This website is made possible by generous donations from users just like you. $18 helps keep JWA online for one day. Please consider making a gift to JWA today!
Close [x]

You are here

Share Share Share Share Share Share Share

Talmud

Modesty and Sexuality in Halakhic Literature

Modesty (zeni’ut), in its broad sense, represents a mode of moral conduct that is related to humility. A person who behaves modestly refrains from extroverted behavior that is supposed to speak of him- or herself. This expansive view also includes sexual modesty.

Matriarchs: A Liturgical and Theological Category

Among egalitarian religious congregations throughout the world, the most popular addition to the traditional liturgy is the mention of the Matriarchs in birkat avot (the blessing of the ancestors), the opening blessing of the Amidah.

Martha, daughter of Boethus

Martha, daughter of Boethus, was a widow from the respected Boethus family of Jerusalem who remarried a future High Priest of Israel. According to tradition, she paid a large sum of money to buy the position for her betrothed, Joshua ben Gamla, from King Yannai (BT Yevamot 61a). In the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:418]Tannaitic[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] (mishnaic) tradition, the marriage of Martha daughter of Boethus and the High Priest Joshua ben Gamla (first century c.e.) is tied to a change in the laws of marital status pertaining to the High Priest. “[A priest who] betrothed a widow, and was subsequently appointed High Priest, may consummate the marriage. It once happened with Joshua b. Gamla that he betrothed Martha the daughter of Boethus, and the King appointed him High Priest, and he consummated the marriage.” ([jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:361]Mishnah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] Yevamot 6:4; Sifra, Emor 2:6). A High Priest may not marry a widow, but Joshua ben Gamla and Martha are an example of a High Priest married to a widow, although he betrothed her prior to becoming a High Priest. It can be assumed that Martha saw to it that her future husband achieved a high position, and perhaps even used her wealth to bring about the change in the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:317]halakhah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary].

Levant: Women in the Jewish Communities after the Ottoman Conquest of 1517

Far-reaching changes began to take place in the Jewish world at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Following the expulsion from Spain in 1492 there was a period of wandering and political, demographic and social upheaval. On the one hand, this led to an encounter between the Jews who had left Spain and Portugal and the traditions of Ashkenaz, North Africa, Italy and the Orient; it also led to many personal crises, sundered families, and other disasters, which left women as agunot and widows.

Lesbianism

For most of its three-thousand-year history, lesbianism has been a subject of little interest in Jewish texts and societies. Only in the late twentieth century have Jewish scholars and communities faced the issue of erotic love between women.

Nehama Leibowitz

Nehama Leibowitz was born in 1905 in Riga, Latvia, to Mordechai and Freyda Leibowitz. She grew up in a home filled with Jewish and general culture, competing in her father’s Bible quizzes against her brother, Yeshayahu, who later became a famous and controversial Israeli philosopher. In 1919 the family moved to Berlin, where Leibowitz taught, wrote articles and studied for her doctorate. She married her uncle, Lipman Leibowitz, who was many years her senior, and on the day she finished her doctorate they fulfilled their dream and moved to Israel (c. 1930).

Legal-Religious Status of the Moredet (Rebellious Wife)

A [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:365]moredet[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] is defined as a married woman who refuses to have sexual relations with her husband (the most normal case), or refuses to do the assigned work of the wife ([jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:361]Mishnah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] Ketubbot 5:5), a betrothed girl or woman whose set time for marriage has arrived and who refuses to marry, or a [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:430]yevamah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] who refuses to undergo [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:431]yibbum[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] ([jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:349]levirate marriage[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary]) with the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:429]yavam[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] (levir). The cases of the married woman refusing sexual relations and the yevamah refusing yibbum demonstrate that the legal concept of a married woman includes the idea that she has given ongoing and permanent consent to sexual relations and that refusal thus constitutes rebellion.

Legal-Religious Status of the Married Woman

The rabbis established the criteria necessary for legal marriage. These include the man’s acquiring (purchasing) the woman with a formula that indicates that he is the purchaser, the sole active party in the marriage process: payment of the appropriate minimum amount of money; or a document with the appropriate formula; or sexual relations for the sake of marital acquisition ([jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:383]Rambam[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary], Ishut 3: 2–5). There must be two valid witnesses. The acquisition must be done with the woman’s consent and any document must be written specifically in her name. There must be two valid witnesses to the seclusion of the couple for marriage by sexual relations, the man must state that it is for marriage through sexual relations, and he must complete a sexual act even if it is not vaginal intercourse. Although sexual relations for the sake of marriage constitute legal marriage, it was considered inappropriate behavior and the man was flogged for performing this type of marriage (ibid. 3:21). Casual giving of goods using a marriage formula is not considered marriage since it must be part of a serious conversation with marriage as its purpose (ibid. 3:7). The father may betroth his minor and maiden daughter to a Jewish man without her consent, but if she is subsequently divorced or widowed as a minor, she is considered an orphan in his lifetime and he no longer has the right to marry her off (ibid. 3: 11–12). A minor girl cannot arrange her own marriage. Marriage can be accomplished by agency from both the husband’s side and the wife’s side, but it is considered a [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:362]mitzvah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] for the man to see the woman prior to marriage lest he find something repulsive in her that the agent would not notice. The woman is not obligated to see the man before marriage because of the rabbinic understanding that she would prefer to be married even if the man was not appealing (ibid. 3:15, 19). A blessing (birkat erusin) should be recited (ibid. 3:24).

Legal-Religious Status of the Female According to Age

[jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:361]Mishnah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:373]Niddah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] 3:7 gives no status to the embryo prior to forty days from conception: it is considered “mere water.” At three months after conception, the pregnancy is considered recognizable (Niddah 2:4). This does not explicitly change the legal status of the fetus but rather that of the mother in terms of legal presumptions concerning her purity status. Some poskim do make a distinction in reference to abortion between the first forty days and three months.

Legal-Religious Status of the Jewish Female

Hebrew is a gendered language in which women are or may be included in masculine plural address and masculine plural verbs. When the address in the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:424]Torah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] is “man or woman” (ish o isha) or “a person” (adam or nefesh), and sometimes in the plural, inclusion of women (sg. isha) can be assumed. When the Torah addresses in unspecified masculine singular language it is assumed that women are included unless they are exempted on grounds of physiology or by particular hermeneutic methods which depend chiefly upon the gendered aspects of the language, such as singular and plural masculine pronominal suffixes which are the norm, and word choice in address such as ish. These include but are not limited tothe sons of Israel but not the daughters of Israel” (for benei Yisrael); “the sons of Aaron but not the daughters of Aaron” (for benei aharon); “your son/s but not your daughter/s” (for banekha or beneikhem); “you [masculine]” (ata or atem) and the like.

Pages

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Talmud." (Viewed on December 15, 2017) <https://jwa.org/topics/talmud>.

Donate

Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

The JWA Podcast

listen now

Sign Up for JWA eNews

 

Discover Education Programs

Join our growing community of educators.

view programs