After complaining about the lack of Jewish Romance novels, I received several recommendations from friends and fans. One of them, calling herself Shomeret on Goodreads, had good things to say about Miss Jacobson's Journey by Carola Dunn, a novel from a very obscure historical fiction genre - Regency Romance with a Jewish heroine. Finding an e-copy in the Los Angeles public library system, I downloaded it. I am almost finished reading this delightful tale, and I admit I enjoyed it more than I expected.
True to the Regency genre, the heroine Miriam is spunky and determined not to marry the wimpy scholar her parents have chosen for her, so she runs off on an adventure to help her widowed uncle, a doctor, in his research. She meets up with two attractive young men, both of who come from once wealthy families. One is a Jew whose banker father was bankrupted when too many of his noble clients didnít pay back their loans; the other an impoverished Earl whose father made one too many imprudent investments [of course no Regency romance is complete without a handsome, eligible nobleman]. Love is in the air, but which suitor will Miriam chose?
Shomeret writes a book review blog, and has favorably reviewed my novels, which is how I discovered her. To read Shomeretís review of Miss Jacobsonís Journey, here it is on her blog.
Back to Valerie Rheinís class, you may notice that I left out any mention of modern scholarly reasons why women are excluded from time-bound positive mitzvot. Also attending this session was Rabbi Judith Hauptman, Talmud professor at JTS. Prof Hauptman points outs that the Talmud mentions time-bound positive mitzvot only in connection with women. Indeed, this distinction between mitzvot exists solely for the purpose of differentiating between a womanís ritual obligations and her exemptions; it has no other use. She postulates, and both Prof Rhein and I agree, that it is no coincidence that the exemption of women from Judaismís essential ritual acts dates from after the Second Templeís destruction.
When the Temple stood the social hierarchy of Jews was, from highest status to lowest, was Kohen, Levi, Israel, slave. Those who served God were at the top. But without the Temple, the distinction between slaves and everyone else was all that remained. How could the old order where those who served God were highest be maintained? Women from priestly families didnít serve in the Temple, so it followed that with no Temple, they would still have a lesser obligation to perform rituals that took the place of Temple service. After all, women already had lower status than men in society.
However exempting women from a small number of ritual mitzvot wasnít enough of a difference in status to satisfy the Rabbis. The cemented a womanís lower standing by exempting her from Torah study, what they saw as the most valuable use of a Jewís time. Leaving women ignorant of how Torah was interpreted also had the beneficial effect, for men, of making women completely dependent on how rabbis interpreted Jewish Law.
Which is why I deem it more important to study Talmud than to don tefillin. For some historical background, see this article in the Jerusalem Post
So why, following on my previous post, are women exempt from time-bound positive mitzvot? The Talmud explains that a womanís time belongs to her husband and he might need her to do something at the same time sheís supposed to perform a mitzvah. But what about a widow or divorcee then? Why is she exempt? And if you say she needs to be attentive to her children and household, then what about the woman without children or whose children are grown? In any case, some time-bound positive mitzvot take little time to perform, like saying the Shema or hearing the Shofar. Others, like dwelling in the sukkah or taking the lulav, can be done anytime during the week of Sukkot; especially dwelling in the sukkah, since the woman has to eat somewhere that week. And since medieval times, woman have increasingly taken on these four mitzvot, to the point where the question today isnít whether women should perform them but whether they should say the blessing when they do.
Some more modern reasons popular with the Orthodox include:  women are naturally more spiritual than men, and therefore require less demanding religious mitzvot;  womenís menstrual cycles give them a natural rhythm of time, and therefore they donít need the time-bound mitzvot;  In God's infinite wisdom, God delineated different responsibilities for men and women according to their respective metaphysical and physiological needs. Reform and Conservative Jews are egalitarian and believe that it is discriminatory for men and women to have different ritual obligations.
However, these assume that everyone agrees what constitutes a time-bound positive mitzvot. Some rabbis in the Talmud do not accept that tefillin and tzitzit are time-bound, and therefore women should don them. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi declares that despite the Mishnah exempting them, women are nevertheless obligated to eat matzah during Pesach, hear the Megillah read at Purim, and light the Hanukah lamp Ė each clearly a time-bound positive mitzvah. And of course a woman must observe Shabbat and afflict herself on Yom Kippur, which the Rabbis justify because those holidays have both positive and negative mitzvot associated with them.
The bottom line is that even Orthodox women today are obligated to more time-bound positive mitzvot than they are exempt from. For more on the subject, from Orthodox and non-Orthodox viewpoints, click on the highlighted links.
Yes, I know it has been over a week since my last post. Whether I call them reasons or excuses, Iíve been occupied with caring for a sick granddaughter, being sick myself, organizing financial records to prepare for income taxes, and in between all those, doing research for my next historical novel. But I still have more to report about Limmud UK.
One of the presenters was Valerie Rhein from Bern, who spoke about womenís exemption from TIME-BOUND POSITIVE MITZVOT. The division of commandments into these categories comes from the Mishnah, with no specific mention in the Torah. Thus the Rabbis had to figure out which mitzvot fell in which category [easy], and then come up with reasons why women should be obligated in some and exempt from others [not so easy]. Prof. Rhein focused on the 21 commandments mentioned in the Talmudic discussions found in Kiddushin 33b-35a and Berachot 20b. Seven of these mitzvot are non-time-bound, woman obligated [e.g. mezuzah, returning a lost object], seven are time-bound, woman not obligated [e.g. sukkah, shofar], four are time-bound, woman obligated [e.g. matzah, Kiddush], and three are non-time-bound, woman not obligated [e.g. procreation, Torah study].
She listed each commandment, the Torah verse on which it is based, and which group is addressed. For example procreation is commanded to both Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:27, while eating matzah at Pesach is directed at the whole congregation of Israel in Exodus 12:3. The reason this topic is so interesting, and so full of apologetics, is that there are too many exceptions to the rule that women are exempt from time-bound positive mitzvot and obligated to non-time-bound positive mitzvot for the Rabbis to ignore. Not to mention why women should be exempted from mitzvot based on time.
I will get to some of the arguments, both Orthodox and Progressive, in my next post. For more on the subject, see this My Jewish Learning article