Propagating the Word of God

Question

Dear Rabbi,

I seek clarification with regards to the roles men and woman play in the position of teacher or if you will, preaching the law of Moses and or the Old Testament. I notice throughout the holy writings men were the prominent teachers in the synagogue and in public discourse. Examples: Levitical Priesthood, authors (chosen of G-d), prophets (Debora being the exception) kings were all males.

In the Old Testament God used women as judges and prophets. (See Judges 4:4; II Kings 22:14; Isaiah 8:3.)

Could you explain as I believe thus far, it was men who should propagate the word. In rare cases women were called of G-d as the exception, not the rule.

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful reply and effort.

JD Lightner

9 months

Answers

  1. Here are some classical sources:
    A. Genesis 21:9-12
    And Sarah saw that the son that Hagar the Egyptian had born to Abraham, was playing. She said to Abraham, “Drive away this slave together with her son. The son of this slave will not share the inheritance with my son Isaac!” This troubled Abraham very much because it involved his son. But G-d said to Abraham, “Do not be troubled because of the boy and your slave. Everything that Sarah tells you, listen to her voice”. Rashi (Venice Edition): “Listen to her voice” – The voice of ruach hakodesh within her. We see from here that Abraham was second to Sarah in prophecy.

    B. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 1:5 A women may not be appointed to take the role of a king, as the Torah states (Sifri, Deuteronomy 17:16) “You shall place upon yourselves a king” and not a queen. Similarly a women may not be appointed to any leadership role in Israel.

    C. Judges 4:4-5
    And Deborah the prophetess, the wife of Lapidut judged Israel at that time. And she sat under the date-palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bet-El on the mountain of Ephraim and all the children of Israel used to ascend to her for judgement.

    D. Babylonian Talmud, Niddah 49b, Tosafot ad loc.
    Mishnah: Anyone who is permitted to give testimony is also permitted to sit in judgement. Tosafot: How can this be so? A women may be a judge as we see in the case of Deborah but she may not be a witness… as it states in Shvuot 30a?! Perhaps we can answer that the Mishnah means to say, “all men who may give testimony may also judge” or that Deborah was an exception being that she was able to judge using prophecy, it is also possible that she did not actually sit on a court rather that she advised the courts.

    E. Tosafot and Nachmanides, Ibid., Shvuot 30a
    Tosafot: Either Deborah was allowed to judge because there were no men at the time as great as her or perhaps because the Jewish people
    accepted her authority upon themselves. Nachmanides: Deborah did not sit in judgement (on a court) she however was the leader and adviser
    of the people of Israel similar to a king. And even though the Sifri forbids appointing a queen, Deborah was never actually appointed queen she was the “de facto” leader.

    F. Tosefta Kelim, Bava Kama, Ch. 4
    When does an oven become pure? Rabbi Chalafta… said: “I asked Shimon ben Chananya, who asked the son of Rabbi Chananya ben Teradyon, who said: “When it is moved from its place”. His daughter, Bruriyah said: “When its clay covering has been removed”. When these words were said in front of Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava, he said: “His daughter is correct.””

    G. Responsa Maharshal, No. 29
    The Rabanit Marat Miriam held an important teaching position for a number of years and taught and decided Halacha before the best students from behind a curtain.

    H. Introduction of the Drishah, Tur, Orach Chaim, Vol. 1
    It is well known among the students of my father who used to eat at his table that when they used to engage in Divrei Torah at the table my mother would gird herself like a man of valour and discuss the words of Torah; often she would give original explanations that were sweeter than honey… especially in the laws applicable to women and in the laws of family purity in which she was almost as fluent as the great Rabbis. Behold two points in Jewish law that she originated… I searched later in the books of the Poskim and found that the halacha was in accordance with her view and with her reasoning, and I have therefore written the halachot in her name.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team