Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rabbi Yitzchok Miller on Women's Identities

From the Reader's Write section of this week's Yated:


Dear Editor,
A sincere yasher koach to the Yated editors for producing a quality newspaper every

I read with interest Sruli Gross’ explanation of the Chazal (Sotah 2a), “Bas ploni l’ploni,” to provide a mekor that a husband should be older than his wife. However, I beg to differ; I don’t think Chazal had this implication in mind. Why, then, does it say “bas ploni l’ploni” and not “plonis l’ben ploni”? Because in the signon of Chazal, a girl, especially an unmarried girl, is not given her own identity, but rather is referred to as bas ploni. The same Gemara teaches us that a bas kol proclaims, “Sodeh ploni l’ploni - The ownership of So-and-So’s field will be transferred to So-and-So.” The bas kol doesn’t say this field will become So-and-So’s. The field’s identity is defined by its owner; it is sodeh ploni. So too, an unmarried girl is described in Chazal as bas ploni, even if she is already born.

The Gemara in Pesachim (49a) gives the advice that “a man should strive to marry a bas talmid chochom and a father should marry his daughter to a talmid chochom. It doesn’t say that he should marry his daughter to a ben talmid chochom. This is because, as stated above, a girl’s identity is defined by her parents, whereas a boy has his own identity.

When Rivkah fulfilled the “test” that Eliezer created for her at the well, he asked her, “Bas me at - Whose daughter are you?” He did not ask, “Me at - Who are you?” True, he needed to ascertain if she was from Avrohom’s family or from Canaan. But just as she answered his question by stating not just her father’s name, but also her grandfather’s and great-grandmother’s (bas Besuel ben Nachor asher yalda lo Milkah), she would have done the same had she been asked, “Who are you?” Eliezer didn’t ask her this because this isn’t the derech haTorah; a girl is identified as being bas ploni.

May we be zocheh to live our lives according to standards the Torah sets for us.
Rabbi Yitzchok Miller
Chicago, IL


Anonymous said...

Ah the good ole' Yated Bogaid. A veritable treasure-trove of deep insight and timeless wisdom.

I can't wait to share the good Rabbi's news with my daughter: see sweetie you really don't have an identity, you're just me.

joshwaxman said...

"Because in the signon of Chazal, a girl, especially an unmarried girl, is not given her own identity, but rather is referred to as bas ploni."

Regardless, he has a point. One must be careful of reading things into Chazal, and if indeed this word choice due to a specific attitude Chazal had, then deducing something about respective ages of the bride and groom from this language should not be done.

Of course, I have to think about whether this was really Chazal's attitude, and even if it was, this does not mean that it should be our attitude.

Larry Lennhoff said...

One academic source Josh might find useful is Chattel or Person?: The Status of Women in the Mishnah(*). The fundamental thesis is that normally a woman is under the custody of either a father or a husband, and so her legal property rights are circumscribed. In the rare exceptions to that case (widows, divorcees, unmarried orphans) the rabbis allowed her to own herself and have the legal property rights of a man.

(*)For some reason I remember that title as Chattel or Property. It probably is due to reading the Daily Bugle's classic headline SpiderMan: Threat or Menace?