Petihah Kollelet: Women, Shared Responsibility, Then Servants

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Who Is Responsible for Whom

Peri Megadim here again returns to arevut, the question of how interconnected Jews are in their mitzvah observance, a topic he took up a few times in the first part of the Petihah Kollelet (for example, regarding whether it applies to the Oral Law and/or to rabbinic law). For women—and converts, he adds—he wonders about their inclusion in the general rule Jews are obligated to facilitate fellow Jews’ observance.

He is unsure about women because Rosh to Berachot 20b infers they are not included, Rosh’s way of explaining why a man who has eaten only enough food to be obligated to recite Grace After Meals at a rabbinic level can nonetheless recite it on behalf of another Jew who ate enough to be obligated at a Biblical level. For a woman, the Gemara seems to require she be Biblically obligated, suggesting to Rosh women are not included in arevut.

Peri Megadim references Kiddushin 30b, without telling us why. R. Eisenberger thinks he means the Gemara’s exempting women from many of the obligations towards parents because reshut aherim aleha, literally other have power over her (her husband). [We can take that fully patriarchally, the husband rules the roost, or take it as the Gemara’s way of saying the Torah wanted a woman’s commitment to her marriage to mean she would not unilaterally decide to care for her parents in a way that interferes with her marital presence; the husband could certainly agree and encourage his wife to care for her parents]. R. Eisenberger thinks Peri Megadim is saying the idea would also be reason to absolver her of arevut; if she were to be responsible for others’ mitzvah fulfillments, it would lead to her being pulled in directions other than her family.

[Years ago, in Tradition, R. Saul Berman suggested a similar explanation for women’s disqualification from testimony in court; if a woman was a valid witness, she could be compelled to come to court, and halachah did not want her forced to leave her family. It is a view of women and family somewhat out of fashion today, which doesn’t mean it is wrong. Just like with the woman and her parents, there are many ways to accommodate various social needs; the point of emphasizing her familial commitments would be to make clear where the priorities need to lie.]

A prime example of arevut comes when a Jew needs to recite a berachah on fulfilling a mitzvah but does not know how. Another Jew can recite the berachah, even if that Jew has already fulfilled the mitzvah (for example, make kiddush on behalf of other Jews even though the person has himself already done so). Peri Megadim refers to Shu”t Sama De-Hayei, who inferred a disagreement between Rashi and Tosafot about whether converts become included in arevut as well, a tricky idea Peri Megadim does not take further.

One or Many Jewish Communities

The idea women would not be included in arevut may make it sound like they are not “really” part of the nation, but Peri Megadim points out other factors where they are more included than those with an arevut connection. We have already seen boys’ ability to help others fulfill a rabbinic obligation, since they too bear a rabbinic responsibility to perform the act. It means boys are part of arevut, might lead us to think they are considered more a part of the Jewish people than women.

Except Peri Megadim points out women are generally believed about the prohibited status of certain items (men eat the food in their homes because they have the right to trust their wives on the kashrut of the kitchen, for example), where children are not. Too, women (and partially converted non-Jewish servants, the category we will see next) can serve as messengers with halachic effect, where children cannot.

It is part or not part, I think Peri Megadim is showing us. Because of other commitments, women might not be included in arevut, which does not make them more or less part of the nation, except in the specific instances where arevut is an issue.

Partially Converted Servants and Tzitzit

Non-Jews taken into servitude (the usual word for eved is slave, but slave today ineluctably reminds us of the version of it practiced in the American South before the Civil War, and makes halachah seem to share in the cruelty of what was done there; although servitude might make it seem more pleasant than it was, I think it is closer) ideally agreed to fulfill mitzvot and went to mikveh to mark their commitment and partial joining of the Jewish people. It did not make them full Jews, however, and a gezerah shavah in the Gemara understood male servants of this type to be exempt from obligations with a time component (as are all Jewish women).

The comparison to women leads Peri Megadim to a rich albeit brief discussion of derivations, in trying to figure out whether partially converted male servants must wear tzitzit. The Torah juxtaposes the wearing of tzitzit to the prohibition of shatnez, leading to a general assumption that whoever is included in the prohibition bears the obligation. Women are an exception, because in another verse, the Torah directly links observing mitzvot to wearing tefillin, Shemot 13;9.

As Rava quotes R. Aha b. Ya’akov, Kiddushin 35a, the verse’s saying tefillin comes to keep all of Torah in our mouths, metaphorically, teaches us women are exempt from any areas of Torah similar to tefillin, namely obligations with a time component. The hekesh beats out the semuchin, the Torah’s putting shatnez next to tzitzit.

Servants’ exemption from time-related commandments is inferred through a gezerah shavah to women, where the Torah uses the same word in the two contexts, and that might not exempt them from a mitzvah where the Torah put an obligation next to or close to a prohibition. The Torah’s using the same words for women and servants tells us servants have many halachic similarities to women, but where the verse links an obligation to a prohibition, it might be strong enough to include servants.

Part of Benei Yisrael

The Torah’s speaking of Benei Yisrael, the Jewish people, in the obligation of tzitzit offers another reason we might exclude servants. As Peri Megadim notes, we sometimes take the phrase to exclude or exempt women, and sometimes to exclude or exempt converts. Were either of those true here (or for the partially converted servants), they also could not make tzitzit for Jews who are obligated.

The many readings of the term Benei Yisrael—only male Jews, male and females but not converts, males, females, converts, but not partial converts—to me highlights the point I made before, membership in the nation of Israel is not all or nothing, nor always more or less, it can be yes for x, no for y, without any implication of greater or lesser.

Two other points from this discussion we might apply elsewhere, too: 1) The uncertainty of the phrase Benei Yisrael seems to me to make clear the need for an oral tradition, because there is no logical way to know which groups are included/excluded/exempted from the term. 2) This is the second time Peri Megadim has brought in converts, although they will get their own category. It is a reminder that for all we speak of converts as being full-fledged Jews, and they are, there are also continuing differences from born Jews. One can be a full-fledged Jew and yet also different, as women and these servants are showing us, too. With converts, it is a particularly sensitive subject, since we are also obligated to welcome converts fully, to make sure they not feel excluded in any but the necessary ways.

The Adam Status of Partially Converted Servants

Beit Yosef Orah Hayyim 159 quotes the view of Sefer Ha-Manhig, who said the ritual of washing hands for eating bread requires koah adam, and neither non-Jews nor partially converted servants are called adam in the TorahWe do not accept his ruling; we hold water for washing hands can be poured by any human.

[We do not accept his ruling, but it gives a wonderful example of how an internal Torah conversation can be misunderstood.  Superficially, adam means man, human, or person, so saying washing hands requires koah adam means human power (rather than water that falls on its own or is spilled by a non-human, such as the Gemara’s frequent example, a monkey).

However, in some contexts, tradition reads adam to refer to Jews alone, such as whether a corpse creates ritual impurity by being in the same shared space as other items. Those on the lookout to be offended can and have taken this as evidence Jews think of non-Jews as nonhuman, a clearly incorrect inference. Rather, the word adam in the Torah sometimes means people in general and sometimes means Jews alone (and we need tradition to tell us which is which).]

Kessef Mishneh makes the point avadim Kena’anim, partially converted servants, are also thought of as adam in the sense of their graves, too, creating tum’at ohel, the ritual impurity of sharing a space with them; they are thought of as re’ehu, fellow Jews, for the ritual of sending gifts of food to fellow Jews on Purim; and we accept the view they are considered ahicha, your brother, to the extent they receive compensation if embarrassed by a Jew.

Kessef Mishneh says it when Rambam rules tzara’at can happen to such people as well (non-Jews cannot get tzara’at; any similar lesions on their bodies would be physical and medical, outside the purview of kohanim and Torah law to govern its treatment).

But Not Full Jews

On the other hand, we do usually assume the words Benei Yisrael will not include avadim, and Tur Yoreh De’ah 1 thought only fully freed servants could perform shehitah, explained by Taz and Shakh as a matter of the servants’ not quite being full Jews. Taz notes the Midrash sometimes reads the Torah’s speaking of be-tochechem, amongst you, as a way of including women and partially converted servants, to Taz evidence the servants are not full Jews [it’s a problematic idea, because women are included in shehitah, yet these servants are not].

Shach thought Tur excluded such servants because they were assumed to be of lesser character than regular Jews, and therefore not to be trusted regarding the validity of their ritual slaughter. It is a status he was sure changed as soon as the servant was freed, because everyone agrees an eved meshuhrar, a freed servant, can perform shehitah.

Peri Megadim only pointed us towards those comments of Taz and Shach [R. Eisenberger cited and discussed them], then takes up the question of the assumed character of such servants. We seem to believe them about ritual prohibitions (such as whether food was prepared in a kosher way), although Peri Megadim floats the possibility that is only for those servants of established good character, the general eved Kena’ani perhaps thought of as among the reikim u-pohazim,, people of poor enough character we always doubt their claims. Tosafot Pesahim 4b thought it possible we would not believe avadim Kena’anim about Biblical matters where they would have had to put in a great deal of effort to make it permissible.

I am skipping a last little piece about their exemption from the mitzvah of honoring parents, because they are seen as having no lineage, a topic we can leave for another time. We can pick up next time with the hatzi eved, hatzi ben-horin, what happens when this servant becomes partially freed.

About Gidon Rothstein

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