translate Rabbenu Chananel:
For riding is with separation of the legs. And it is a way of disgrace for a woman, the mentioning of separation of the legs, in an instance where it was possible to describe the matter in a praiseworthy manner. But by riding on a camel, and the like, where because of fear she would fear to ride by way of sitting lest she fall, and so it is not possible to mention 'riding', there is no issue with it.
Rabbenu Chananel was saying that the hazkara of pisuk raglayim was derech genai. The mentioning, and the language, not the actions.

And if so, this is not really such an innovation of Rabbenu Chananel. Recall that the lead in to all of this in the gemara was דאמר ר' יהושע בן לוי לעולם אל יוציא אדם דבר מגונה מפיו. Thus, the description of 'riding' instead of 'sitting' would be דבר מגונה, or using the same root, גנאי. It would be indelicate.

Indeed, the implication is that there is no prohibition or impropriety of a woman riding a camel, even though this would entail splitting of the legs while riding. Or of riding on a donkey. The only problem is in describing it. Where it is possible to use other terminology, the gemara (and R' Chananel) asserts, the Torah would use it, but where such terminology is not possible, it would not.

If so, perhaps problem with the gemara in Bava Metzia saying that it is the derech of women to ride on animals. Indeed, they would historically take such actions as riding on animals. What Rav Yaakov Emden (Yaavetz) was reacting to in Bava Metzia was that, based on the gemara in Pesachim, it was not the derech of women in an ir, but only on the derech. And this does find purchase in Pesachim, in particular the discussion on 3b of Avigail riding a donkey to David:

והכתיב (שמואל א כה, כ) והיא רוכבת על החמור התם משום ביעתותא דליליא אורחא הוא ואיבעית אימא משום ביעתותא דליליא ליכא משום ביעתותא דדוד איכא ואיבעית אימא ביעתותא דדוד נמי ליכא משום ביעתותא דהר

with the implication that in general, women would ride side-saddle, but specifically by Avigail, it was not the case for the reasons given. This still is not a statement that is a gnai. Bli neder, in a separate post, I will discuss how to understand this particular sugya in Pesachim. (After all, if women would generally ride side-saddle, then maybe there is some impropriety.)

Even if they were getting correct peshat in that gemara in Pesachim, I don't know that this would extend to riding a bicycle. To the right, see the "horse stance", from martial arts. This is the pisuk raglayim involved in riding on an animal, and it should be obvious why it might not be lashon nekiyah to describe a woman engaged in such spreading of her legs. But does riding a bicycle involve such leg-spreading?

Here is an image of someone riding a bicycle: Does it involve the same level of pisuk raglayim?

It does not, because a horse's body is much wider than a bicycle's frame.

[Unless one defines pisuk raglayim as any form of sitting in which something comes between the legs; in this case, the bicycle seat.]

1 comment:

David Ohsie said...

Another "Limud Z'chus" for the bicycle that there are girl's/women's models with the "top tube" angled down to allow the use of skirts. This was probably one of the bigger "issues" with donkey riding.

Not that I think that such a limmud Z'chus is needed. Your first point seems strong enough and, frankly, trying to determine the exact parameters of appropriate behavior when you are already within the boundaries of halacha, based on an analogy from a comment from Rabbenu Chananel, especially with no further practical analysis, is a fool's errand.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin