Monday, 18 November 2013

Yoma 11 a, b

After considering whether or not a mezuzah should be affixed to the doorpost of the High Priest's chamber for the week preceding Yom Kippur, the Sages continue their thoughts about mezuzot in more general terms.  Deuteronomy 6:9 teaches "you will write them upon the doorposts of your houses and upon your gates".  We learn that 'your gates' refers to the gates of houses and courtyards and cities and towns, as long as Jews reside in those places.  Synagogues do not require mezuzot when no one resides there; however, it is customary to place mezuzot on synagogue doorposts.

We learn a number of facts about mezuzot:

  • they are to be checked twice every seven years 
  • public mezuzot are to be checked twice in a Jubliee period (50 years)
  • barns and other 'filthy' places need not have mezuzot
  • mezuzot are not affixed in places where women bathe
  • mezuzot are affixed on the doorposts of women's homes
  • Rav Kahana believes that mezuzot are affixed on places designed primarily for residence
  • Rav Yehuda believes that mezuzot are affixed on regular places that are designed to honour the person entering that place
  • Rav Shmuel bar Yehuda taught before Rava that hay storehouses, cattle barns, woodshed, storehouses, Median gates (domes without gates), unroofed and short gates are exempt from the obligation of mezuzah
  • we use the following phrases: 'obligation of mezuzah' and 'exempt from the obligation of mezuzah' to describe these determinations
  • Mezuzot are affixed on the right doorpost because we begin walking with our right feet
We learn how the rabbis justify the decision to affix mezuzot on women's homes.  Both men and women's homes can contract leprosy - in Leviitcus 14:35, "the house is his" was interpreted as "his or hers" - we have precedent for the 'agency' of women's houses. Further, our Sages teach that mezuzot are affixed "So that your days be numerous, as well as the days of your sons." (Deuteronomy 11:21).  Surely, the Gemara tells us, this could not refer only to our sons but to the lives of our daughters as well!

It is fascinating to learn where the rabbis chose to interpret the masculine pronoun as exclusively male. If "he" usually means "he" and not "she", why would the rabbis sometimes choose to include women in their interpretations?  Or, in reverse, if "he" was usually interpreted to be inclusive of women as well as men, why would the rabbis sometime exclude women from what men's obligations or exclusions?

It seems very clear that the rabbis interpreted our laws based on their cultural - and very gendered - biases.  We always live within the limitations of our cultures.  Even when we step beyond the 'norms' of our worlds, we do so in response to that norm.  And why would our Sages be any different?  If they were closer to G-d than the rest of us, and perhaps they were, why would they not be influenced by their families, their teachers, their adversaries, their friends?  

In today's daf we are offered opportunities to witness our rabbis' beliefs about where women and men should be treated equally.  Living long lives, afforded to men and women equally through the obligation of affixing mezuzot.  Not withstanding their other opinions about women's 'equality', the hope for womens' long lives is much appreciated by this daf yomi beginner.

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