“Can Women Be Rabbis?” by Hershel Shachter

Reference: Torah Web

Editor’s Note: the following is in response to various communications which I have received: Rav Schachter’s dvar Torah portrays women very positively. He describes the bina yeseira with which they are endowed, the added element of imetatio dei which they are privileged to observe, etc. The statement about monkeys or parrots reading the kesuba was clearly intended to dramatize the halachic insignificance of the reading of the kesuba from the standpoint of the siddur kiddushin (marriage ceremony). It was not intended to imply or insinuate anything else. And his analogy applies equally for men or women reading the kesuba.

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Some of the non-Orthodox denominations celebrate the bat mitzvah of young girls at thirteen – the same age that the boys celebrate their bar mitzvah. These groups felt uncomfortable about the discrimination between the sexes which had been practiced by Jews for millennia, and finally did away with it.

The rationale for this distinction is presented by the Talmud as follows: the Torah says (Braishis 2:22) that G-d created Eve from the body of Adam. The term used is “vayiven“, from the verb bonoh, “and He built”. The rabbis had an oral tradition that this verb “vayiven” has an additional level of interpretation, from the root “binah“. “Binah yeseirah” was given to women more so than to men. Women mature intellectually at an earlier age than men; therefore girls should become bat mitzvah at age twelve, while boys only attain their intellectual maturity at age thirteen (Talmud Niddah 45b).

By insisting that the girls observe their bat mitzvah at age thirteen, just the same as the boys, one is in effect insulting the women, and denying that they were created with this “binah yeseirah“.

In a recent study published in Time Magazine (May 10, 2004, p. 59) it was reported that the brain mass of females reaches its maximum size at age eleven, while that of the males only reaches its maximum size at age twelve and a half. It would appear that the ages of bar and bat mitzvah were established by the halacha in accordance with this attaining of maximum size of the brain mass, and the rabbis derived this point of biology from their additional level of interpretation of the possuk in Braishis. The Talmud (B’choros 8b) relates that in the days of the tanaim, the rabbis were able to read in between the lines of the chumash and discover scientific details in the area of biology, which the scholars of Athens had not yet ascertained through their scientific research. In later generations, however, this ability to “darshen” psukim was lost, to the extent that the chachomim couldn’t even figure out halachos by reading “in between the lines” of the text of the Torah.

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