2020 It Seems the Talmud Really is Sexist
Chananya Weissman

Feb 11, 2020, The Times of Israel

I don’t often agree with radical leftists, but it’s encouraging to find common ground with one’s adversaries, especially when they are fellow Jews. I have learned Gemara every day for decades, and, much to my chagrin, it appears as if our Sages were sexists.

This bias appears throughout the Torah, but it appears most prominently in the laws of marriage. Here are some of the many examples of the rabbis demonstrating bias and inequality:

1. It is the way of a man to pursue a woman (Kiddushin 2B).

As if dating isn’t difficult enough! Nowadays a man cannot possibly pursue a woman, or even express the slightest bit of romantic interest. If she is religious, she will likely report him to shadchanim and have him blacklisted for being immodest. If she is not religious, she might report him for harassment. Pursuing a woman today means risking your job, your friends, your chances to get married, and possibly even your freedom.

A man must first ascertain that the woman wishes to be pursued. Mind you, she will never state this clearly. She will always be coy about it, and he must catch the signals and properly decode them. Only then may he so much as compliment her, and even then he better tread carefully.

Pursuing a woman is about the most reckless thing a man can do, yet the rabbis urge him to do exactly that! Why couldn’t they encourage women to pursue men? The men would be flattered, and the women would enjoy not having to talk to any man who is “beneath” them. This situation is totally unfair to men, and should be reconsidered in light of modern advances. Let women muster the courage to approach a man, come up with a clever line, and risk frequent rejection for all manner of petty reasons. Women are powerful; let them deal with it.

2. If your wife is short, bend down and listen to her whisper (Bava Metzia 59A).

This is extremely biased. Why are the rabbis encouraging a husband to listen to his wife? Were the rabbis trying to score points with leftists by being so one-sided here? This teaching needs to be modernized to reflect equality and mutual respect. If she is short, let her stand on a chair and listen to him, at least half the time. (They did not discuss the case where the husband is short, because of course she would not have married him in the first place.)

3. A man must love his wife as much as he loves himself, and he must honor her more than he honors himself, even beyond his means (Yevamos 62B, Chullin 84B).

Clearly the woman has the upper hand here. It should be equal, no? Why should a husband not honor his wife exactly as he honors himself, with a similar instruction given to the wife? That would be fair. Shouldn’t this be changed?

4. When a man marries a woman, if he has a higher socio-economic standing, she is raised to his level. If she comes from a family with a higher standing, he cannot compel her to downgrade it to match his (Kesubos 61A).

Sexist, no?

5. A man may not marry a woman unless he gives her a kesuba.

This contract is intended to provide her financial security after his passing or in the event of divorce. All of the man’s property is mortgaged to the kesuba, and if he sells it she may seize it at a later time to pay off the kesuba.

The rabbis made no provision whatsoever for a man’s financial security. He must work like an ox to support his family, and although he may enjoy his wife’s assets during the marriage on a limited basis, he bears the full legal burden of providing for his wife.

When he’s done working like an ox, the burden of learning Torah and teaching Torah to his children is placed entirely on him. A woman can learn if she feels like it, and everyone will trip over each other to celebrate her.

To make matters worse, the rabbis ruled that if a woman earns a high income, she may choose to keep her assets and support herself in lieu of sharing her assets and receiving support from her husband (Kesubos 58B). The deck is totally stacked in the woman’s favor, and this is completely unfair. In light of the fact that women today are earning more money than ever before, shouldn’t this be changed? Women don’t need men to provide for them anymore, and men shouldn’t be at such a disadvantage. Let everyone take care of themselves. No more free rides and perpetual ATM’s at the expense of hard-working men.

6. A man may not divorce his wife unless he pays her kesuba.

The rabbis of the Talmud suffered at the hands of their very own ruling! Rabbi Yossi Haglili was married to an abusive woman who shamed him in front of his students. He was unable to divorce her due to the cost of the kesuba, which he could not afford. His colleagues started a collection on his behalf to free him from being chained forever to this abusive wife. How humiliating!

Not only that, but when she fell on hard times after she remarried, he generously supported her and her second husband. Did this man not have an ounce of pride?

At least Rabbi Yossi was ultimately able to free himself, but what about all the other victims of abusive wives? Why could the rabbis not find a solution for these suffering men?  Instead, the rabbis encouraged a battered husband to buy gifts for his abusive wife, for she protects him from sin (Yevamos 63). How insensitive!

Why did they not advocate public protests against abusive women? Why did they not enact strict legal measures? Why did they allow a man to be chained to an abusive wife for the rest of his life if he cannot afford to pay a contract that they forced him to sign in the first place? It seems as if the rabbis were self-hating men who used their broad powers to inflict pain on themselves and other men! And no one is talking about this! We need to wake up and make things fair and equal for everyone.

7. A husband must buy his wife jewelry and new clothing for the holidays (Pesachim 109A).

As if all of the above is not enough! A husband is obligated to spend significant sums of money to “make his wife happy” several times a year, while she is obligated to spend money on him…absolutely never. This is in spite of the fact that the rabbis teach that a woman wishes to be married more than a man (no wonder). If the man needs more “encouragement” to be married, shouldn’t she be the one buying him new suits a few times a year, out of her own earnings? Either both parties should be obligated to buy each other gifts, or they should be entirely optional for everyone. Fair is fair.

8. A wife is not obligated to tend to the home if she has hired help (Kesubos 59B).

The rabbis ruled that, in exchange for the husband working like an ox to support his wife for all eternity, she gets to work from home taking care of her own home. Not only that, if she comes from a wealthy family and brings servants into the marriage (or she earns enough to hire her own) she is free of these responsibilities, except for one task just so she doesn’t go crazy from boredom. If she has all that time on her hands, how about going to work and giving her husband some time off to loaf around the house? Why couldn’t the rabbis have come up with that ruling, which seems so obvious and fair?

9. A husband must be intimate with his wife before undertaking a distant voyage, and upon returning home (Yevamos 62B).

Because obviously he has nothing better to do before preparing for a long time away from home so he can earn money to support his wife forever and ever. And because upon returning home he obviously doesn’t need to rest and unwind for a little while. No, the rabbis obligated him to be intimate with his wife at these times so she will know that his love for her is his main priority – as if that weren’t crystal clear already!

10. A man must be intimate with his wife at fixed intervals if she so desires.

No headaches for hubby! No “sorry, honey, but I’m not in the mood”. The rabbis established how often a man must be with his wife, whether he likes it or not, based on his profession and his availability.

No such responsibility is placed on the woman. They did rule that a woman who refuses to be with her husband ever is considered a rebellious wife, and she can forfeit her kesuba, but they placed no obligations upon her in this area. She holds all the cards. In fact, if her husband becomes physically blemished and she finds him repulsive, she is relieved of any responsibility to be intimate with him. The husband has no such “get out of jail free” card.

Not only that, but the rabbis ruled that a husband must make sure his wife desires to be with him and be sensitive to her needs (Eruvin 100B). There is no corresponding ruling for the women. In light of modern views on equality and intimacy, shouldn’t these laws all be changed?

Due to this extreme imbalance against men, I can easily see Jewish men having little interest in marrying.  Once again, the rabbis stepped in and forced their hand.  Even if a man was married and had children when he was young, they instruct him to marry again in his old age (Yevamos 62B).  Find another woman to love, respect, and support for life, buddy.

Needless to say, there is no corresponding halachic obligation on women.  I can’t imagine why one would even be necessary.

11. A yevama spits in the face of the brother-in-law who refuses to marry her if her husband dies without children.

The rabbis have ruled that, out of consideration for women who might be taken by the brother for selfish reasons, they must all be set free to marry other men. Did they do away with the law that the yevama should spit in the face of the brother, being that they took away his choice to marry her even with noble intentions?

What do you think?

Maybe it’s time to reconsider this one. Is it really appropriate to have women spitting in the face of men by rabbinic instruction?

12. If either party wishes to divorce, the other is obligated to accommodate them.

That’s where the equality ends.

A recalcitrant husband may “have the yetzer hara” beaten out of him to “encourage” him to grant a divorce. The rabbis of the Talmud ruled that the court may literally beat him to the point of death if he refuses.

Needless to say, the rabbis never condone laying a hand on a woman. If a wife is recalcitrant and refuses to accept a divorce, she may forfeit her kesuba, but she must pay nothing out of pocket, and no one will ever beat the yetzer hara out of her. It’s true that in very limited cases the rabbis allowed a man to take a second wife, but it’s not for nothing that they called having two wives a tzora. This is hardly an elegant solution for men who are chained to recalcitrant wives, and it’s astonishing that the rabbis of the Talmud couldn’t come up with something more equitable.

It should be noted that there are hundreds of recalcitrant wives in Israel. Are they being thrown in prison to rot forever until they acquiesce? Are they having their bank accounts frozen and their wages garnished, their driver’s license and passport revoked, persecuted by the system and society until they hang themselves? Of course not. This happens only to recalcitrant husbands. Totally unfair.  (Don’t expect to read editorials posing as news stories covering these cases in the leftist media, either.  Doesn’t fit the narrative.)

It should also be noted that the rabbis of the Talmud made special accommodations for women because “it is not the way of women to go to court” (Shevuos 30A, Gittin 41A). The rabbis felt it was beneath their dignity and they should not be subjected to the rigors and humiliation of standing before a court unless absolutely necessary.

Today’s women have proven that, not only are they entirely comfortable in the courtroom, they are quite adept at working the system. More power to them! In light of this, perhaps the halacha needs to be changed to bring it up to modern times and make things truly equal.

These are just a sample of statements and rulings by the rabbis that appear sexist. There are many, many more, and it should infuriate the moral saints among us who preach respect, tolerance, equality, and love for one’s fellow Jew. No one should be persecuted or placed at a disadvantage because of their gender, men and women alike.

At the same time, I recognize the Talmud as God’s inalienable Torah and the rabbis of the Talmud as His most holy and faithful transmitters of the Torah. Therefore, as a man, I am forced to submit to their teachings and humbly accept their words as God’s truth, even if they are difficult and unequal.

On this I part ways with the self-righteous radicals who wage constant war on the Torah, undermining the rabbis at every opportunity, while their moralistic lectures consist of empty slogans and talking points. But at least we can agree that sexism is something we should all be concerned about – no less when men are the victims.

It’s time for liberated women, who no longer need men for anything, who scorn men, and who insist they can do everything just as well, to forfeit the numerous privileges and advantages that the rabbis granted them.

Fair is fair, and equal is equal. Sexism in all its forms must be eliminated.

Note: For a deeper Torah perspective on the subject, I recommend my sefer, “Tovim Ha-Shenayim: A Study of the Role and Nature of Man and Woman”, available on Amazon.