Reciting the Grace after Meals:
The Status of Jewish Women, from Berakhot, chap. 7
This text has three layers: a short legal statement found in the Mishnah (2nd
century, Palestine), an exerpt of the discussion of the Mishnah found the Bablylonian
Talmud (3rd-7th centuries, Babylonia), and the commentary of the Tosafists (12th-13th
century, France and Germany). It is of interest for the method which the Tosafists use,
but also for what it tells us about contemporary perceptions of the relative level of
education of men and women.
Mishnah 1: Three who ate together are obligated to invite one another
[to say grace after meals] . . . Women, slaves and minors are not included in the
BT Berakhot 45b: Come and hear: women by themselves or slaves by
themselves invite one another [to say grace], but women, slaves and minors may not invite
one another, even if they wish to. Now a hundred women are no better than two men [in that
neither constitutes a quorum for zimun and yet [we already mentioned the teaching
that] women by themselves or slaves by themselves invite one another: [is this not a
contradiction?]. No, this is different, for each [woman] has a mind of her own.
Tosafot, ibid, s.v. "No, this is different:"
From here, we learn that women join to form a zimun by themselves. The daughters of
Rabeinu Avraham, the son in law of Rabeinu Yehuda did so in accordance with the teaching
of their father. However, in general, this is not the practice. It is difficult to
understand why it is not done, since from the statment "invite one another [=form a
zimun]" we understand that they are obligated to form a zimun.
(The tosafot continues by bringing an opinion that the statement in the Gemara
reflected permission rather than an obligation to form a zimun, despite a passage in the
first chapter of tractate Arakhin (3a) which might suggest the opposite. The text
continues with a subsidiary question:)
Further investigation is needed to determine whether women's obligation is fulfilled [yotzot]
by the zimun of men , since they do not understand [the words of Grace]. There
are those who offer as a proof that their obligation is fulfilled from what it says
below, "if a scholar makes the blessing, an ignoramus has his obligation
fulfilled;" from this is appears that even the obligation of women for grace is
fulfilled. As for our own [women] however, it is possible to rebut that proof, since there
is a difference between an ignoramus, who understands Hebrew and some of what is said [in
Grace but just does not know how to say Grace himself], but as for women, who do not
understand at all, it could be said that they are not satisfied. . . . (The text
concludes with another tangential matter, leaving the question of women's status hanging).
 Note the implication that they do have an obligation of some sort.
Translated by Elka Klein email@example.com
© Elka Klein, 1998. The text may be used for non-commercial educational
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© Paul Halsall, November 1998