Jewfem Blog

Are women really desperate to get married? Rereading the Talmud, at my own risk.....

Maharashtrian women

It was as if I knew this was coming. It was almost fate speaking to me. After I disclosed my serious ambivalence about learning Talmud, because of memories of high school classes in Kiddushin (the tractate of betrothals) in which we would be inculcated with rabbinic declarations like tav l’metav tan du m’letav armelu, which is roughly translated that women would rather be married to anyone than to live alone, it was destiny that the next day I would be sitting in class discussing this exact text. You could not make this up. I am learning Kiddushin. The second chapter. Page 41 Side A. The spot which says, tav l’metav tan du m’letav armelu. I’m back here. Some kind of karma or self-fulfilling prophecy. This will either be a corrective experience or it will scar me for life. I went to my bookcase to find the volume that I used in high school. Of course I still have it. It still has the Yeshiva of Flatbush stamp on the inside front cover, “Elana Maryles 406”. I opened up the page and found all my markings and doodles and highlighting. I drew a lot of birds at the time, apparently. I have a vivid memory of my late Uncle Avi yelling at me for drawing on the pages of the Talmud. “It’s a holy book!” he screamed. I might as well have written on the Torah scroll itself. Ah well. At least the birds came out nice. Maybe the birds can be considered commentary. This is actually a pretty famous sugya, or section. It revolves around the issue of whether people can get engaged via messenger. The bottom line is that the man can use a messenger but a woman cannot, because while a man needs to check whether or not he likes the way the woman looks, a woman does not have the same need. That is, tav l’metav…. It doesn’t matter how the man looks because a woman, effectively, will take anyone. Literally, she would prefer to lay down with two bodies than lay down alone. Right. I’m still here. I haven’t run off yet in a screaming panic. I’m hardly the first person to comment on how awful this statement is. My brilliant friend Rivkah Lubitch –  who just came out with a really important book, From the End of the World till the End of the World, chronicling her work with women trying to get divorced in the Israeli rabbinical court (in Hebrew)– wrote a chilling midrash about this text.  The story of the tav l’metav text is actually worse. This statement does not only defend the idea that women do not have to see their groom before marriage. As Talmudic scholar Rabbi Professor Judith Hauptman writes in her book, Rereading the Rabbis: A woman’s voice, this tav l’metav statement is also used elsewhere in the Talmud as well to justify, effectively, rape.  “This statement also implies,” she writes, “that women prefer sex with any man to no...

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