Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Prepping for the Hgh Holy Days- The Rambam on Human Nature, Correction of Flaws, and the Purpose of the Human Being

שמונה פרקים

The Eight Chapters of Maimonides on Ethics, by Joseph I Gorfinkle

Selected verses edited by Rabbi Norbert Weinberg

My notes in [ ] and italics

[The MD’s approach to spiritual wellness

The Rambam , Maimonides, discussed our spiritual ails from a  medical  mind/body perspective.]

Chapter 3 [The parallel between physical health and psychological health. The English word used here, soul, is a transposition of the Greek word, psyche, which we understand as “ Mind”. Soul, Neshamah, is not to be understood as some ghost flittering around us, but as “Mind”, encompassing our core essence as a human being]

THE ancients maintained that the soul, like the body, is subject to good health and illness. The soul's healthful state is due to its condition, and that of its faculties, by which it constantly does what is right, and performs what is proper, while the illness of the soul is occasioned by its condition, and that of its faculties, which results in its constantly doing wrong, and performing actions that are improper. The science of medicine investigates the health of the body. . . .

But, if he who is morally sick be not aware of his illness, imagining that he is well, or, being aware of it, does not seek a remedy, his end will be similar to that of one, who, suffering from bodily ailment, yet continuing to indulge himself, neglects to be cured, and who in consequence surely meets an untimely death.

Chapter 4 [Attaining “stasis”, balance in body and mind]

GOOD deeds are such as are equibalanced, maintaining the mean between two equally bad extremes, the too much and the too little.

 Virtues are psychic conditions and dispositions which are mid-way between two reprehensible extremes, one of which is characterized by an exaggeration, the other by a deficiency. Good deeds are the product of these dispositions. To illustrate, abstemiousness  [zehirut-temperateness] is a disposition which adopts a mid-course between inordinate passion and total insensibility to pleasure. Abstemiousness, then, is a proper rule of conduct, and the psychic disposition which gives rise to it is an ethical quality ; but inordinate passion, the extreme of excess, and total insensibility to enjoyment, the extreme of deficiency, are both absolutely pernicious. The psychic dispositions, from which these two extremes, inordinate passion[ hedonism] and insensibility [ anhedonia], result the one being an exaggeration, the other a deficiency are alike classed among moral imperfections….

It often happens, however, that men err as regards these qualities, imagining that one of the extremes is good, and is a virtue. Sometimes, the extreme of the too much is considered noble, as when temerity is made a virtue, and those who recklessly risk their lives are hailed as heroes. Thus, when people see a man, reckless to the highest degree, who runs deliberately into danger, intentionally tempting death, and escaping only by mere chance, they laud such a one to the skies, and say that he is a hero. At other times, the opposite extreme, the too little, is greatly esteemed, and the coward is considered a man of forbearance; the idler, as being a person of a contented disposition; and he, who by the dullness of his nature is callous to every joy, is praised as a man of moderation, [that is, one who eschews sin].

In like manner, profuse liberality and extreme lavishness are erroneously extolled as excellent characteristics. This is, however, an absolutely mistaken view, for the really praiseworthy is the medium course of action to which every one should strive to adhere, always weighing his conduct carefully, so that he may attain the proper mean. [ Derekh haemtza’it- Middle way-shvil hazahav- Golden path- Golden Mean]

Know, moreover, that these moral excellences or defects cannot be acquired, or implanted in the soul, except by means of the frequent repetition of acts resulting from these qualities, which, practiced during a long period of time, accustoms us to them.  If these acts performed are good ones, then we shall have gained a virtue; but if they are bad, we shall have acquired a vice.

 In such a contingency, it is proper for him to resort to a cure, exactly as he would were his body suffering from an illness. So, just as when the equilibrium of the physical health is disturbed, and we note which way it is tending in order to force it to go in exactly the opposite direction until it shall return to its proper condition, and, just as when the proper adjustment is reached, we cease this operation, and have recourse to that which will maintain the proper balance, in exactly the same way must we adjust the moral equilibrium.

Let us take, for example, the case of a man in whose soul there has developed a disposition [of great avarice] on account of which he deprives himself [of every comfort in life], and which, by the way, is one of the most detestable of defects, and an immoral act, as we have shown in this chapter. If we wish to cure this sick man, we must not command him merely [to practice] deeds of generosity, for that would be as ineffective as a physician trying to cure a patient consumed by a burning fever by administering mild medicines, which treatment would be in-efficacious. We must, however, induce him to squander so often, and to repeat his acts of profusion so continuously until that propensity which was the cause of his avarice has totally disappeared. Then, when he reaches that point where he is about to become a squanderer, we must teach him to moderate his profusion, and tell him to continue with deeds of generosity, and to watch out with due care lest he relapse either into lavishness or niggardliness.

The perfect Law which leads us to perfection as one who knew it well testifies by the words, (Psalms 19:8) "The Law of the Lord is perfect restoring the soul; the testimonies of the Lord are faithful making wise the simple" recommends none of these things (such as self-torture, flight from society etc.). On the contrary, it aims at man's following the path of moderation, in accordance with the dictates of nature, eating, drinking, enjoying legitimate sexual intercourse, all in moderation, and living among people in honesty and uprightness, but not dwelling in the wilderness or in the mountains, or clothing oneself in garments of hair and wool, or afflicting the body. The Law even warns us against these practices. . .

[The path of self-denial is not our path]

[Those] who imitate the followers of other religions, maintain that when they torment their bodies, and renounce every joy, that they do so merely to discipline the faculties of their souls by inclining somewhat to the one extreme, as is proper, and in accordance with our own recommendations in this chapter, our answer is that they are in error, as I shall now demonstrate.

The Law did not lay down its prohibitions, or enjoin its commandments, except for just this purpose, namely, that by its disciplinary effects we may persistently maintain the proper distance from either extreme.

The Rabbis,( Palestinian Talmud, Nedarim Ch 9)  greatly blame those who bind themselves by oaths and vows, in consequence of which they are fettered like prisoners. The exact words they use are, "Said Rabbi Iddai, in the name of Rabbi Isaac, 'Dost thou not think that what the Law prohibits is sufficient for thee that thou must take upon thyself additional prohibitions?' "

Chapter 5 [What is the purpose of human existence?]

As we have explained in the preceding chapter, it is the duty of man to subordinate all the faculties of his soul to his reason. He must keep his mind's eye fixed constantly upon one goal, namely, the attainment of the knowledge of God (may He be blessed!), as far as it is possible for mortal man to know Him. Consequently, one must so adjust all his actions, his whole conduct, and even his very words, that they lead to this goal, in order that none of his deeds be aimless, and thus retard the attainment of that end.

So, his only design in eating, drinking, cohabiting, sleeping, waking, moving about, and resting should be the preservation of bodily health, while, in turn, the reason for the latter is that the soul and its agencies may be in sound and perfect condition, so that he may readily acquire wisdom, and gain moral and intellectual virtues, all to the end that man may reach the highest goal of his endeavors. Accordingly, man will not direct his attention merely to obtain bodily enjoyment, choosing of food and drink and the other things of life only the agreeable, but he will seek out the most useful, being indifferent whether it be agreeable or not. . .

From this point of view, the study of medicine has a very great influence upon the acquisition of the virtues and of the knowledge of God, as well as upon the attainment of true, spiritual happiness. Therefore, its study and acquisition are preeminently important religious activities, and must not be ranked in the same class with the art of weaving, or the science of architecture, for by it one learns to weigh one's deeds, and thereby human activities are rendered true virtues.

The man who insists upon indulging in savory, sweet smelling and palatable food although it be injurious, and possibly may lead to serious illness or sudden death ought, in my opinion, to be classed with the beasts. . . . (Psalms 49:21) "he is like the beasts who perish". Man acts like a human being only when he eats that which is wholesome, at times avoiding the agreeable, and partaking of the disagreeable in his search for the beneficial. Such conduct is in accordance with the dictates of reason, and by these acts man is distinguished from all other beings. Similarly, if a man satisfy his sexual passions whenever he has the desire, regardless of good or ill effects, he acts as a brute, and not as a man.

…. The real duty of man is, that in adopting whatever measures he may for his well-being and the preservation of his existence in good health, he should do so with the object of maintaining a perfect condition of the instruments of the soul, which are the limbs of the body, so that his soul may be unhampered, and he may busy himself in acquiring the moral and mental virtues. So it is with all the sciences and knowledge man may learn.

[Study of philosophy and science is an essential prerequisite to developing the trained mind need to achieve the human’s highest goal]

Concerning those which lead directly to this goal, there is naturally no question; but such subjects as mathematics, the study of conic sections, mechanics, the various problems of geometry, hydraulics, and many others of a similar nature, which do not tend directly towards that goal, should be studied for the purpose of sharpening the mind, and training the mental faculties by scientific investigations, so that man may acquire intellectual ability to distinguish demonstrative proofs from others, whereby he will be enabled to comprehend the essence of God.

If man has this as his ideal, he will dispense with many of his customary deeds, and refrain from a great deal of ordinary conversation…[Enjoyment of material goods is part of keeping the soul healthy, within moderation]

 Therefore, our Rabbis of blessed memory say, (Shabbat 25b) "It is becoming that a sage should have a pleasant dwelling, a beautiful wife, and domestic comfort"; for one becomes weary, and one's mind dulled by continued mental concentration upon difficult problems. Thus, just as the body becomes exhausted from hard labor, and then by rest and refreshment recovers, so is it necessary for the mind to have relaxation by gazing upon pictures and other beautiful objects, that its weariness may be dispelled. Accordingly, it is related (Shabbat 30b) that when the Rabbis became exhausted from study, they were accustomed to engage in entertaining conversation (in order to refresh themselves). From this point of view, therefore, the use of pictures and embroideries for beautifying the house, the furniture, and the clothes is not to be considered immoral nor unnecessary.

Know that to live according to this standard is to arrive at a very high degree of perfection, which, in consequence of the difficulty of attainment, only a few, after long and continuous perseverance on the paths of virtue, have succeeded in reaching. If there be found a man who has accomplished this that is one who exerts all the faculties of his soul, and directs them towards the sole ideal of comprehending God, using all his powers of mind and body, be they great or small, for the attainment of that which leads directly or indirectly to virtue I would place him in a rank not lower than that of the prophets

Chapter 6

They forbid one to say, "I, by my nature, do not desire to commit such and such a transgression, even though the Law does not forbid it". Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel summed up this thought in the words, "Man should not say, 'I do not want to eat meat together with milk; I do not want to wear clothes made of a mixture of wool and linen; I do not want to enter into an incestuous marriage', but he should say, 'I do indeed want to, yet I must not, for my father in Heaven has forbidden it'".

The instances they cite are all from the ceremonial law, such as partaking of meat and milk together, wearing clothes made of wool and linen, and entering into consanguinuous marriages. These, and similar enactments are what God called (Leviticus 18:4) "my statutes" (hukoth), which, as the Rabbis say are (Yoma 67b) "statutes which I (God) have enacted for thee, which thou hast no right to subject to criticism, which the nations of the world attack and which Satan denounces, as for instance, the statutes concerning the red heifer, the scapegoat, and so forth".

Chapter 8

IT is impossible for man to be born endowed by nature from his very birth with either virtue or vice, just as it is impossible that he should be born skilled by nature in any particular art. It is possible, however, that through natural causes he may from birth be so constituted as to have a predilection for a particular virtue or vice, so that he will more readily practice it than any other.

For instance, a man whose natural constitution inclines towards dryness, whose brain matter is clear and not overloaded with fluids, finds it much easier to learn, remember, and understand things than the phlegmatic man whose brain is encumbered with a great deal of humidity [ medieval neurology- brain function affected by moist/dry/phlegm/humors]. But, if one who inclines constitutionally towards a certain excellence is left entirely without instruction, and if his faculties are not stimulated, he will undoubtedly remain ignorant. On the other hand, if one by nature dull and phlegmatic, possessing an abundance of humidity, is instructed and enlightened, he will, though with difficulty, it is true, gradually succeed in acquiring knowledge and understanding. In exactly the same way, he whose blood is somewhat warmer than is necessary has the requisite quality to make of him a brave man. Another, however, the temperament of whose heart is colder than it should be, is naturally inclined towards cowardice and fear, so that if he should be taught and trained to be a coward, he would easily become one. If, however, it be desired to make a brave man of him, he can without doubt become one, providing he receive the proper training which would require, of course, great exertion.

I have entered into this subject so thou mayest not believe the absurd ideas of astrologers, who falsely assert that the constellation at the time of one's birth determines whether one is to be virtuous or vicious, the individual being thus necessarily compelled to follow out a certain line of conduct.

Were a man compelled to act according to the dictates of predestination, then the commands and prohibitions of the Law would become null and void, and the Law would be completely false, since man would have no freedom of choice in what he ; does. Moreover, it would be useless, in fact absolutely in vain, for man to study, to instruct, or attempt to learn an art, as it would be entirely impossible for him, on account of the external force compelling him, according to the opinion of those who hold this view, to keep from doing a certain act, from gaining certain knowledge, or from acquiring a certain characteristic. Reward and punishment, too, would be pure injustice, both as regards man towards man, and as between God and man. Suppose, under such conditions, that Simeon should kill Reuben. Why should the former be punished, seeing that he was constrained to do the killing, and Reuben was predestined to be slain? How could the Almighty, who is just and righteous, chastise Simeon for a deed which it was impossible for him to leave undone, and which, though he strove with all his might, he would be unable to avoid? If such were the true state of affairs, all precautionary measures, such as building houses, providing means of subsistence, fleeing when one fears danger, and so forth, would be absolutely use- less, for that which is decreed beforehand must necessarily happen. This theory is, therefore, positively unsound, contrary to reason and common sense, subversive of the fundamental principles of religion, and attributes injustice to God (far be it from Him!).

In reality, the undoubted truth of the matter is that man has full sway over all his actions. If he wishes to do a thing, he does it; if he does not wish to do it, he need not, without any external compulsion controlling him. Therefore, God very properly commanded man, saying, (Deuteronomy 30:15-19) "See I have set before thee this day life and the good, death and evil .... therefore choose thou life", giving us, as regards these, freedom of choice. Consequently, punishment is inflicted upon those who disobey, and reward granted to the obedient, as it is said, (Exodus 19:5) "If thou wilt hearken", and (Leviticus 26:14) "If thou wilt not hearken". Learning and teaching are also necessary, according to the commands, (Deuteronomy 11:19) "Ye shall teach them to your children", (Deuteronomy 5:1) "and ye shall do them and observe to do them", and, similarly, all the other passages referring to the study of the commandments.

[ Maimonides is deeply engaged in contemporary Islamic thought, as Jewish and Moslem scholar alike shared these intellectual positions. This is the period of great Judeo-Islamic synthesis]

The Mutakalimun( Islamic philosophy) are, however, of a different opinion in this regard, for I have heard them say that the Divine Will is constantly at work, decreeing everything from time to time. [ Time, as well as matter is atomistic-discrete- one moment cannot cause the next moment- It requires the Divine will of Allah at each moment to decree it] We do not agree with them, but believe that the Divine Will ordained everything at creation, and that all things, at all times, are regulated by the laws of nature, and run their natural course, in accordance with what Solomon said, (Ecclesiastes 1:9) "As it was, so it will ever be, as it was made so it continues, and there is nothing new under the sun"….

In everything that they said, you will always find that the Rabbis (peace be unto them!) avoided referring to the Divine Will as determining a particular event at a particular time.

As regards, however, the words of God, (Exodus 14:4) "and I will harden the heart of Pharaoh", afterwards punishing him with death,  . . .Such, however, was not the real state of affairs, for Pharaoh and his followers, already of their own free will, without any constraint whatever, had rebelled by oppressing the strangers who were in their midst, having tyrannized over them with great injustice, as Scripture plainly states, (Exodus 1:9-10) "And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel is more numerous and mightier than we, come let us deal wisely with it". This they did through the dictates of their own free will and the evil passions of their hearts, without any external constraint forcing them thereto. The punishment which God then inflicted upon them was that He withheld from them the power of repentance, so that there should fall upon them that punishment which justice declared should he meted out to them.

Reflect, then, upon all that we have said, namely, that man has control over his actions, that it is by his own determination that he does either the right or the wrong, without, in either case, being controlled by fate, and that, as a result of this divine commandment, teaching, preparation, reward, and punishment are proper. Of this there is absolutely no doubt.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What do we pray for? Session 2 on Prayer

Study Notes on Jewish Prayer
Session 2

3-What do we pray for? Pray for the stock market, the horse race? How do we know what we are supposed to pray for?

Illegitimate Prayer:
הַצּוֹעֵק לְשֶׁעָבַר, הֲרֵי זוֹ תְּפִלַּת שָׁוְא. כֵּיצַד. הָיְתָה אִשְׁתּוֹ מְעֻבֶּרֶת, וְאָמַר, יְהִי רָצוֹן שֶׁתֵּלֵד אִשְׁתִּי זָכָר, הֲרֵי זוֹ תְּפִלַּת שָׁוְא. הָיָה בָא בַדֶּרֶךְ וְשָׁמַע קוֹל צְוָחָה בָּעִיר, וְאָמַר יְהִי רָצוֹן שֶׁלֹּא יִהְיוּ אֵלּוּ בְּנֵי בֵיתִי, הֲרֵי זוֹ תְּפִלַּת שָׁוְא
one who cries over the past, behold this is a vain prayer. How so? If his wife was pregnant and he says, “May it be his will that my wife bear a male child,” this is a vain prayer. If he is coming home from a journey and he hears a cry of distress in the town and says, “May it be his will that this is not be those of my house,” this is a vain prayer. Mishna Berakhot 9:3 ( Explanation of Bartenura: What has happened, has happened!).

4-Are we commanded to pray? Voo shteyt es geschrieben? Find me the line in the entire Bible where it says you are commanded to pray! ( Implied but not explicit).

5. Why pray at a fixed time? Shacharit, Micha , Maariv- Avraham- Yizthak-Yaakov

Fixed and spontaneous

Tefilah- is “Keva”- Fixed. Before, after meals, Amidah-fixed text. Fixed time- Shacharit, Minha, Maariv. Tachanunim can not be fixed( although it is in the prayerbook)

But, Rabbis say: Do not make your prayer fixed but make it a supplication( tachanunim).( Pirke Avot)

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes of his coming to Berlin as a young student, an ordained Chasidic Rabbi, who has gone to the realm of the goyim, Berlin, the Berlin of Cabaret and intellect. overwhelmed by the glory of such an intellectual society. Then the sun is setting, and he is broken out of his revelry by the realization that it is time to stop and daven mincha. Was he in the mood? No! Then why daven, why not wait till the mood strikes him. And he realizes that the mood may never strike him if he waits for it, but if he begins to daven, he might come to the mood, to the spirit.

Opposite approach: Rosenzweig’s approach was subjective also in connection with the mitzvot, Jewish observances. He did think that he would one day become a fully observant Jew, but believed in the gradual approach in which the observances slowly made their impact by “ringing a bell” for him. Typical of this approach is Rosenzweig’s answer to someone who asked him whether he wore tefillin [phylacteries]: “Not yet,” he replied.

But, Heschel is a Chasid at heart and Chasidic masters never davened on time- Does the Holy One wear a watch?

4. What is the nature of our prayer. All is opposites

Tefilah and Tachanunim. Two opposites.

Tefilah- from root ” pll”- judgement-one is in judgement. One is claiming what is justly his-her? One is putting oneself in judgement before the Holy One. One is critical of one self.

“ natan baplilim” (brought him to court)," lifnei haelohim"-to the judges. Elohim, the word for God, is the same word for " judges".

The Amidah is” Hatefilah”, The Prayer, par excellence, as it encompasses the key concepts of Judaism.

Tachanumin- Just the opposite- from “ Chen”, find favor. A Pleading- My case can’t stand   in court.  judgement has failed- plea for mercy.

Tachanun is classic example- Elohai neztor at the end of the Amidah is a brief example. Tachanun of the weekday morning service is a long, formalized example.

Public and Private- Tzibur and Yachid

Prayer may be said in private. It’s a personal affair. The ancient rabbis would stand in a quiet spot, in front of a wall ( long before The Wall, the Kotel).

Prayer is best said in public- in a Minyan-10.Kaddish, Barchu, Torah reading. Concept of kiddush Hashem—if it’s a secret, its no kiddush!

More Polarities

Fear & Anxiety-That motivates tachanunim . Also in Psalms

But also  Joy & Awe- To some extent- Tefilah (awe), Psalms, especially those in the prayer book

Two other complimentary dimensions:

Hoda’ah( acknowledgement)

Brachah-Hamotzi & Shechechyanu

and Hodayah ( Thanksgiving)- Hallel,

So, let’s look at these issues from the texts- how we started, how we evolved, how we answered these issues in all ages.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Prayer-Nothing a Jew does or thinks is simple. Session 1

Prayer-Nothing a Jew does or thinks is simple.  

(Pages in Hertz Pentateuch)

Session 1

A. Jewish Prayer is a melange’


( Elizabeth Pessin

 Scientists organize prayer into the following types:

·         Contemplative-meditative prayer (e.g., worshiping God, reflecting on the Bible)-

·         Ritualistic prayer (e.g., repeating statements)

·         Petitionary prayer (e.g., asking God for things)

·         Colloquial prayer (e.g., thanking God for things)

·         Intercessory prayer (e.g., praying for others)

How much of this matches Jewish prayer? Contemplation?  Ritual- some. Petition- al little Colloquial-a lot, intercessory-a little. The rest?

Education- the teaching of common goals and objectives.

1st -Why pray? Practical, utilitarian reasons (Same source-Pessin) Unintended consequences.

A.       Health: They found private and public prayer predicted better levels of spiritual health. Specifically, they found that both forms of prayer increased participants’ closeness to God and having a stronger sense of identity. Scientists also suggest that praying for oneself and for others has been found to be beneficial for spiritual-health and relationships.

B. Music?

 William Congreve (1670-1629) To complete the quote: "Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast. To soften rocks, or bend the knotted oak."

According to Dr. Michael Miller, Director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, listening to music that makes you feel good could have health benefits that might prevent a heart attack. (

Nigun-prayer without words

 East European Chazanut- at its peak- was better than the Opera. Yosele Rosenblatt, Moshe Kousevitsky,  Opera singers Richard Tucker Jan Peerce

c. Nice company?

Letter to editor Bintel brief of Der Forwerts. Century ago. Why do you go to shule? Avraham-I go to talk to God. Yitzhak- I go to talk to Avraham! Synagogue- Greek- for Bet Knesset-House of Gathering. Well known that humas heal in company. (.Example from whales and dolphins)

d- Food?-

 Kiddush,  Oneg Shabbat. Ancient Temple- the people shared their meal with God and with each other.Companion-Latin- shared bread.  Earliest synagogues were also the local motel for travelers! .Concept of “ seudat mitzvah”.

e-Intellectual stimulation?

Torah reading, drashah. Bet Midrash- House of Study. Shule- from “school”. Traditional synagogues were not intended to be designed like churches- structure- to observe miracle-Catholic. Or to listen to preacher “ex cathedra”.( Cathedra dMoshe) hence, cathedral. Centered instead, around Bimah- studying, The pew had a student’s table. It had a cabinet to store the books.

Bet tefilah-House of prayer.

f. Exercise!

1) Sit and stand

2) three step shuffle

3) The bend and bow & the once a year push-up

4) The calf stretch

5) the shuckle

6) 2 the right and to the left-forward-side-together circle dance-foot and hand

Kol Atzmotai tomarna-Psalms- All my bones shall proclaim!

g-OH, yes, for worship-

A Glimpse at women's lives through the ages

Jewish Women Through the Ages

A Glimpse at women's lives through the ages- gathered from various sources  

BABATHA OF KARMA. PROPERTY OWNER 2nd century c.e. Time of Bar Kochba

Babatha, a woman of property, is known only through a cache of thirty-five papyrus documents found in 1961 in a cave in the Judean desert

 Probably an only child, Babatha inherited lands and possessions after her mother's death. The properties had originally been transferred from her father to her mother while both parents were still alive.

Babatha was married twice. Her first husband was Joshua, son of Joseph. After his death, Babatha was not named as one of her son's guardians. She later brought a legal action against the two legal guardians in an effort to increase the money used to provide for the care of her son, "orphan Joshua, son of Joshua.'" Babatha's second husband was Judah ben Eleazer Khtusion of Bin-Gedi. He died three years after the wedding, bequeathing to Babatha considerable property. In 131 CE. members of Judah's family, including a first wife, Miriam, contested the will.

Mibtahiah Of ELEPHANTINE, PROPERTY OWNER, (5th century Before zero)

Mibtahiah was a prosperous woman who lived on Elephantine, a small island in the Nile River with a thriving Jewish community. Born in 476 B.C.E. to a well-to-do family that owned property and slaves. .

Mibtahiah had two brothers, Gemariah and Jedaniah. Probably in order to bypass the biblical ruling that daughters cannot inherit if there are sons, her father, Mahseiah, gifted property to her at the time of her marriages.

Mibtahiah's first husband was Jezaniah, the Jew who owned the plot of land next to her father's house. The marriage, which took place in 460 or 459 ac.r. when she was approximately sixteen years old, was marked by two transfers of a deed for a building plot: one by Mahseiah to his daughter, granting her title to the property, and the second to Jezaniah giving him the income only. This was a typical dowry arrangement at that time. Jezaniah died shortly after the marriage, and there was no record of any children.

Eshor the Egyptian was Mibtahiah's second husband, whom she married in 449 B.C.E. For this marriage there is an existing contract called a "document of wifehood; stipulating that either party could initiate divorce, a right that was not common to Jewish women in later periods.Note: assumes monogamy.


Mibtahiahl is my wife and I am her husband from this day and forever. I gave you as mohar for your daughter Mibtahiah  5 shekels . . . Your daughter Miptahiah brought in to me in her hand: silver money, 2 shekels; 1 new garment of wool. striped with dye; another garment of wool, finely woven; 1 mirror of bronze; 1 bowl of bronze; 2 cups of bronze; 1 jug of bronze. All the silver and the value of the goods: 6 karsh. 5 shekel, 20 hallurs(?) 1 bed of papyrus-reed ... 2 ladles; 1 new box of palm leaf; 5 handfuls of castor oil; 1 pair of sandals.

Tomorrow or the next day, should Eshor die not having a child, male or female, from Miptahiah his wife, it is Mibtahiah who has right to the house of Eshor and his goods and his property and all that he has on the face of the earth, all of it. Tomorrow or the next day, should Miptahiah die not having a child. male or female, from Eshor her husband, it is Eshor who  shall inherit from her her goods and her property.

Tomorrow or the next day, should Miptahiah stand up in an assembly and say: "I hated Eshor my husband", silver of hatred is on her head. She shall place upon the balance-scale and weigh out to Eshor silver ... and all that she brought in her hand she shall take out, from straw lo string, and go away wherever she desires, without suit or without process.

Tomorrow or the next day, should Eshor stand up in an assembly and say: "I hated my wife Miptahiah," her mohar will be lost and all that she brought in in her hand she shall take out, from strain, to string, on one day in one stroke, and go away wherever she desires, without suit or without process ... And I shall not be able to say: "I have another wife besides Miptahiah and other children besides the children whom Miptahiah shall bear to me...."


Mibtahiah emerges as a woman who had considerable control over her own life. She was guaranteed status as an only wife, was free to divorce at will, and acted independently in business.


Rufina was an established and respected citizen of Smyrna (Turkey) who owned property and slaves. She is known only by an inscription on a tombstone that she had built for her freed slaves. This inscription specifically identifies her as a Jew and head of a synagogue (archisynagogissa). Hers is one of nineteen Greek and Latin inscriptions referring to Jewish women in the Mediterranean area over several centuries." Many of them were listed as "head of synagogue."There is no mention of a husband and no evidence that her title was derived from a husband or other male relative."


Retina, a Jewess, head of the synagogue, built this tomb for her freed slaves raised in her house. No one else has the right to bury anyone there]. If someone should dare to do so. he or she will pay 198 dinars to the sacred treasury and 1000 dinars to the Jewish people. A copy of this inscription has been placed in the [public) archives.'"

Women in the Cairo Genizah

A Look at Women’s Lives in Cairo Geniza Society

Renée Levine Melammed

Women’s lives in medieval Mediterranean society as based on Cairo Geniza

documents were first deemed significant by S.D. Goitein. The insightful chapter,

which he entitled “The World of Women”, provided a first glimpse into the

rich and varied lives of these women.

It is surprising to discover how many letters were sent by and to women, and

how many extant court documents actually involved them….the women’s world in Geniza society was not isolated one; women with professions or with economic standing were not sitting at home or hiding behind their veils

 Wuhsha al-Dallala, thesuccessful agent in Fustat at the close of the eleventh century….

 This maverick daughter of a banker from Alexandria was a woman who dealt in serious amounts

money, some of which were loans. She clearly had a steady income, which enabled her to contribute to charity, especially as manifested by the figures listed in her will.

. She seems to chose to be a single mother, living with the father of her son. . .. not interested in marrying him. . . the father of her child was not to receive a penny from her estate; she had already provided him with a generous loan, which had never been repaid. . .. this woman was not going to allow her lover to inherit her fortune . Her will reflected the fact that she intended to keep her finances under tight control both while alive and after her demise.

The president of the Iraqi synagogue . . .chose to humiliate her on the holiest day of the year, on the Day of Atonement, and evicted her from the synagogue. However, this did not result in a bona fide excommunication or a shunning of any sort…

Commercial dealings with a number   also she friends with prominent synagogue positions including

the cantor.


A letter in which a mother writes to her son(s) on behalf of her daughter-in-law. The first three lines of this letter in Arabic. The script, presumably that of a scribe, switches from Arabic to Judeo-Arabic, . . .not intended for public consumption, for one could never be certain who might read one’s mail. Since the mother was about to offer a description of suffering on the part of the Jewish community that might well offend the authorities, it must have seemed safer to record this in a language legible only to Jewish eyes.

This woman contended that life in Fustat had become insecure and dangerous; no Jews were entering or leaving the city. According to her report, slave soldiers (mamluks) were the instigators of this havoc; they were running amok throughout the city. The mamluks appear to have entirely destroyed one of the

quarters, having attacked homes, mills and oil presses. The damage was tremendous and the suffering great. The devastation of a house overlooking the Nile that belonged to a family they knew is described.


3)This woman was anxious to be granted a divorce from her miserly and miserable husband.

This petition began with an appropriate blessing.

By the fourth line, the woman petitioner had already gotten down to business At this point, she informed the Nagid ( Leader) Masliah that his “maidservant”  has been with him (her husband) for fifteen years. In all this time, not once has she received anything from him. In her opinion, the most extreme example of his miserliness was the fact that he wouldn’t even give her the silver coin required for payment to enter the bathhouse. This was unthinkable . . .. A husband was required to provide his wife with the entrance fee, as the bathhouse was essential to her health, ritually, physically and psychologically.

Cairo was actually famous for its bathhouses. . . . The bathhouse  was private, and once the women passed through its portals, it might have been one of the only places where they were not subject to male supervision, criticism or limitations. Essentially, preventing one’s wife from entering these

premises verged on outright cruelty.

The husband under discussion was apparently extremely cruel to his wife.her husband never provided her with a headpiece, part of the basics for a woman’s wardrobe. He not only abused her, but beat her; if she complained about the fact that he was harming her, his response was equally cruel and cavalier: she could simply extricate herself from the marriage. All she had to do was to “ransom herself;” his intention was that she should give up her rights to her marriage contract. He would not object to giving her a divorce as long as it would not incur any expenses for him. Her outcry is heard loud and

clear in her letter as she called out to God to punish this man for his actions.

HAMELN, GLÜCKEL OF (Glückel von Hameln):

German diarist; born about 1646 in Hamburg; died 1724 at Metz. . .Glückel frequented the "ḥeder" and was made acquainted with the Holy Scriptures as well as with the German-Jewish literature of the time. When barely fourteen she was married to Ḥayyim Hameln, and settled in the small town of Hameln. After a year the young couple moved to Hamburg

Glückel had six sons and as many daughters, whom she brought up very carefully and married to members of the best Jewish families in Germany.

In 1689 Ḥayyim Hameln died, and Glückel was left with eight young children, the four others being already married. Besides their education she had to direct the large business left by her husband, which she managed with great success. at the age of fifty-four she married the wealthy banker Cerf Levy of Metz (1700). Unfortunately, one year after the marriage Levy lost both his own fortune and that of his wife, and Glückel, hitherto accustomed to opulence, became dependent upon her husband's children. After the death of Levy (1712) she settled in the home of her daughter Esther, wife of Moses Krumbach-Schwab of Metz. Here she passed the last years of her life, occupied with the writing of her memoirs.

Glückel left an autobiography consisting of seven books written in Judæo-German  . She often adds homiletic and moral stories of some length, taken partly from Midrash and Talmud, partly from Judæo-German books, which evidence wide reading.

 Excerpt from Diary: 

IN MY great grief and for my heart's ease I begin this book the year of Creation 5451 [1690-91] —God soon rejoice us and send us His redeemer!

I began writing it, dear children, upon the death of your good father, in the hope of distracting my soul from the burdens laid upon it, and the bitter thought that we have lost our faithful shepherd.

...The kernel of the Torah is, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.' But in our days we seldom find it so, and few are they who love their fellow-men with all their heart—on the contrary, if a man can contrive to ruin his neighbour, nothing pleases him more.

The best thing for you, my children, is to serve God from your heart, without falsehood or sham, not giving out to people that you are one thing while, God forbid, in your heart you are another. . .

Moreover, put aside a fixed time for the study of the Torah, as best you know how .3 Then diligently go about your business, for providing your wife and children a decent livelihood is likewise a mitzvah—the command of God and the duty of man. We should, I say, put ourselves to great pains for our children, for on this the world is built, yet we must understand that if children did as much for their parents, the children would quickly tire of it.

A bird once set out to cross a windy sea with its three fledglings. The sea was so wide and the wind so strong, the father bird was forced to carry his young, one by one, in his strong claws. When he was half-way across with the first fledgling the wind turned to a gale, and he said, «My child, look how I am struggling and risking my life in your behalf. When you are grown up, will you do as much for me and provide for my old age?» The fledgling replied, «Only bring me to safety, and when you are old I shall do everything you ask of me.» Whereat the father bird dropped his child into the sea, and it drowned, and he said, «So shall it be done to such a liar as you.>> Then the father bird returned to shore, set forth with his second fledgling, asked the same question, and receiving the same answer, drowned the second child with the cry, «You, too, are a liar!» Finally he set out with the third fledgling, and when he asked the same question, the third and last fledgling replied, «My dear father, it is true you are struggling mightily and risking your life in my behalf, and I shall be wrong not to repay you when you are old, but I cannot bind myself. This though I can promise: when I am grown up and have children of my own, I shall do as much for them as you have done for me.>> Whereupon the father bird said, «Well spoken, my child, and wisely; your life I will spare and I will carry you to shore in safety.>>

Above all, my children, be honest in money matters, with both Jews and Gentiles, lest the name of Heaven be profaned. If you have in hand money or goods belonging to other people, give more care to them than if they were your own, so that, please God, you do no one wrong.

The Maid of Ludomir
A semi-legendary figure, reputed to have been one of the few women in Hasidism who functioned as a fully-fledged spiritual master (Tzaddik or Rebbe).
Hannah Rachel, the Maid, was the only daughter of Monesh Verbermacher, an educated and well-to-do Jew in the Volhynian town of Ludomir (Vladimir-Volynskiy). From an early age she was distinguished not only because of her beauty but also–unusually for a girl–by dint of her ardor in prayer and remarkable aptitude for scholarship.
Her betrothal to a beloved childhood playmate, which entailed the customary separation of bride and groom until the wedding, distressed the Maid and led her to withdraw from society. Her distress was exacerbated by the sudden death of her mother, following which she became a recluse, never leaving her room except to visit her mother’s grave.
On one of her visits to the cemetery she fell into unconsciousness, which was followed by a prolonged and mysterious illness. When she recovered she claimed to have been given “a new and elevated soul.” She broke off her engagement and declared that she would never marry, having “transcended the world of the flesh.”
From then on she adopted the full rigor of male ritual observance and absorbed herself, like a male pietist, in intense study and prayer. She became known as the “holy Maid” or the “Virgin” of Ludomir, and acquired a reputation for miracle working. Men and women, including rabbis and scholars, flocked to the beit midrash in Ludomir which functioned as her hasidic court. She would grant blessings on request and deliver her weekly hasidic teaching at the third Sabbath meal, as was customary among male Tzaddik im.
While her popular following grew, the male leadership of the movement disapproved, viewing her activities as a pathological manifestation of the powers of evil and impurity. Pressure was put on the Maid to abandon the practice of Tzaddikism and to resume her rightful female role in marriage. Following the personal intervention of Mordecai of Chernobyl (1770-1837)–the most eminent tzaddik of the region–she reluctantly agreed to marry, but the marriage was never consummated and soon ended in divorce. She married again, but divorced once more, apparently remaining a “maiden” to the end of her life.
However, her marriages did have the desired effect of putting an abrupt end to her career as a Rebbe. She eventually immigrated to the Holy Land, a remote corner of nineteenth-century Hasidism

 Nehama Leibovitz- the Rashi of our times. I had thee honor to be in her classes as a student and to also arrange for her to lecture for one of my programs when I ran the Histadrut's Center for Jewish Studies in Israel.
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.( Whom I also hosted as a guest lecturer). In 1919 the family moved to Berlin, where Leibowitz taught, wrote articles and studied for her doctorate, , ,  she finished her doctorate they fulfilled their dream and moved to Israel (c. 1930).
She traveled around the country on buses, in taxis and on airplanes teaching Bible and commentaries to teachers, new immigrants, soldiers, kibbutzniks and thousands of ordinary people. She received a professorship at Tel-Aviv University in 1968 and was awarded several prizes in the course of her life, including the prestigious Israel Prize in the Field of Education (1956).
She was a deeply religious person, but of the sort that emphasized halakhah and Torah study, moral responsibility, ethics and humanistic focus, rather than ecstatic and mystical dimensions, which she feared might prove shallow or transient. Thus she had little to do with Hasidism or Kabbalah.
Leibowitz also opposed the ideas of feminism and the feminist movement. . . While she upheld equal pay and rights for women, Leibowitz did not consciously desire to change the balance of designated gender roles within traditional Jewish society. Leibowitz refused to acknowledge that she was a revolutionary in any way; but ultimately her unique achievements changed Orthodox society’s perception of a woman’s capabilities and undoubtedly opened doors for the female Torah scholars who followed; this itself is proof of the power of gradual, evolutionary change.